The Scarlet Gospels

I started writing this review back in June 2015 and abandoned it because I was so disappointed.  I decided to finish it today just to get it out there.  I think I am more interested in the introduction to the review than the review itself. Anyway, maybe there is something here worth talking about.

Throughout each of our lives we have first time experiences which define our future expectations. We spend the rest of our lives chasing those experiences in the hopes of having that same feeling back again if just for a moment. Sadly it is a rare to get those things backs even for a moment.  Try to remember how it felt the first time you fell madly in love or the awe at seeing something like The Grand Canyon or the castle at Disney World. Things like the birth of your first child, your first orgasm, or even your first drug experience all imprint on a person’s life in a way the second, third, and future repeats of the experience never can.  Life is filled with uncountable experiences that once you live through them ever other similar experience is always compared.  In some ways it a tragic reality of human existence that one of the things that makes us unique, our ability to have and remember experiences, causes us to try and relive those experiences often to our disappointment.

What I find lately is that I am constantly disappointed in things. I have this great experience with movies like Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those experiences were so good and so strong that I have spent hours and hours watching movies all in the hope in recapturing the wonder and amazement that I felt while watching those films even though I know now that it is unlikely that I will ever feel that again. What becomes tougher to accept as we get older is that the person that had those defining experiences is not that same person looking to have them again.  That person was young. That person was naive. That person didn’t have decades of life to compare to the things that were happening to them.  We are not the same at 40 as we were at 20. This speaks to the old saying that “youth is wasted on the young”.  We come to realize that there really is nothing new under the sun.

Clive Barker's The Scarlet GospelsI am kind of sad that nothing impresses me these days. Not movies that I have been waiting for or vacations that I take, or books that I read. Everything lately has been a “been there and done that” situation.  It is making it harder and harder for me to get excited about reading novels.  I get so damn disappointed when a book fails to have a satisfying ending.  This is exactly what happened by the time I got to the end of The Scarlet Gospels by Clive Barker.  This book was supposed to be Barker’s return to the Hellraiser mythology and the ultimate and final Pinhead story.  Fans of The Hellbound Heart have been hearing about this book for years and, at least for me, expectations were high.

My first exposure to Clive Barker came when I rented Hellraiser as a kid.  The film came out in 1987 so it must have hit the rental shelves sometime around 1998 which would have made me around twelve to thirteen years old.  It was like nothing I had seen before. It was gory ans sexual and took the material seriously.  It wasn’t jokey like the Freddy films or just ridiculous like Jason of Friday the 13th.  No, this movie was dark and kid of ugly but in a mesmerizing way.  I have often said this film started my horror obsession and chasing my first experience with the film has been one of those things that always seems to disappoint.  I don’t think I ever found another film that affected quite like this one did.  Even the more hardcore and disturbing films I came to watch later never stuck with me like Hellraiser did.  Again it is one of those moments in time that you can never repeat no matter how hard you try.

Of course as time passed I watched all the sequels, mostly bad, read the original book, pretty good, and found the comic series that has some really great moments.  If it was Hellraiser I devoured it.  As things go, however, the quality of the franchise fell quickly and the disappointment came back.  When Barker announced he was writing a new Hellraiser book and it was to be the ultimate Pinhead story I could not wait.  Finally it came out and I burned through it as quickly as possible.  Boy did it start out exactly like I wanted with the dark horror I was looking for but suddenly things changed and it became something else.  Something boring.  By the end I was left feeling unfulfilled.  Instead of a study of the denizens of hell and the ultimate battle for power we got some kind of road story with a bunch of humans kind of following in Pinheads wake.  The story had none of the raw energy of the original book and film.  The original book deals with the nature of desire and the demons (figuratively and literally) that can be released when desire is allowed to grow unchecked and there was none of that here.  So much of what seems interesting is completely glossed over and the least interesting parts of the book, mainly the humans, are given most of the word count.  A Hellraiser story should never be dull but this was, for the the most part, exactly that.

That isn’t to say there wasn’t some good to be had.  The opening prologue was excellent and set high expectations for the book.  The depiction of Lucifer was superbly original and more of that story/backstory may have helped the book rise above what it become.  Overall, however, it just left me flat and wishing for more.

Barker nearly died before the publication of this book and his health problems over the past decade or so have been so unfortunate but I still find it hard to excuse how this book came out.  It actually reminds me a lot of what happened to The Dark Tower series after Stephen King had his accident.  In that case everything that came after the author’s struggle seems to be missing the edge found in previous books and I feel the same about The Scarlet Gospels and Clive Barker.  Something was missing but the author wrote the book anyway and the result is less than spectacular.

Like a junkie I keep chasing those transformative experiences I’ve had with books and film while at the same time knowing that nothing can ever be the same as when I was young and more of a blank slate.  The more I realize that I will never have those feelings back the sadder I get.  It’s not like I dwell on those feelings or anything but it sure is disappointing.  I hope that one day someone ha new sights to show me.

Why I Love Comics – Origin Story

A few years back I wrote a two part post about my journey through comics up to that point. It covered the three ages of my life where I was really into comics and the dark ages in between. The posts can be found below.

A Fanboy’s Story Part I
A Fanboy’s Story Part II

While those posts do a good job of laying out how I came to comics, what sent me away and what brought me back, I only briefly mentioned some of my favorite issues. As I have been considering new things to write about to breath some new life into this site I started thinking about these posts and maybe revisiting the reasons why comics are important to me as I enter my 40th year of life. Thus was the genesis of what is to be a new series here called “Why I Comics”. I plan to pull out issues from my collection that have some kind of special meaning or story and just kind of talk about them for a bit to document why I have this fringe hobby and what keeps me coming back week after week. I hope it is interesting and maybe inspires others to join the many other comics fans in the world. Now, on with the show.

I can’t really be sure what the first comic book I ever had really was. It is certainly possible and even likely that my parents or grandparents gave me a Mickey Mouse comic or an Archie comic when I was really young but if they did, none of them survived my toddler years. The book I do remember is Krull #2 from December of 1983. How this book manager to survive my eight year old self and then travel with me for 32 years I will never know but it did. The edges are worn, the cover is completely off and it looks like exactly what it is, a well read and well loved comic owned by a child.

Krull #2

If you aren’t familiar with Krull then let me give you the high points. Krull was a Sci-Fi/Fantasy film that came out of the post Star Wars era. It combined the sword and sorcery epic with an evil empire led by a dark and powerful force. The Star Wars influence was all over this movie including an impenetrable fortress and soldiers armored in all white. I don’t necessarily want to review the film at the moment but it is notable for early film appearances by Liam Neeson and Robbie Coltrane, that weird teacher from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, and a pretty awesome score by James Horner.

I can remember seeing the trailers for this film on TV but I never got to see it when it came out. We didn’t go to a lot of movies when I was young (which probably explains why I go all the time now) but just the idea of this film fascinated me. I was a HUGE Star Wars nerd (still am) and this film looked to scratch that itch for high adventure. At some point around its release I got this comic. I have no idea who bought it for me or where it came from but I can only assume it came from a spinner rack or store shelf at the grocery store. In 1983 this would be the only way I ever came across comics. Having the comic meant I could play out the movie in my head. This being issue #2 it starts right in the middle of the action. Seriously, the first page begins with what is probably the creepiest part of the whole film, the swamp battle! You have this great swamp fight, a wizard, a cyclops, and the hero. For an eight year old it was AMAZING! I didn’t need issue #1 as this had all the best parts. It has section with a giant spider, fire-mares, an awesome throwing star/glaive weapon, and a really menacing bad guy that gets defeated at the end. This was my first “real” comic and it could not have been more appealing to me!

Looking back on the book now it is pretty awful. The art is bad, the story is mostly just told rather than shown and it crams a lot of story into the second of a two part comic. Honestly, the movie is pretty bad too but it remains one of my guilty pleasures and how good is Freddie Jones right? None of that matter in 1983 though. Here was a book that let me experience a film I wanted to see but couldn’t and I could go back to it as often as I wanted. I think that is what led to me getting into comics the most as a kid. I could go back and read these over and over again and have that joyous experience every time. Reading this book never got old for me and that probably explains why I still have it today.

Krull 2 Front and Back

This was my only comic for the next few years. I don’t remember having another book until 1985, there is nothing in my collection from those intervening years, and then my obsession exploded. While that is a story for another day, it is important to remember that it began with this poor movie adaptation comic. I think I learned that comics had everything I cared about. Things like Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and that they could be about movies or TV shows or whatever! I didn’t buy many adaptation comics through the years and mostly the ones I got were bad but I always remembered this one and how it was the stand-in for a movie I wanted desperately to see but never could.

The book today is worn but readable. I have certainly seen books in worse condition but this one can only have sentimental value at this point. Come to think of it, even the most well preserved books in my collection really only have sentimental value but this one is one of my “keys”. It isn’t a first appearance of anything, it isn’t rare, and it isn’t something that is sought after in the collectors market. It is my first comic and that gives it a special spot in my collection.

Tune in next time when we talk about one of the most important mini-series in all of comics.

LEGO Dimensions

My wonderful wife and daughter bought LEGO Dimensions for me as a Christmas present. I have been playing it almost daily since Christmas morning. We have sampled most of the toy-to-game products including Skylanders and Disney Infinity and this is by far the most enjoyable experience I have had with games of this type. It should be known that we have played most of the LEGO games culminating most recently in LEGO Batman 3 which should have just been called LEGO Justice League. Emily and I both enjoy them and love their co-operative play. LEGO Dimensions, therefore, was right up our alley and it has delivered on every level.

LEGO Dimensions Doctor WhoI want to especially note the Doctor Who level pack that Emily bought. It comes as pictured and once you play through the level as the 12th Doctor you “unlock” all of the other iterations of the character. In future levels when the Doctor “dies” he regenerates as the next doctor or, in the case of 12, he regenerates back to the first Doctor. You can also unlock the ability to change all of the in-game music to Doctor Who tracks.  It is a really excellent experience if you are a Who fan.

The other level pack that we have is the Portal level pack and it is equally well done. I never would have guessed that I would see GLaDOS rendered in LEGO form. All of the voice talent is there too including Stephen Merchant as Wheatley.  In fact, many of the franchises’ voices are on display within the game. You want Peter Capaldi?  You got Peter Capaldi! You want Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown? Well my friend, you GOT Christopher Lloyd as Doc Brown.  Seriously, check out the cast listing! Some of it is from archive footage but a lot of new recordings were made as well.

LEGO Dimensions Cast Listing

The best thing about this game is that it is family friendly but there is a lot to be loved by the 40 year old geek like myself. Even my wife got a kick out of seeing Batman fight flying monkeys during the Wizard of Oz level. The downside of course is that to unlock all of the content you have to but a ton of stuff. The starter pack is a full game and you can get quite a bit of enjoyment out of it but it really shines when you add in other characters and open up their worlds and levels. Who doesn’t want to go tooling around Homer Simpson’s Springfield or spend time inside the TARDIS? If you like the LEGO games this will seems similar but the portal and the interactivity add an extra…Dimension…(Get it) to to formula. There are hours of game time in here so the value is there. You will pay more for this game than say Disney Infinity but I think you also get a much more enjoyable product. It gets my two thumbs up!

What I really want no is a full LEGO Doctor Who stand alone game. That would be wizard!

Reading Challenge 2016

Well, I failed another reading challenge in 2015. I set a goal of 16 books and I made it to 15. I had two books to finish during the month of December and neither of were completed. Missed it by “that” much. It was a good year and I read a bunch of stuff I liked and that doesn’t include all of the great comics I read throughout the year.  Nevertheless, I am still kind of bummed that I just can’t seem to reach any of the reading goals I have set for myself over the last couple of years. I can’t really put a finger on why I have not been able to meet my goals I just don’t seem to get there. Maybe I am just that busy these days or maybe I just don’t take the time to read as often as I could. Whatever the reason, I would really like to turn that downward trend around.

With that in mind I set my goal to 18 books this year.  That is two more than last year but I am also partially done with three books already so I kind of have a head start. Below is a link to my 2016 challenge. You can join in on the fun if you like. Just set up a Goodreads.com account and get to reading!

https://www.goodreads.com/user/show/5801980-jeff

Happy 2016 and May The Force Be With You!

Star Wars - The Force AwakensIs there a better way to start 2016 than with a second viewing of Star Wars – The Force Awakens? I suggest that there is not! It is a really wonderful thing to share my love of Star Wars with my family and actually see them enjoy it. This was not the case with those “other” Star Wars movies. I am glad to have a second shot at it in my lifetime.

Emily went with me today and after the film she was really geeking out with me about all of the fan theories regarding Rey’s parentage, Luke’s missing years, and Emo Kylo Ren. In many ways watching her dive into the Star Wars universe and have fun with it like I used to is the best part of the whole thing. She has grown up with Star Wars all around her but never connected with any of it until this most recent film. I think if I could give J.J. Abrams a hug I would. He has been able to bring back all the good feelings that the prequels appeared to have destroyed. Those of us that grew up loving the original trilogy finally have something they can point to and say “This is what we have been talking about for over 30 years.” I don’t know if Emily will ever come to love this new Star Wars like I loved the old one but I know she will have the memory of experiencing it with her dad and that puts a smile on my face.

I don’t feel the need to review the film. If you want to read reviews there are plenty out there. Nothing I say can add anything new to that discussion. On a personal level, however, I can say that it works for me. Nothing is ever perfect but I can’t point to anything and really say “I wish they didn’t do that” or “This doesn’t belong in a Star Wars movie.” Again, I can not say the same thing for the prequels. The simplest yet most powerful praise I can ever give to a film is wanting to see it again as soon as the credits roll. I have seen this one twice now and I am ready to go again.

What are the show times for tomorrow?