New Book Review

Senses Five Press will occasionally be posting book reviews and reviews of other media to our site. Eugene Myers recently read DC Universe: Helltown for us and offers his opinion below. This and previous reviews can be found in our new Review Corner.

DC Univers: HelltownDC Universe: Helltown
by Dennis O’Neil, published by Warner Books

The third installment of a limited series of novels set in the DC Universe from Warner Books, Helltown is another name for the dangerous and corrupt Hub City. Like many troubled cities in the DC canon, this one has a vigilante protector: The Question. This masked hero is joined by an ensemble of DC characters, including Lady Shiva, Richard Dragon, and, most notably, Batman.

This book will have the greatest appeal to readers familiar with DC Comics. The author, Dennis “Denny” O’Neil, should be recognizable to longtime comic book fans for his work in such titles as Batman Knightfall, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and The Question. O’Neil, however, is more than qualified for the difficult task of making the story accessible to readers unfamiliar with the DC Universe while also appealing to hardcore fans.

Helltown is the origin story of The Question, a relatively obscure DC hero who has enjoyed a resurgence in recent years with the Justice League Unlimited animated series and the ongoing DC title, 52 Weeks. The novel follows Vic Sage as he arrives in Hub City. He finds employment as a reporter for a local radio station, soon discovers a corrupt government headed by the unsavory Mayor Benedict Fermin, and uncovers a terrible plot that extends far beyond the city limits. Along the way he creates his superhero persona: a faceless man garbed in a trench coat and fedora.

Vic Sage seems like he was lifted from the 1980s; he frequently marvels at 21st century technology, including cellphones and “Googling.” He is a socially and politically conscious hero from another era, updated along with his supporting cast to more modern times. O’Neil takes other liberties with the established DC Comics history, seamlessly blending storylines from various comics into a unique story that stands on its own. Though devoted fans might take some exception to his changes, most people will simply enjoy the ride—and O’Neil’s approach ensures that everyone will find some surprises along the way.

At its heart, Helltown is about morally complex characters in extraordinary situations, and O’Neil grounds them firmly in reality even while convincing us that superheroes exist. The novel is well plotted, with frequently witty dialogue and solid action.

In a word: fun.

September 28, 2006 – Eugene Myers for Senses Five Press

The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture

The Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop CultureThe Cult of Alien Gods: H.P. Lovecraft and Extraterrestrial Pop Culture
by Jason Colavito, Published by Prometheus Books

This dense yet fascinating read proclaims that those theories suggesting humanity commingled with alien races long ago — possibly even being spawned by one — can be directly traced, not to historical reality, but to a series of fictional short stories by the horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, written at the beginning of the 20th century. Author Colavito — a former believer, and a contributor to Skeptic magazine — takes us chronologically through the history of this idea, from Lovecraft’s life to the present day, and he makes a convincing argument that “extraterrestrial genesis,” the theory that humanity was created by aliens, is hogwash. Lovecraft, Colavito argues, was a lifelong atheist and materialist and had no room for these pseudo-scientific theories in real life — but he knew well that they make for excellent fiction. The biographical portrait consumes only a fraction of The Cult of Alien Gods, though, and the rest of the work details long arguments intended to debunk dozens of alien-history theories, including those that claim: the Sphinx at Giza is much older than originally thought; Atlantis was real and home to an ancient, technological race; an ancient African tribe knew Sirius was a double star even before modern astronomers did. Though the links to Lovecraft seem reasonable at first blush, Colavito’s arguments sometimes turn specious, and he’s not immune to the same weakness of which he accuses others: presupposing a conclusion and then accepting only evidence that supports it. Nevertheless, it’s a worthwhile read that seeks to shed light upon a hundred years of speculation and myth, while at the same time paying high praise to one of the last century’s greatest storytellers.

January 9, 2006 – Matthew Kressel (courtesy Earthling Magazine).

John Crow’s Devil

John Crow’s Devil
by Marlon James
Published by Akashic Books

In the Jamaican town of Gibbeah, all is not well. The village priest is a drunk they’ve dubbed the Rum Preacher, and the devil’s work roams as freely as the vultures. John Crow’s Devil is rife with the black birds, which seem inextricable from the festering morality of this forsaken community. Enter a smarmy man from Kingston called the Apostle York, who drags the former priest from his pulpit and leaves him in a haunted river to rot. First-time novelist James drenches us in Christian symbols, as the river becomes the Rum Preacher’s baptism and subsequent rebirth. While the Apostle slowly convinces the congregation to loathe the word Jesus, to murder cattle farmers, to attack visitors and destroy the only bridge into town, cows are born with heads turned backwards, and strange murders of crows congregate on rooftops and in yards. James weaves a dark, engaging tale from this mix of magic realism and religious literalism. While there are a few unnecessary distractions from the story — sexual organs are mentioned a bit too frequently, and the narrative is often recounted in an awkward-to-read Jamaican patois — in the end it’s a remarkably solid debut novel, promising much from a young and talented writer.

January 9, 2006 – Matthew Kressel (courtesy Earthling Magazine).

X out of Wonderland

X out of WonderlandX out of Wonderland
by David Allan Cates
Published by Steerforth

The Global Free Market will solve all ills: That is the premise which propels “X,” the protagonist of Cates’ satirical novel X out of Wonderland, on a journey from successful radio talk-show host to third-world sweatshop laborer, from kill-or-be-killed soldier to oversexed commune citizen. Make no mistake, X out of Wonderland is diatribe — but it’s the funniest and most poignant diatribe about the state of our current society you may ever read. No matter how many times X loses all that he has, no matter how much pain he suffers, he still trusts in the redemptive power of the Global Free Market. Wonderland contains genius twists and turns of phrase which alternately delight and horrify; its only fault is that the novel is rather plotless, moving from one circumstance to the next literally with every gust of wind. But at a breezy 140 pages, this fact can be easily overlooked as we enjoy our light-hearted tour of the rife hypocrisy that passes daily under our noses. Despair over the hopelessness of life on earth has never been so much fun.

January 9, 2006 – Matthew Kressel (courtesy Earthling Magazine).

The Water Mirror: Dark Reflections, Book 1

The Water Mirror: Dark Reflections, Book 1The Water Mirror: Dark Reflections, Book 1
by Kai Meyer, translated by Elizabeth D. Crawford
Published by Simon & Schuster

What do a blind orphan girl with mirrors for eyes, mermaids, Egyptians, flying stone lions, and urban Italy all have in common? Apparently nothing — until you pick up Kai Meyer’s The Water Mirror and begin floating with her down the canals of Venice. This first volume of a young-readers series, originally published in German, centers around Merle, a bold and curious orphan who begins an apprenticeship under the reclusive magic-mirror maker Arcimboldo. In the spirit of Pullman’s His Dark Materials, The Water Mirror‘s Venice exists in an alternate universe, where mermaids are raised in farms, stone lions guard the submerged city from imperious Egypt, and magic roams as freely as the flowing waters. And just like Pullman, Meyer leaves us waiting for the next book in the series. The author hints of great wonders — two expelled wizards whose aged towers lean uncomfortably close, gigantic underwater cities abandoned to the ravages of time — but she often gets caught up in relating this backstory, and long stretches of the narrative refer to events long ago, or are revealed rather awkwardly as conversations inside Merle’s mind. Nevertheless, The Water Mirror is imaginative enough to evoke wonder, and one hopes that with the scene now completely set, Meyer can open the floodgates of her creativity onto Venice with the next installment.

January 9, 2006 – Matthew Kressel (courtesy Earthling Magazine).