Blogging Austin Briggs’ Flash Gordon, Part Nine “The Isle of the Elvins”

Friday, November 30th, 2012 | Posted by William Patrick Maynard

966521austinbriggs“The Isle of the Elvins” was the ninth installment of Austin Briggs’ daily Flash Gordon comic strip serial for King Features Syndicate. Originally published between April 22, 1943 and March 25, 1944, “The Isle of the Elvins” follows on directly from “The Royal Hunt” with Queen Tigra of Forestia accidentally losing her way back to the capitol and leading Flash and Dale into Lost Lake, where a fabled treasure stolen from Forestia long ago is believed to be buried. The trio finds a rowboat and set out to cross the lake when the boat’s owner overtakes them and capsizes the boat. Flash is overcome by the stranger and nearly drowned and has to be rescued by Dale and Tigra. The stranger takes possession of Flash’s ray gun and takes them captive. He introduces himself as Doron, King of the Elvins who live on an island in Lost Lake. Soon they are joined by the diminutive form of the Elvin General Krom.

At long last with the introduction of the Elvins, Austin Briggs steps out of Alex Raymond’s shadow and produces a storyline with characters worthy of the strip, without seeming like pale imitations of what has gone before. Arriving on the island as slaves, they are surrounded by the Elvins, who hop up and down excitedly repeatedly shouting, “More girls!” Clearly, Briggs was enjoying himself with this strip. General Krom takes a shine to Tigra, calling her “curly-top” (one can’t help but think of Shirley Temple’s movie of the previous decade), while the indignant Queen of Forestia dismisses her captor as “monkey-face.” Flash comes to Tigra’s defense, but is quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of Elvins in a scene that recalls the Lilliputians of Gulliver’s Travels.

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New Treasures: Crown of Vengeance by Mercedes Lackey and James Mallory

Friday, November 30th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

crown-of-vengeance-smallHere’s an uncomfortable admission: I’ve never read anything by Mercedes Lackey. I know that seems improbable, just statistically speaking — she’s written, by my count, somewhere around 100 fantasy novels. If you’re a fantasy fan, you’re bound to read one sooner or later.

I have no excuse. If it helps, I’m a Canadian, and the traditions and culture of your America are strange to me. But I’m coming up to speed.

There’s no better way to try a new author than when she launches a new series, and that’s exactly what Lackey has done this month with Crown of Vengeance, the first novel in The Dragon Prophecy, co-authored with James Mallory.

Mallory isn’t as well known as Mercedes Lackey, but he’s no slouch. He’s the author of the Merlin trilogy, based on the Sam Neill mini-series, and in collaboration with Lackey he’s written both the Eternal Flame trilogy — including the New York Times bestseller, The Phoenix Transformed — and the Obsidian trilogy. If you like trilogies, Mallory’s your guy.

Although the flap copy is a little coy about it, anybody who pays attention to Amazon reviews will learn that Crown is a prequel to both the Eternal Flame and Obsidian trilogies. Okay by me, I’m still trying to come up to speed here. Besides, the marketing copy included with the book tells me “No previous knowledge of Lackey and Mallory’s collaborations is necessary to enjoy this fast-paced, action packed novel.”

Between the Mercedes Lackey connection, marketing copy that includes the words “action packed,” and the late-stage melee on the cover, I’m pretty much sold. And I don’t even know what the book is about yet. I read the front jacket, and it said something about elves, demons, legends, astonishing magics, forces of Light, and the Endarkened. Got it. Bring on the archers and the leaping horses.

Crown of Vengeance was published by Tor Books on November 13. It is 605 pages in hardcover priced at $27.99, or $13.49 for the digital edition.

Vintage Treasures: The Beast with Five Fingers by W.F. Harvey

Thursday, November 29th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

the-beast-with-five-fingersTwo weeks ago, I mentioned The Power of Darkness: Tales of Terror, by Edith Nesbit, a volume in the Wordsworth Tales of Mystery And The Supernatural (or, as we prefer to call it, TOMAToS).

I first discovered Wordsworth’s excellent Tales of Mystery And The Supernatural line, believe it or not, wandering the floor at the Windy City Pulp and Paperback show in Chicago with fellow pulp aficionados Howard Andrew Jones and John C. Hocking. We’d just passed a dealer selling omnibus collections of Ki-Gor reprints — which heartily tempted Howard, let me tell you — when Hocking became distracted by a thick volume on display amidst a vast sea of books: The Beast With Five Fingers, by W.F. Harvey.

I’d never heard of Harvey, although he’s fairly well-known in pulp circles for the short story that became The Beast With Five Fingers, a 1946 creeping-hand horror flick starring Peter Lorre. Hocking’s excitement had nothing to do with the cover story however, and everything to do with “The Clock,” which he described as one of the finest horror stories ever written. That was enough for me, and I took home a copy.

Hocking is not alone in his admiration. In Gahan Wilson’s anthology Favorite Tales of Horror, which includes “The Clock,” Wilson famously wrote:

I think that for sheer menace this is the most powerful story I have ever read, though exactly what it is that is menacing, and exactly what it is menacing to do are entirely mysterious.

I’m happy to say that the story lives up to its reputation. It’s a tiny marvel, splendidly written, about a mysterious and macabre encounter in an abandoned home. Or is it? Like much of the best gothic fiction, exactly what happened is open to interpretation.

But there’s more to The Beast with Five Fingers than just “The Clock” — much more — and I’m happy to say I’ve been enjoying the entire book. (If you’re not the patient sort, however, the complete text of “The Clock” is available online.)

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Goth Chick News: Jerry Dandridge, Vampire Santa and the Best of Days of the Dead

Thursday, November 29th, 2012 | Posted by Sue Granquist

days-of-the-deadBeing fully aware that my genre of choice tends to attract a rabid following that in some cases is actually rabid, I nonetheless underestimated what I would encounter when I was invited to a horror convention held in a very pedestrian suburb of Chicago.

I readily admit that Chicago isn’t Los Angeles or even New Orleans when it comes to sub-cultures, though the elements that do exist are certainly worth wading into — if you know where to look.

But the suburbs… seriously?

Two weeks ago, Schaumburg, IL was the launch city for the Days of the Dead convention tour. Schaumburg, whose primary claim to fame is being the home to the second largest quantity of retail square footage under one roof.

True, the walking dead can often be observed there dragging their ragged-flannel-wearing selves between Aeropostale and Abercrombie, but that hardly seemed reason enough to situate a horror convention a couple of blocks away – in a Marriot Hotel, no less.

Days of the Dead is in its second year; a self-termed “by the fans, for the fans,” convention which had its inaugural show in Indianapolis in July, 2011 and will be headed to Atlanta and LA, then ending in Indy in the coming months. The press kit explained:

Chock full of special events tailored just for the fans, an active after hours scene of horror themed parties, and a massive guest list of the hottest celebrity guests, artists, and up and coming independent film makers, Days of the Dead has already began rewriting the script and setting the bar for what a true horror convention weekend should look like.

And in this case, all located within walking distance of the USA’s second largest monument to consumerism. This could be fun.

And it certainly was…

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Teaching and Fantasy Literature: Whatever Became of That Kid?

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 | Posted by Sarah Avery

If Maurice Broaddus had, instead of revising the Arthurian legends...

If Maurice Broaddus had, instead of revising the Arthurian legends...

About half of the students brought their awesomeness with them into the creative writing class. This is not to say they were all necessarily awesome at writing, just that they allowed whatever was delightful in them to show at a time when I happened to be there to see.

The other half of the students had registered in the mistaken belief that creative writing must be an easy A because there’s no right or wrong in creativity, and they tended to get angry when they discovered their error. Of those, only the plagiarist who handed in the lyrics to I’m My Own Grandpa for a poetry assignment stands out in memory.

Years later, it’s the awesome kids I still think about. I wonder what happened to the girl with the stutter who spoke clearly only in verse, who could recite long stretches of Shakespeare from memory. She wrote the most astonishing sonnets. Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the boy whose work I keep watching for, who was too nervous for eye contact when he asked whether he could connect all his pieces for the course to a comic book project he was working on outside of class.

...set his sights on revising the X-Men, the result would have looked like what my student was trying to do.

...set his sights on revising the X-Men, the result would have looked like what my student was trying to do.

No one assignment he did was stellar. In part this was a result of the weird framework of the course that had been handed down by the mighty powers of the department — we had four weeks for fiction, four weeks for poetry, four weeks for drama — and I was not at liberty to turn this student loose to write in his own genre. In part, it was because he was thinking of himself as a writer, and thinking like a writer, for the first time, so he got to make his beginner mistakes on my watch. Fine with me, fine with him.

Here’s why I think he’s still out there writing comics somewhere: he was completely content to write about his superheroes in verse, in script format, in prose, because stretching himself that way allowed him to see new things about his characters. When I gave him feedback about his drafts, I took his work seriously enough to tell him what wasn’t working.

Unlike the students who were after easy A’s, this guy never complained about comments or grades. He took my suggestions and assessments under advisement, and got back to work. He had the personality and habits of a lifelong creator, and he had articulated to himself and others that he intended to be in it for the long haul.

The Internet hasn’t turned him up for me. His name is common, but I would think there can’t be so many African-American comic book artists creating African-American superheroes that he’d stay hard to find. Now that I’m writing occasional posts here about books I assigned in that old creative writing class, I wish I could ask him if anything from that semester was of long-term use to his work in comics–regardless of whether that work ever appeared in print.

Sarah Avery’s short story “The War of the Wheat Berry Year” appeared in the last print issue of Black Gate. A related novella, “The Imlen Bastard,” is slated to appear in BG‘s new online incarnation. Her contemporary fantasy novella collection, Tales from Rugosa Coven, follows the adventures of some very modern Pagans in a supernatural version of New Jersey even weirder than the one you think you know. You can keep up with her at her website,, and follow her on Twitter.

Fools in the Hotzone: Saruman as the Bold but Incompetent Firefighter

Wednesday, November 28th, 2012 | Posted by Adrian Simmons

unfinished-talesEvery year the Man sends me to Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response class. These HAZWOPER classes are almost always taught by firefighters because they routinely deal with emergency responses to hazardous materials.

Over the years, I’ve noticed a trend in the way they teach the course — that most of the examples of what not to do when knee-deep in an emergency dealing with hazardous materials comes from the hard lessons of other firefighters. More specifically, they come from the gung-ho firefighters who charge into a dangerous situation, make said situation worse, and other firefighters have to spend time and energy rescuing them instead of dealing with the main problem.

Because I’m a nerd, and I’ve taken this class a lot over the years and my mind wanders, I immediately saw a parallel to the wizards of JRR Tolkien’s Middle-Earth.

Background? Surely:

So at the end of the Second Age, Sauron has completely corrupted the men of Númenor, causing their destruction and his own. Because you can’t keep a good Miaiar down, and especially an extremely bad one like Sauron, he’ll be back. Which is why the Valar of the Utermost West decided to select three of their number to go to middle earth and “deal” with the problem of Sauron’s inevitable return.

From The Return of the King:

They came therefore in the shape of Men, though they were never young and aged only slowly, and they had many powers of mind and hand. The two highest of this order (of whom it is said there were five) were called by the Eldar (elves) Curunir ‘the Man of Skill’, and Mithrandir, ‘the Grey Pilgrim’, but by Men in the North Saruman and Gandalf.

Notice how the original number of three swelled to five? That’s what happens when divine beings make decisions by committee. However, the details of those proceedings are important — nay crucial — in understanding Saruman’s supreme arrogance and the depth of his magnificent solution to the Sauron problem.

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Adventure on Film: The Horseman On the Roof

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 | Posted by markrigney

tumblr_lu78az8s9c1qlll6ko1_500I didn’t know it at the time, but back when I was ten and surfing through horrendous Tarzan movies on rainy Saturday afternoons, The Horseman On the Roof (Le Hussard Sure le Toit, 1995) was the film I was actually hoping to see. Not that I would have understood much of what was going on, but the kinetic energy of it –– the film’s unswerving certainty that these events matter –– would have transported me right out of my seat.

Better yet, it still does. Horseman opens with a kidnapping and an execution, then tears off on a cross-country pursuit. Nor does the pace slacken. Director Jean-Paul Rappeneau fills even potentially tranquil moments –– a patriot hurriedly donning his overcoat, a restless horse being chosen by torchlight –– with kinetic punch. Horseman is a period piece, make no mistake, but it is also an action movie, and a great one.

True, there’s no overt fantasy element –– beyond the ready fictionalization of history necessary to the telling –– but Horseman is a six-course meal with all the trimmings: call it sword and sorcery without the sorcery.

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Marvel Feature: Red Sonja 6

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 | Posted by MichaelPenkas

marvel-feature-6-coverSo this issue touches on a pretty sensitive topic for me: book vandalism. Working in libraries, on and off, for most of my adult life, I’ve had to deal with this problem over and over. Some people just swipe whatever reference page they want, rather than using a photocopier. After all, why pay a dime for your own copy when you can steal the information from generations to come for free? Some people just don’t like the fact that certain information is freely available to the public and take it upon themselves to censor library materials. For instance, every single copy of Our Bodies, Ourselves had pages ripped out (and if you guessed they were in the chapter on women’s sexuality, you understand the mind of a censor). Some people just want to write down a phone number or a grocery list and rip out the page of a book that they don’t see any value in. Honestly, write it on the back of a receipt.

Anyway … Red Sonja spends the first four pages of Marvel Feature 6 beheading a pair of jackal-men, which is not much different than any other typical afternoon for her. But when she runs across Karanthes, a priest of Ibis, he explains that those weren’t just two run-of-the-mill half-man/half-jackal bandits, but special agents sent by a priest of Set to kill Sonja before she could meet Karanthes. It seems that Set and Ibis are two gods locked in an endless struggle with one another (Edith Hamilton says different, but that’s neither here nor there) and the priests essentially carry out their struggle on the earthly plane. Karanthes wants to hire Red Sonja to retrieve a document that he believes will help tip the struggle in his god’s favor.

So our mystic doodad of the month is a page torn from the Book of Skelos. We’re told that the Book of Skelos “contains the most fearsome magic-lore on Earth,” although frankly that gets said about a lot of books (including Our Bodies, Ourselves, apparently). While the book is closely guarded, apparently someone managed to tear out one of its pages and make off with it. Now, we never find out what’s on this page, if it contains a spell or a table of contents or just a dedication. (“To my wife, Sheb Niggurath, my most ruthless critic, my most tireless supporter, my everything. I love you, forever.”) And Red Sonja doesn’t really care either, as long as she gets paid.

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Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition on Sale Tomorrow

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012 | Posted by John ONeill

baldurs-gate-enhanced-logoOver ten years ago, at GenCon 1998, I came across a tiny booth in the Grand Hall manned by a very friendly group of software developers from Edmonton, Alberta. They were promoting an upcoming game called Baldur’s Gate and boy, did it look terrific. Traffic in the booth was slow and they seemed grateful for the company — so much so that when I finally left, they handed me part of their display, a giant mock-up of the retail box. To this day it occupies a place of pride in my office.

When Baldur’s Gate was released in November 1998, it quickly became one of the most acclaimed computer role playing games in history. It put those friendly Edmonton developers, an outfit named BioWare, on the road to stardom, and over the next decade they came to dominate the industry with titles like Neverwinter Nights, Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic, Mass Effect, Dragon Age, and Star Wars: The Old Republic.

Baldur’s Gate, with its splendid story, characters, and revolutionary (for the time) Infinity game engine, still occupies a special place in the hearts of modern gamers. It was released for Windows 95/98 and doesn’t run well on modern machines — so for most of us, Baldur’s Gate is a distant memory, like those late nights playing Dungeon Master on an Amiga.

All that is about to change. A small start-up named Overhaul Games launched by two ex-Bioware employees, co-founder Trent Oster and lead programmer Cameron Tofer, has spent the last two years working on Baldur’s Gate: Enhanced Edition, a complete re-write of the original title for modern platforms. The new version boasts over 400 enhancements — including new high-res cinematics, an enhanced interface, improved multiplayer, core game improvements & bug fixes, higher level cap, over six hours of bonus quests & new adventures, new party members, and much more. It includes both the original game and the 1999 expansion pack, Tales of the Sword Coast.

Best of all, the game has been optimized for modern platforms, including the iPad and Android tablet. I for one can’t wait to sit down on the couch and play Baldur’s Gate on my iPad. You can see more details, including screenshots and a gorgeous trailer, at the Overhaul website.

The PC version of Baldur’s Gate is priced at $19.95; it will be available for download this Wednesday exclusively through the new Beamdog digital distribution platform. iPad and Mac OS editions will be sold through the Mac App Store in November; release date for the Android version is TBA.

Publishing Nightmares

Monday, November 26th, 2012 | Posted by Managing Editor Howard Andrew Jones

nightmareOnce upon a time, I had the crazy idea that if a book was good, it would stay in print. I also figured that a “best-of” volume would probably have all the good stories from an author, and I was actually naive enough to think that if a work by a favorite author was out of print, it probably wasn’t as good as the work that was still on shelves.

I had a lot to learn.

Sure, it’s true that a lot of the classics never go out of print. And in my own experience, Sturgeon’s Law seems to hold pretty true — at least 90% of all art is pretty bad, which partly explains why things go out of print. That’s why, when I used to wander through a used bookstore past ranks of shelves holding books with titles and authors I’ve never heard of, I was pretty sure I wasn’t missing much.

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