Saturday, May 19, 2012


Well, hey there!  This here is Petronella Nightshade, what am Punkin, and today I am doin another of them Writers On The Storm interviews.  Today I am speakin to a feller named Mr. Martin Powell, who has done wrote a book about somethin that I bet ain't nobody else ever thought of: Halloween superheroes.  I am sure excited about this, cause my feller Stuart is collectin all kinds of comic books and such, and all of them got superheroes in them, and I allowed one day as to how there ought to be some superheroes what was like Halloween folk and such, and I swan if it ain't here they come.  Mr. Powell's book is called The Halloween Legion, and he will soon be havin a comic book out what's got them in it, but this one here what's he made is all writin with some pictures.  So we got us one of this here book and done passed it around and it is a crackerjack, I am tellin you, so natural we all decided we had to talk to Mr. Powell.  So the rest of this here is me and Mr. Powell talkin. 

Welcome to the Monster Shop, sir! Can you tell us about yourself and what you do?

I make stuff up and write it down so, hopefully, folks will read it. All kinds of stuff. Prose, comics, children’s books, scientific and educational material, screenplays – I’ve pretty much had my hand in all of it for the past twenty-five years or so.

You done wrote a book called THE HALLOWEEN LEGION. What's this here about, and how'd you get started on it?

Well, The Halloween Legion are the World's Weirdest Heroes, a group of characters that I originally dreamed up way back in my high school days. One particularly mind-numbing afternoon in class, I started sketching these figures in my notebook: a Skeleton, Witch, Devil, Ghost, and a Black Cat, the iconic archetypes of Halloween. When I first drew them all together, as a group, I immediately began imagining a whole series of adventures for them. They’ve been lurking and evolving in my subconscious until recently, patiently waiting for their chance to be born. I’m actually very glad that I waited this long. I don’t think I would have been quite prepared for them before now. Autumn is my favorite time of year, and Halloween in particular, and I wanted to capture that feeling of magic and mystery, the sort of thrill you get as a kid when you first notice the orange, red, and yellow leaves following you down the street. It’s too brief a season, and I’ve always wanted it to go on forever. The Halloween Legion is my way of keeping the autumn season with me all year long.

And a right smart of a book it is, too!  But I heard you is into old pulp heroes and such. What's some of your favorite ones?

I became acquainted with the pulps when I was about twelve years old, as a friend introduced me to the Doc Savage paperback series. Next time I was at the store I bought one, read it, and was immediately addicted. I still am. I discovered Tarzan and the many other creations of Edgar Rice Burroughs around this same time and I haven’t been the same since. Starting in 2006, I’ve been fortunate enough to regularly write the original pulp hero The Spider, both in comics and prose, and I’m also currently composing Tarzan At The Earth's Core as a graphic novel, as well several other licensed Burroughs properties, which will be published by Sequential Pulp Comics, a new imprint of Dark Horse Comics. So, I’m definitely living the dream.

So you is up to a lot of didoes, I see, and it is always good to keep busy.  But what was it inspired you to start writin books?

It was a very deliberate decision. I've wanted to tell stories since I was a kid, and I started writing and drawing my own books when I was six years old. I've had other interesting jobs from time to time, from an educator in the paleontology gallery of a museum, to acting on stage and working as an extra in film, as an illustrator, and even a short stint as a stage magician. Writing fiction has always been the most driving creative force in my life, and I always kept coming back to it. I feel very lucky to be a professional writer.

Well, everyone should do what they is good at.  What is your future plans for the Halloween Legion? Are you doin some other writins of interest?

I have lots of plans. I’m currently producing a Halloween Legion comic book/graphic novel, illustrated by Thomas Boatwright as well as a brand new prose novel for Wildcat Books. I’d also love to do HL coloring books, animation, action figures, lunch boxes, t-shirts, Halloween masks, radio shows, newspaper comic strips, feature films, and even a gentler picture book version for younger kids, too. I’m aiming pretty high, I know, but our dreams should always be bigger than life. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Since you is obvious likin Halloween, what was your best Halloween ever?

Last Halloween was the best ever. But I know the next one will top it. And so on. We should always strive to make our best memories today.

Yessir!  I got one more question: What kind of advice would you give to someone else who was writin somethin?

The best advice I can give new writers is simply to write. Write as much and as often as you can. Try to write a short story per week, if possible. Don’t be so concerned about style or even quality at first. Just write in a way that feels natural to you. That’s the only way to hone your craft and develop your own unique voice. Then, at the end of the year, you will have written over fifty stories and at least a few of them will be pretty special. Also, turn off the TV and the computer games and read. Read a lot. Short stories, novels, comics, everything. And not just modern stuff. Read Poe, Shirley Jackson, O. Henry, H.G. Wells, and Edgar Rice Burroughs. These are master story-tellers, who practically invented the specific genres that have become so popular today. Modern writers would be nothing without these illustrious trailblazers, whether they admit it or not.

Now that there is right smart advice.  Mr. Powell's The Halloween Legion can be found out to that in both a book and a Kindle e-book, and I am here to say that you should get you a copy right quick, even though it ain't Halloween right now.  I hope you will visit Mr. Powell here on the Internet gadget and keep up with his doins, cause he is writin some good stuff what's fine for a summer read.  I shall be goin here now, but be sure to come on back because it is always one thing and then another here to the Monster Shop and it is anyone's guess whatever next.  Blessings be on you all!

Petronella "Punkin" Nightshade

Monday, May 14, 2012


Mad Doctor
Mad Doctor's Note: Warning--many spoilers await.  You may want to read this after seeing the movie.  If you already have, read on.

So I'm reminded of the phrase, "It's only a movie."

We used to say that, once upon a time, when we were seated in the theatre watching a movie and they were about to do a reveal on the Big Scary Monster of the piece, or the hero was in dire straits, or something was coming up behind that particular scene's victim and was about to take them out.  In the Technological Age, we don't say that anymore because these days we're All Connected and such, and we blog about Things and read reviews and make decisions and generally Act Like Adults about things that used to thrill and terrify us.  But the Child Inside still remembers how we used to feel, sitting there in dark shadows watching flickering pictures on a screen, and the thrills we got and that wonderful feeling of being a part of something, of personal enjoyment, of being all connected.  The Technological Age, for all of its connectedness and innovations, has failed to properly capture this feeling for us, and because of this we demand much, much more accountability from our entertainment than we used to.

The poster
So with that, I recently went to see the new film Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote and Eva Green, directed by Tim Burton.  And I liked it.  I didn't loooove it, I didn't think it was The Greatest Thing Ever, and I didn't think it was as good or better than the original.  I just liked it, and I'll get it when it comes out on DVD, because I liked it that much.  And here's why.

Barnabas The First (Jonathan Frid)
Dark Shadows is, of course, based on the 1966-71 soap opera which related the adventures of a remorseful vampire named Barnabas Collins and his human family, scions of the small Maine community of Collinwood.  Upon Barnabas's first appearance a year into DS's run, the show immediately garnered a huge fanbase that continues to this day, and fostered two feature films in 1970 and '71 and a short-lived TV revival during the '90's.  Dark Shadows is regarded as an ahead-of-its-time groundbreaker because of its supernatural storylines featuring vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts, extradimensional creatures and time travel, and its influence upon many shows that came after it (including Buffy The Vampire Slayer, Angel, True Blood, and The Vampire Diaries) is still wide-reaching.

"Are they kidding?"
When word got out that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp (who are both DS fans of long-standing) had plans to do a big-budget feature film of Dark Shadows, the response was expectant and hopeful.  Upon release of the film trailer, many DS fans were immediately outraged over the rather jokey scenes, the 1970's period setting, and Depp's portrayal of Barnabas Collins (whose original portrayer, Jonathan Frid, died in April of this year).  Much of the genre film fan community had disparaging remarks about Burton's DS anyway, due to it seemingly being yet another in a long line of ham-fisted Hollywood remakes designed to drag in viewers and make huge amounts of money while trampling all over fond memories of a beloved fan experience.

For my part, while I love Dark Shadows and always have, I cannot call myself a fan in the same spirit that the film's decriers do.  Dark Shadows achieved legendary status for me due to my not having ever seen it in my youth, but constantly hearing about it from older family members who had seen some of the show's original run.  Ye Reviewer is currently enjoying the series through Netflix, and I can say without reservation that despite it falling victim to the usual disliked soap-opera conventions, it is every bit worth watching and deserving of its legendary status.

At this point, some people will be saying "yeah, well, when your favorite thing gets remade into a big crappy movie, you'll change your tune."  For me, that has already happened.  Saw Scooby-Doo; hated it, but the sequel got it right.  Saw Star Trek; didn't exactly dislike it, but the Star Trek Universe represented there seemed mighty homogenized compared to the original series, and the whole timeline-reboot sequence was obviously shoehorned in because the writers ran out of plot.  Still refuse, to this day, to watch Gus Van Sant's remake of Psycho, and if I ever meet the guy I'm probably going to jail.  So I do understand your pain and what you are talking about.

"Okay, people, hear me out..."
But the thing is that Burton's version of Dark Shadows, while hardly perfect for either DS fans or fans of Tim Burton's earlier movies, is not that bad.  For starters, it is neither a remake or a retelling of the original story but more of a revision, and revisions work differently from remakes.  If you have never seen Dark Shadows, you might consider this a Second Draft of Dark Shadows; if you're a huge fan, you're going to dislike some or all of this film.  But it is neither a real remake (in the Hollywood sense) or completely awful, and like the original show, it tends to be its own thing.

Much of the original DS backstory is told in the first few minutes of the movie, which shows the Collins family arriving from England in 1760 and establishing themselves as founders and favorite sons of Collinsport, Maine.  The eldest son, Barnabas (Depp), completes the building of his family's palatial estate of Collinwood and becomes something of a playboy, getting caught in a love triangle between housemaid Angelique Bouchard (Green) and his true love, Josette DuPres (Heathcote).  Unfortunately, Angelique proves to be a witch, and Barnabas's refusal of her love dooms the Collins family and Josette.  Angelique casts a spell that kills Barnabas's parents, curses the Collins family and sends Josette over the cliffs at Widow's Hill, then curses Barnabas as a vampire.  She then turns the townsfolk of Collinsport against Barnabas, who bury him in a chained coffin in the woods.

Creepy, spooky, mysterious, dysfunctional: the Collins family
Two hundred years later, in 1972, both Collinwood and the Collins family, consisting of iron-handed matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer), ne'er-do-well brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), rebellious daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Grace Chloe Moretz), Roger's troubled, ghost-obsessed son David (Gulliver McGrath), live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham-Carter), and drunken houseservant Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) are in disarray, while Angelique has survived through the centuries to become the town's favorite daughter and build a profitable canning business that has all but destroyed the Collins fortune.  Into this stew of dysfunction and secrets enter two visitors: lost soul Victoria Winters (Heathcote) who becomes a governess to David and is hiding some secrets of her own, and Barnabas Collins, whose reappearance is foretold in a ghostly visit by Josette to Winters.  When Barnabas's coffin is rediscovered and opened by luckless construction workers, he quickly treks to the ruined Collinwood, revealing his secret to Elizabeth and showing her the lost treasures of Collinwood.  Barnabas ingratiates himself into the family, helping to rebuild its fortune and fishing business, attempting to cure his vampirism with Dr. Hoffman, and kindling a relationship with Winters, who appears to be the reincarnation of Josette.  Angelique re-enters his new life as well, seducing Barnabas and demanding that he return her love.  Barnabas refuses, and the film soon escalates into a war for control of Collinsport as Barnabas fights to save his family from Angelique's curse.

"No Happy Meal toys, eh?  That's regrettable..."
So that's the plot, and here's the skinny:  By virtue of being a feature film, the story told here will be vastly different from the original show.  Soap operas, due to appearing daily, are episodic and told over quite long periods of time, while a feature film has two hours or less to set up, tell and resolve its story.  Also, Burton is a dedicated DS fan (as opposed to some other director who would have been merely attached to the movie), and his love for the series is evident and obvious throughout the film.  Johnny Depp's performance as Barnabas, while containing the now-standard Quirky Detachment that is expected from him, maintains the melodramatic sincerity and histrionic menace that were part of Frid's characterization while fully exploiting the fish-out-of-water status that a vampire from another era would have in 1972.  And the film does feature enough scariness to illustrate that demographics were part of the studio's targeting in creating the trailer.  While there are plenty of jokes and humor, those scenes from the trailer are not all you see, and the resurrection of Barnabas (which features the most backhanded product placement I've ever seen in a film) and his return to Collinwood is both funny and a little sad at the same time.

"I am Collins... hear me roar."
"Hey, can you blame me?  Vampires are cool."
The supporting cast, while of course subject to comparisons to the original characters, illustrate that they are as much lost souls as Barnabas in this film.  Michelle Pfeiffer's Elizabeth is dignified and strong-willed, just as Joan Bennett's performance was in the original.  Miller's Roger Collins fares badly, as the original Roger was a stuffed shirt who was nevertheless loyal to Elizabeth, but here Roger is a sleaze who selfishly chooses a life away from Collinwood over his family and son when Barnabas threatens to reveal his attempts to find the Collinwood treasures.  McGrath's David, while not as precocious as the original, is key to the survival of the family during Angelique's endgame.  Cast members who suffer the worst from comparisons to the originals are Bonham-Carter's Hoffman, Moretz's Carolyn and Haley's Willie Loomis.  Loomis and Hoffman were important supporting players in the original series, but here neither are given quite enough to do.  Loomis is relegated to loopy Renfield-esque slapstick as Barnabas's dogsbody, and the relationship dynamic between Barnabas and Hoffman (a key series element) is given short shrift in the film.  However, it does continue the theme of lost souls with Julia's treatment and subsequent betrayal (she gives Barnabas blood transfusions in an attempt to cure his vampirism, but steals his original blood to turn herself into a vampire and be eternally young).  Moretz's Carolyn appears to be the standard surly teenager, but toward the end we discover that the Collins curse has touched her as well: she is really a werewolf.  It would have been better if a few more clues to this had been provided through the film, rather than springing it at the end.  If Burton's Dark Shadows is really guilty of anything, it is that it tries to please original DS fans by doing too much in one film.

Queen Wasp: Angelique
Honey Bee: Victoria/Maggie/Josette (?)
Finally, we come to the two opposing corners of Barnabas's love triangle, Eva Green's Angelique and Bella Heathcote's Victoria Winters.  Green's performance detracts from the original to show the psychosis behind Angelique's lust for Barnabas, and while her endgame sequence has been compared (somewhat unjustly) to Death Becomes Her, she ends up being the perfect femme-fatale foil for Barnabas's wounded and struggling morality, especially in the seduction scene where she and Barnabas literally (and passionately) destroy her office.  Heathcote's Winters (who also serves as Josette DuPres) is serviceable, but yet another example of the film trying to do too much: her character cobbles together the roles of Victoria and Maggie Evans from the original, revealing that Winters' real name is Maggie Evans, who as a child was haunted by Josette's ghost and shipped by her parents to a mental asylum.  Escaping to Collinwood, Winters is caught up in the drama of the Collins family and the return of Barnabas, and becomes the eventual prize in the war for Collinsport.  Although her character is understated and perhaps even a bit underwritten for the soap-opera Grand Guignol Burton is attempting to recapture, she does well in her role and plays quietly against Barnabas in her scenes, reining in a bit of Depp's eccentricities.

The mood of the original is well-captured in staging and sets, demonstrating Burton's quirky-Goth sensibilities while not burying the source material beneath them.  Like the original, Dark Shadows the movie is its own world, and the settings of Collinsport and Collinwood, despite the 70's period pastiches, give every appearance of being well off the beaten path.  Longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman's score adds the usual deliciously dark flavor to the film, even using a bit of original DS score (sharp-eared fans will catch Robert Cobert's "The Secret Room" cue at the beginning and in other places through the film).

"Yes, I'm completely serious."
Now here are the really good things about this movie: First of all, if you are tired of ethereally pretty supernatural creatures a la Twilight, Vampire Diaries and True Blood, or humorless raging savages with Serious Motives a la the Underworld series, this is the movie for you, as it handles vampires, witches, ghosts and werewolves in a more classical-based yet subversive manner.  Second, it has attracted interest in the original series, and as all episodes of DS still exist it hopefully will help to keep the series in perpetuity via electronic media and so forth.  (Though no one was shouting for special edition DVD sets of McHale's Navy when its movie version came out, I feel that Dark Shadows will fare differently.)

And despite what anyone wants to say, it's hardly a parody of the original.  We have had vampires and other supernatural creatures in the pop-culture consciousness for at least a millennium now, and while Burton's Dark Shadows digs no new ground in the vampire legend (and neither did the original), this film does nothing to make fun of the show or its fanbase.  If it spoofs anything, it spoofs the deadly, unhealthy seriousness and quest for realism we have attached to supernatural and horrific entertainment by setting classical Gothic melodrama in the 1970's, a time when pop-culture completely lacked the ability to be serious about anything.  In this age when we are demanding more from our sources of entertainment than our presidential candidates, we could use a little of those high spirits today, and Burton's Dark Shadows may hold the key to that.  Go see it with an open mind, and then indulge heavily in the original.  You might find yourself joining Team Barnabas after all.  And besides, it's only a movie.

There you go.

"With animosity toward none."