Upcoming: VELVET WAS THE NIGHT by Silvia Moreno-Garcia (Del Rey)

MorenoGarciaS-VelvetWasTheNightUSLast year, Silvia Moreno-Garcia‘s Mexican Gothic (justifiably) stormed all over the book charts. This year, the author returns with Velvet Was the Night, a mystery/noir/thriller novel set in 1970s Mexico. In addition to that great, eye-catching cover, the synopsis sounds suitably intriguing as well:

A riveting noir about a daydreaming secretary, a lonesome enforcer, and the mystery of a missing woman that brings them together.

1970s, Mexico City. Maite is a secretary who lives for one thing: the latest issue of Secret Romance. While student protests and political unrest consume the city, Maite escapes into stories of passion and danger.

Her next-door neighbor, Leonora, a beautiful art student, seems to live a life of intrigue and romance that Maite envies. When Leonora disappears under suspicious circumstances, Maite finds herself searching for the missing woman—and journeying deeper into Leonora’s secret life of student radicals and dissidents.

Meanwhile, someone else is also looking for Leonora at the behest of his boss, a shadowy figure who commands goon squads dedicated to squashing political activists. Elvis is an eccentric criminal who longs to escape his own life: He loathes violence and loves old movies and rock ’n’ roll. But as Elvis searches for the missing woman, he comes to observe Maite from a distance—and grows more and more obsessed with this woman who shares his love of music and the unspoken loneliness of his heart.

Now as Maite and Elvis come closer to discovering the truth behind Leonora’s disappearance, they can no longer escape the danger that threatens to consume their lives, with hitmen, government agents, and Russian spies all aiming to protect Leonora’s secrets—at gunpoint.

Really looking forward to reading this one. Velvet Was the Night is due to be published by Del Rey in North America and in the UK, on August 17th, 2021. New editions of the author’s The Beautiful Ones (April 27th) and Certain Dark Things (September 7th) are also due out this year, published by Tor Books.

Also on CR: Excerpt from Signal to Noise

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Reviews: C.O.W.L., MERCENARY SEA, UNDERTOW, WICKED + DIVINE (Image)

COWL-Vol.01C.O.W.L., Vol.1 — “Principles of Power”

Writers: Kyle Higgins & Alec Siegel | Artist: Rod Reis | Cover: Trevor McCarthy

Welcome to the “Chicago Organized Workers League” — the world’s first Super-Hero Labor Union!

While C.O.W.L. once stood as a beacon of hope against an epidemic of organized crime and an unbeatable “brotherhood” of Super-Villains, the union now faces its fiercest foe yet — a disillusioned public. In targeting the last of the great villains, C.O.W.L. attempts to prove its value to the world and to each other, while staving off villainy from both outside and inside its offices.

In 1962, the union faces a disillusioned public, scandal, and a new era of threats.

Collects: C.O.W.L. #1-5

This was a pretty good start to a new series. Set in Chicago, we get a melange of noir super-hero/detective action, local labour politics, and internal tensions. The story has everything to make it attractive to a large swathe of the comics readership. The artwork is rough, but that suits the story perfectly. It’s pretty slow-moving, though, and “Principles of Power” is very much setting up what I assume will be a large story arc: pieces are maneuvered into position, political and social realities exert pressures on the corrupt and idealistic alike. Obstacles are removed. I think this could end up becoming a classic. Definitely recommended.

*

MercenarySea-Vol.01THE MERCENARY SEA, Vol.1

Writer: Kel Symons | Artist: Mathew Reynolds

Action and adventure set in 1938 — The South Seas. Japan has invaded China. War in Europe is imminent. Ex-bootlegger Jack Harper captains The Venture, a refitted German U-Boat, with a crew of expats, mercenaries and treasure hunters. They do whatever it takes to stay afloat, often running up against pirates, headhunters, spies, and soldiers. They’re always one step away from the greatest score of their lives… or their certain demise.

Collects: The Mercenary Sea #1-6

This series pretty much does exactly what it says on the tin: high adventure, action and shenanigans in the late ’30s. It does a rather good job, too, and was a fun read. It didn’t blow me away, but it was certainly enjoyable. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a break from super-heroes, but not a break from action and adventure. The artwork is rather simple, not bad, but not always great. Blocky colouring means it’s not as nuanced as many other comic, but it’s an interesting and eye-catching style. Recommended.

*

Undertow-Vol.01UNDERTOW, Vol.1 — “Boatman’s Call”

Writer: Steve Orlando | Artist: Artyom Trakhanov

Atlantis is the world superpower, and Redum Anshargal is its worst enemy. If you want to break free of the system, he can offer you a place at his side, exploring the wild surface world in his watertight city barge The Deliverer. He and his hostage-protege Ukinnu Alal hunt the Amphibian, a legend that could be the key to an air-breathing life on land. But as they become the hunted, can Anshargal’s team survive long enough to turn the tables on the godlike beast they set out for? A brand new pulp monster adventure with Ray Harryhausen at its heart and a look at Atlantis like never before.

Collects: Undertow #1-6

This was an interesting book. It took a bit longer than I usually like to get stuck into the story, but I think it’s pretty cool. I enjoyed the reversal of power and fortune — Atlantis as the dominant power, and the exploration of dry land from under the sea, rather than the usual opposite. The artwork is rough and interesting, but also rather psychedelically coloured. I didn’t love the series, but I think it’s a decent start to a new series. I’ll be back for volume two, but I won’t necessarily be rushing to buy and read it. Worth reading if you’re a fan of science fiction comics with a twist.

*

WickedAndDivine-Vol.01THE WICKED + DIVINE, Vol.1 — “The Faust Act”

Writer: Kieron Gillen | Art & Cover: Jamie McKelvie & Matt Wilson

Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.

Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5

This was frankly marvellous. It starts well and just gets better and better. Gillen et al manage to pack in a lot into these first five issues — the scene is set, the mythology explained (elegantly — there’s no clunky info-dumping), the characters established. Lucifer (“Luci” for short) is awesome, and probably my favourite, although the Underground-dwelling Morrigan was also delightfully twisted. The artwork is clear and sharp, brilliantly coloured (alternately atmospheric and vivid). The writing is excellent, never cliche and always engaging. I do love the mash-up of urban fantasy, the divine, and celebrity culture.

Very highly recommended, I can’t wait for volume two.

*

Review: THE VIOLENT CENTURY by Lavie Tidhar (Hodder)

Tidhar-ViolentCenturyUKA strange-yet-brilliant blend of Watchmen-style Super-Heroes and John le Carré Spy Fiction

They’d never meant to be heroes.

For seventy years they’d guarded the British Empire. Oblivion and Fogg, inseparable at first, bound together by a shared fate. Until a night in Berlin, in the aftermath of the Second World War, and a secret that tore them apart.

But there must always be an account… and the past has a habit of catching up to the present.

Recalled to the Retirement Bureau from which no one can retire, Fogg and Oblivion must face up to a past of terrible war and unacknowledged heroism, a life of dusty corridors and secret rooms; of furtive meetings and blood-stained fields, to answer one last, impossible question: What makes a hero?

The Violent Century is, much to my shame, the first novel of Tidhar’s that I’ve read. And it’s quite the impressive accomplishment. Tidhar is not a stranger to pushing the envelope – see, for example, his World Fantasy Award-winning Osama – and in The Violent Century, he has created an original, engrossing fusion of noir-ish super-heroes and gritty espionage thriller. The publicity material that came with the ARC managed to capture it very well – “Watchmen meets John le Carre”. This is a very good novel. Continue reading

Guest Post: “A Commix of Noir & Sequential Art” by Andrez Bergen

Author Andrez Bergen introduces us to his third novel, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, and talks about his influences and inspirations.

***

BigSleep-PosterThe first time I saw the 1946 film version of The Big Sleep, I would’ve been about six or seven years of age. My parents were fans – Mum loved Lauren Bacall and my dad aspired to be Humphrey Bogart. With these familial pressures in the mix, at such an impressionable size, of course I was sucked in. Not long later I copped a viewing of the 1941 John Huston vision of The Maltese Falcon, and found myself enamoured with cinematic film-noir years before I even knew what it was.

This affection has been an ongoing affair.

I’ve seen both flicks at least a hundred times apiece, and it translated into the original novels by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. That led to poring over still more by these fellows, things like The Long Goodbye, The Thin Man and the Continental Op. I love these yarns, consistently won over – no matter how old I am – by the scathing dialogue, the sarcasm and the oddball characters as much as I am by the “detective mystery” plots involved.

Star-Wars-IV-PosterOn another level there’s always been science fiction, everything from kindergarten days terrified of the Daleks in Doctor Who, through to reruns of classic Star Trek and This Island Earth (1955) in primary school, Blade Runner (1982) in my teens, and Terry Gilliam’s Brazil three years after that. I was smitten with Episode IV when it was just plain Star Wars (1977).

Third cab off the rank is a life-long obsession involving comic books.

I’d say this started when I was learning how to read and my dad subscribed me to British comedy weekly Cor!!, while scouring the pictures gracing Hergé’s Tintin in the local library. Then, again around the age of seven, I was spending summer holidays at my grandparents place in the Melbourne suburb of Richmond. Since my Nan spent so much time cooking and my grandpa was in the living room multitasking with Aussie rules footy on the TV and horseracing on the radio, we were left to our own devices.

In a small shed out the back, covered in old cement sheeting, I uncovered a treasure-trove: silver age Marvel Comics from the 1960s, inside boxes half-eaten by snails and earwigs. These refugees had belonged to my older half-brother Peter, and included Marvel originals of The Fantastic Four, The X-Men and The Avengers – many without covers – along with black-and-white reprints published in British weekly Fantastic.

2000AD-02-FirstDreddAppearanceBy the time I was ten, Melbourne had a mini-renaissance of Marvel reprints via the short-lived Newton Comics imprint, and in 1976-77 I subscribed first to British weekly comic Action (which had sensational, somewhat violent tales like “Hook Jaw” and “Death Race 1999”) and then a title called 2000 AD – the second issue of which introduced Judge Dredd.

And so it goes from there.

This over all mishmash of hardboiled noir, comic books, sci-fi, barely repressed violence, humour and eccentric characters always was going to affect (or should we say infect?) the imagination of an impressionable loner of a kid who wanted nothing more than to grow up to be (a) an astronaut (unlikely since I hated maths), (b) an author, (c) a comic artist, or (d) a film maker.

Funnily enough, despite haphazard attempts to the contrary, I didn’t end up being any of these.

After uni I slipped instead into journalism, I started up a record label, and began producing techno and experimental electronic music under a silly alias named Little Nobody (I still use it occasionally). One of the reasons I moved to Tokyo in 2001 was to pursue this muzak and hack journalism. Oh, and the food too.

But the love of writing fiction, of losing myself in other worlds – and an affection for other people’s noir, sci-fi and comic books, regardless of nationality – has continued to hold steady sway.

No surprise, then, that my first published novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011) was an amalgam of detective noir, dystopian sci-fi, and homage to the cinema of both genres and others as well.

Which brings us (more or less) up to speed, and the publication in September of novel number three: Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? It is a beast of a book that I hope brings the influences full circle. It’s my love-letter not just to noir, pulp and sci-fi, but also to American comic books of the golden and silver ages – basically, 1940-70.

Bergen-WhoIsKillingTheGreatCapesOfHeropa

We are taken into dystopian, near future Melbourne, Australia – the last city on Earth. But we visit this city only fleetingly; most of our time is spent hooked up to an IV drip and electrodes, with our consciousness in a virtual world called Heropa.

As the name of the book implies, this is a murder-mystery of the Sam Spade kind.

Someone is bumping off the Capes (heroes and villains both) for real. There’re leads and red herrings aplenty, undercut by the relationship between members of superhero team the Equalizers – a group that’s seen far better times, has lost its leader, the members squabble a lot, and they rarely trust one another.

Into this fray steps idealistic Jack, a.k.a. Jacob, a.k.a. Southern Cross, forced to come to grips with his oddball, egocentric teammates while tracking down their killer(s).

Within the context of the story lie nods and winks to the great creators.

Not only Chandler and Hammett or Arthur Conan Doyle and Truman Capote, but bigwigs of sequential art and its spiffy yarns, people at Marvel like Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, John Buscema, Jim Steranko, Steve Ditko and Barry Windsor-Smith. Other comic book geniuses such as Will Eisner, Jean-Claude Forest, Joe Kubert, Tarpé Mills, Joe Simon, Katsuhiro Otomo and Hergé. Anime gets a shoo-in, even Walt Disney.

And Little Nobody makes a cameo – as a corpse the same size as Ant-Man.

There’re dozens of other references, but I don’t want to give too much of the game away – in spite of the train-spotter’s refs, or perhaps because of them, the novel is my personal salute to these styles I continue to cherish.

And if it succeeds (on a deceptive sliding scale) of achieving a fraction of the nourishment these genres have imparted to me, then I’ll do a self-satisfied George W. Bush aircraft carrier jig wearing a home-made cape cut from a tablecloth, and sign off with “mission accomplished”.

Shhh.

Mini-Review: Fatale, Vol.1 – “Death Chases Me” (Image)

CRIM008_cvrWriter: Ed Brubaker | Artist: Sean Phillips | Colors: Dave Stewart

In modern times, Nicolas Lash stumbles upon a secret that will lead him down the darkest path imaginable… to a seductive and ageless woman who’s been on the run since the 1930s.

And in 1950s San Francisco, reporter Hank Raines crosses paths with that same woman and gets caught in a vicious triangle between a crooked cop and a man who is more monster than man.

But who is Josephine and what is her secret? And how many men will die and kill for her?

Collects: Fatale #1-5

Brubaker and Philips’s Fatale is an interesting, if flawed blend of noir-ish thriller and horror suspense and weirdness. The series has enjoyed plentiful good and middling coverage in all comic-related corners of the internet. I’m not really sure I can add much to the discussion, to be honest. After finishing it, I found I had very little opinion on it – positive or negative.

The story is fine: there are corrupt cops; a rash of strange, “cult killings” all over San Francisco. This first volume follows a number of slightly-muddled story-threads, which all lead up to an underground confrontation with a cult-leader (who is a lot more than he appears to be). Josephine appears to have a strange, powerful allure for apparently all men she encounters – and, of course, a mysterious past. Despite my interest in such stories, though, Fatale never really managed to excite my interest beyond the cursory.

The artwork is good, and certainly enhances the atmosphere and noir-feel to the story, but it is sadly not a style I would spend much time lingering over.

I think Fatale would have worked much better as a prose-novel. It was too fast-paced near the end, despite an almost agonizingly-slow build up at the start. Despite my qualms and reservations, it will be interesting to see how the series develops in the second volume, but I wouldn’t rush to buy it. (Luckily, I recently got Volume 2 through NetGalley, so I could get to it a lot quicker than I otherwise would have done).

In conclusion, then, and coming from a huge fan of Brubaker’s other work – specifically his initial run on Marvel’s Captain America (and Winter Soldier), Gotham Central (review coming soon), and also Batman: The Man Who Laughs – I’m sad to say that this was a massive disappointment.

I borrowed Fatale Volume 1 from the local library.

Fatale-Vol.01-Content