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This episode of Swamp Thing is our first real opportunity to see an average episode. Last week’s outing was good. However, it had to address the fallout of the pilot episode. It needed to resolve some of those immediate threads. That out of the way, this week was another solid outing for Swamp Thing.

The Story So Far

There is a lot to track this week; way beyond the main narrative threads of Abby, Alec, and the Sunderlands.

Abby, Alec, and Swamp Thing

Abby, having been involved with the rescue of Susie the night before is too concerned to celebrate. Susie’s implication that the creature in the swamp is Alec is alarming, unsettling, and surprisingly accepted by Abby. Her friend Liz is also surprisingly accepting of this potential fate of Alec Holland. There is little time for the pair to dwell, however. The illness that has ravaged the town is getting worse.

Abby arrives at the hospital to learn that the CDC has sent in a superior from Atlanta. She also learns that Harlan, her investigative partner, has also contracted the Marais sickness. Desperate for answers to the issue of the disease and the fate of Alec, Abby sets out for Alec’s lab. Liz asks Margeaux to keep an eye out at Skeeter Cove for any evidence of the fate of Alec Holland.

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The episode opened with a scene where Alec found himself wandering a swamp. He encounters the man that Swamp Thing murdered recently in protecting Susie. The man warns him that he will be coming back for Alec. In the real world, Swamp Thing wanders away from his remains. As he leaves, swarms of insects converge and the remains and reanimate it.

Alec is directly confronted by his sin

Conflict at the Lab

At the lab of Alec Holland, Abby searches for notes but is interrupted by invading insects. This culminates with the insect-reanimated corpse of the man who Swamp Thing killed arriving. Swamp Thing soon arrives, warning the zombie to leave Abby alone, before settling the matter in a destructive fight. Swamp Thing, however, sees the zombie is suffering and manages to release him. She realizes that Swamp Thing is Alec, but has no way to help him.

She returns to the hospital, armed with knowledge from Swamp Thing that the illness is fighting back. This is because of the increased antibiotics. She manages to save the currently ill from a hasty death by reducing the treatment.

At the bar, later, she shares a dance with Matt Cable as Swamp Thing watches from a distance.

Sunderland Developments

The tenuous alliance between Avery and Maria Sunderland fractures further this week as financial pressures and a haunting exacerbate the current problems.

Avery finds himself trying to right the ship of his swamp research investments. He is confronted by his loan source, however. It turns out that Avery is underwater on a series of off-the-books loans from the bank. His partner in crime, Gordon Haas, is getting cold feet from Liz Tremaine’s investigation. After a tense confrontation at the Sunderland residence at dinner, Haas departs and Avery begins to spiral. During questioning by Sheriff Lucilia Cable he tries to rekindle a romance with her while Maria is in the house. Later, under the guise of wanting to help Maria deal with her pain, he tries to press her for a loan of her family’s money. She ends up cutting him off.

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Cornered and angry, Avery waits for Gordon at the man’s house. The confrontation becomes violent and Avery murders Gordon in a bathtub with a golf club. During the dispassionate clean-up of the crime-scene, Liz arrives at Gordon’s house to talk to him. Avery does not answer the door, but he does notice Liz.

A desperate Avery

Maria, meanwhile, continues her downward spiral as the spirit of Shawna continues to haunt her and discusses Avery’s infidelities. Is Shawna truly a ghost? Or is this a manifestation of guilt and a sign of Maria’s awareness of Avery’s indiscretions?

Strange Voodoo and Slipping Memories

Margeaux, out at Skeeter Cove, discovers the first major clue to the fate of Alec Holland; she finds part of the boat, filled with bullet holes. This direct evidence of murder will certainly change the trajectory of the case. Early Sheriff Lucilia Cable had plans to close it.

Lucilia, introduced in the last episode, continues to illustrate the small-town conflict of interests that appear with the police as she finds herself again speaking ill of Abby to her son. her later encounter with Avery, referencing a past history of infidelity with him, also proves problematic.

Jason Woodrue makes a less than charming introduction to Abby Arcane conducting an autopsy of the remains of Eddie Coyle. His arrogance and disconnect from the human element of the disease do not endear him to Dr. Arcane. Later on, though, Woodrue is revealed to have his own trauma as he discusses his findings with his wife, Caroline. In a heartbreaking moment, Caroline forgets that she had taken her medication already, a sign of the escalation of early-onset Alzheimers.

The most curious development for the surrounding characters, however, involves Nimue Xanadu and Daniel Cassidy. Daniel has apparently been stuck in Marais for years and has had the same, repeated tarot readings from Xanadu. The reading depicts “the fool,” “the hanged man,” and “the wheel.” However, something has begun to change the fate of Daniel, as his new reading is identical, only with “the wheel” reversed. Just what has kept Daniel in Marais and what has changed for him now?

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Xanadu gives Cassidy a reading

What Stood Out

For an episode the was so densely packed with storylines, the developments were handled well and did not feel too crowded. The presence of increasing concern from the CDC makes a lot of sense and will certainly keep the pressure on Abby.

The insect-filled zombie of the murderer was incredibly gross and creepy and served as a great “monster of the week” that introduced a number of questions about the nature of the swamp.

Derek Mears, as the Swamp Thing, did a fantastic job in a role that, in lesser hands, is little more than a lumbering brute. Mears’ voice is fantastic and the body language of the Swamp Thing really sells the pain and struggle Alec is facing in this new form. Additionally, being able to see Andy Bean as Alec in the “green” this week served as an excellent reminder of the humanity present within the Swamp Thing when it comes to guilt and trauma.

The Final Verdict on Swamp Thing

“He Speaks” was an excellent outing for a show that is quickly becoming the best adaptation of Swamp Thing in a live-action form. With any luck, the remaining seven episodes will not be the last of this swamp-scum covered gem of a series.

That being said, the show, visually, is still incredibly dark. This likely will not change for the rest of the season, so we’ll just need to accept it for now.

4.5 out of 5 stars (4.5 / 5)

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Deep Roots

The big comic connection this week, beyond the strange meeting between Xanadu and Cassidy, is the reference to the Conclave. We’re not going to dive too deep into that, though. Let’s see how all this plays out over the next batch of episodes.

Instead, let us look at the implications of the nature of Alec’s/Swamp Thing’s existence. Just as they had a connection to Susie Coyle due to the illness, there too was some form of connection between them and Susie’s attempted murderer. The implication for comic fans, here, should be that this is “the Green” in action taking in the essence and memories of those who are absorbed by the natural world. It could be something in line with Alan Moore’s stunning retcon of the character when he took over the comics.

Secondly, the nature of the zombification through insects may be hinting at the New 52 concept of “the Rot.” We’ll see in the coming weeks about that.


Please continue to join us each week for the remaining episodes of DC Universe’s Swamp Thing.

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

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Movies n TV

Goosebumps Say Cheese and Die

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Released in 2023, Goosebumps is the latest in a line of content based on the insanely popular children’s book series with the same name. And if you’re here, I’m guessing I don’t have to tell you a lot about Goosebumps. Most horror fans are at least passingly aware of the colorful covers, dark plotlines, and surprise twist endings. Some of us even have a few of the original books lying around.

For nostalgia.

Cover for Say Cheese and Die, Goosebumps number 4.

With so many good and bad versions of the original stories floating around, I was unsure how to feel about this brand-new series. I was sure, however, that I had to watch all of it. Especially with the infamous Slappy appearing so prominently in the advertising.

So, how was the first episode?

The story

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We start this episode with a flashback to 1993, and a young man named Harold Biddle. We don’t spend a lot of time with him. He comes home from school and goes right to the basement. There he starts writing some concerning notes in his journal. This is interrupted when a fire consumes the basement, killing him.

We then flash forward thirty years to the real start of our story. The Biddle house has just been inherited by a man named Nathan Bratt, played by the delightful Justin Long. He adores the place but is less than thrilled when a bunch of teens crash it for a Halloween party.

The teens end up not being thrilled either.

Now we come to our real main characters, Isaiah, Margot, Allison, and James. It is the four of them that planned the ill-fated party.

Zack Morris in Goosebumps

While in the house, Isaiah finds a Polaroid camera. He starts taking pictures of his friends, only to find that they don’t come out right. One of them, Allison, shows her on the ground in the woods, terrified for her life. Another shows Margot in a panic next to a snack machine.

Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that he eventually sees both of the girls in those exact situations. The real trouble comes when Lucas takes a picture of him, and it shows him on the football field, horribly injured.

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All of these near-death experiences seem to be caused by the flaming spirit of Harold Biddle. And it soon becomes clear that the adults of the town likely know more than they’re willing to tell about what went down at the Biddle house thirty years ago.

What worked

For someone who grew up with the series, and is therefore of a certain age, the first scene of the episode was a lot of fun. It oozed 90’s vibe in a way that’s immediately recognizable to most, and familiar to my generation. Well, insomuch as wearing flannel and coming home to an empty house is the pinnacle of being a 90s kid.

It was also fun for the constant references to books in the original series. Blink and you missed them, but I saw the Cuckoo Clock of Doom, Haunted Mask, and Go Eat Worms. These make sense, as they each have their episode this season. But I’m sure I missed a few. Please let me know in the comments.

That was a lot of fun for someone who grew up with the series. But it wasn’t so constant and all-consuming as to distract from the story. Someone could have never read a Goosebumps book in their lives and just enjoy this episode of television.

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More importantly, younger viewers can watch this and feel like it’s for them. The main characters aren’t the parents, they’re the kids. And it’s clear even in this first episode that, even if it was the grownups who caused this horror, it’s going to be the kids that fix it.

This is a series that is for kids. And that’s great. It’s introducing a whole new generation to a series in a way that feels like it can be theirs just as much as it was ours when we were kids.

What didn’t work

All that being said, the story also felt a little dumbed down. A little too predictable. There was one line that particularly irritated me in this regard. When Nora goes to see Isiah’s dad in the hospital, she just flat-out says, “The children will suffer for the sins of the fathers.”

Not only is that just a bad line, it’s also a lazy one. It’s awkward and unrealistic. People simply do not talk that way. And we frankly didn’t need this information dropped on us. It was pretty clear during the football game that at least some of the grownups in town were going to be involved with this when we saw Nora recognize what was happening to Isaiah and try to stop the game. Kids are smart. They would have figured this out by themselves.

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It’s also a really tired trope. Freddy and Jason after all, are both killing young people for the sins of their parents. It was a big part of the storyline in Hide. And while I get that this might feel relevant to the next generation who are all paying for the mistakes of Boomers that Gen X and Millennials have not done enough to solve, it’s also a bit lazy. I just feel like, if this is going to be our main story, it could have been a better one.

But this isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy this episode. Overall, it was a fun start that left me with lots of questions. I’m excited to see where the rest of the season takes us.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

If you’re a fan of my work, please check out my latest story, Nova, on Paper Beats World. New chapters every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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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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Movies n TV

Dolores Roach, A Fillet of Left Cheek

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The second season of Dolores Roach started with a bang. The first episode was dark, gristly and in a strange way whimsical. It certainly brought to light new elements of the character.

The story

We begin our story with Dolores somewhere, talking to someone. I’d like to be more specific, but that’s all we know right now.

She tells this unknown person about her flight from Empanadas Loco. How Jeremiah killed Luis. How she, whether she meant to or not, killed Jeremiah. How she then set the building on fire by blowing up the fryer in the kitchen.

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Scared and alone, Dolores then ran for the underground. Dragging her purple massage table she runs into a hole in a subway track and finds herself in a whole different world.

Almost at once, she finds a place where someone is living. There’s a hot plate, a kettle and several packets of ramen. Even better, everything has Jeremiah’s name on it, literally written on it. Exhausted and alone, Dolores makes herself a cup of ramen and goes to sleep on her massage table.

She’s woken sometime later by a small man named Donald. He knows her because he knew Jeremiah. Dolores proceeds to tell him an abridged version of events that led up to Jeremiah’s death. And by abridged, I mean she blamed Luis for everything, throwing him under the bus so hard I’m surprised she didn’t pull something.

Donald seems inclined to help Dolores. He tells her that if anyone messes with her she should go further down, down a stairwell that he points out for her.

Dolores thanks him, then tries to go back to sleep. She’s soon woken again by a young woman collecting Jeremiah’s things.

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While Dolores has an issue with this, she’s willing to let it go. Until that is, this woman tries to take her table. Then, Dolores does what she does best. Because one thing is for sure. Dolores is going to take care of herself.

What worked

One thing I love about this series so far is that our main character, Dolores, is crazy. And hearing her rationalize her crazy is both terrifying and fascinating. I hate/love how sweet and soothing she can be. Even with the rat that she killed in this episode. She cooed at it, encouraging it to come to her, even calling it a subway raccoon.

Then she killed it and started crying.

I also love the underground community. It’s both horrific and whimsical. It reminds me of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere, which is full of worlds most people don’t see but are all around us. It’s also horrific because there are so many people that our society has failed, that they’ve gathered underground and made their own little society. That’s not great. There just shouldn’t be that many people who need homes.

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What didn’t work

Unfortunately, this episode did have two major flaws. And the first one is a personal pet peeve of mine.

In the last episode of season one, certain things were established. Dolores said she was carefully rationing her weed. She said she didn’t have anything to eat since coming down to the tunnels. She still had her massage table. This episode rewrote a lot of that.

Frankly, I hate when stories do that. It may or not make a difference to the story. It just strikes me as poor planning and lazy writing. This show has proven it’s capable of doing better.

All things considered, I thought this was a great start to the season. I’m invested in the story, curious about the new characters, and worried about the well-being of everyone Dolores comes in contact with. And that’s all as it should be.

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3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

By the way, if you like my writing, you might want to check out my latest sci-fi horror story, Nova. It’ll be released episodically on my site, Paper Beats World, starting February 5th.

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