29 December 2009

The Vampire Diaries--A New Chapter

I'm the first to admit that The Vampire Diaries isn't my favourite vampire show, but darn if I haven't been missing it. Luckily it's back on 21 January, along with two new cast members. I was excited when I found out that Jasmine Guy (Dead Like Me) would be joining the show, but that excitement was nothing compared to my glee at finding out Gina Torres (Firefly/Serenity, Angel) is coming on board! Not to go off topic, but if you haven't seen Joss's masterpiece, Firefly (yes, it is better than Buffy), go find out what you've been missing (and start cursing Fox along with the rest of us--they destroyed an amazing show). Gina will be playing another witch. Also joining the cast is Toronto native (represent!) Mia Kirshner (Exotica, 30 Days of Night: Dark Days) as Alaric Saltzman's wife. Should be fangtastic (I know, I know...I couldn't help myself).

Gina Torres as Zoe Washburne, Firefly

20 December 2009

Holiday with a Vampire by Maureen Child and Caridad Piñeiro

I've had this book for a while but I've been reluctant to actually crack it open. Holiday stories (particularly Christmas stories) tend to be sappy, and if there's one thing that doesn't mix well with blood it's sap. But I figured it was the right time to review it, and at the very least I'd get a fun, lighthearted read out of it. Who could have known I'd be so wrong?

The book is divided into two stories. The first story, "Christmas Cravings" by Maureen Child is, by far, the better of the two--and it's only mediocre. It explores what happens when tormented loner vampire Grayson Stone meets up with vulnerable-yet-spunky human Tessa Franklin. The story actually starts off pretty decently. The characters are interesting, the story makes me want to keep reading, and the writing ain't half bad. Tessa in particular engenders a lot of empathy and drives home the point that it's not just vampires who are capable of evil acts. Too bad it turns on the cheese about halfway through. It's almost as though a different writer took over: one with a thesaurus of cringe-worthy sexual euphemisms and a pen loaded with purple ink. The story concludes with a Christmas "miracle," which I hated, but those who are fans of the de-fanged breed of vampires will no doubt enjoy it.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until they choose to reveal themselves. Black eyes, fangs descend at will. Dead vampires turn to dust.

Strengths: Can sense the coming of dusk and dawn. Heightened and enhanced senses. Fast healing. Super strength and speed. Power of hypnotism. Connection to "everything that move[s] in the night."

Weaknesses: Sunlight, fire, stakes. Can't hypnotize/control sociopaths--need human emotion to work with.

Mythology: Vampires need an invitation to enter a private home. Most vampires are just killers, interested only in feeding and destruction. Vampires are organized and elect a King; the current King is being disputed and the vampire factions are at war.

Text Bites

Not Bad: "Her deep blue eyes were worried. Almost haunted. He knew what that felt like and in spite of the situation, he almost felt sorry for her. Almost."

WTF?: "Tessa felt the power of her gender and knew the secrets that had been handed down from Eve to all those who had come after her."

As for the second story, "Fate Calls" by Caridad Piñeiro: I have nothing good to say about it. Although I now understand why people think Edward and Bella have a healthy relationship if they think storylines like this one are reasonable. If you find kidnapping, forcible confinement, assault, and abuse (mental, emotional, and physical) by a self-pitying sociopathic fiend sexy and romantic, then this story is for you! Personally I think everyone who had anything to do with getting this crap into print should be wallowing in a deep pit of shame. I also think anyone in a relationship like the one portrayed in this story should get themselves help, whether from family, friends, the police, a therapist, or a shelter (or all of the above if that's what it takes). There's a reason why vampires are first and foremost monsters.

Fang Files

Appearance: Human until the "demon" emerges, then glowing neon blue-green eyes and fangs that extend over the bottom lip and halfway down the chin (like a pointy-toothed beaver). Cold to the touch.

Strengths: Power of hypnotism ("thrall") over humans and other vampires. Super speed and strength. Ultimate power of seduction (using their vampire "pheremones"). Can sense the coming of dawn and dusk. Fast healing. The ability to feel hard-done-by even as he's abusing an innocent woman.

Weaknesses: Sun, fire, Roman religious zealots.

Mythology: Vampires have "keepers" to help them with their day to day needs and the things the vamp can't do on their own. Older vampires ("Elders") are more powerful. Their bite causes initial pain followed by intense pleasure. Can subsist on animal blood.

Text Bite

[Bearing in mind she's his prisoner]
Hadrian: I suspect you haven't had many men in your life. But I won't be put off if you try to prove me wrong.
Connie: Excuse me? Prove you wrong?

Hadrian: Yes, prove me wrong. Seduce me.

[And she does...because he's just that irresistible.]

Holiday with a Vampire by Maureen Child and Caridad Piñeiro. From Harlequin (Silhouette Nocturne and Mills & Boon).

15 December 2009

Daybreakers Trailer

Creepy goodness (and I'm not just talking Willem Dafoe)!

In theatres 8 January 2010.

11 December 2009

True Blood, S1 E10 "I Don't Wanna Know"

Spoilers Ahead

Every time I watch an episode of True Blood, it's like returning to the embrace of a group of kindred--but twisted--spirits. I mean that in the best possible way, of course. Even if some of the kindred spirits are dumbasses.

"I Don't Wanna Know" starts where "Plaisir D'Amour" left off--with Sookie coming to the realization that Sam is in bed with her, minus his clothing. A moment later she proves herself to be dumbass number one. Despite having fallen asleep with the dog at her feet--the dog that seems strangely protective of her and which also seems to understand everything she says--and waking up with Sam in the exact same spot as the dog was, Sookie doesn't even remotely clue in that they're the same being. Instead she believes he's the killer (never mind that on top of everything else, she spent the night with him and yet wakes up in one piece). She runs into the bathroom, prepared to defend herself with a loofah, and only understands what's really going on when the dog comes in and turns into Sam as she watches.

Sookie doesn't redeem herself when, after Sam tells her about being a shapeshifter (flashing back to being abandoned by his adoptive family after they found out), she gets angry at Sam for never having told her any of this before. Ostensibly she's upset that he's hiding who he really is, but she seems more disgusted by the fact that they made out and that Sam would have taken it further without telling her his secret (and has taken it further with Tara). You'd think a telepath with a vampire boyfriend would be more understanding, but apparently Sookie isn't above being judgmental and narrow minded.

Speaking of Tara, she's our next dumbass. She starts off undergoing the exorcism with Miss Jeanette, although that's not what qualifies her for dumbass status. The exorcism, like the one her mom underwent, is actually completely convincing and fairly frightening. It culminates with Tara stabbing and killing the "demon," which has taken the form of herself as a child (only with all-black eyes and a tendency to flicker and buzz). Although the vision disappears when she stabs it, the knife she uses comes away dripping with blood. Freaky.

The exorcism leads the next morning to a joyous celebration between mother and daughter, followed by Lettie Mae overindulging in a celebratory breakfast of "mudbugs" (crawfish). When Tara stops in at a drugstore to pick up some Pepto, she discovers the clerk is actually Miss Jeanette--the same Miss Jeanette who claims to live in seclusion in the middle of nowhere, and who seems to have lost her prominent limp, although she's gained glasses and hair. It turns out the exorcist is a huge fraud just trying to support her family. Tara's experiences the night before were induced by ipecac and a touch of peyote. Tara is disgusted and infuriated, despite Miss Jeanette's assertions that just because the exorcisms aren't real doesn't mean they don't work. So how does the daughter of an alcoholic deal with her anger and disappointment? By getting drunk, alienating Sookie, ruining her relationship with Sam, and driving in tears at high speed before crashing into a field (the last part wasn't strictly her fault--she was distracted by the naked woman and accompanying pig in the middle of the road).

Next dumbass: Jason. The so-called love of his life, Amy, consistently proves herself to be self-righteous, cruel, and condescending. Although she does a decent job of hiding that side of herself from him, he chooses to repeatedly ignore kidnapped vampire Eddie's warnings that Amy is not who she seems. He also chooses not to believe Eddie when he says Amy will eventually kill him. Jason even buys Amy's plan (hatched after she finds out Jason has been feeding Eddie) to make Eddie love them (with a little help from Stockholm Syndrome) and keep him as a pet. You just want to smack him until he smartens up. And Lafayette pretty much does. Realizing that Jason had something to do with Eddie's disappearance, Lafayette confronts Jason, telling him he's not going to be the next dead body piled up around him. This seems to get through to Jason and he rushes home to free Eddie. Amy argues with him and begs him not to do it but when Jason doesn't listen to her, she stakes Eddie. Jason is the only one surprised.

Bill is absent for most of the episode, although we do get to see him at the vampire tribunal. We get a sense of vampire justice when we watch one having his fangs ripped out by the root for feeding on another vampire's human. Three months of starvation until they grow back is his punishment (I guess being stuck drinking only Tru Blood is tantamount to starvation). Once again we are reminded of how different Bill is from other vampires. The ones at the tribunal are cold, animalistic, and not exactly sympathetic to humans. In other words, true monsters. And Bill is going to be judged by them. The sentence for killing a vampire involves being locked in a coffin bound by silver for five years (the vampire emerges leathery, starved, and usually insane), but because Long Shadow was stealing from Eric (Sheriff of Area 5) and because Bill didn't bore the Magister, he gets a more creative sentence: he has to turn an unwilling teenage girl (played by Deborah Ann Woll) into a vampire. Bill is a dumbass for having got himself into this position in the first place (I mean, was killing Long Shadow really his only option?) Not even allowed to glamour the panicking girl, Bill is given no other choice. He bites her, and from his reaction doesn't seem to hate it all that much (the girl, meanwhile, calls out for her mommy).

Sookie and Sam do end up putting aside their differences when Sookie is trapped and attacked by the killer in the empty bar (everyone is outside at Arlene and Rene's engagement party). As she tries to get away she keeps getting flashes of his thoughts, mostly of an unknown girl he strangles and kills). When Sam comes in the killer takes off; Sookie won't let Sam go after him because she doesn't want to be alone (another dumbass move, but understandable this time). As the season winds down, there's still a hell of a lot going on. You'll never get bored with True Blood.

Other notes of interest:

When Sam is telling Sookie about being a shapeshifter, he mentions that he needs to see an animal first in order to shift into that form (so there is a real dog, which is why we've seen Sam and the dog at the same time). He also claims he can't control the shift during the full moon, but when Sookie suggests he's like a werewolf, he snaps that werewolves are dangerous, nasty creatures. He also claims there are all sorts of other creatures out in the world--some that Sookie's never even imagined. Can't wait to see where that goes!

Way back in Episode 5 "Sparks Fly Out" Bill reacted to hearing that Andy's last name was Bellefleur. Nothing else was ever made of that, although I now have a theory about it. In "I Don't Wanna Know" Terry Bellefleur mentions that the Bellefleur women have been debutantes since before the Civil War. My theory is that Bill's wife was a Bellefleur. We'll see, but I'm hoping to find out for sure.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale humans with snake-like fangs that descend at will. Staked vampires briefly have prominent dark veins before collapsing into a pool of viscous blood.

Strengths: Glamouring (hypnotizing), healing.

Weaknesses: Silver, stakes. A starving vampire wastes away and often goes insane.

Mythology: Vampires have a well-ordered, hierarchical society with a (scary) justice system of their own. Most vampires think humans only exist to serve them and have no innate value; they view Bill the way Texas cattle ranchers view members of PeTA.

Sound Bites

Sam: I'm not the killer. I'm a shapeshifter.
Sookie: Shut the fuck up.

Amy: (furiously responding to Eddie implying that she's not a good person) I am an organic vegan and my carbon footprint is minuscule!

Eddie: If I die here Jason will never forgive you, even if he wanted to. He's not as evolved as you are.
Amy: I know.

Magister: (to Bill) You murdered a higher life form for the sake of your pet.

True Blood, Season1 Episode 10 "I Don't Wanna Know." Written by Chris Offult and Charlaine Harris. Directed by Scott Winant. From HBO.

08 December 2009

Angel vs Frankenstein

Spoilers Ahead

Let me start off by saying I'm not a fan of the concept of this issue. Do fictional characters really need to meet up with every other character from the same genre? Okay, I liked Dracula in the Buffyverse, but that made sense and fit with the overall mythology. I could even see another Frankenstein-like monster (à la Daryl Epps in Some Assembly Required) but the Frankenstein? This isn't Scooby Doo, people. But apparently someone felt the need to pit one prominent brow against the other, leaving the rest of us to ponder the mashup that is Angel[us] vs. Frankenstein.

That being said, the story is actually pretty good. Well-written (aside from a definite overuse of exclamation marks) and compelling, it left me wishing it wasn't just a one-shot. Angelus has a penchant for screwing over everyone he encounters, a "courtesy" he extends to Frankenstein's unnamed monster. Vowing vengeance against the vampire, the monster's best-laid plans go awry when Angelus proves to be more of a challenge than expected. The conclusion is satisfyingly punctuated with a question mark.

The artwork is also really well done, particularly the monster. Deviating from the classic green-skinned, bolted neck look, the monster is much more zombie-like in appearance--which is pretty much how you'd expect a reanimated corpse to look. It works. And unlike the average zombie, he also elicits a lot of empathy; I could easily read a comic devoted solely to this character. As someone not that into Frankenstein in any form, that's saying something.

Back to the artwork, the colouring is good, managing a lot of depth and mood with a limited palette. It's perfect for a Victorian monster tale. I also like the paper the comic is printed on: heavy and matte, it makes the comic feel more substantial. IDW has used this paper for a few other issues of Angel; they can feel free to use it more often.

Okay, so did Angel really need to share space with Frankenstein? Probably not, but I'm kind of glad he did. After so many recent disappointments with other comics/books/movies/TV shows, this one turned out to be an exceptionally pleasant surprise. Well done.

Fang Files

Appearance: Pale human until the vampire chooses to show their "true" face: bumpy, animalistic features; yellow eyes; prominent fangs. Staked vampires turn to dust.

Strengths: Super strength, super speed, no need to breathe, enhanced sense of smell, awesome martial arts skills.

Weaknesses: Sunlight, stakes.

Mythology: Need to be invited into a private home (but not public spaces like inns).

Text Bites

The Monster: (after Angelus pulls them both into the river) You fool! The current is carrying us toward the villagers!
Angelus: That frets me not at all! I don't have to breathe!

Angel vs Frankenstein
one-shot. Art and story by John Byrne. From IDW.

02 December 2009

Buffy Season 8, Issue #30

Spoilers Ahead

Once upon a time there was a fantastic show called Buffy the Vampire Slayer that was continued in its eighth season in comic book form. The show was marked by brilliant writing, great dialogue, and compelling storylines--and at first, so was the comic. One loyal fan, at least, couldn't wait for each issue to come out; the opportunity to revel in the Buffyverse just a little while longer was cause for endless excitement. It was true love.

I'm not sure exactly when I fell out of love with Season 8. The issues just gradually seemed less interesting, less compelling, less Buffy. If you read my last review (and maybe a couple before that) you'll get a sense of a few of the problems I'm having with the series. I think maybe they're just trying to do too much, and definitely too much that's just plain wrong. I also think a lot of the writers have forgotten (or never understood) what made Buffy so great. Let's call it Lucas syndrome.

It's easier to pinpoint the specific aspects I dislike in recent issues. For example, I despise characters who are selectively stupid. You know the ones: otherwise intelligent, they suddenly take it upon themselves to pursue obviously idiotic courses of action and then act surprised when the inevitable disaster strikes. This makes for a lot of pointless melodrama that writers and producers seem to think audiences like (who knows--maybe everyone else actually does). There's a lot of selective stupidity going around lately, not only with the big "revelation" that it wasn't a good idea for the Slayers and Willow to give up all their power (well, duh), but also with the big oopsie moment in Issue #30 when the good guys realize the invoked goddesses aren't actually on their side. Even if Buffy had never tangled with a god before, the latest three deities are wrath goddesses--did anyone really expect them to be helpful? It would probably bother me more if I could bring myself to care.

And speaking of melodrama--my hatred for the Dawn-Xander-Buffy love triangle continues to grow. Worst idea ever. And when did Dawn suddenly become a military leader? Was that one of her thricewise-induced forms we didn't get to see? Dawn was kind of a pointless character once her status as Key was revoked. I guess the writers are trying--desperately--to give her a reason to be there.

Also falling into the category of irrelevant are Amy and Warren. Not really sure anymore why Twilight or the US Army needed them in the first place. See above re: too much going on. Even their bickering is pointless--mildly amusing but mostly annoying. Skinless Warren should be more menacing and less whiny, methinks. Or maybe just gone altogether.

Issue #30 wasn't all bad, though. It wasn't exactly good, but there were a couple of intriguing moments. The brightest spot for me is the revelation that Riley's been working for Buffy all along. He's a character I wasn't initially that fond of on the show (he's so Teutonic), but he's definitely grown on me. Glad to see he's still on the Slayer's side (gladder that his irritating wife is nowhere to be seen).

The end of the issue isn't great, but it has potential. As the Slayer army is being marched off by the US Army (we don't get to see how they managed that or why the rampaging goddesses suddenly decided to move on and leave so many survivors) Buffy apparently comes back from the dead (again)--and with newfound powers of levitation. It's unclear if she really is dead or what the deal is with her. I am actually curious to find out what that's all about; maybe the resurrection spell Willow performed back in season 6 had the unexpected and unintended effect of making Buffy immortal. Depending on where they go with this, it could get Buffy back on track. It could also ruin it beyond redemption. Despite my recent negative reviews, I'm really hoping it's the former. I miss the Buffy I once loved.

Text Bites

Buffy: Hang on.
Riley: People always say that when someone's hurt really badly, but I don't think it helps.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 8, Issue #30; art by Georges Jeanty and written by Jane Espenson. From Dark Horse Comics.