Friday, September 30, 2011

SHADOWS RISING - The Extended McLean Cut

By Russel D McLean

At Bouchercon this year, I was lucky enough to be involved in two brilliant panels. The first was called WOMEN TROUBLE, and boy was that ever an apt description… tasked with trying to control the femmes fatales that are Christa Faust, Lori G Armstrong, Karen Olson, Judy Clemens and Lauren Milne Henderson (also known as Bonkbuster author Rebecca Chance), I was expected to be eaten alive but thankfully came out relatively unscathed.

However, as much fun as the panel was (and boy, it really was) this week I’m talking about my other panel – SHADOWS RISING – which concerned films for the discerning crime fan. The panel was chaired by Jeremy Lynch and also featured Todd Ritter, David Corbett, Megan Abbott and Wallace Stroby (all of whome are well worth reading).

Oh, yes. We were talking movies. But of course, as it turned out, we needed a lot longer than we got. Which was a shame because we were just about to hit one of my favourite movie periods when the time ran out. Yup, in movie terms, I adore the late 60’s and pretty much all of the70’s. While I appreciate and can articulate my love for the dark noir of the forties and fifties – we didn’t progress beyond this period, having so much to talk about! – there’s something about the gritty naturalism of this period of film-making that really grabs me.

So here are my choices for the time period we never got to discuss:

One of those films that would later be “defiled” by modern Hollywood in the form of Mel Gibson vehicle PAYBACK*, the original is a powerhouse of a movie. Lee Marvin’s “Walker” would come to colour the way I viewed the Parker character from the source material (Richard Stark’s THE HUNTER) and embody, to me, the ultimate criminal bastard. He’s cold, tough and deadly. He says more with a look than a little boy like Gibson could say with a thousand tough-guy speeches. He owns the screen every second he’s on there, and his refrain of “I want my money” is delivered so coolly and devoid of the kind of faux-anger lesser actors might employ that it sends a chill down your spine.

Okay, I admit, the scene in the nightclub has dated a little (it’s pretty groovy, man) but a couple of slips aside this is an absolute masterpiece of tough guy cinema and one of my favourite all time movies. Which is why it’s a crying goddamn shame that it ain’t available on DVD here in the UK…

One of those rare UK crime movies I love, GET CARTER is perfection from start to finish. The opening score is brilliant and contrasts beautifully with the dull grey of 70’s Newcastle. And Caine is perfection. A very British Walker, I suppose, his tough guy menace is on a par with Marvin’s. Again its in the spaces between the action that Cain really shines. Just a little or a little movement shows you he means business. This is a gritty, dirty and brilliant little movie that capitalises on its UK setting in a way very few films ever manage.

Again, like Point Blank, Get Carter was subjected to Hollywood remake. In 2000, Sylvester Stallone foolishly moved the story to the US and created one of the great cinematic turkeys. Although I do believe he at least gave Caine a cameo.

Was my third choice. It was narrowed down from a further short list that included later films like Serpico and Bullitt. So why plump for the earlier In The Heat of the Night?

Well, the answer was simple: it was a film that showed me a world utterly alien to me. I grew up in a tolerant Scottish household that taught me to treat all people equally, and here was a world where a black man had to fight for respect, had to struggle against ignorance and fear because he looked different. It was a world that was shocking to me to discover, and the sheer power of the performances from both Poitier and Steiger had me glued to the screen. This is one of those films that shows crime fiction can be the ideal way to explore social and political issues. And of course, its got that great Ray Charles theme. What else could you ask for?

There were two more periods, of course, we had left to cover. And while my brief comments were recently put up by Jeremy Lynch on the Crime Spree blog, I really felt I had to expand and say what I would have if I had the chance to expand on my ideas and thoughts on what I consider to be just a smattering of the movies that for me define certain decades.

So unless something else crops up, I guess next week I’ll be talking eighties. Which probably means I have to mention my special “sacred cow” that resulted in a several minute long rant that I think took much of the audience by surprise…

*Jay Stringer and others defend this movie, especially the “director’s cut”. But I refuse to listen. Seriously, PAYBACK is a bad movie. Deal with it.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Still Got Yer 52 Right Here

By Jay Stringer

I wrote a few weeks back about DC's new line-wide relaunch of it's comics. It's been quite a month, some very impressive sales figures and a lot of comics. There have been some great stories and some....less than....good......ones.

Last week saw two very controversial depictions of women. For a few days I mulled over whether to go into more detail on that, whether to make it the central issue of today's blog. In truth though, a lot of ink has already been spilled on it, and a lot of people have already made the arguments better than I can.

I agree with the criticisms of them, and I won't be picking up the second issues. But I don;t want to focus on the negatives. There have been some real fun issues this month that you can still read online, and I want to focus on those.

First, though, I want to talk about how my reading habits have changed thanks to the new day-and-date digital releases.

Every writers blog has talked about ebooks. Hell, every writers blog has pulled people in off the street to write about ebooks. Some of us have learned to carry out seances, just so that we can get more people who want to blog about ebooks.

I don't own a Kindle, an IPad, a Nook or a cranny. I'm not against them. In fact, I'm in full support. The only thing that has been stopping me from picking one up was comics. I want my mobile device to read comics. The Kindle and Nook didn't do that, and the IPad is out of my price range. (As I type this, more details are coming out of the Kindle Fire and, well, maybe.)

I've been itching to switch over to digital comics ever since I first tried reading comics online, and this week I got the chance. There are still a few titles, a few indie publishers, who I will support in print, but as of this month my comics reading is about 90% digital.

And I've noticed something.

With print comics, I would get to the store on the day of release, or a couple days later, and buy all my weeks comics. I'd take them home in a bundle, and sit and read through them reverently. Then I'd be done for another week. With digital, my finger is hovering over the button at 7pm, waiting for the titles to show up on the Comixology website, and then I'm downloading them all in one go. But Then I spread the reading out over the week. I'll sit on my laptop (still my main reading device) and get work done, or surf the net (do people still say that?) or catch up on emails, then I'll read a comic.

Of the batch I bought last wednesday, I read the last one yesterday. So that's a full week of spreading out the experience, of effectively tivo-watching my comics.

It's a totally new way, a totally different comics-reading experience, but it feels right for now. It feels like the old ritual of the paper stack is of an other time, and that this is the way I read comics now. And I'm loving it.

Okay, so which titles do I think are the runners? To be honest, if you saw any of my predictions before the month began, then you'll already know some of the titles I'm going to say, because they lived up to expectations. But here goes.


Animal Man

I pimped it at the start of the month, and at the end I still look back on it as one of the best experiences. It was old and new. It served pre-exisiting fans and new readers. It was spooky and fucked up. I'm on for the full ride.

Wonder Woman

This surprised the hell out of me. Anyone who has heard my private rants about the character, that I never fully buy into her status as a "feminist icon," will know what a shift it is for me to say this; I loved the hell out of this book. Stripping away preconceptions of super heroic shenanigans, and not going for the old, "How does Diana live in the real 9-5 world" approach, we saw a Neil Gaiman/John Hornor Jacobs-esque world of dark Greek gods living in the modern world, and Diana standing in the path of the wreckage they cause. Buy. It.

Swamp Thing

Of the new titles, this is one that I'm not sure will work as well for a brand new reader. It does, I think, rely on some previous knowledge. But it was bloody good. Tonally a little to the gothic, rustic, creepy side of Animal Man. If you know the basic premise of the old Swamp Thing story, that a scientist was in a lab fire and woke up as a swamp creature, then this is an interesting new take. What happens when that scientist has come back to life, is flesh and blood again, but remembers his time as swampy? Interesting stuff that promises to be very, very good.


For those new to the game, there are a lot of comics out there with the batman name on them. Each is a different book, whether it's Detective Comics, The Dark Knight, whatever. They each carry the bat's name on the cover. But the one I'm talking about is the one simply called BATMAN. It delivered on pretty much every level. It was witty and inventive with some of the staple ideas of the character, it had some very playful dialogue, and it threw us straight into the middle of a story. Traditionally I've always gotten my Batman fix from Detective Comics, but this month has changed that.

Action Comics

This is a ground-up retelling of the Superman story. I don't like Superman. I've also been jaded on the writer, Grant Morrison, of late. So, as with Wonder Woman, I was very pleasantly surprised to find myself loving the book. This is Superman when he's young, when he's fresh to the city and before he has full command of his powers. It's the Superman of, "..leap tall buildings in a single bound," fame. Before he could fly, he could just jump very far. Here he is tackling slum landlords rather than meteorites. He's a much more grounded, street level god.


All Star Western

Each of the titles I'm putting as a 'good read' was pretty close to being a 'must read.' Each of them is a fine, fine example of a comic, but each was maybe just a notch below the ones above. All Star suffers a little bit from "pilot episode" syndrome, where it spends a lot of time explaining and setting things up. But that's a minor fault in a very strong western, and a story with a hook- it's set in Gotham City a couple hundred years ago. It's a murder mystery crossed with a western, and it looks like it might provide some back story to whats going on in BATMAN, so well worth a go.

Justice League Dark

Pretty much what it says on the tin. Two of my favourite characters- Zatanna and John Constantine- are being brought together into an occult team of anti-heroes. The first issue was too much reliant on set up devices to be a full 5 star book, but the series promises to be great.


Get this in print.The artist/writer does very interesting things with the layout of the panels, he's trying a whole new language of comic book storytelling, but it doesn't work as well in digital form as in print. It also suffers a bit from the exposition bug, which drags it down a few pegs. But overall it's worth sticking with.


I had a lot of fun with Nightwing, Batgirl, Frankenstein and Demon Knights. Each one will be getting picked up again by me for second and third issues, but each has some work to do to convince that the fun of the first issues can grow into solid ongoing stories.


If you'd told me at the start of the month that I'd enjoy the crap out of the vampire book, i'd laugh, then run and report you to the men in white coats. No, not the cricket umpires, the other men in white coats. But I, VAMPIRE started to get a buzz about it, and so I gave it a shot an, hey, is it a well made comic. Riffing a bit on I AM LEGEND, a bit on BLADE, and a lot on an old DC title of the same name, it tells of a race of vampires declaring Holy War on humanity, and of one vampire hell-bent on stopping them.

So there you have it, true believers.

Wait, that's the wrong company....

The word i've been using most this month when talking about comics has been fun. Each of these titles has been fun, in one way or another, and they've all been fun to read. Add them to two titles put out by Marvel, Daredevil and the new Ultimate Spider-Man, and it's a good time to be enjoying super hero comics again.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

What your teacher said the author meant

By Steve Weddle

So there's this image running around the internet:

The popular response is: "LOL! So true!! LOL!!"

For some reason, readers seem to think that writers don't put much thought into the things in their books. Maybe that's true for some writers.

I heard John Updike talking once about how he writes novels. He'll go through the story, get the "who does what" down. Then he goes back through and links up images, tweaks here and there to work in another layer to help tell the story through, for example, the color of the curtains -- a thread pulled through the narrative, so to speak.

I can guarantee you that Haruki Murakami gives thought to these things. Ann Beattie. Other writers I greatly admire.

Now, maybe the writers you read don't do that. Maybe the books you write don't work past that first layer. That's fine, I guess.

And you can LOL all day long about how a teacher tried to help you see those layers in the books you read. Fine. LOL all you want.

I just don't see it as something be proud of.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Listen To What the Man Said

Yaarrrr, here there be spoilers about Dr. Who, the Sopranos, and Lost

Some of my favorite TV shows have involved speculation.

LOST: What's in the hatch?

THE SOPRANOS: What happened to the Russian? What did that last scene mean after the mob warned off Gloria Trillo?

DOCTOR WHO: Who is River Song? Why did the Doctor have to die?


These shows do multiple things. First, they entertain. They're fun, they load up on the cliffhangers and unanswered questions and they keep me tuning in (Well, at least until there are more questions than answers, and you can see the writers giving up and start fumbling the ball--Yes, I'm looking at you, THEY'RE DEAD FOR A WHOLE SEASON, LOST.)

Second, they get the fans talking. If a show is exciting enough, I'll start looking more about it. I'll read some SPOILER FREE speculation blog posts. I'll email some friends. I'll pretend there's a water cooler at work and stand in a corner pretending to talk to people about what I watched. I'll make up what I think are cool theories about the show. I'll listen to other people's whacked out--can't possibly be right--theories as well.

And I started to realize something.

The deeper and more compelling the stories gets, the less people listen to what's going on and speculate about what they WANT to happen. And then, when it doesn't, it gives them a reason to get angry.

Let me give you an example: The Russian in THE SOPRANOS. People kept expecting the Russian to come back after disappearing in the Pine Barrens (and likely dying from a gun shot wound and cold weather.). But people didn't want to believe that. Despite anything the dialogue said, people expected the Russian to be back in the final episode, shooting Tony in the head... even though Tony HAD NOTHING TO DO with the Russian event.

Or look more recently at Doctor Who. There is a whole blog post speculating about River/Mels/Melody's regenerations. Multiple. Even though in the show's reality, she's only done it once. As Mels is regenerating into River, she says, "The last time I did this..." and goes on to describe the regeneration at the end of Day of the Moon.

What's the deal with this?

Do people care about what they're watching or reading? Or do they just want to make up their own fan fiction and hope that happens in the show...?

I've even been known to do it a time or two.

But mostly, all you have to do is listen. Give it a try sometime.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Building The Ultimate Protagonist:Guest Post

I am Jochem Vandersteen, I blog at and write crime. Steve Weddle was nice enough to offer me this blog post. I thought I’d use it to give you all some more insight into what went behind the creation of my new character, Mike Dalmas. He will be appearing in a new series at Trestle Press, starting with Find Her this week.

It all started with my plans to try and bring out a series with a publisher, instead of bringing it out myself like I did with my Noah Milano stories. I was interested to see how the advantages of that would affect sales.

I’ve been writing about security specialist Noah Milano for more than ten years now and his voice comes pretty easily. I like the kind of stories he’s in and didn’t want to stray too far from that with a new series but also didn’t want it to read like a Milano-clone. That’s when I sat out to create the Ultimate Protagonist.

I started with making a list of favorite hardboiled characters and came up with: Burke (Andrew Vachss), Joe Pike (Robert Crais), Philip Marlowe (Raymond Chandler), Spenser (Robert B. Parker), Harry Bosch (Michael Connelly), Jack Reacher (Lee Child), Mike Hammer (The Punisher (Marvel Comics), The Equalizer (TV show).

I concluded from that I liked strong, male characters that could investigate crimes but more importantly were ready to deliver justice. I liked the outlaw aspects Burke and the Punisher brought to the PI mix. I liked the brutal efficiency with which Reacher does his work. All of that made me decide he wouldn’t be a standard PI but a vigilante of sorts. That would also keep people that think the PI story is dead from not picking up the book.

I wanted to set him apart from the other characters by not making him a lone wolf. I decided to give him a family. That brought the problem: why would a dedicated father be a vigilante with all the risks involved. Another problem I had was: where would he get his missions if he’s not a PI. A glance at my list of favorites showed I still liked police procedurals enough to add Bosch to the mix. That’s when I came up with the idea of making him kind of a Black Ops killer for the cops. Why would he work for them? Well, what if he didn’t have a choice? What if he was being blackmailed into it? I saw enough interesting opportunities for character conflict in that one. To make sure he could do things cops couldn’t I made him a soldier instead of an ex-cop.

There he was, my new character. Husband, father, vigilante. All I needed now was a name. I decided to give homage to Hammer by giving him the first name Mike. I paid homage to Chandler by giving him the last name Dalmas (a Marlowe prototype was called Johnny Dalmas). Since I liked the Bay City setting of Marlowe and loved the homage Sue Grafton paid to Ross MacDonald by using the fictional Santa Teresa I made the corrupt city of Bay City the setting for his stories. It would also make sure I could use the cops, mayor and others of a city without upsetting anyone.

So, there it was. Now all I had to do was write a story. The result, Find Her can be found here.

I’m interested in learning the ways you came up with your favorite character.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Another Opening Another Show

by: Joelle Charbonneau

I’ve had lots of opening nights. Standing on stage behind the closed curtain you can hear the buzz of the audience. The orchestra tunes up. The energy is electric. No matter how many rehearsals you’ve had or how well you know the show, there is a rush of nerves. A burst of adrenaline. Under the excitement there is always the worry that the show might not be ready for the audience – the press – the world.

Then the curtain goes up. The orchestra plays and there is no time for doubts. No time to worry about whether you’ll remember your lines, lyrics or dance steps. The show starts and there is nothing to do but enjoy the ride.

Tuesday the curtain goes up on SKATING OVER THE LINE. It’s only my second opening night in the publishing world. I’m excited, scared, anxious, keyed up and filled with adrenaline. But unlike a theatrical performance—there is no orchestra tuning, no dance steps to be performed or songs to be sung. I can’t peek from a crack in the curtain and look at the audience that is waiting to be entertained. I can only hope that one by one an audience will find the book.

Someone asked me recently how things have changed for me the second time around the publishing merry-go-round. The answer is this – I know finding an audience is hard. I know there is very little I can control when it comes to helping the book find an audience. Yes, I can tweet. Sure, I can use facebook and other social media. If I’m lucky friends, family and readers will tell others about the book and encourage them to pick it up. But getting the word out doesn’t mean an audience will come. I can only hope they will.

So, today I am chewing my nails as the orchestra files in and begins to tune. Tomorrow I will probably drive my family nuts as I try to ignore the adrenaline pumping through my veins and the worry rolling in my stomach. And on Tuesday I will stand behind the curtain. If I’m lucky, there will be an audience waiting on the other side and together we will all enjoy the ride.

(And thanks to my fellow DSD writers and readers for all your support. You have no idea how much it means to me.)

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Let me introduce myself


Scott D. Parker

Introducing new characters into established universes is always tricky. Three television shows I watch performed this trick this week, mostly with good results.


My favorite show on TV (supplanting CSI: Miami, a close second) had two issues to tackle: the injury of a major character and the introduction of a new one. In the closing moments of last season, Detective Kate Beckett was shot by a sniper. This was a day or so after her commanding officer, Captain Roy Montgomery, sacrificed his life to save hers and the conspiracy of which he was a part. Beckett lived, of course, and, by the time she returned to the squad room, Montgomery’s replacement was in place. Montgomery’s chair is now occupied by Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” formerly of Internal Affairs.

In a show like Castle, there is the comfort of conformity. It’s, frankly, one of the more appealing things about the show. You pretty much know what you’re going to get each week: twisty mystery, fun banter between Castle and Beckett, a cast that is greater than the sum of its parts, and generally a good time. Real world aficionados point out that Castle would have been kicked out of the station as soon as his ride along time was done, no matter that he knows the mayor. You could make an argument that the show got just a little too comfortable.

Enter Victoria Gates, AKA “Iron Gates,” late of Internal Affairs, played by Penny Johnson Jerald. If I learned one thing from her stint as Sherry Palmer on “24,” it’s that she can play the hard-ass with the best of’em. Man, she was good in that show. Like any good villain, you loved to hate her. As soon as the writers bumped off Captain Montgomery, you knew that they next captain was going to be different and, likely, more of a stickler. It’s what writers do: create conflict. Now, the entire squad room has some conflict. Some fans don’t like it because it moves them out of their comfort zone. I think she’ll be a good addition to an already stellar show.


I gave up on CSI last year. As a devoted fan of CSI: Miami, the original naturally lost much of what made it special when William Peterson left. Lawrence Fishburne was a good replacement, but his character’s backstory—while interesting—started to darken an already dark show. CSI: Miami knows where it’s bread-and-butter is: scantily clad pretty people and lots of them. CSI owes its popularity to gruesomeness. As the years piled on, the gore piled on also. The storylines last year just got too dark and, with other options on Thursdays, I stopped watching.

Enter D.B. Russell played by Ted Danson. Yes, Sam is now a cop. Where I greeted Penny Jerald’s casting in Castle with a knowing nod, Danson’s casting was one of curiosity and not a little skepticism. How in the world would he fit into this show that, last I saw it, was pretty darn bleak. Answer: he brings a certain amount of light to the show.

Russell is a family man, constantly on the phone with his wife in the season premiere. He has a funny quirkiness about him, asking about farmer’s markets and things decidedly non-police like. TV cops can sometimes not have much of a personal life. Russell apparently does. But character traits are one thing. What would it be like to have Danson occupying the character himself? All skepticism vanished when CBS released a short promo video ahead of Wednesday’s premiere. It was Danson’s Russell trying to get a kid to open up about a shooting/murder he, the boy, witnessed. Like David Caruso in his first time as Horatio Caine back in 2002 in a similar situation, Danson’s chemistry instantly grabbed me. What was curiosity was now necessary. I was going to watch CSI again. And Russell has already shaken up that lab room, too, but in a much more nuanced way.

Harry’s Law

First things first: I was a huge fan of Boston Legal. I loved the over-the-topness of William Shatner, the passion of James Spader, and the quirkiness of the rest of David Kelly’s cast (Really, does he know any different?). So, when Harry’s Law bowed last spring, it was a lock for me to try it out. Kathy Bates was there to utter Kelly’s brilliant prose, and the supporting cast—including Nate Corddry (Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip), Christopher McDonald as Denny Crane Tommy Jefferson, and Paul McCrane as the DA—was fantastic.

Enter…a bunch of people. Harry’s law firm went from two lawyers, a secretary, and a law student (season 1) to, well, “Boston Legal.” Now, Harry has moved into a huge loft with lots of open space, her adversary/friend, Jefferson, is there, as is a new lady lawyer and Mark Valley playing Brad Chase Oliver Richard. I’m used to the way Kelly writes and his directors direct and his camera folk do their thing. And I never tire of seeing good actors speak Kelly’s lines. But I kinda liked the smaller version from Season 1. In this case, Kelly’s partially done with Harry’s Law the thing that dooms some movie sequels: just take what was good and double it. I’ll still watch, but some of the charm is gone with all these new characters.

Are there shows y’all watch that have introduced characters in a good or bad way? Do the new conflicts make you like the show more or turn you away?

Song of the Week: Gavin DeGraw’s “Not Over You” – Boy, this song just struck me immediately. Melodic (a sometime rare thing nowadays) and catchy.

Tweet of the Week: The paradox of modern superhero comics: Stories created for children now aimed at cynical adults. Any wonder there's an identity crisis?

--- A. Lee Martinez (SF author)

As much as I’m enjoying DC Comics New 52 titles—this week’s favorites so far as Batman and Birds of Prey—there’s some stuff I don’t like. This is a topic for another post, but Mr. Martinez writes some good posts on this topic. This was merely one of many.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Start the Fans Please!"*

By Russel D McLean

So yeah I’m a little late this week. And yes I missed the last two weeks. Mostly because I was away. Away on tour of Scotland and then St Louis. Normal service will resume when jetlag sorts itself.

But meanwhile…

Ahhh, St Louis.

This year’s Bouchercon was one of the slickest yet; brilliantly planned and executed by the Clan Jordan once again, with Jon Jordan taking the head this time after Ruth did Baltimore. But more than anything this year I realised how much Bouchercon is a group effort. The chair is vital and important in the feel and atmosphere of the con, but it’s the teams of volunteers who really get things swinging. I only helped out a little this year, but I could see precisely why these guys deserve far more credit than they get. From swinging several thousand bookbags to dealing with jerky moderators (like me) on the panels, they do a lot of work for a little reward. And we should thank them for it.

So part of this post goes out to Jon Jordan, without whom there would have been no Bouchercon 2011 at all. Part of it goes to David Thompson, who was supposed to be co-chairing this year before he tragically passed away a little under a year ago now. Part of it goes to Ruth Jordan and Judy Bobalik who do so much work and make everything seem so effortless.
But most of it goes to the volunteers. The fans. The people whose passion and dedication mean that authors like me can, for at least a few days, feel like what we’re doing means something to people. The people who we really write for. The people who challenge us as much as they validate us. The people without whom there would be no panels, no audiences, no sales figures, no nothing.

I was delighted this year to meet far less “wannabe” writers than usual, to meet people who really just wanted to read, love and enjoy the works produced by the writers present. After all, if we're all writers, then who are we writing for?

I’m going to talk about the experience of Bouchercon over on my own blog
( very shortly, but in the meantime, I just wanted to say how much all authors appreciate the fans who do so much for them and ask so little in return except for us to do what we set out to do in the first place; entertain them.

So to the readers, the volunteers, the fans, I say, thank you. Without you, there would be no point and no reason to attend Bouchercon or any other event.

Above, a picture of me and two spectacular readers I met at this year's con – Dan and Kate Malmon. And yes, I think they were having to prop me up after a long session at the bar…

*Anyone from the UK of a certain generation will be tempted to yell that title in an imitation of Richard O Brien on The Crystal Maze. Anyway from the US will probably just be confused.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

No Words, No Time

By Jay Stringer

Honestly? This wasn't the post I sat down to write. And it's not much of a post at all. Danny Bowman challenged me a couple of week ago to write about the ending of Blood Meridian, a subject that I'm periodically obsessed with. I had half a mind to write that, but today wasn't the right day.

Then I figured I would do a follow up to my 'New 52' post of a couple weeks ago. I've got thoughts on how digital reading has changed the way I pick up my comics, and some titles that I really recommend folks try.

But then, then I got caught up on a news story that kicked me in the gut. And I started following it live, and thinking back to an article by Steve Earle that's one of the most moving things I've ever read.

So I'm leaving you with that today.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Howmuchwhodunnit in your whodunnits

Years ago on a family vacation I asked my sister if I could borrow the mystery novel she was reading and she said, okay sure, could be a few days. I said, “A few days, you’re on the last page,” and she said, no, “I’m just starting, I always read the endings first.”

She went on to explain that she wanted to find out if she was going to like the book before she set aside the time she’d need to read it. “But what about the mystery,” I said and she said, “Oh, that’s not the important part.” Then she went on to explain that she liked the characters (it was a Kathy Reichs novel, I think) but she knew they’d catch the killer in the end and she didn’t want to be distracted wondering if she was collecting all the relevant clues as she read. She said she liked to read the scenes with the killer knowing that was the killer and knowing he’d get caught.

It was a eureka moment for me. At the time I was adding to my rejection letter pile for the second novel I’d written (actually I was pinning them to the wall above my desk – oh, for the days of the actual paper rejection letter). It was a private eye novel and the best rejection letters said the character was pretty good but the mystery wasn’t involving enough.

But now my sister had shown me that the mystery didn’t need to be there at all. All those complicated clues and red herrings and little bits of information hidden just deeply enough for the reader to pick up didn’t have to be there at all.

It was liberating. I realized I could write a novel that worked the way most police work does – it’s not about figuring out who did it, it’s about collecting evidence that can used in court. So we can follows detectives and we can follow the criminals. The reader can even be out ahead of the characters.

And now, someone’s done a study that shows spoilers don’t spoil the story at all, the actually make the stories more enjoyable.

This article in Wired explains it a lot better than I can.

Though I’m never going to tell my sister that she was right all along, that’s just not what brothers do.

But now I have to admit that this not worrying about clues and mysteries has come back to bite me in the ass, so to speak. Last week I was at a meeting with a nework exec talking about the outline to the TV show pilot I’d written and the big problem is that the clues and the mystery are either too obvious or so hidden it feels like cheating.

So, which one is worse? A mystery that’s too easy to figure out or one that’s impossible?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Is Chick Lit no longer chic?

Benoit Lelievre writes fiction and blogs over at Dead End Follies. Do yourself a favor and follow what he does.

By Benoit Lelievre

Polly Courtney (pictured) made the news this week by leaving her publisher (Harper friggin’ Collins) for condescending behavior. They referred to her novels as “chick lit”. Ms. Courtney claimed that her books were “commercial fiction” sure, but not “chick lit” or “women fiction”. That led to a lot of discussions over blogs and on Twitter, with female book bloggers. I just wonder what the fuck is the problem?

A female blogger told me yesterday “Men don’t have a fiction genre; it’s condescending to trap women into one”. Wait a minute. Nobody’s trapped. The existence of “chick lit” doesn’t force women readership to read only that and I’m sorry, but men do have their own genre and it’s called pulp fiction. Noir, if you want. And this is a genre that’s been frowned upon and treated like dirt. Before continuing, I want to specify that I know some women have been writing pulp fiction novels and some damn good ones. But chicks like Christa Faust, Hilary Davidson and Megan Abbott are women in a man’s world. Much power to them, but they're a clear minority.

Your traditional James Cain/Jim Thompson is really as manly as literature can get. Every woman is a venomous vixen or a helpless girl in dire need to be saved (sometimes both at the same time), everybody’s out to get you and the only way to go is down. There has been a wider array of noir themes, but this is the basics. Like for “chick lit”, the girl just got dumped by a disinterested boyfriend, sulks around and then magically stumbles upon the perfect guy. Once again, it’s a genre. It’s literature with a set of loose guidelines. You will find the male pendant of “chick lit” readers in your local bookstore’s mystery section, browsing Vachss, Guthrie, Thompson, Westlake, Smith, Cain, Piccirilli, Burke, etc.

But it’s not called “man lit”. While I can get behind it called noir, I have difficulty with the term “pulp fiction”. THAT, in my humble opinion, is pretty condescending. Sure, I understand the origins of the term. It goes back to the era where hardboiled/noir was published in cheap magazines and being good business for publishers. The pulp magazines era was a very good one for noir. But as it is for many terms, its meaning started drifting over time and it acquired a negative connotation. Not to us, pulp aficionados, but to everybody else. It’s considered a low form of art, something unsophisticated. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

If you haven’t already, I strongly suggest you watch Nicolas Winding Refn’s adaptation of James Sallis’s novel DRIVE. Making extensive use of every cinematographic tricks in his bag, Refn describes Driver’s bleak reality with subtlety and almost tenderness. He makes Irene warm and inviting and he plunges him in darkness more often than not, whenever he’s at the wheel. He makes Driver’s world slow down whenever he’s doing a reflex-oriented task. Really, Ryan Gosling doesn’t say much throughout the whole movie because like in any good noir, his characters talks little and acts when it’s important (taking questionable decisions, of course). DRIVE is a film noir and a beautiful work of art. There’s nothing cheap or “pulpy” about it.

I’m sorry Polly Courtney, but I can’t take you seriously. Your books are called “chick lit”, so what? They’re books about women, having problems that male readers can’t really identify with. What’s the problem with that, since most of your readership is female anyway? It sounds fair to me. I never heard Sophie Kinsella complain about it? “Chick lit” sells. You’re not the one who should be worried about how your genre is perceived.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Assault, by Any Other Hand

I'm having a weird convergence of movie-related thoughts. The other night Brian and I were watching Eddie And The Cruisers, and as Eddie got out of the car and walked around to open the door for Joann, I wondered if we've lost something in our society. Not a patronizing, "You're too weak to open the door yourself," thing, but a gesture of recognition. An outward expression that shows you respect someone, no different than holding the door open for someone entering behind you (whether they're male or female) or saying, "Excuse me," when you walk in front of someone.

Yesterday, we went to see Drive. I could cheat a post just giving it the high praise it deserves and encourage everyone to see it asap. It's very solid, and I don't have anything to criticize that's specific to Drive. I liked all the parts I could keep my eyes and ears open for.

However... there is this one little scene. You know the one. The one when secrets are revealed, and in that moment of revelation, the woman shows the world her emotion by slapping the guy across the face.

That really pissed me off. It's something I've developed a real pet peeve about. Movie after movie, show after show, some woman loses it and smacks a guy, and he just takes it.

Maybe it's because Brian knows what it's like to be on the receiving end of a backhander (not from me). Maybe it's because of how hard we try to teach the kids to solve their problems with words, not their hands. Maybe it's because the Casey Anthonys of the world are all the proof we need that we should never assume that mothers are always the best caretakers of children.

I mean, did you know that "according to the American Anthropological Association, more than 200 women kill their children in the United States each year."

I know that the reason we end up with stereotypes and cliches in our movies and books is because they often have some degree of truth to them. Certain phrases, ahem, hit the nail on the head in a way that other words don't, and sometimes, when people try too hard to avoid a cliche it's actually jarring because it doesn't work. I understand that.

I'm just tired of the stereotypical slap across the face being a substitution for real emotional expression in a drama.

And more importantly, I'm tired of it being so routine, so commonplace, that it seems to be acceptable. It isn't acceptable for men to hit women, and it isn't acceptable for women to hit men, either.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Conference fun and goals wrap-up

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Today is the final day of Bouchercon. I’ve looked forward to the conference all year and will be thrilled, sad and exhausted when I arrive home tonight. Conferences are great for a number of reasons. You get to meet your favorite authors in person, network with other writers and industry professionals and get the buzz up close and personal about what is going on in the publishing industry. And face it – conferences are fun! If you haven’t had a chance to attend a conference – either a regional or national one – you’re missing out.

At some point in the near future, I plan on giving you a rundown of this year’s Bouchercon experience complete with photos. I’m certain the photos of the charity bowling tournament will be worth clicking over and taking a peek. Until then, I want to circle back to something I wrote about earlier this year – summer goals.

The summer is about over. It is time to check in and see who has met their summer goals. I am pleased to say that I finished the project I was working on, sent it off to my agent, did revisions on it and have moved onto the next project. How about you? Did you meet the goals you set for yourself this summer? If not, I’d like for you to share that, too, because we don’t always hit our goals. Life often gets in the way. We’ve all had it happen and all writers have to remember that no matter how much we want to get the job done, sometimes we just can’t make our deadline. That’s when we pick ourselves up, set a new deadline and get to work.

So share your triumphs and disappointments here. I’m looking forwards to reading them once I return home from Bouchercon, St. Louis!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

The Sound of a Human Voice

Scott D. Parker

Were I to ask if anyone knew who Nipper the dog was, could y'all answer me correctly?

Frankly, when I started to write this piece, I didn't know the dog's name either. I had to look it up. But I think we all know the image of the white dog, sitting in front of an Edison phonograph, raptly listening to the sound of his master's voice.

Why bring up this dog that's been dead over a century? To let us on the blogosphere know that, sometimes, it's just really good to hear another's voice.

Bouchercon 2011 is going strong up in St. Louis. I had planned to attend, but things conspired against me. Perhaps next year. Nonetheless, we non-attenders are stuck wondering what we're missing. Of all the blogs I follow, many have gone silent. Even the usual Twitter traffic is slower. I wonder why.

Oh, I know. It's because people are talking to other people face to face. What a concept. It's a special type of interaction that, for as awesome a thing as the internet is, you just can't replicate. That point was brought home to me loud and clear--literally--this week.

I've know David Cranmer since 2008. We both jumped on this blogging thing around the same time and, somehow, started commenting on each others posts. Months progressed, emails were exchanged, and we fostered a genuine friendship. But we've never met. And, until this week, we have never spoken.

That changed on Tuesday. David emailed me and basically said, "It's way past time we spoke." Now, as an editor for his Beat to a Pulp webzine, I thought it was going to be a business thing. Even then, however, a smile grew on my face. What would he sound like, being a Mainer and all. Would he think my metropolitan Houston accent just didn't sound Texan enough?

So, he called and I picked up the phone. After a few moments of weirdness when you finally put a voice with the still image on computer screens, we started talking. And talking. And talking. We talked all through the time I prepared dinner and, indeed, all the way up until I had to blast out of my house to get to a jazz band rehearsal. It was almost like two old friends getting together. Which is, in fact, the truth. We are friends. Granted, we've never met, but that doesn't matter. We've worked together on stories, we work together on Beat to a Pulp, and we share common interests. It was a total blast.

As Steve's post on Monday asserted--and the 15 commenters concurred--the personal aspect of this hobby, passion, profession, whatever is very important. It's like Facebook, only, you know, more real.

Comic of the Week: Frankenstein: Agent of SHADE. I am giving all the first issues of DC Comics New 52 a chance. I'll decide later what I'll keep reading on a monthly basis on what titles warrant trade paperback collections. When reading the Flashpoint series this past summer, the Frankenstein part surprised and delighted me. I was not aware that this is Grant Morrison's take on the creature. Frank, an agent of Super Human Advanced Defense Executive, is a warrior charged with combating other monsters that give "regular" humans pause. Love the over-the-top-ness of this title. And his wife! Dude, she's got four arms!

Site of the Week: Brave and the Bold: The Lost Issues. This Batman team-up comic was my favorite growing up. The animated version has thrilled me and made me laugh for three years. This site, run by a person who I can't identify, creates covers that could never exist: Batman and Marvel Girl circa 1960-something, Batman and Man-Wolf from the 1970s, or Batman and John Wayne. He pairs the image of Batman that best suits the co-star and creates covers as if they actually existed. I get a kick out of it every week.

Fun Tweet of the Week:
....and the word of the night is "boobs" apparently. #projectrunway

Thursday, September 15, 2011

An Englishman's Home Is His Castle

By Jay Stringer

It's not enough for me to say that something, works, I want to know how. If a film is good -or bad- I want to look at it's pieces, figure out how we got to that result. If a book moves me, I need to look at how it's structured, what tricks the author had used.

I can't just say that I think Castle is good TV, I need to figure out what makes it work for me. I know why people assume I like it. I had it even today, someone said, "I bet you like it because he's a writer." I dont think i'd be drawn to a story about a writer, if I'm honest. I remember struggling through the first few chapters of Salem's Lot for that very reason.

Something else I get is folks deciding it's down to my man love for Nathan Fillion, but I'm not convinced.

Let's look at the parts.

Richard Castle has changed over three seasons. By degrees. He started out as the rakish, slightly caddish, playboy writer who had a heart of gold. Over three years his rakish elements have been downplayed and his 'good at heart' side has developed. But I doubt he alone is why I like the show. If we take the first season, ad assume that Beckett doesn't stay in his life, a solo Richard Castle show would probably be a brother to Californication. liked the first season of the Duchovny vehicle; it was fun and fast, but I didn't need to see any more after that. Also, Castle is a fantasy character, writers don't live that life.

So, is it Beckett? Not really.

Beckett as played by Stana Katic is strong, independent and dedicated. At the same time, she's yet another in a long line of fictional cops who view policing as a sacred duty, and talks of standing up for the people who need help. Her captain of the last three seasons, Montgomery, made similar speeches. To characters like these, policing is about making a stand or drawing a line. All well and good, but all dull and cliche. A solo show of Kate Beckett wouldn't make it onto my viewing list, because I simply don't believe in those kinds of characters. Cops are employees, they do jobs. I don't need yet another show about a principled and driven cop walking the mean streets despite not being mean.

The supporting cast maybe?

Actually, yeah, maybe.

Detectives Ryan and Esposito are a tonne of fun. They weave through the episodes like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern of crime fiction. Their humour and humanity undercuts many of the cliche'd elements of the shows leads, and they're the vehicle the writer can use to carry us from comedy to drama and back again.

Still, though, am I going to be drawn to a show about two cops who's most defining traits are that they're both good at being cops? Probably not.

Is it because it's a crime show? Hmmm. Maybe that's why I first clicked on it. But it's really not what I would describe as my kind of crime show. It has a different murder mystery every week, and some of them are extremely far fetched and full of logical leaps. My favourite mystery so far is still probably the frozen woman from the first season. Yes, it had twisty mystery elements, the basic story was about grief and a very simple murder, and the real impact of the story came after the mystery was solved.

Is it the writing? I thought so. For the first two seasons, the writing was snappy and fun. It carried both old and new concepts with a spring in it's step, and the mysteries usually boiled down to simple and believable mysteries. The third season was a bit more inconsistent. There were a handful of fantastic episodes hidden away amongst a lot of very lightweight or illogical ones. Really, guys, a dead body hidden inside a sofa bed? And I tend to think TV shows shouldn't go past four seasons, and Castle is now entering it's fourth.

So what is it then?

It must be a mix of all the above. It's chemistry. It's a show where the right people are in the right place at the right time, and the result is one of my few 'must see' TV shows.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Research and Changing Attitudes

by John McFetridge

Bouchercon starts today in St. Louis and I wish I was there (no matter how scary Malachi Stone makes it look) but instead I’m home working and spending most of my time in 1970.

I’m thinking about writing a book set in that year and have started doing some research. It’s brought up the question of “researchitis” – that dreaded disease where a writer wants to put every scrap of research into a book and also some questions about the way to approach changing attitudes.

1970 in Montreal is known mostly for the “October Crisis,” the kidnapping of two men (and murder of one) and the use of the War Measures Act which brought the army into the streets, suspended a lot of civil liberties and led to the largest mass arrests in Canadian history (until the recent G20 protests in Toronto).

It’s a little personal for me, I was 11 years old at the time and living in a small English suburb, Greenfield Park, on the south shore of Montreal. At the time I had a paper route delivering the Montreal Gazette before I went to school and on Sundays I delivered the tabloid, Sunday Express.

So, on October 6th, the day after the British Trade Commissioner James Cross was kidnapped from his house it was on the front page of the newspaper I delivered. I have a feeling that if a foreign dignitary was kidnapped today in a North American city it would be a huge event. At the time it was sort of one more thing in a growing list of things going on.

There had been a lot of bombs, starting in 1963 when a night watchman (wow, we really don’t use that term anymore, do we?) was killed by a bomb that went off in a Canadian Armed Forces recruiting office. Another man was killed by a bomb in 1966 at a shoe factory, targeted because the owners had locked out striking workers and brought in scabs. In 1969 a bomb blew out a wall of the Stock Exchange building and injured a couple dozen people and lots of mailboxes were blown up. Also, we were quite used to bomb scares, I can remember being in a department store with my mother and being told to wait in the parking lot, which we did, until they reopened the store. I have no idea if they found a bomb or not, but I know that hundreds of bombs were discovered and dismantled by the bomb squad.

On one night in 1970 six bombs went off in Westmount, the “rich” part of Montreal, and two more were discovered and dismantled.

So, by the time of the kidnapping I guess it was like that frog in the cold water slowly heating up to the boiling point.

Then a member of the provincial government, a cabinet minister, Pierre Laporte was kidnapped from the front lawn of his home on the south shore. So now it was getting a little closer to home. And then a week later Mr. Laporte’s body was found in the trunk of a car near the St. Hubert air force base on the south shore. I remember the picture that appeared on the cover of the Sunday Express I delivered; the open trunk, the body.

James Cross was held for another six weeks before his kidnappers negotiated a deal that provided them a flight to Cuba in exchange for letting him go.

And now that I’m doing this research I realized, kind of for the first time, that while all this bombing and kidnapping and murdering was going on a few miles from my house, I’d get up before anyone else and walk through the neighbourhood in the dark.

There is no way I’d let either of my sons do that now. But my parents weren’t neglectful or irresponsible. They just lived in a different time.

I can look up all the news events in archives but those different attitudes are the real challenge.

One of my favourite books written recently and set in the 70’s is Charlie Stella’s, Johnny Porno, which perfectly captured the attitudes and the feel of 1973 New York.

What are some of your favourite books set in the late 60’s and early 70’s?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Whiney Writer

I'm moving this week. We're getting out of our condo and moving in with family until we can find a house. At the same time I'm starting a new position at work.

And it's hell on my writing productivity.

I'm in the midst of a major revision and I'm lucky if I can get one chapter done a night. And no reading done at all.

I hate these moments. They weigh on me. My mind is always turning over stories in my head, figuring out plot twists, working out kinks in the storyline. Yet, I don't have a moment to write them down.

So, I'm sorry for the overly brief blog post, but I need a pick me up. When life gets the best of you, what do you do to keep your writing productivity up?

Since I'm being brief this week, enjoy Pearl Jam's new song:

Monday, September 12, 2011

So we're still doing this convention thing?

By Steve Weddle

So this week is Bouchercon in St. Louis. Everyone you know will be there. You might want to hop over to the site and make your own B'con reading list. Our own Joelle Charbonneau will be there, so be sure to say 'howdy.' If haven't registered and you're nearby, it's not too late to check it out. They have day passes available. And if you are going, I look forward to your twitpics.

Last year, Noircon fell right around B'con, so I got to hear my fair share of stories. Noircon was a blast, of course. I wrote a thing about it here. Since Noricon is every other year, my calendar say they'll be back in Philly next year.

And Murder & Mayhem in Muskego is coming up in November.

Sleuthfest is in Florida in March.

Thrillerfest is in July.

And that's just a handful of offerings in the states.

The UK has a few, as done Canada.

Wasn't Twitter supposed to kill crime fiction conventions? You make friends online, you don't need to meet them 'in person' to know them. Isn't that the, ahem, conventional wisdom?

So much for that, huh?

Do you dig conventions and conferences? If you've been, what's the best part? If you haven't, what would make you go?

And, hey, how about I grab another name from the comments and send them a copy of D*CKED? That cool?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

A decade isn’t long enough

by: Joelle Charbonneau

Ten years ago, I was taking auditions, performing in shows and holding down a day job as a system administrator in the Customer Relations department of United Airlines. The day started off like any other. I got into work, stashed my stuff in my cube, revved up my PC and waited for my mother (who still works will United) to come downstairs so we could go to the cafeteria for our morning beverages. My coworker in the next cube over had her radio on low. That’s when I heard a voice report a small plane hit one of the World Trade Center Towers.

Working in an airline means everyone stops for a moment when they hear an airplane has had trouble – regardless of what kind of plane or what airline runs it. The news reports claimed the plane was a small, private one.

We now know they were wrong, but then we didn’t. We assumed the reporter knew what he was talking about. For the next few minutes everyone went about their jobs while keeping one ear peeled for news about the accident. When the second plane hit the World Trade Center my heart stopped. The ability for anyone to work ceased even as the phone lines lit up. And even then we didn’t know how bad it was. That one of the planes belonged to United. The other to American. And that two more planes were circling the clouds with men aboard waiting to do more harm.

Everyone remembers where they were when 9/11 occurred. I was inside United Airlines World Headquarters under lockdown. Phone usage was cut to a minimum because of high call volume. Emergency teams were assembled to answer media inquiries in PR and to talk to concerned family members who wanted to know if their loved ones were on those planes. TVs were set up in conference rooms for those who needed to watch the reports as they aired. I avoided the televisions. Too many of my friends had gone in to view the replays of the planes hitting. They watched the towers fall. Their eyes showed the horror that they had seen. I knew by the hopelessness in their faces that I would fall apart when I saw it. I stayed in my cube and shuffled papers while listening to the radio.

There were rumors of more planes missing. A colleague seated nearby who used to work in reservations let her fingers fly across the keyboard to check one flight status after another. I still remember the intake of air when she found one plane whose flight status was unavailable. United Flight 93.

So much of that day remains a blur, but I remember the faces of my friends and coworkers as we mourned the loss of life and our sense of safety. I worked the phone lines from midnight to 8a.m. and talked to media outlets as the world began to awaken on day two of the tragedy. It was good I didn’t sleep. I don’t think I could have. By then I had seen the news reports on television and knew those images would follow me into my dreams. When I went home sometime late morning, I leaned I was right.

I didn’t work the phone lines again. Instead, I helped assist the company’s communication with the victims’ families. I still remember dozens of the names of those who died on the planes. I also remember many of the names of those left behind.

For the next week, the skies above O’Hare were quiet. For those of us who grew up around the airport, the lack of noise in the skies made us even edgier. The absence of engine roars and soaring planes was proof that the world had irrevocably changed.

The following Tuesday, a week after 9/11, United Airlines held a memorial to remember those who died. Wreaths were laid by friends of our coworkers who were on the fallen planes. I sang God Bless America and watched thousands of colleagues in attendance raise American flags as they cried. I can still feel the way my chest tightened. The equal parts of despair and pride I felt as from the stage I watched a sea of flags rise toward the sky.

Sitting behind my computer today writing this, the emotions of those days come storming back. Ten years later and the tears fall just as quickly. The pain and horror have not lessened.

And I’m glad. Some things are not meant to fade or be forgotten.

Today, I ask you to take a moment to remember those who died and all that was lost. Share what you felt and what you remember here or with someone you talk to today. Ten years have passed—movies have been made, memorials have been erected, but none of those matter as much as us sharing what we saw, what we felt and what we learned.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Comics, Batman, and Violence

(Note: I wrote this post before I read yesterday’s post by Jay. So, before you read this post, read his, too.)


Scott D. Parker

Maybe it’s just an age thing, but I’d like to run something by y’all today.

As a lifelong comic book reader and a DC Comics one in particular, it was with great anticipation that I looked forward to the big re-launch of all 52 titles. Granted, part of me was upset that the renumbering scheme would eliminate the possibility of Action Comics #1,000 or a Detective Comics #1,000, but, if the stories were good, I’d just go with the flow. What was the alternative? Stop reading comics? Not likely.

Last week, DC released only one title, Justice League. With Batman as my favorite character, I enjoyed his prominent place in that book. The first Bat-centric book to be released was this week’s Detective Comics #1. And, in retrospect, the first harbinger of what I experienced when I read this issue was present there on the cover. BTW, to extoll what shocked me, I’ll be giving away the ending of this issue, so SPOILER WARNING in effect.

Artist and scribe Tony S. Daniel draws a good Batman and has since he started a few years ago. Nothing wrong with that. Take note of Joker. See that blood on his face? Yeah, well, that’s not some marketing ploy to get a casual reader to open the cover. That’s part of the story. Joker has always been an insane murderer, it’s just the scope of said proclivities ebbs and flows with the decades. True, a malevolent, maniacal Joker is a horrifying character, but that’s what makes his great.

Here’s where I’ll give you a little insight into me, for context. I don’t have a problem with violence. Some of my favorite action movies—Die Hard 1 and 2, Casino Royale, The Rock, Pulp Fiction—are filled with violence and blood. No big deal. In recent years, however, I’ve become a bit bored with all the graphicness of modern torture-porn movies. Frankly, I just don’t want to see it. Doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate a good bloodfest in the interest of a good story, but I don’t need to see it just because it’s possible to show it. Is that a sign of age? Maybe.

Then there’s Batman. Love the character and love how I learned about him during my life. First, it was the reruns of the old 60s TV show and all of its campy goofiness. Next, was the 1977-era cartoons with Bat-Mite cheesing it up. By 1986, Frank Miller’s Dark Knight showed up as a violent Batman, followed soon thereafter by Alan Moore’s Joker. Once that template was set, the fun Batman mostly disappeared. And it is a shame, too. There should be a place in the world for fun comics and fun superheroes.

In recent years, that role has been filled by the animated series Batman: Brave and the Bold. Here, Bats teams up with just about everybody in the DC universe and fights just about every zany crook out there. It’s filled with one liners, alliterative phrases, and laugh-out-loud moments. It’s a gateway for youngsters to become introduced to superheroes*. And this relaunch is supposed to bring in more readers. But, I’m wouldn’t let them read the current crop of Batman titles.

Back to Detective #1, Joker is here, in all his homicidal glory. Early on, he gleefully stabs some dude, and, while the blood splatters, the more gruesome aspects are blessedly “below” the comic panel. Not so the last page of the issue. Here, Joker has his initial check-in at Arkham Asylum. Here, he meets an unseen person named Dollmaker and it is here where we see the feat that Dollmaker does: cut off Joker’s face and hangs it on a wall.

Yes, you read that correctly. Think the movie “Face/Off” but more grim. It’s a shocking moment, but it’s supposed to be shocking. The adult in me was interested in the direction that writer Daniels might go. Imagine, if you will, a Joker out on the loose that could look like anyone. Darn scary. But another part of me flipped to the cover to see if there was a Mature Content warning I might have missed. Not there.

But it should have been.

So, am I just getting old or has Batman comics (only ones I can speak to at the moment) becoming more violent just because? Is Batman only good as a grim avenger? And, as we commemorate the incredibly violent act that was the September 11th terrorist attacks, are comics (and movies and books) just reflecting our reality?

*Note: Brave and the Bold, in all of its silliness, has been cancelled to…wait for it…make way for a new, darker Batman cartoon.

Apps of the Week: Comixology and NFL 2011. The former so you can read the 52 new titles on the day they are published and made available in comic stores. Huge deal for someone like me who still likes to read comics but not necessarily collect them. Love it. The latter so you can follow your favorite NFL team (Go Texans!) and every other tidbit of NFL news. From what I’ve seen so far, it’s a great app.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Got your 'New 52' right here.

By Jay Stringer

First things first, the guys over at The Deceptionists podcast are recording a crime fiction special tonight. What makes a story into crime fiction? What marks out the genre? How do you write it? As long as my secret formula (coffee) works, I'll be guesting on the show to throw in my own two cents. But what do you guys think? If you have any questions you'd like to ask, head over to their twitter account (@deceptionists) and holler.

Okay. As long time readers will know, I'm a comic book reader. They're how I learned to read, and I've never stopped. I'm not the only DSD'er who reads 'em, but I'm the one who has the platform today, bwahahahahahahha.

/Evil laugh.

Anyway. You've probably heard about the DC relaunch. The 'New 52' has been quite a news story, the idea being that DC has relaunched it's entire main line back to number 1. It's not a total CASINO ROYALE style reboot, because some of the bigger titles are carrying over a few chunks of continuity. Think of it more as a new show runner on DOCTOR WHO; the past is still there, in an undefined way, but the current story can also act as the first one for a whole new generation.

The real excitement for me is that DC is also using this as the launching pad for day-and-date digital releases. That is, new issues can now be purchased digitally on the same day the print versions are released into stores. Anyone reading this is well versed in the online crime fiction community, and it's obsession with debating print vs digital, so you'll understand what a big step that was.

There's a sense of excitement in the air right now. Twitter is full of people talking about comics in excited tones and caps-lock. It's really great to see.

I know that there are people out there who read our occasional foray into comic book chat and think, well, I like the idea of comics, but I never get the time or I'd be lost in a comic book store. Another that I hear is, but there's all that continuity to learn about. Now is your time.

Head on over to comixology every Wednesday this month and check out a couple of titles. Not all of them will work. Not all of them will entertain or grasp you. A simple fact of producing 52 titles is that some will miss the mark, and different books will cater to different tastes. But along the way I think there will be something in there for each of you.

Warning, it's habit forming. Bwahahahahahhaha.

/Evil laugh #2.

What has been interesting for me in these first few days of the relaunch has been the handling of exposition. Clearly, there is a mandate from the editors that this is all about new readers. Every concept needs to be explained in the first issue, and as quickly as possible.

Just like the digital debate, this is an issue that's our stock-in-trade. How do you get past history across to the reader? What exactly is show-don't-tell, how much is too much? All issues that we could talk about, and all issues that Chuck Wendig can do better than I can.

But it's been fun watching the different ways in which the writers are handling it. There have been some that simply haven't worked. Heavy handed, clunky writing. There have been a couple of issues that have been zipping along nicely, then hit a brick wall when the writer feels the need to then explain something that probably should have been left to the reader.

I'll be interested to see what any of you have been thinking so far. Especially if you're one of those new readers that editorial mandates are trying to cater to. How much can you pick up as you go? And, as new readers, are you noticing this exposition is slowing the story down, or has you felt that you've needed it?

In closing, I'd like to single out one of this weeks titles for special praise. If you're only going to try one book during all of this, well, then I'm going to cry down in the DSD basement while uncle D asks to be let out for another flash-fiction challenge. BUT then I'll come back upstairs and say, if you're only trying one, make it ANIMAL MAN.

I read it about an hour ago, and then read it again straight away to see how it had worked so well.

It has more work to do than almost any of the other books. We can all pick up a book with Batman or Superman in it, and we'll know know at least half of what we need already, even if we've never read a comic. But ANIMAL MAN? That's a harder sell. The writer, Jeff Lemire, needs to get across a complicated back story, an unusual superpower, and a fairly unique home life. All of this needs to be gotten across in 20 pages, whilst also giving us an exciting stand alone story, making us care about the characters, and making us excited about the future. And issue 1 delivers on every single one of those.

If you open the book knowing nothing about ANIMAL MAN, you'll reach the other end knowing all that you need, and wanting to know what happens next.

Considering that this was a week when we had a new stories for Batman, Superman, Green Arrow and Bat Girl, it's a stunning achievement that the easiest and most effective read was ANIMAL MAN.

Go for it.