This is a review of Dracula, by Bram Stoker. First things first: by today’s standards, this is not a scary book. Dracula is an epistolary novel, which means it’s written in the form of letters, newspaper articles, and diary entries. Do you find reading letters frightening? I don’t know if the Victorians found this book to be scary. I think it more likely they found it shocking or even titillating. 

Nowadays Dracula is an indelible part of pop culture, bad movies and breakfast cereals and all. The original novel is valuable both as a historical and cultural document, giving us insight into the Victorian thought process. A friend of mine insists that Dracula illustrates how xenophobic the English were, terrified of foreigners stealing their women.  It’s an interesting argument, but Bram Stoker was Irish and not English, so I’m not sure I buy it.

Who cares about all that shit, how’s the book? Is it worth reading? Well…I don’t think Dracula is very good. I recently reread the novel, and it wasn’t as bad as I remembered, which a) doesn’t mean much, and b) doesn’t mean I didn’t like the book. I don’t finish most of the books I start, yet I’ve read Dracula four or five times. Take that for what it’s worth.

The plot: Jonathan Harker, realtor wannabe, travels to Transylvania to meet his boss’ newest client. Harker writes about train times and spicy paprika chicken in his diary. Thrilling stuff. The book perks up during Harker’s carriage ride to Castle Dracula, which involves sinister blue lights, wolves, and a mysterious coachmen. Upon reaching his destination, Harker is greeted by Dracula himself, who is getting ready to invade – er, I mean relocate to England. 

Technically, Dracula is a Voivode rather than a Count, but whatever. Harker soon has other things to worry about, like survival. Staying alive isn’t easy in Castle Dracula. Dracula enters and leaves by scaling the walls like a lizard. He has three ravenous wives, who want to drink his blood. Even worse, they’re voluptuous. And there’s always the hungry wolves, lurking outside.

One of the more interesting things about this book is the fact that Dracula doesn’t kill Harker. He leaves him alive in his castle while he travels to London. True, Dracula’s wives will finish Harker off, but there’s always the risk that he will get away and spill the beans. Which is what happens. Why not make sure? While never overtly stated, I believe it’s because Harker is Dracula’s guest, and killing him would violate the rules of hospitality. Dracula is a supernatural entity, and thus must abide by a number of rules. Leaving Harker alive means Dracula is following the letter of the law.

Dracula charters a boat to transport him and his fifty earth-filled coffins filled to England. He kills everyone on the ship, which sails into Whitby with the dead captain tied to the wheel. It is never revealed why the Count chose Whitby. Why not London or Liverpool? Anyway, Dracula wastes no time seducing Lucy Westenra. Lucy’s best friend, Mina, is Jonathan Harker’s fiancée. Coincidence? Part of the Count’s evil plan? Bad plotting?

Whatever the reason, soon poor Lucy is in her grave. This despite the efforts of her three suitors, Dr. Jack Seward, Lord Arthur Godalming, and Quincey Morris, who hails from the great country of Texas. Further reinforcements arrive when Dr. Seward consults his old tutor, Abraham Van Helsing, about Lucy’s bizarre anemia. Van Helsing doesn’t have a great command of the English language, and his solutions involve crosses and garlic flowers. Instead of confining Van Helsing in his sanitorium, Dr. Seward and company agree to a number of blood transfusions. Since people didn’t know about different blood types back then, it’s possible those transfusions helped kill Lucy.

Lucy rises from the grave, begins preying on children, and is dubbed the Bloofer Lady by the press. The sequences with her are the creepiest parts of the book. Somehow Van Helsing convinces the others to pound a stake through Lucy’s heart and then chop off her head. Meanwhile, a weakened Harker makes it back to England, only to lose it when he sees the Count strolling through London. One thing leads to the other, and the Harkers are united with Van Helsing & his crew.

Blah blah blah that’s a lot of plot, and I haven’t even mentioned Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic. Is the book any good? Yes, and no. The plot is the weakest part of this novel. Dracula’s plan to conquer England is so bad that Stoker dedicates a half-chapter to Van Helsing talking about Dracula’s child-brain. Exhibit A: Dracula has spent several months in England and only made one vampire. Van Helsing and company find forty nine of his fifty earth-filled coffins in a single day. These are not the actions of a master tactician.

The book’s characters fare better. The standout humans are Van Helsing and Renfield the Fly Eating Lunatic, both of whom are crazy. And then we have Dracula. We never get to understand what makes him tick, which is part of what makes him interesting. His entrance to England, floating into harbor in a corpse ship, are the actions of a Voivode. His exit, wherein he scrambles for pocket change and spends weeks hiding in a boat, are the actions of a scared man. The apparent contradiction is never explained. Perhaps he’s acting according to an unstated set of rules that are never explained to us?

Parts of this book reek of a bizarre sickly sweet sentimentality, but much of Dracula was quite shocking to the Victorians. The novel brushes against sexual mores and taboos (A WOMAN’S BOUDOIR, INVADED!), and I think that’s what shocked people. In the end, Dracula dies and we have a happy ending, but sometimes it seems like we’ve brushed up against something we don’t quite understand, and I don’t know what it is, and maybe that’s why I keep coming back to this book.

Daredevil Ultimate Collection Vol. 1, Issues #16-19

Daredevil: Ultimate Collection Vol. 1

This is a review of the first four issues of Brian Michael Bendis’ run on Daredevil, Issues #16-19. The plot: young Timmy has become disassociated from reality. He constantly relives a fight between Leap Frog and Daredevil, which makes ace (?!?) reporter Ben Urich’s nose itch. It is Urich, and not Daredevil, who is our narrator and p-o-v character for the next four issues.

Timmy’s father is Leap Frog, a supervillain who dresses like a frog and hops around. Is this dumb? You bet it’s dumb, which I’m sure is why the creative team uses him. Leap Frog is a bad daddy, to say the least. He and his wife physically abused Timmy. Now Leap Frog has disappeared. He was last seen tussling with Daredevil, and what went on between them that night seems to be what put Timmy in a comatose state.

That’s the plot, and it takes four issues to resolve. Let me start by saying that the art & writing in these issues is top-notch. I was engaged, and wanted to know what happened to Timmy. That said…look, comic books are never going to be mistaken for reality. Daredevil is a blind guy who dresses like the devil while soaring around Manhattan using a trick billy club, so we aren’t talking about reality here. We are talking about plausibility.

The plot hinges on Ben Urich finding Daredevil, who knows what happened that night. Ben Urich knows Matt Murdock is Daredevil. Murdock has told Urich about the accident that blinded him and why he became Daredevil. Urich knows a lot about Matt Murdock, but despite that, despite being a beat reporter with access to the resources of a major media company, he doesn’t have Murdock’s phone number and he doesn’t know where Murdock lives. This is implausible, to say the least, and the reason it’s so glaring is that it feels like an excuse to stretch the plot to four issues. And the plot did feel stretched.

We don’t get a lot of Daredevil in these issues, but that’s fine. If I recall correctly, I had more than enough of Daredevil by the time this run ended. Urich and his wife end up adopting young Timmy, even though Timmy’s mom is still alive (maybe she gave him up for adoption?). Timmy makes an appearance as a teenager in Daredevil: End of Days, where he’s totally messed up. Anyway, these four issues are good but too long. The character of Daredevil has a storied history, and this run certainly adds to the legend.

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Volume 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men Vol. 1

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men, Volume 1 is a mixed bag. Jack Kirby’s art is wonderful. The writing is okay, the caveat being that the same two storylines are repeated ad nauseum in the first ten issues. For those not in the know the X-Men are mutants, aka Homo Superior. Their genes give them miraculous powers, which is good. What’s not so good is that plain old humans, Homo Sapiens, hate and fear them. The X-Men are led by benevolent telepath Charles Xavier, who is dedicated to protecting humankind from existential threats and also evil mutants. It’s interesting that Xavier works to protect humanity rather than his own kind, a paradigm that changes later.

The evil mutants are led by Magneto, who in this volume is a Dr. Doom clone. Magneto believes that human beings are scum. He’s assembled a group of mutants, aka The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, to conquer humanity. Later, Magneto and Charles Xavier become two sides of the same coin, but here they are oil and water.

There are two storylines. In the first, Xavier discovers the existence of a new mutant. He sends his X-Men to recruit this new mutant, but the mutant always turns out to be evil. See: The Vanisher, The Blob, The Sub-Mariner, Unus the Untouchable. In the second, the X-Men fight Magneto and his band of evil mutants, as they try to a. conquer the earth; b. recruit mutants to their cause. Both Xavier and Magneto are terrible at recruiting mutants, Magneto because he’s a homicidal maniac, Xavier because he’s creepy. Would you want a teacher who could read your mind? At least with Magneto, you get to hang out in his cool lairs, asteroids and islands with big magnet skyscrapers.

Reading this volume gave me the impression that the creative team was in a state of perpetual deadline Hell. It’s not that the stories are bad, but reading the same two plots gets repetitive. One of the better issues is the introduction of Ka-Zar and the Savage Land, because it probably started life as a ten-second pitch session (Tarzan in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World!) that gained legs. 

Marvel Masterworks: X-Men is worth a read, because it’s Jack Kirby and also because it introduces a number of iconic characters in Marvel history, even if we don’t see a lot of these characters nowadays. These are the issues that laid the groundwork for some classic stories. 

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume One

X-Men: Volume 1 features the first six issues of the newest reboot of The X-Men. This volume acts as setup for upcoming storylines: the X-Men skirmish with Orchis, a band of human scientists who want to exterminate the mutant menace; the sentient mutant isle of Krakoa reunites with his better half; a quartet of octogenarian botanists hack Krakoa; and The Vault opens.

To say this book features an ensemble cast is an understatement, but the main character seems to be Cyclops. Cyclops lives on the moon with his partner Jean Grey; his brothers, Alex (Havok) and Gabriel (Vulcan); his two children, Nathan (Cable) and Rachel Summers (???); and Wolverine, who is either Jean Grey’s sidepiece or the third party in a polyamorous relationship. Cyclops seems to be the p-o-v character mainly because he’s a good guy who doesn’t consider himself to be a god and doesn’t hate humans.

Speaking of hating humans…Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Apocalypse attend the World Economic Forum, where Magneto tells the pesky human leaders exactly how the newly formed mutant nation intends to conquer the earth by economic means. I guess it beats sinking nuclear submarines. Still, this a bizarre scene, made more so by Xavier’s silence. Marvel has a long tradition of villains with heroic (or at least sympathetic qualities), but Magneto is in a class by himself. He’s a mass-murderer, but the mindset of the new X-Men seems to be ‘fight fire with fire.’

Oh, and apparently there was an assassination attempt on Xavier, but that’s not in this volume. I have no idea which volume it is in, which is annoying. At the moment, there are four or five X-titles, which is Marvel’s way of milking their fans for all they’re worth. None of which is the creative team’s fault, btw.

We learn what Mystique was doing when the X-Men stormed the Orchis Forge and destroyed the Master Mold. She planted a flower of Krakoa in the garden, which gives her the ability to travel to the Forge at will. There she discovers that Nimrod the Master Sentinel isn’t dead after all, but is being constructed by a female scientist.

Magneto and Xavier, who are using Mystique’s dead wife (Destiny) as leverage, want her to kill the scientist, yet another sign that the X-Men are fatally compromised. They also have no intention of resurrecting Destiny. If I’m reading the tea leaves correctly, it looks like this iteration of the X-Men will fail on a truly grand scale.

One of the interesting things about X-Men: Volume 1 is how good people – or people who used to be good – make stupid mistakes. Definitely worth a read.

Daredevil: End of Days

Daredevil: End of Days

WARNING: contains spoilers.

The plot of Daredevil: End of Days is simple. Years in the future Matt Murdock, aka Daredevil, is killed in a brawl with his archenemy Bullseye. Before he dies, he says ‘Mapone’ to Bullseye. Perhaps Murdock says this because of the beating he’s taken from Bullseye, or the brain damage he’s undoubtedly suffering from, or it could mean something else. Nobody cares but Daredevil, Bullseye, and beat reporter Ben Urich. This is a potential problem, because I didn’t care what Mapone means either. What made Matt Murdock lose his sanity is a lot more interesting, in a car crash sort of way.

Urich is a strange choice for a narrator. He has a compulsion to know what happened, all the while understanding that the picture he paints won’t be pretty. He’s the picture-perfect portrait of the grizzled beat reporter, so much so that a cynic might say that he’s a parody of himself, especially when he does things like standing in a downpour (because it’s always either dark or raining in Hell’s Kitchen).

Urich decides to retrace Murdock’s last years. The last time Matt was seen in public as Daredevil, he killed the Kingpin in a brawl. This is the type of thing that is frowned upon by a civilized society, and there’s also the undeniable truth that pummeling a man to death with your bare hands in public is a clear sign that you have lost it.

So begins the journey of discovery. Even though Ben Urich has no social skills, we learn things. A man dressed as Daredevil is tailing Urich. The Black Widow is dead, either in a cosmic skirmish (according to Nick Fury) or murdered in a bathtub (according to the cover of Issue #6). Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, idolizes Daredevil. Former assassin Elektra is now a soccer mom. Bullseye kills himself a few days after murdering Murdock. Daredevil’s ex-foe Gladiator makes costumes for fetish parties. Oh, and all of Matt’s ex-girlfriends have children with red hair. This was funny the first time, but after the third or fourth child with red hair, it veered into eye-rolling territory. 

Urich reaches a dead-end when he visits the Punisher in prison. Old, grizzled Frank Castle gives the plot away, but Urich is either too dogged or too stupid to quit. He keeps on plugging away, scraping the bottom of Murdock’s rogue gallery, until he’s killed by the Hand. At which point we learn that the new Daredevil is Urich’s adopted son, Timmy, who was trained by none other than Murdock himself! We also learn that Mapone is the name of Matt Murdock’s and the Black Widow’s daughter. She may also be Murdock’s reincarnated teacher, Stick. 

We never learn what made Matt Murdock lose it, and what he was doing all those years in hiding. We also never learn why the name Mapone makes Bullseye kill himself. I have searched teh Googles in vain, but have found no answer as of yet. EDIT: it turns out Bullseye didn’t know what Mapone meant, but the fact that Murdock got in the last word tipped him over the edge. This is according to the writer’s blog, but I am unsure if the writer is trolling, because his answer makes no sense. I think it’s fair to say that the linking of Bullseye and Mapone as a plot point doesn’t work. The other thing that confused me are the covers, which depict the deaths of Daredevil & various Daredevil cast members, some of whom were still alive when I read the book. 

Overall, I enjoyed Daredevil: End of Days, even though plot-wise the book falls apart in the final issue.



VIY is the first- and as far as I know the only – Soviet Union horror movie in existence. It’s an obscure film that’s available streaming on Shudder. When I say ‘obscure,’ I mean obscure to me. Before watching this, I’d never heard of it, and I’ve seen a lot of horror movies.

The plot: Khoma is a Russian monk granted time off for the holidays. He and his two traveling companions get lost and end up at a farm. The old woman of the house lets them stay the night, but they all have to sleep in different places. The fact that she tells them that her house is full of people and she’s alone except for the farm animals is a tip-off that she might not be on the up-and-up.

Sure enough, the old woman turns out to be a witch. She hag-rides Khoma, flying him all over the countryside. When dawn breaks, the spell wears off. Khoma beats her half to death and is shocked when she transforms into a beautiful young woman.

Khoma races back to the monastery, but when he arrives there’s more bad news. The daughter of a rich landowner has been found beaten half to death, and wants him to say prayers for her soul. ‘Want’ is a misleading word, because Khoma is going whether he wants to or not. The landowner’s men make sure of that.

The landowner’s daughter dies before Khoma arrives, which means he’s forced to spend three nights locked in a church with a dead body, saying prayers for her soul. Except this young woman isn’t as dead as she seems…

I liked VIY a lot. Khoma isn’t a particularly likable guy, so I didn’t feel sorry for him. The animation is very late 60’s, reminding me of Disney movies I saw as a kid, but still looks fine. The makeup is great. Overall, a fine horror movie that’s as much fantasy as horror. And I still can’t figure out why I’ve never heard of it.



Timecrimes is a sleazy little thriller/scific/horror flick. It’s a Spanish movie, so subtitles. The plot isn’t easy to summarize, but I’ll give it a try. Hector is a middle-aged guy who just bought a home in the country. When the movie starts, he and his wife are in the process of moving into their house. It’s late afternoon, and Hector is unwinding. Hector’s idea of relaxation involves binoculars, and as the movie’s events will show, that’s not because he’s a birdwatcher.

Hector sees a woman in the woods, who proceeds to take off her shirt. He doesn’t say anything to his wife, which is a good character moment. I would tell my wife – hey, there’s a woman running around the woods with no shirt on – but Hector is made of different stuff. He wanders into the woods, binoculars around his neck, searching for the Woman of the Woods.

He finds her, naked and unconscious, propped against a rock. Before he can react, and one of the interesting things about this movie is that I wasn’t sure how he WOULD react, he’s stabbed in the arm by a maniac wearing a pink bandage over his face. Hector runs like hell, and ends up in a nearby scientific facility. Pursued – one might even say herded – by the pink-bandaged man, he ends up inside the facility’s time machine, where he’s transported an hour and a half into the past.

That’s as much summary as I’ll give. I don’t want to say anymore because spoilers, but most people will guess some – not all – of the plot twists. Timecrimes is tough to classify, because it has elements of three genres. The script is well-written enough to pass the believability test. For me, anyway. Things get a little loosie-goosie in the third act, but in general the movie holds together very well.

Hector himself is a creepy protagonist. At best, he’s a voyeur. That didn’t mar my enjoyment of the movie, although Hector’s creepiness and the semi-nudity may be off-putting to some. Bottom line: I liked Timecrimes, but it might not be to everyone’s tastes.

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, Volume One

Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four, Volume One

When I was a kid, Marvel published a series of mass market paperbacks that featured the first six issues of their most popular titles. I bought the first three Spider-Man paperbacks along with the first volumes of the Hulk and the Fantastic Four. My favorite title was and continues to be Spider-Man, but rereading the first volume of Marvel Masterworks: Fantastic Four years later, I was surprised at how good these comics are.

The first ten issues of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee’s Fantastic Four run feature a hodgepodge of classic heroes and villains, including Alicia Masters, Doctor Doom, The Mole Man, The Puppet Master, The Sub-Mariner and the Skrulls. Each issue is a stand-alone, with no two-parters or trilogies. It feels like effort went into the creation of these stories.

Whatever the reason, this volume has juice. Maybe that’s because, like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four are created when someone messes up. That someone is Reed Richards, who decides it’s a good idea to sneak into a military base with his fiancée and her teenage brother so that he can steal a rocket and blast off into outer space. When Ben Grimm, the ship’s pilot, points out that the rocket has no protection against cosmic rays, he’s shamed into coming along. Of course, Grimm is the guy who wins the booby prize. While the others gain cool powers, Ben transforms into a pile of orange rocks. His reaction to this development is realistic: he’s pissed off at everyone and everything, but especially his teammates.

Reading these comics gave me the impression that the members of the Fantastic Four are like a big, dysfunctional family whose members hate each other, but will stick together in a crisis. Grimm, who is dubbed The Thing by his loving teammates, gains super strength and is a danger to everybody. The only reason his teammates put up with him is because they made him.

The other members of the team aren’t quite as interesting as Ben Grimm, but they’re all flawed in interesting ways. Reed Richards, aka the Human Rubber Band, is heroic, but has a habit of making stupid decisions. Johnny Storm, who can burst into flames, is a typical 60’s-era teenager whose powers fluctuate depending on whatever the plot requires. His sister, Susan Storm, is the least interesting of the bunch. She has a weak power set (invisibility) and is too passive, but later gains the ability to project invisible force fields.

The stories are a blend of superhero action and 60’s era science fiction. The standout supporting character of the first volume is the Sub-Mariner, who appears in three of the first ten issues. Unlike Doctor Doom, who is the prototype of a moustache-twirling villain, the Sub-Mariner is more than a two-dimensional character. He’s a villain with sympathetic qualities, just like The Thing is a hero with villainous qualities. In one of the issues, he even saves the day; this after he betrays the Fantastic Four and is double-crossed by Doctor Doom. 

The first volume of Marvel Masterworks: The Fantastic Four is well-worth a read, and shows why the Fantastic Four used to be Marvel’s flagship title.

Comic review: House of X/Powers of X

House of X/Powers of X

The main players of the latest X-reboot are Charles Xavier, Magneto, and Moira MacTaggert. Moira, whose mutant power is reincarnation, rallies the mutant population around Charles Xavier and Magneto. Using the sentient island (?!?!) of Krakoa as their base, Xavier & company seeks sovereignty from humankind.

Shit gets real when a band of human scientists calling themselves Orchis seek to bring a Master Mold AI online, which will lead to the apocalyptic human/machine/mutant war. We see the results of that war, a hundred years from now, when the two remaining factions (mutant and machine) resort to breeding mutants as cannon fodder.

Moira, who is on her tenth (and final) life, fades from the spotlight halfway through this graphic novel. The creation of a new mutant society leads to all sorts of interesting factions: Apocalypse, the Hellfire Club, Mr. Sinister, Mystique, but the biggest wild card of all is the island of Krakoa, which in the future acts as a mutant breeding center.

This is foreshadowed when a group of X-Men die supposedly destroying the Master Mold, which is in orbit around the sun. Except they don’t die: Krakoa produces clones of the fallen heroes and Xavier has backed up their minds, so they are reborn. Thus, mutants are now immortal.

This graphic novel is as much science fiction as it is superhero comic, because Jonathan Hickman (the writer) is so good at blending the two. We learn about the Marvel Universe’s different galactic civilizations, and he even manages to make it sort of interesting.

The other interesting aspect of this book is the cult-like aspects of Xavier’s new civilization. Magneto dresses like Jim Jones, and Xavier himself – who is even more overtly messianic – wears a helmet with no eyes. The blind leading the blind. It’s an open question as to whether the X-Men are the heroes here, or if they are even meant to be.

A must-read for X-Men fans.