Pulp Consumption: Changing of the Guards

Matt Spencer is no stranger to Broadswords and Blasters, having appeared in issues 1, 2, and 9 of our magazine, and writing the occasional article for us as well. So, when we were given the chance to read a review copy of his latest “CHANGING OF THE GUARDS,” we knew what we were getting into.

And, to be fair, Spencer isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea, and if by tea we mean hardcore brutal fantasy that pulls no punches. There’s very little genteel or noble in this book, with the focus instead on the kind of people that end up being heroes, and how those same people rarely fit into the society they are fighting for.

Front Cover Final rgb

The opening starts with Severen, a member of the imperialistic Spirelight Secret Police, captured by the very bandits he was sent out to deal with in the first place, led by the savage Rorkaster. Immediately the personal stakes are made known, but the story unfolds well with bits of information and backstory coming through to the reader[1]. It might well seem to start as a standard set-up between civilized and uncivilized, good and evil, but where this particular book shines is in showing the myriad and sometimes conflicting personal motivations of the characters as well. Severen isn’t a simple soldier following orders. Rorkaster is more than a blood thirsty barbarian with a hate on for anything resembling an enemy.

The action is deliberately brutal in the book, with Spencer keeping his narrative lens unflinching on even the worst of it. The action scenes and sense of danger is always palatable, and often his characters pay the price when blood gets shed.

An aspect that might be off-putting to some but I found refreshing is that Spencer doesn’t switch to “high fantasy speak” when writing. His characters are raw and brutal, and the language they use reflects that. A reader may think they were dropped into a seedy bar instead of a novel, but in this case it fits the characters and works, but might take some adjustment for people more used to seeing nothing but the Queen’s English in their fantasy novels.

If I were asked to point to a main theme in this book, it would be the effect of colonization and the dangers of imperialism, how it affects both the conquered and the conquerors, and how, at the end of the day, you have to look at those that stand to gain the most. But sometimes, those with nothing left to lose can still surprise you.

[1] While there are references to Spencer’s other books in CHANGING OF THE GUARDS, the book stands well on its own.

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Pulp Appeal: Moon Knight: From the Dead (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

Editors’ Note: Anthony Perconti lives and works in the hinterlands of New Jersey with his wife and kids. He enjoys good stories across many different genres and mediums. His articles have appeared in Swords and Sorcery Magazine and DMR Books Blog.

Copyright text page for Moon Knight: From the Dead, with a snippet explaining how Moon Knight gained his powers. "Mercenary Marc Spector died in Egypt, under a statue of the ancient deity Khonshu. He returned to life in the shadow of the moon god, and wore his aspect to fight crime for his own redemption. He went completely insane, and disappeared. This is what happened next."

In the early years of this century, in addition to all of the mainstream comic work that was on his plate, Warren Ellis took the time to  create a line of standalone pulp inspired one shots for Avatar comics, under the heading of “Apparat.” The goal of these 4 titles was to present specific pulp subgenres (science fiction, aviation, detective and pulp vigilante) as a first issue of a series from a parallel universe where pulps made the direct translation into comic books, without the invention of the superhero. These four one shots was Ellis’ attempt to directly create new pulp stories for a modern comic reading audience, replete with many of Ellis’ signature story tropes (mistrust of authority, highly individualistic heroes, hyper-violence, and futurism). Flash forward approximately a decade to the Marvel Comics reboot of their character Moon Knight. The first six issues of this title were written by Warren Ellis, with illustrations by Declan Shalvey.  Like the “Apparat” experiment of 2004, this story arc seems like a continuation (at least in spirit) of those comics from a parallel world; each individual issue is a standalone that combines disparate elements such as hard boiled, thriller, supernatural, psychedelic, and the consulting detective subgenre (a la Sherlock Holmes) to create a strange mishmash genre that Ellis referred to as “Weird Crime.” And boy, these comics have the bizarre factor ratcheted way up. The collection of Moon Knight: From the Dead, has more in common with Black Mask, Weird Tales, and The Shadow than it does with any modern mainstream superhero book.

Genre split illustration for Apparat by Warren Ellis for Avatar comics

In rebooting this series, Ellis took a soft approach in that all that came before in the character’s history is still canon. This is simply explained away as just the beginning of a new phase in the life of Marc Spector, with a few additional twists. The character of Moon Knight has been traditionally written as having dissociative identity disorder or multiple personalities. These other personalities included Jake Lockley, Steven Grant, and, depending how you look at it, Moon Knight himself. The white-cowled vigilante is the Egyptian moon god’s mortal avatar here on Earth after the deity resurrected Spector from the dead.  Known as the Fist of Khonshu, Moon Knight is directed by and serves the will of his divine patron. It has been argued by comics fans (and fairly, in my opinion) that this character is Marvel’s attempt at having their own in-house Batman. Arguments aside, Ellis (with the help of Shalvey), is able to sidestep this controversy by shifting the character’s visual aesthetic and creating an additional persona for Spector. Like several of Ellis’ works, each issue is a self contained story that can be enjoyed on its own, but also rewards commitment from readers as well.

Moon Knight in his raven faced costume.

In the first issue (entitled “Slasher”) we are introduced to Mr. Knight. Bedecked from head to toe in pure white, in a full face mask and a three piece suit, the consulting detective arrives on a grisly crime scene. Detective Flint of the NYPD “freak beat” has what he believes to be a new slasher killing on his hands, the victims being all physically fit specimens.  Mr. Knight disagrees with Flint’s assessment of the situation and proceeds to go on the hunt for the killer. He tracks his prey deep underground, well beneath the subway tunnels to a mothballed S.H.I.E.L.D. bunker in which a physically and mentally damaged agent is harvesting body parts from his victims and grafting them onto himself. Issue two (“Sniper”) deals with a disgruntled black ops shooter seeking revenge on his former handlers. Shalvey’s panel layouts for this issue are masterful in that as each victim is killed off, their character panels fade to white, leaving gaping blank spots on the page. Issue three (“Box”) delves deeper into the Weird as Spector contends with a case involving punk rocker ghosts terrorizing the nighttime denizens of Manhattan. Khonshu guides his avatar in donning raiment for fighting the dead, which consists of mummy bones (including bone versions of brass knuckles) and an oversized bird skull. This ghost fighter costume resembles a (bone white) plague doctor uniform from the 1600’s. Several phantoms get the stuffing beaten out of them in this issue. If this isn’t bizarre enough for you, don’t worry because the next issue, “Sleep” deals with a suspected incursion from dream space by intelligent fungal entities. The denouement at the conclusion points to something far stranger. Issue five is Ellis riffing on the film Dredd (2012) in which Mr. Knight has to battle his way up to the top floor of a building full of gangsters in order to save a hostage. This issue spotlights Spector’s brutal pragmatism as a master tactician and fighter. This is as “street level” as it gets; “Scarlet” is basically one extended bloody, nasty fight scene. In the final issue (“Spectre”), the story comes around full circle, focusing on a beat cop from issue one and his unhealthy obsession with Moon Knight.

Interior panel layout of Moon Knight: From the Dead

Ellis made the decision to jettison Spector’s traditional supporting cast of characters, although Marlene and Frenchie do make brief appearances in issue six. This iteration of Moon Knight works alone. His “companions” consist of an artificial intelligence overseeing his various vehicles and gadgets (glider, stretch limo, and drones). Moon Knight, (like many of the author’s works) is pretty light on dialogue, yet the plotting of these comics are very tight; one of Ellis’ gifts as a storyteller is that he engages with and encourages his artist collaborator(s) as equal partners in the creative process. Declan Shalvey’s art does much of the heavy lifting in keeping the story moving forward at a rapid clip. Just because the dialogue is sparse, that’s not to say that this title is devoid of ideas. Far from it; in addition to the already strange plot points that I have mentioned, Ellis presents some thought provoking twists in Marc Spector’s relationship with his divine patron. The conclusion of the first issue finds Spector in session with his mental health practitioner who contends, “You’re not insane. Your brain has been colonized by an ancient consciousness from beyond space time. Smile.”  Ellis just drops this Lovecraftian statement onto the reader’s lap, almost as an afterthought, and moves on to the next strange set piece. Another interesting wrinkle is inserted concerning the nature of Khonshu, in that the moon deity has several distinct aspects: Pathfinder, Embracer, Defender and Watcher of Overnight Travelers. This last aspect especially seems to be the prime focus of Khonshu’s guiding hand on his earthly avatar in this latest phase of his career. This mandate specifies to “bring vengeance to those who would harm travelers by night.” Spector certainly achieves this aim, with enough vengeance to spare for all comers.

Moon Knight illustration by Declan Shalvey. It's Moon Knight sitting in an easy chair with a stylized raven mask and human body in a death pose hovering in spiderwebs above Moon Knight's head.
Art by Declan Shalvey

I would contend that From the Dead is a minor work in the Warren Ellis oeuvre. It’s not as ambitious nor as epic in scope or scale as, say, Planetary or the Authority, nor does it contain the scathing social satire and black humor that was so prevalent in Transmetropolitan [Editors’ Note: The Broadswords and Blasters crew bonded partly over our love of Spider Jerusalem.] Nevertheless, these six issues are a compelling read that blur the boundary lines between genres. Is it crime fiction? A superhero book? A hero pulp? An occult detective tale? A trippy urban fantasy? I would check the “yes” box to all of the above. In addition to all of these categories, Moon Knight: From the Dead is also 100% pure high octane modern pulp fiction.

If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

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Issue 9 is here!

Issue 9 Release!

If you’ve been following us on twitter at all you know that this day was coming. No, not tax day in the US of A (though that too), but the long awaited release of issue 9. So what do we have in store for you this time?

R.A. Goli returns with a tale of how far a mother will go for her daughter in the tale “Griffon Eggs.” The first time she graced our pages was way back in issue 1, so we’re especially happy to have her back again.

Rex Weiner, veteran writer probably best known as the creator of Ford Fairlane, graces us with “Camera Obscura,” a noir tale of a shady real estate developer’s fall into obsession.

Ethan Sabatella hits us with a tale of ancient Nordic horror in “The Pole-House.”

Broadswords and Blasters Issue 9: Pulp Magazine With Modern Sensibilities (Volume 3 Book 1) by [Gomez, Matthew, Goli, R.A., Fox, Cara, Weiner, Rex, Carpini, Vince, Spencer, Matt, Blackwell, C.W., Sabatella, Ethan, Furman, Adam, Rutherford, Scotch]

Cara Fox spins a steampunk revenge tale with a twist in “The Corsair’s Daughter.” As an added bonus, she happens to have the cover story, designed by the ever awesome Luke Spooner of Carrion House .

Scotch Rutherford, the madman behind the crime/noir mag Switchblade[1], decides to drop by with “Termination Clause,” a blood-soaked bit of crime fiction.

Matt Spencer is no stranger to anyone who knows us, having had a two-part story, “Island of Skulls,” back when we were just starting out as well as contributing guest articles here on the blog. Well, Spencer is back in the mag, this time with another sword and sorcery tale distilled through hardcore punk rock circa 1981 in “Old Haunting Grounds.”

C.W. Blackwell might be new to these pages, but it takes a steady hand to write a Western as weird as “Quarter Past Ordinary.”

What happens when two master thieves fall in love, or at least lust? You probably end up with something like Vince Carpini’s “Courtship of the Queen of Thieves.”

Finally, we round out the issue with returning author, Adam S. Furman, and his tale of supersoldiers, revolutions, and unexpected explosions, “Olympian Six.” Adam first came to our attention in issue 6 with collateral damage, and he keeps getting better.

As always, we are humbled by the quality of work we get to work with and extend a sincere thanks to the writers for trusting us with their material. Thank you also to the readers and reviewers who help support us, and most especially to our long-suffering families who don’t always understand why we decided publishing a new pulp mag in the 21st century was a good idea.

Broadswords and Blasters Issue 6: Pulp Magazine with Modern Sensibilities (Volume 2) by [Gomez, Matthew X., Walton, Robert, Rose, Rie Sheridan, Furman, Adam S., Hansson, Marcus, Cole, Catherine J., Graves, J.D., Mason, Jared]

As a special thank you for getting us to twenty preorders for the kindle version, issue 6 is free on amazon for a limited period of time. It will be available from April 15th to April 19th.

As a final note (mainly because people keep asking), we’ll be reopening for submissions in October 2019. Please don’t send us anything before we are officially open, but you might want to peruse our guidelines in the meantime.

[1] Incidentally, Issue 9 of Switchblade also drops today. You really owe it to yourself to go check it out.

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Pulp Consumption: The Outsider by Stephen King

Cover of The Outsider by Stephen King

Stephen King has long been one of my favorite authors. Until about five years ago I could say I owned every book he’s written. Looking over his bibliography on Wikipedia, I’m still pretty damn close, missing only five of his most recent works, but I’ve read all but one of those, Gwendy’s Button Box, which I’ll rectify as soon as I’ve finished reading Econoclash Review #3 and the Spring 2019 issue of Cirsova.

I’ve had some mixed feelings about several of King’s recent books, namely the Bill Hodges trilogy (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch), but even with those so-so emotions I don’t regret the time spent reading them. They trade more on mystery/detective fiction than the supernatural horror King is famous for, and because of that they weren’t something I immediately fell in love with.

The same is true of the most recent book I’ve read, The Outsider, which is directly tied to the Hodges books by the inclusion of Hodges’ assistant, Holly Gibney. The Outsider starts off as a traditional mystery much in the same way Mr. Mercedes set off its trilogy. As with Mr. Mercedes, I was initially put off by the seeming ordinariness of it, enough that I skipped ahead to a chapter in the back half just to see if there was more to the story. It took only a page or two to see there was a supernatural shift, so I jumped back to where I’d left off. I’d probably have finished reading the book anyway, but I was having a really hard time connecting with the main character as he was simply a douche at the beginning, something he himself admits (not in as many words) later on and attempts to atone for by the end.

The novel starts off with the discovery of a violent and particularly depraved murder scene that includes sexual violence against a pre-teen boy. It’s almost directly out of something like Law & Order: SVU or Criminal Minds (or, sadly, reality). Suspicion flows to the boy’s baseball coach, who was seen in the area and who forensic details (including blood, DNA, fingerprints, and eyewitnesses) point so solidly to that no one in the investigative process has any doubts is the perpetrator.

The main problem with the investigation is the suspect has a rock solid alibi, including video, eyewitness, fingerprints, and DNA evidence suggesting he was out of town at the same time. Unfortunately, the suspect is gunned down outside the courtroom as he’s brought in for the indictment hearing, and that seems to be the end of it. Except there are now serious doubts in the heads of the investigator. How can a person be two places at once? Well, here’s where the fantasy horror comes in and provides the conflict for the bulk of the novel.

Be aware the next paragraph contains spoilers.

Cover of The Dark Tower: The Complete Concordance by Robin Furth.
For years I’d talked with friends and family about putting together a concordance as part of a doctoral dissertation I’d planned in my head, linking the Dark Tower to the mythology of World Trees present in many old religions…then Robin Furth published this as I was applying for graduate schools.

There are direct connections between this novel and the larger Stephen King universe. Everything King writes ultimately connects into The Dark Tower series — he even wrote himself in as a character, which loops in even works that may not seem connected at all. The Outsider is no exception. There are discussions, oblique though they may be, about ka (fate/destiny), about the struggles between light and dark (with direct influences from powerful beings who represent those world views), and about beings from outside the known universe. The main villain is a sort of psychic vampire, feeding on the powerful emotions of its victims (mainly fear, rage, and despair) in the same way Pennywise (It) and the Dandelo (The Dark Tower) do, suggesting it’s of the same sort of species. This creature, sometimes referred to by the Latin American designation of El Cuco (part of a much larger mythological construct of a bogeyman that developed on the Iberian peninsula), is a shapeshifter who takes on the likeness of a person, commits horrible acts against innocent victims, and then feeds on the resulting fear, rage, and despair before skipping town to do it all over again with a new face.

At the end of the day, I’m glad I read The Outsider. I’ll have to acquire the book for my collection at some point in the future, along with the others I don’t have. It’s not my favorite of King’s novels, but it’s worth spending time and money on.

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PULP APPEAL: MAKE ME NO GRAVE (guest post by Matt Spencer)

Editors’ Note: Matt Spencer is the author of numerous novellas and short-stories, as well as the novels The Night and the LandThe Trail of the Beast, and Summer Reaping on the Fields of Nowhere. His latest book is Changing of the Guards. He’s been a journalist, New Orleans restaurant cook, factory worker, radio DJ, and a no-good ramblin’ bum. He’s also a song lyricist, playwright, actor, and martial artist. As of this writing, he lives in Brattleboro, Vermont.

Spinning an effective Wild West tale is harder than it looks, for the same reasons as any form of historically-inspired adventure fiction, though in some ways even more so. On the one hand, there’s a consciously mythologized landscape that the audience knows well, at the very least by pop cultural osmosis, and from which they expect certain things. On the other hand, modern readers tend to view such stories through a far savvier lens than in the genre’s formative days, even when enthusiastically suspending disbelief for a wild, larger-than-life tale. Which brings me to Hayley Stone’s Weird Western novel Make Me No Grave, where the author wrangles all these working parts masterfully, spinning one hell of a ripping, supernaturally laced historically inspired caper.

US Marshal Apostle Richardson has been on the trail of ruthless lady outlaw Almena Guillary, more popularly known as the Grizzly Queen of the West. Through a series of mishaps and near-death experiences, the two adversaries find

themselves forced to work together in an uneasy partnership, which grows into an unlikely friendship laced with tantalizing slow-burn sexual tension. The frequent shootouts, fistfights, chases and robberies are described with a fast-paced, visceral sense of detail, against a richly realized backdrop of rural 19th century rural Kansas, peopled with a colorful variety of supporting characters, good, bad, and in between, on both sides of the law. While our protagonists’ spicy good-boy-meets-bad-girl chemistry feels somewhat familiar, Stone fleshes them both out with enough depth and complexity that they never fall into cliched stereotypes. The heart of the emotional conflict lies in Apostle’s increasingly strained idealism versus Almena’s hard-bitten outlaw cynicism. While they both grow and discover unexpected sides of themselves, Stone never settles for simple, clear-cut answers to the questions she raises through her characters. Apostle comes to realize that there’s as much evil and corruption on his side of the law as Almena’s, some of it institutionalized, much of it just coming down to plain ol’ human nature. On the other hand, Almena, while capable of unexpected altruism and kindness, isn’t painted as some misunderstood Robin Hood figure, nor is she merely a damaged woman who can be “fixed/saved” as Apostle initially perceives her.

Make Me No Grave: A Weird West Novel by [Stone, Hayley]

Almena also turns out to have a few supernatural tricks up her sleeve, as do a few supporting characters we and Apostle meet through her. While this aspect of the story isn’t explored in as much detail as I would have liked, I appreciated the way Stone clues us in on a hidden paranormal community beneath the surface of “normal” frontier society, much like something out of a contemporary Urban Fantasy novel, in a way that feels fresh when presented against a historical backdrop. If there’s one thing that doesn’t work about this aspect of the novel, it’s how after we’ve seen Almena’s special abilities save the day a few times, it robs some of the later moments of danger of any real sense of jeopardy.

When spinning escapist fiction out of real history, authors unavoidably face certain choices in how they present the more unpleasant realities, such as social norms that can be hard for modern audiences to look in the face. It’s especially impossible to ignore for modern Americans looking to stories of our own nation’s violent past, where specific forms of cruelty and injustice were not only horrifically normalized but remain all too relevant today. There’s a broad range of ways to address and explore this, from the raw, unflinching “fly-on-the-wall” straightforwardness of HBO’s TV series Deadwood, to more idealistic fables of victims of oppression fighting back/initially unenlightened white people learning better and helping out (the latter type usually winds up feeling too syrupy and disingenuously sentimental for my taste, with most recent notable exception being Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained). When addressing themes of racial and gender inequality, Make Me No Grave falls somewhat closer to the latter, and for the most part, works. While not the primary focus, former slaves, Mexicans, Osage Native Americans, and Chinese immigrants are depicted as real, rounded people, not stereotypes, and both Apostle and Almena’s sympathetic relationships with them are handled in ways that feel credible. The struggle Almena faces as a strong woman in a male-dominated profession is obviously relevant, and even leads to some of the book’s more interesting later twists. How she fell into that lifestyle is in some ways explored, while in other ways left mysterious.

While, as I said, these aspects are mostly handled well, there were a few sore-thumb moments where Stone committed one of my biggest pet peeves, namely 19th century characters talking about social issues in conspicuously 21st-century-sounding terms/thought-patterns, sounding more like mouthpieces than the organic, living, breathing people that they otherwise feel like. It’s to the rest of the book’s credit that these moments only briefly pulled me out of the narrative and broke my suspension of disbelief. To be fair, considering the stuffy 1950s values imposed on Western films, this is relatively preferable, and can hardly be considered a deal-breaker.

The climax of the story involves a train heist that leads to some truly unusual, memorable set-pieces, as well as a conclusion that’s at once satisfying while hinting at a sequel. If Stone writes one, I’ll gladly read it.

Make Me No Grave is available on Amazon in paperback, Kindle, and Audible.

Hayley Stone has lived her entire life in sunny California, where the weather is usually perfect and nothing as exciting as a robot apocalypse ever happens. When not reading or writing, she freelances as a graphic designer, falls in love with videogame characters, and analyzes buildings for velociraptor entry points. She holds a bachelor’s degree in history and a minor in German from California State University, Sacramento.

If you’d like to submit an article, send us a pitch. Payment is one digital copy of your choice of any issue of Broadswords and Blasters.

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Pulp Appeal: Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo (guest post by Anthony Perconti)

In 1993, editor Karen Berger at DC Comics forged a new imprint that focused on stories geared at a more mature audience and creator owned works as well. The end result was the creation of Vertigo Comics. Such early titles included, naturally enough, a transfer of already established titles such as Shade the Changing Man, The Sandman,[1] Swamp Thing, Hellblazer,[2] Animal Man and Doom Patrol. Soon after, new titles, both ongoing and limited premiered under this imprint including Neil Gaiman’s Death: the High Cost of Living, the Matt Wagner-helmed Sandman: Mystery Theatre and Peter Milligan’s Enigma. The summer of 1993 re-introduced readers to a preexisting DC character, who was inactive for a considerable amount of time; this figure received a Vertigo Comics makeover of sorts, with a five issue limited series. Written by veteran crime and horror writer, Joe R. Lansdale, and illustrated by the incomparable Tim Truman, Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo made its debut.

Jonah Hex was a character created by writer John Albano and illustrator Tony DeZuniga and made his first appearance in All Star Western, number ten in 1972. Two issues later (issue #12) the book’s title changed to Weird Western Tales, with Hex being the headliner until he graduated into his own series after issue thirty eight.  The Jonah Hex character is a morally ambiguous bounty hunter roaming the Old West plying his trade. A veteran of the Civil War, Hex still wears his Confederate grays, basically daring all comers to mess with him. Half of his face from his eye down is hideously scared from a burning tomahawk wound that he received while being tortured at the hands of his adopted Apache tribe. His series lasted ninety two issues; in 1985, the series was rebooted, with long running writer Michael Fleischer helming it. Hex lasted eighteen issues, in which Jonah Hex is transported into a post apocalyptic 21st century New York and goes on Mad Max style adventures.  The character of Hex is a response to the Spaghetti Western genre that was such a huge hit throughout the 1960’s and ‘70’s; you can see Leone and Eastwood’s Man with No Name’s fingerprints all over the amoral bounty hunter. When Lansdale and Truman debuted Two Gun Mojo, this was in turn a way to bring the character back to his roots, namely in an Old West setting. However, this being a work of Joe R. Lansdale, he put his off kilter spin on it; the miniseries falls squarely in the genre of Weird Western, a story form that Lansdale helped create. Two Gun Mojo acts perfectly as a companion piece to a previous Lansdale novel, the 1986 novel Dead in the West, the connective tissue between the two works being the author’s fictional East Texas town of Mud Creek.

The series starts out in media res, where we meet Hex being dragged behind a horse about to be lynched by a revenge seeking gang of criminals, the Traywicks. As he is strung up and dangling on death’s door, the gang is ambushed and killed by elderly bounty hunter, Slow Go Smith. Smith saves Hex’s life and collects the heads of the gang to be cashed in at the closest town of Mud Creek. Unfortunately for the two bounty hunters, the sheriff does not have the funds to pay them (he gave the cash to another group who claimed the bounty, utilizing the bodies of innocent men as proof). Slow Go and Hex are stuck in Mud Creek for a couple of days until the bounty money can come through. After spending the day threatening several obnoxious townsfolk and roughing up a couple of bullies in the town bar, the two associates head off to sleep. Unfortunately for Smith, he is a snorer and Hex kicks him out of their shared room to sleep in the barn, along with the corpses of the innocent men.  The plot accelerates from this point in the story when Smith gets into a gunfight in the barn with a resurrected corpse and loses (he ends up dead) and Hex, nearly killed by a reanimated famous gunfighter from Deadwood is framed for the murder of his partner (along with corpse stealing) and sentenced to hang. I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, but poor Hex has to bust out of prison, contend with a blood thirsty mob robbed of their entertainment (the double feature of a picnic and a hanging) and track down the person behind the murder of his associate.

The antagonist of the piece is Doc ‘Cross’ Williams. He is the owner and mastermind of a travelling medicine show, selling his patented ‘sweet brown tonic’ (see snake-oil) along with his troupe of circus performers, that are just about straight out of Tod Browning’s 1932 cult film Freaks. The troupe includes Ramona the fat lady, String-bean Jones, a tattooed, rail thin giant and Half-pint the pumpkin headed little person juggler. These performers are under Doc’s control, along with his own personal bodyguard, that reanimated gunfighter from Deadwood.  Williams fancies himself a sorcerer, having spent time in Haiti, he learned the secrets of making zombie juice, a compound that will turn the living into mindless automata, combined with the Book of Doches, a grimoire he obtained from an old preacher in Waco Texas, is able to bring the dead back to life. Williams is a creepy customer, decked out in a cloak, a stovepipe hat adorned with astrological symbols, steam-punk goggles, teeth that are filed to points and talon like hands, he certainly looks the part of an otherworldly sorcerer. At the start of the fourth issue, Hex is captured by Williams and locked in a barrel to be ‘pickled’, force fed Doc’s zombie juice so he can join the troupe as the latest attraction. The bounty hunter busts out of his captivity and is taken in by a kindly widower and his son who nurse him back to health. The series reaches its climax with the fifth issue in which Doc’s medicine show, Hex and a troop of 10th cavalry buffalo soldiers are forced to fight together against a large Apache war band, hopelessly outgunned. For longtime fans of Tim Truman, the opening scene of issue five is (in my opinion) a shout out to the character  of Emanuel Santana, from his groundbreaking, creator owned series from Eclipse Comics, Scout and Scout: War Shaman, in which an Apache father and his young son share a tender moment.

What makes Two Gun Mojo such an engaging read is the fact that both Lansdale and Truman are having a blast with the series and this sense of enthusiasm on the part of the creators certainly shines through.  Joe R. Lansdale is in top form; by utilizing Hex as the narrator, he is able to deliver one deadpan piece of dialogue after another, you get a chuckle almost on every page. For example, a recurring joke in the book, when some new character encounters Hex for the first time they are often compelled to ask him about his scar, to which the bounty hunter replies in one instance, “Damn toothpick slipped.”In addition to the snappy dialogue, Lansdale excels in plotting; along with the gallows humor, he packs in lots of action and fast pacing between two covers. Tim Truman’s myriad talents are also on display in this book. As one of the original purveyors of the gritty art style during his tenure on Grimjack and Scout, Truman’s work on this miniseries certainly harkens back to those titles, but with more experience under his belt, his line work is more accomplished. His visuals convey the sweat, dust, gun smoke, buzzing flies and oppressive heat of Texas and the surrounding environs perfectly. Truman also accentuates Hex’s disfigurement; his eye is blood red and the scar tissue surrounding it looks raw, chaffed and half healed, with his teeth peeking through the corner of his scarred mouth. Truman’s version of Hex has aesthetically more in common with the Batman villain Two-Face than he does with Clint Eastwood. The inking of Sam Glanzman and the colors of Sam Parsons definitely complement Truman’s pencils.

For readers who are unfamiliar with the works of Joe R. Lansdale, Tim Truman or with the character of Jonah Hex, Two Gun Mojo is a fine place to start. Both creators are firing on all cylinders in this miniseries; dropping a heaping dose of Weird Tales level strangeness into a gritty Spaghetti Western inspired comic book. And if you like what you read, don’t worry. This series was the start of a long partnership between the writer and artist. Lansdale and Truman collaborated together again on two more Hex miniseries’, along with other works including Conan and the Songs of the Dead and the comic adaptation of the Lansdale zombie short story, “On the Far Side of the Cadillac Desert With Dead Folks.” I would encourage readers to track down this series. The collected edition is readily available on Amazon and other online book sellers or if you prefer the actual comics, they are reasonably priced through the online comic book back issue wholesaler of your choice. Jonah Hex: Two Gun Mojo, is an example of a modern pulp inspired comic at its finest.

[1] Note from the Editor (Cameron): Like most teenagers in the 1990s, this was my introduction to Neil Gaiman. I have several individual issues of the series and the collected TPBs. If you haven’t read them, you are in for a world of wonder when you finally do.

[2] Hellblazer is the chronicle of John Constantine, another series for which Cameron owns many individual issues from the late 90s and early-to-mid 00s. You ought to go back and read this series, too.

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Pulp Consumption: “A Parallel Life” and “The Intersection” by Edmund Lester

A Parallel Life” and “The Intersection” are two short novels by Edmund Lester. Both share similar themes and even characters, almost as if they are slices of alternate universes where the action takes place.

A Parallel Life: Ben Williamson by [Lester, Edmund]
Cover for “A Parallel Life”

“A Parallel Life” follows Ben Williamson, accountant, who chances upon the fact that a man sharing his name has been recently killed. The dead man happened to be a musician in a glam rock band, and Ben-the-accountant slowly starts to take on the aspect of his dead doppelgangers life. It starts small at first- finding YouTube videos online of performances, tracking down memorabilia, picking up the guitar and playing again. It snowballs quickly, however, with Ben deciding to attend the estate auction and blowing through what reserve funds he has, much more than he was originally planning to spend. His obsession with adapting to his new life also leads to his cold-blooded execution of his wife. Ben’s various sins do catch up with him, however, at the end.

The Intersection: Ben Williamson by [Lester, Edmund]
Cover for “The Intersection”

“The Intersection” follows a similar patter as “A Parallel Life” but here Ben Williamson (still an accountant) ends up purchasing an old-fashioned projector and a number of films. One of the films is a slice of life recording of New York City in 1909. Ben quickly becomes obsessed with the recording, due in no small part to the fact that details of the recording change with each viewing. Soon after, Ben discovers there are thin spaces in the world, places where he can transition between England in the present day and New York in the past. He establishes a double life, becoming an accountant in New York. He again, like in “A Parallel Life” goes a step too far and discovers a way to kill his wife by bringing her over to New York. Because her double in New York no longer existed, having died before Ben discovered how to switch back and forth, his wife simply disappears. This act is a watershed moment, however, and Ben is forced to choose between the present day and the New York of 1909. Having made his choice, the illusion is shattered and Ben is left with nothing but regret.

What the books do well is showing how growing obsession with what you don’t have, of how having a taste of the so-called good life can drive a person down a dark path. In both cases, the obsession started as something innocuous, but as time went on the fixation became all-consuming and ended up corrupting an otherwise staid individual. A downside for me in both of these novels is that, despite the short length, they are very much windows into an ordinary life, with the extraordinary feeling tacked on in places. While there is a sense of growing detachment from his wife in both books, I was caught off guard by his decision to murder her when I read the first book.[1] There wasn’t enough there to show the character’s mental state into why he thought that was the best course (as opposed to, say, divorcing her).

The biggest drawback is that if you read one book, you may as well have read the other. Some of the details changes, but the underlying arcs and themes remain the same, making the reader feel like they are listening to the same piece of music, with only a few variations thrown in.

[1] Much less so in the second, because they follow very similar arcs.

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