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Welcome back to Haunted MTL’s ongoing horror comic review feature, Graphic Content. In our fourth installment, we’ll be keeping up with John Constantine: Hellblazer and Sink. With previous favorite Killadelphia on break, we’re giving a new series a try titled The Grieviling, from a well-regarded horror comic team.

As always, we’re always looking for title suggestions. So please let us know in the comments what you’d like for us to tackle.

John Constantine: Hellblazer #6

A striking, moody cover.

Issue #6 is a single-issue story titled “Quiet.” This issue spends some quality time with John’s newest assistant, Noah who has been floating in and out of the hospice care where his mother resides since we were introduced to his character. This episode uses time with him to examine some of the other lives within the ward, but more to the point, provide a glimpse of the ills of society. This issue plays on a larger leftist critique on the Tory government though Noah’s own story. This is classic Hellblazer storytelling; monsters and metaphors. The comic turns the satirical eye to a building of the elderly and the infirm, unable to die, turning it into a site of stalking by a ghost, feeding on the lives of the dying.

A ghost that just so happens catches the eye of John Constantine thanks to Noah. While John is quick to figure out what is going on, the day is “saved” as much as it can be in Hellblazer through Noah. John may be forever damaged goods and a right bastard, but something about him seems to make others into better people. It’s a quick, single-issue story, but it’s fine stuff.

Aaron Campbell returns to art duties and as expected his art is a perfect fit for Constantine’s world. The illustrations are about as rough as prior issues, in that the forms are solid but the lines have a rougher quality to them, like a pencil or a pen that is drying up. It gives Hellblazer‘s London a certain aura. Especially given Jordie Bellaire’s coloring style. Characters are given full-color consideration whereas the backgrounds offer more unified and slightly limited pallets. There are, of course, the glimpses of the magical world which have a very painterly and abstracted air to them. The Campbell and Bellaire team-up continues to impress.

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4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

John Constantine: Hellblazer #6 was written by Simon Spurrier, illustrated by Aaron Campbell, and colored by Jordie Bellaire.

Sink #3

Sink‘s minimal cover designs are well done.

Sink #3 is a story titled “A Head Full of Wasps” and continues the anthologized glimpse at the damaged lives of Sinkhill. This time around, however, the story starts us off in Edinburgh and introduces us to another Sinkhill toughie, but one who has changed significantly in their time away from the neighborhood. The story follows the old killer, at the behest of the children of a recently passed friend, returning for revenge.

It’s a fascinating issue revolving around identities, dead-names, and again, as with the prior two issues, the ways trauma manifests within and around people in this community. Also, the clowns are back. Horrifying. While this is definitely more of a crime book, I feel comfortable tackling it as horror. I mean, sure enough, horrific things happen. If you read horror for monsters then maybe with Sink it works because the monsters themselves tend to be so abstract. Sinkhill itself is a monster. Transphobia is a monster. The various horrible bastards of each story are monsters in their own ways.

While each issue has been anthologized in tackling different figures, there are connections being formed. I also hope we see more of Florence again. That’s an interesting view of the world I’d love to experience more.

Alex Cormack’s artwork here is stunning and the paneling in a particular moment with a shattered glass is fascinating and an example of the kind of visual storytelling only ever possible in comics. Of course, the comic is also suitably bloody with buckets of gore after a particularly brutal bar brawl. Of particular notice are the way Cormack tackles scarred and lacerated hands. 4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Sink #3 was written by John Lees and illustrated and colored by Alex Cormack.

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The Grievling #1

The Grievling looks great from cover to page.

The Grievling is a two-part limited series that pairs horror-comic icon Steve Niles with artist Damien Worm. The first issue is a moody, simple tale of accidental murder and asks difficult questions of the culpability of minors.

Lily is the “weird” girl at her school. The sort of arbitrarily chosen punching bag of the normative-skewing children at her school. Lily’s time spent at the graveyard, at her mother’s grave freaks out local kids and on Halloween night their bullying of her results in tragedy. Lily comes out of the experience with a new lease on life and a strange new entity along for the ride. It’s very much like the first half of a pilot of a Netflix-style drama. It’s effective storytelling and there is a good setup to something larger, but it feels extremely calculated. Less a true desire to tell a story on its own terms and more of a desire to have a book to pitch to studios.

Granted, the story isn’t bad, and sure enough there is potential for an amazing show, but The Grievling is just a pre-visualization for something else. It’s not a comic because it needs to be a comic. It’s a marketing tool. It is a fine read, and it is interesting, don’t get me wrong.

It just feels so much like a marketing tool. The arbitrary two-issue length seems too calculated and whatever elements that interest most about the concept are not likely to be explored well enough. There is a compelling story in here about the dark side of children but that is likely not going to be explored well enough within two issues, leaving the antagonist children as just hollow characterizations of kids gone bad with little of the exploratory depth the characters deserve. Hell, Lily’s relationship with her father and the tragedy within her family also need room to breathe, but two issues just does not seem like enough space to tackle that.

Damien Worm’s artwork is great for the material and it’s no wonder Niles and Worm have continued to work together. They seem like a perfectly aligned creative entity. Their previous work on The October Faction is well regarded, and Worm’s style delivers for the story playing out in the first issue.

I just wish the end product didn’t feel so calculated for a Netflix deal.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

The Grievling #1 was written by Steve Niles and illustrated by Damien Worm.


Stay tuned for another installment of Graphic Content this month. If you have a comic you’d like to see us cover please let us know!

David Davis is a writer, cartoonist, and educator in Southern California with an M.A. in literature and writing studies.

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Book Reviews

Grayshade Review: Assassins and Intrigue

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“It’s amazing how long it can take someone to die. Or to be exact: how long it can take someone to die if you’re careless. Most people like to talk about the human body like it’s a piece of glass…breathe on it the wrong way and it’ll shatter. Not that I mind; talk like that makes my work a lot easier.” – pg 1, Grayshade by Gregory a. wilson

Grayshade is the first book in the Gray Assassin Trilogy by Gregory A. Wilson. Published in 2022 by Atthis Arts, Grayshade was a 2023 IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for Science Fiction and Fantasy Finalist. Wilson also has an award-winning graphic novel (Icarus) and actual-play show (Speculate!). Speculate! features a semi-rotating cast of speculative fiction writers (including my fave Premee Mohamed) playing a variety of tabletop role-playing games. I actually got to meet Wilson when I went to GenCon in 2023, and he was energetic and kind. I bought Grayshade because of his positive energy and zest for storytelling. 

In Grayshade, the titular character is an assassin whose faith is shaken by an assassination-gone-weird. In this high fantasy world, the assassin’s guild is also a religious organization, which means doubt in his devotion puts a target on Grayshade’s back. When he is asked to undertake a mission to prove his faith, he must decide not only if he will kill for his morals, but if he will die for them as well. 

You’d be hard pressed to find a book that better emulates the feeling of playing an Assassin’s Creed video game. There are (of course) assassinations, cool gadgets, mentor figures, ethical dilemmas, political subterfuge, and a dose of will-they-won’t-they. The last half of the book in particular was very gripping and satisfying in its steady flow between scenes. The world building was interesting without being over the top. I felt like I had the information I needed to understand what was happening, and not a lot more. I appreciated this, because it helped keep the plot momentum. This included a Chekhov’s Ralaar, which I promise is a funny joke if you’ve read the book. Also, the inclusion of a nonbinary character was well executed. Yay for representation!

However, I would be remiss not to mention that the first 100 pages of Grayshade were a slog. The dialogue and inner monologue felt especially campy, which was really distracting from the rest of the story because it didn’t feel intentional for it to come across that way. I am pro-camp (Jason X is probably my favorite movie in the franchise), however it can feel awkward when it seems unintentional. This makes it hard to connect with Grayshade and only gets better with the introduction of more permanent side characters. 

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That being said, I liked Grayshade. I look forward to reading the other two books in the trilogy. Since this isn’t my genre of choice, I had my husband (an avid high fantasy fan) read Grayshade too, so as to make sure I wasn’t projecting any genre bias. He agreed with my thoughts, liking the book overall but struggling with the first part. I would recommend Grayshade if you like the vibe of the Assassin’s Creed games, high fantasy, and are looking to support indie authors. 

 Also of note, Alligator Alley Entertainment is working on a Dungeons and Dragons 5E supplement for the world of Grayshade. So definitely keep on a look out for that!

3.7 out of 5 stars (3.7 / 5)

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Book Reviews

The Dead Take the A Train Review: Queer Magic and Monster Mayhem

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“Julie crawled onto the table, straddling her intern, both hands around the knife. She torqued it downward, cursing. Brad shrieked harder.” -pg 57, The Dead Take the A Train by Cassandra Khaw & Richard Kadrey

The Dead Take the A Train is the first book in a duology by authors Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey. It was published in 2023 by Tor Nightfire (like the Scourge Between Stars, which I reviewed here). I was not previously familiar with Kadrey’s work, which most notably includes the Sandman Slim series. However, I was introduced to Khaw through The Salt Grows Heavy (review here), which I absolutely adored in all its twisted, gory glory. Therefore, I was thrilled to pick-up The Dead Take the A Train, which promised similar heart in a modern cosmic horror package.

In The Dead Take the A Train, a magical fixer named Julie must hunt down eldritch monstrosities threatening the lives of those around her. To do this, she has to go up against her shitty ex, a questionable angel, finance executives, and her own sobriety. When an old friend shows up, Julie is terrified to find herself making a retirement plan that doesn’t involve getting murdered by a demon.

The Dead Take the A Train is reminiscent of N.K. Jeminsin’s The City We Became, with both featuring queer characters tackling eldritch horror plots in New York City. In the same way, the novel was reminiscent of a gorier version of Dimension 20’s Unsleeping City actual play series. However, it clearly carves out a space for itself among the droves of cosmic-horror inspired love letters to New York City. For one, it is mostly unconcerned with borough beef, which (not to sound like a curmudgeonly Midwesterner), is so refreshing. The book also has a relatively novel way the world works, which helps it stay memorable.

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Overall, I really liked The Dead Take the A Train. First off, the characters are fun and easy to root for. Julie is a mess in pretty much every aspect, but her bad decisions are understandable and she is charismatic. Her romance with her friend, Sarah, also serves to make Julie more likable. It helps that the villains are so easy to hate too. What’s not to hate about rich Wall Street assholes engaging in human sacrifice? Speaking of which, I liked the juxtaposition of corporate Wall Street and cosmic cultists. The actions taken were evil, but more importantly, they were just business.

The prose was flowery, but not quite as much as in The Salt Grows Heavy. So, if you struggled with Khaw’s other works for that reason this may be a much easier read. Personally, I enjoyed the prose in both. There is quite a bit of gore in The Dead Take the A Train, but I didn’t find it to be overwhelming. I think you could still enjoy the book if you don’t love gore, though maybe not if you have a weak stomach.

One of the largest issues I have with The Dead Take the A Train, is the lack of clarity in power levels of the various characters. Especially since all their forms of magic work in different ways, it is sometimes unclear the level of danger present. This can also sometimes create room for plot holes. For example, Julie has a friend who is tapped into anything and everything happening online. This is an absurdly powerful ability (and is used as such). But there were moments where the main conflict probably could have been avoided or solved using that power. It also felt odd that no one else in this thriving magic community felt strongly about stopping a world-ending catastrophe. Because of this, the magic underground of NYC could feel smaller than I think was intended.

Having been familiar with Khaw’s work previously, The Dead Take the A Train clearly feels like a mix of Khaw’s style with someone else’s. This could be a boon or a hindrance, depending on your view of Khaw’s distinct prose and storytelling. Either way, if you are interested in learning more about the process or the authors, check out the interview they did for SFF Addicts Podcast!

Cassandra Khaw and Richard Kadrey on the SFF Addicts Podcast

I recommend The Dead Take the A Train, especially for those who are fans of modern urban eldritch horror. The book is an even bigger steal if you are looking for danger, gore, and queer characters. Check it out! And keep your eyes peeled for the next book in this duology. 

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[USR 4.2]

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Book Reviews

Monastery Series 5: a Book Review

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I can’t believe we’re already at the mid-season finale of Monastery! Time indeed flies when you’re having a blast (or feel like you’ve been hit by a bag of bricks). The fifth installment of the novel is so action-packed I don’t even know where to start. All I will say right now is that we are in for a ride of a lifetime. Buckle up, folks. 

Plot

We begin the episode with Thomas preparing to leave Monastery, a plan put in motion by his mother which is thankfully quickly reversed. Can you imagine anyone else leading the investigation? Didn’t think so. Although Thomas is still dealing with his guilt over Pop Dennis’s death, he knows there is a lot at stake. After all, his cousins need directions to get to the bottom of things. 

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For arguably the first time the group comes across something of great importance as they discover Francis’s DNA test. The group then trails him and our antagonist George Turner on their quest for the money Albert hid before his death. The characters encounter a bunch of clues that the narrator basically screams are foreshadowing but David once again disregards them. Nice going, man. 

On the other end, we have an extremely disturbing scene involving Francis digging up his father’s grave and desecrating it. I don’t blame Nicole for throwing up at the sight. Seeing him getting more and more unhinged throughout the episode is unsettling as well as riveting.

Speaking of graves, we finally get a flashback sequence of the night Albert’s family covered up his murder. We still don’t know who committed the crime but can see who helped to bury the body aka who is complicit. The scene provides some great characterization to the adults of the ensemble cast. It also explains why George Turner is so involved in everything. Hell, it even manages to make me feel bad for Cassandra. Just for a moment, though. 

Our neighborhood bully Rick continues to be heavily entangled in the story. He and Thomas have a highly emotional altercation when Rick attempts to take his own life. It’s a shame Rick doesn’t tell Thomas why he’s doing this as it would alleviate both their guilt. However, it’s also a realistic exploration of how young children handle something they are not emotionally equipped to deal with.

It is purely because of Thomas’s intentions to help him that Rick ends up being a witness to something horrible. Let’s just say, Francis finally snaps and George meets his brutal end. I definitely won’t miss the guy but this doesn’t bode well for our main cast. It can’t get any crazier though, right? 

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Overall thoughts

This is easily the most exhilarating episode of Monastery so far, with action just seeping off the pages. A lot of other storylines take a backseat (such as the love triangle that is seemingly dead but not quite). Despite that, there is still some time for emotional moments to let the readers take a breath. Words can’t say how excited I am for the next part. I just hope against all hope all my favorites will come out safe. Only time will tell… 

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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More from the author:

1. This episode of Monastery was probably the most morbid one yet (the flashback of the family covering up Albert’s murder, Francis digging up his body, Thomas climbing into his grave). What is your writing process when it comes to these types of scenes as they can be quite uncomfortable to think about?

I may well be a little unhinged, as I honestly love writing these morbid scenes – probably because they always feel like the reward you get after you’ve worked so hard for something, you know? As a writer, you try to build up to those big moments, so that they feel earned. My process then ties in with ensuring those big, morbid scenes aren’t gratuitous, that they make sense to the plot and the characters. The family covering up Albert’s murder comes from a place of despair and self-preservation; Francis digging up his body comes from a place of anguish and resentment, and Thomas, well, he’s a very driven young man who will stop at nothing to find the truth, and we’re only just beginning to see that.

2. The neighborhood bully Rick turned out to be a lot more integral to the story than I would’ve originally thought. What prompted you to connect a non-family character to the action to such extent and why him?

I always knew I wanted the regular cast to be an eclectic mix of characters – we have people of all generations of the family (from young Henry to nonagenarian Nana Beth), and even a couple of characters who aren’t family. There is no real reason for that, other than a quirk of mine. But Rick’s true purpose isn’t yet revealed – he just witnessed something immense, it now remains to be seen what he chooses to do about it…

3. I picked up on the theme of beauty throughout the installments of Monastery (especially Nicole and Cassandra’s interaction). Was this choice purely to provide some context for Cassandra’s character or to provide some social commentary about how beauty and youth are worshipped and as soon as a woman starts aging she’s discarded? Maybe a bit of a mix?

A little from column A, a little from column B. The commentary here ties in with the importance that the characters give to female beauty – Nicole is smart, resilient and courageous, but all everyone talks about is how beautiful she is, whereas Cassandra is often regarded as a former, faded beauty. Both women themselves attribute a lot of importance to beauty, an importance that was clearly hammered into them by the world around them. So, when we learn that Cassandra sacrificed her beauty to protect her family, it goes to show all that she was willing to sacrifice to keep her loved ones safe. She may not be grandma of the year – but she’s the hero of a lifetime. A really nasty, emotionally abusive hero, but a hero all the same!

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