Saturday, July 30, 2011

Ghost Story (Spoilers Galore)

Ghost Story (The Dresden Files,  #13)Ghost Story by Jim Butcher

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Six months after his death, Harry Dresden returns to Chicago to solve his own murder. Can he keep his friends safe in the process?

I've got a lot to say about this. I'll cover the good points first.

The Good: Having a ghost come back to solve his own murder isn't a new idea but Butcher did a fairly good job with it here. The supporting cast, Molly in particular, developed quite a bit in Harry's absence. The new character of Fitz has potential, as does Mortimer, who I don't particularly remember. The intrigue with the faerie court is always a plus.

The Bad: I just can't stand Harry Dresden any more. He's like that friend you thought was hilarious in the sixth grade but wanted to strangle by the time you got out of high school. He's an unfunny smart ass with a "funny" quip for every situation. Worse yet, 70% of the characters in the series talk just like him. His Star Wars references are getting really tired and he's had no significant character development since the series began.

Another of the things that bothered be, and they are legion, is that Butcher can't seem to commit to anything that might move the series along. Remember that war between the White Council and their unseen enemy? Yeah, whatever happened with that? That subplot hasn't advanced AT ALL in the last two books. Robert Jordan's corpse called. He said you should start wrapping this up while people still care about it.

Remember how the entire Red Court was killed in the last book at Chichen Itza? Not 50 pages into this book, there was speculation that not all of them were killed. WTF, Butcher? How about growing a pair and sticking with your guns for once?

Here's another thing that bugs me. Harry comes back from the dead at the end. He was already the biggest Gary Stu character around before he came back. Now that death apparently can't stop him, why should I give a shit about him anymore?

Did anyone else notice how the women can't seem to get along without Harry Dresden for six months without falling apart but the men do just fine? Just pointing it out.

The resolution to Harry's death? Whatever. It was just there for me and seemed a bit illogical considering he had a daughter to look after.

The Ugly: There comes a time in many relationships to call it quits. Harry Dresden, for us, that day is today. There was a time when the release of a new Harry Dresden book excited me like a pedophile at a pre-teen beauty pageant. I'd snap up the newest book and go after it like Amy Winehouse and a vial of crack. But those days are long gone. I've been going through the motions for the last couple of books and it just isn't working for me anymore. I keep hoping things will get better but they don't. The tediousness continues and I'm ready to move on.

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Thursday, July 28, 2011


Apeshit  (Avant Punk Book Club)Apeshit by Carlton Mellick III

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Six teenagers go to a cabin in the woos for a weekend of sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Little did they know they'd end up with a psychotic monster trying to kill them...

Wow. This was the goriest, craziest, goriest book I've read this year. I realize I said "goriest" twice but this book is so gory I thought one "goriest" wasn't going to cut it. It started out like a typical slasher movie. Three guys, three girls, various sexual entanglements. Then the inbred mutant showed up and things got turned upside down. I devoured it in two sittings. Luckily, not while I was trying to eat.

Seriously, there's enough weird sex and gore in this book to sate anyone's bloodlust. How many books have you read that feature a woman with her intestines hanging out for half the book, a woman with an abortion fetish, and another with teeth in her vagina? And all that's in the first forty or fifty pages! Much weirder things happen later.

The twist at the end was nicely done. I was wondering how everyone was still alive and the ending wrapped things up very neatly.

While it's definitely not for the squeamish, Apeshit is a crazy tribute to slasher flicks and is quite a wild ride. Just don't try to read it while you're eating.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Dark Tower VI: Song of Susannah

Song of Susannah (The Dark Tower, Book 6)Song of Susannah by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2011 re-read:
Susanna/Mia uses Black Thirteen and flees to New York to have her baby. Roland, Eddie, Jake, and Callahan get the Manni to open the Unfound Door and end up in the wrong places. Can Roland and Eddie convince Calvin Tower to sell them the lot where the Rose grows? Can Jake and Callahan find Susannah before she has her baby?

Song of Susannah was my least favorite book in the Dark Tower series the first time through. Susannah has never been my favorite character in the Dark Tower saga and this book is really Susannah-heavy. On the second read, I had to raise it another star. The Susannah/Mia conflict had its moments and did a lot of setting up for the big shebang coming in the seventh and final book. A lot more background information was revealed.

I'd be lying if I said Susannah was the reason I upped this one a star upon re-reading. The other reason is that Jake and Eddie seem like bonafide Gunslingers in this book, even more than they did in Wolves of the Calla. I have a feeling their fates in The Dark Tower are going to be almost as painful the second time through. The relationship between Eddie and Roland has developed quite a bit since The Drawing of the Three, as has Roland's character. I still love Long, Tall, and Ugly, even though he'd probably leave me along the Path of the Beam the first morning I bitched about not having coffee.

There is something else that I liked a lot more the second time but it's pretty spoilerific. Now that I've had a few years to digest Stephen King writing himself into the story, it doesn't really irk me like it did the first time.

While it's not my favorite of the Dark Tower books, it's still good and it lays a lot of the cards down on the table for the final volume, The Dark Tower. See you all along the Path of the Beam.

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Monday, July 25, 2011

It Came From Below the Belt!

It Came from Below the BeltIt Came from Below the Belt by Bradley Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Grover Goldstein is swallowed by a giraffe and winds up in the future. Grover is dragooned into returning to high school and helping The Unnameable become President of Moonsylvania in exchange for access to Nazi time travel technology that will send him back to his own time. I feel like I'm forgetting something.... Oh, Yeah. The Unnameable is Grover Goldstein's future self's severed penis.

It's not very often that I have trouble describing a book I've just finished. Phrases like "Absurdist romp" and "a parade of puns and wordplay" come to mind. "More absurdist humor than four episodes of Monty Python's Flying Circus, including the Dead Parrot Sketch" is another.

It Came from Below the Belt is all about the journey and what a journey it was. Grover Goldstein experiences high school a second time and is only marginally more successful. The story takes a step back in favor of wordplay, outrageous situations, pop culture references, and the craziest humor you'll ever experience. If absurdist humor is your bag, let Bradley Sands be your bagman.

Seriously, how many books have you read featuring a talking penis running for president? No more than four or five, I'd wager. I guarantee this is the best "talking penis running for president" book you'll read this month.

That's about all I have to say. Crazy stuff, talking penis for president, it's out of print but worth selling your kidney for, etc.

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Saturday, July 23, 2011

The Griff

The Griff: A Graphic NovelThe Griff: A Graphic Novel by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Aliens resembling griffons attack the earth and decimate much of the population. Two groups of people struggle to survive. But why have the Griff come to earth anyway?

The Griff is a graphic novel based on a movie script Christopher Moore worked on with Ian Corson in order to get out of working on one of his other novels. True story. Says so in the introduction. The story is your standard Hollywood apocalyptic disaster movie, only with griffons flying around attacking people.

The two groups of survivors are a mixed bag. You've got Curt, the wannabe soldier, Steve, the skateboard riding slacker, and Mo, video game designer and hot punk chick in one group and Liz, the animal trainer from Ocean World and Oscar, fur-suited theme park worker in the other. Just by the male-female composition of the groups and the fact that this was written to be a movie in mind, you know there's going to be some sexual tension and/or two people hooking up. Crap, I'm getting venomous before I mean to.

Before I vent a bit on reasons why I couldn't rate this higher than I did, I'd like to mention that the art was good and I liked the revelation behind the origins of the Griffs and I also liked a certain bit with Liz at the end that I won't mention because I don't want to spoil it.

And now, here's what I didn't like about it. I love Christopher Moore's novels. Since this was based on a movie script, the only thing that's obviously Moore-written is the dialogue. The problem is that everyone talks almost exactly the same way. 90% of the dialogue is completely interchangeable between characters. It feels like a cliche summer blockbuster in almost every way possible, including the ending.

While it's not a bad graphic novel, don't expect the usual Christopher Moore awesomeness. Picture Independence Day or a similar summer blockbuster, substitute griffins for aliens, throw in Christopher Moore dialogue until it annoys the crap out of you, and you'll have The Griff.

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ZerostrataZerostrata by Andersen Prunty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Depressed 20-something Hansel Nothing returns to his mother's house to recapture the zest for life he had in his childhood. It's just as he remembered it. His dad has run away to become a superhero, his brother hasn't left the house in two years, and his mother is addicted to prescription drugs. While sitting in his tree house, Zerostrata, he notices a naked girl running through the woods and immediately knows his life is going to get better...

I didn't really know what to expect from Zerostrata but it exceeded my expectations by parsecs. It's part modern day fairy tale, part Royal Tenenbaums. Hansel's family are sure an interesting bunch, from his brother wanting to be their father's superhero sidekick to his mother having a friend stay with her, to the crazy therapist Dr. Blast. It very much has the feel of a Tim Burton movie.

Hansel himself is the most interesting character, a character who can't remember much of his past, unsure of his pace in the world, and longs for a return to childhood. I sure didn't expect to identify with a character in a bizarro novel but here we are. When he meets the naked running girl, Gretel Something, you know things are going to turn out okay.

Zerostrata is short and sweet and would make a good first Bizarro for someone. It's not intimidating and no one gets sodomized with anything. Easy five stars.

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Ask the Parrot

Ask the Parrot (Parker, #23)Ask the Parrot by Richard Stark

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Parker was on the run from police dogs and chanced upon a rabbit hunter who unexpectedly aided him, he should have known the rabbit hunter had motives of his own. Now Parker's teaming with him to rob a racetrack. Can Parker get away with the robbery while a manhunt is going on for him?

Ask the Parrot was one of the better books of the new era Parker. Parker is his ruthless self, evident in the way he handles most of the supporting cast. Unlike some of the more recent Parker books, Parker doesn't seem soft in this one. The way he handles Thiemann after Thiemann accidentally kills a bum is vintage Parker, cold and calculating. The robbery was pretty simple but the petty crimes Parker pulled along the way were pretty good. Parker showed he was as ballsy as ever, participating in his own manhunt.

Ask the Parrot also shares many of the flaws that have marred the more recent Parker books. For one thing, the style is long winded compared to the earlier ones and the story feels padded. For another thing, there's a chapter from the damn parrot's point of view! WTF, Stark? That's okay for a Dortmunder book but not for Parker.

The gripe list was shorter than usual for a post-Butcher's Moon Parker. Good, not great, the earlier ones are better, etc. I'm a little sad that I only have one Parker book left to read after this one.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Elephant Who Liked to Smash Small Cars

The Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small CarsThe Elephant Who Liked To Smash Small Cars by Jean Merrill

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A friend of mine recommended this to me, saying it was a little demented for a child's book. Boy, was he right!

The plot is as follows: An elephant likes to smash small cars(although in one instance, it looks like he's attempting to have sex with one.) He's a car wrecking machine. One day, a car dealership specializing in small cars opens in the neighborhood and an orgy of car smashing destruction ensues. The dealer, his business obviously ruined, starts stocking large cars, too big for the elephant to smash. He then proceeds to repeatedly run over the elephant for the sole purpose of teaching him a lesson...

My girlfriend at the time of my reading was a little weirded out by the book and asked me what lesson it was supposed to teach a young reader. I smirked and said "If you act like a jerk, someone is going to settle your hash sooner or later." She wasn't amused.

I wish my mom would have read this to me when I was a youngling. Funny stuff, even for adults.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Wrath of the Lemming Men

Wrath of the Lemming-men (Chronicles of Isambard Smith 3)Wrath of the Lemming-men by Toby Frost

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Lemming men of Yull have joined forces with the Ghasts against the British Space Empire. Can Space Captain Smith, Carveth, Suruk, Rhianna, and Gerald, the ship's hamster, stop the Yull and keep the Ghasts from their goal of adding the Vorl's power to their own?

The third entry in the Space Captain Smith series is much like the previous two; a nice mix of action and wit, both dry and otherwise. The jabs at sf classics continue, mostly Star Wars, Alien, and Blade Runner this time around.

Suruk's vendetta against Vock is one of the driving forces of the plot and by far the most enjoyable one. The Smith/Rhianna subplot is getting on my nerves. While Rhianna is a good contrast to Smith's uptightness, I just don't like her. Carveth and Suruk provide 75% of the humor and overshadow Smith and Rhianna as characters.

Wrath of the Lemming Men is a good, funny, read for fans of British comedy and sf. I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who hasn't read the previous two, however.

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God Emperor of Didcot

God Emperor of Didcot (Chronicles of Isambard Smith 2)God Emperor of Didcot by Toby Frost

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Eden and the Ghasts take over Didcot using the Grand Hyrax, a fanatical lunatic, as a figurehead. Didcot is the primary source of the British Empire's tea supply. With no tea, the British Empire has no moral fiber and is therefore finished. It's up to Isambard Smith and his crew, Carveth, the renegade sex droid, Suruk, the alien headhunter, Rhianna, the space hippie, and Gerald, the ship's hamster, to liberate Didcot. Suruk goes to his people for help. Unfortunately, they aren't nearly as warlike as he remembers...

God Emperor of Didcot is the sequel to Space Captain Smith. Is it as good? It's a sequel so of course not. They are rarely as good as the originals. But it's still delightfully hilarious, full of dry wit and jabs at sf classics. As you can tell by the title, its plot is inspired by the Dune series. There are references to a multitude of other sf stories as well. Carveth wakes up complaining about that dream of electric sheep again, for example.

Speaking of Carveth, she gets even more of the good lines in this one, as well as some character development. Suruk also benefits from more time in this one. You can almost taste his rage at what his society has become. Still not to keen on Rhianna but at least Frost hasn't forced a relationship between her and Captain Smith yet.

I'd recommend this to fans of the previous book, Space Captain Smith, as well as fans of Red Dwarf, Christopher Moore, Douglas Adams, and British humor in general. Now, the wait for the third volume begins...

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Sunday, July 17, 2011

King Scratch

King ScratchKing Scratch by Jordan Krall

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When moonshine runner Jim Steam gets a call from his ex-wife to check on her father, things quickly spiral out of control in a monsoon of car crashes, squid moonshine, weird fetishes, and pancakes. Will Jim survive the night?

Wow. I don't know what I was expecting with King Scratch but it wasn't this. I was hooked from the first page when Keith sticks a matchstick in his urethra. King Scatch is a great Bizarro noir story. All the classic noir elements are there: betrayal, violence, betrayal, sex, violence, betrayal, etc. Throw in the Krall standbys like bizarre fetishes, squids, and crabs, and you've got a winner on your hands.

The writing is the star of the show here. I love how the narrative goes from first person during the Jim chapters and third person in the other ones. After the second car accident, I stopped trying to figure out where the story was going. Moonshine made from squid parts? Yuck!

The characters were up to noir standards. Jim's the down on his luck lead, Peggy's his conniving girlfriend, Laura's his conniving ex-wife, and Kevin is the weird guy you're not to sure about.

Any gripes? It was too short, I guess. I wasn't a tremendous fan of the ending, either. Other than that, no regrets. If you liked Squid Pulp Blues, you'll like this.

To sum up, Jordan Krall has done it again. King Scratch is a non-stop pulp page turner, full of twists and turns. Go buy it right now!

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Saturday, July 16, 2011


LemurLemur by Tom Bradley

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Lemuel's Family Restaurant's loser bus boy Spencer Sproul longs to be a serial killer like his heroes but just doesn't have the aptitude for it, until he determines that he can use the restaurant itself to torture his victims...

When I saw the demented drawing of Lemmy the Lemur on the cover, I knew I had to read this book. Not only did Tom Bradley make me care about a loser sociopath like Spencer Sproul, he gave me a few laughs along the way.

The main attractions of this story to me were the setting and the charcters. Spencer's job as a bus boy made me reflect fondly on my day as a dishwasher... when I quit after one shift! Spencer's lack of skill at serial killing was hilarious. Having a hooker come over and not clubbing her with a potato masher as she looks at your favorite serial killer book? Breaking into a house with murder on your mind and getting distracted by the book about serial killers your victim fell asleep reading? Priceless! Spencer being completely inept at chit-chat really made the story for me.

The supporting cast was good as well; Spencer's wood-be apprentice Spud, Raleigh Standish, Detective Furtwangler, Spencer's co-workers, they were all pretty well done. I even like the lady cop, the fat cop, and the reading cop as a team. The hellish restaurant setting, and even Spencer, to an extent, reminded me of James Steele's Felix and the Sacred Thor quite a bit.

Any gripes? It was way too short. It's 118 pages and the type was pretty big. Other than that, it was a very enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.

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Dark Tower V: Wolves of the Calla

Wolves of the Calla (Dark Tower 5)Wolves of the Calla by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The 2011 re-read:
Roland and his ka-tet of gunslingers ride into Call Bryn Sturgis, a town with a problem. Once every generation, a gang of marauders called The Wolves ride out of Thunderclap and steal half of the town's children. The ones that return come back roont, or brain-damaged. Can Roland and the others stop the Wolves before Susan gives birth to the demon in her womb?

It was a long wait between Wizard and Glass and Wolves of the Callah. Was it worth it? Well, does a horse piss where it pleases?

The main story of Wolves of the Calla is right out of The Magnificent Seven or Seven Samurai. The gunslingers ride into town, prepare the town, and settle the bad guys' hash. The secondary stories, of which there are several, are what make the book. You've got Father Callahan from Jake, Eddie, and Susannah's world and his fearsome burden, Black Thirteen. You've got someone in town helping the Wolves. You've got Roland and his arthritis. You've got Calvin Tower and the vacant lot containing the Rose. And most of all, you have Susannah's disturbing pregnancy.

The gang going todash was one of the more interesting parts of the book and something I'd forgotten about in the years since I read this book the first time. I devoured the book in a day and a half when it first came out so I must not have savored it. There were so many wrinkles to the story that I'd forgotten.

I love how the Man in Black doubled back and met Callahan at the Way Station while Roland and Jake were on in trail in The Gunslinger. In the revised edition of The Gunslinger, Roland contemplates putting his quest on hold for a few years and training Jake so he'd have another Gunslinger with him. Would they have met Callahan if they'd let the Man in Black get away? Tantalizing...

People say that the long flashback in Wizard and Glass fleshed out Roland's personality. I'd say watching Roland interact with the people of Callah Bryn Sturgis in this book went a lot farther in showing what kind of man Roland was before the world moved on.

I can't really say much more for fear of giving too many things away to people who have never read it. If you like the Dark Tower, this one is probably in the top three books of the series.

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Sunday, July 10, 2011

New X-Men Ultimate Collection volume 2

New X-Men By Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 2 TPBNew X-Men By Grant Morrison Ultimate Collection Book 2 TPB by Grant Morrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Living and Dying: Cerebra guides Xorn to a mutant living with his mother. Unfortunately, the mutant looks like a monster and has been accused of eating a dog.

If I hadn't already had the truth behind Xorn spoiled for me, this would have been a touching story for a superhero comic.

New Worlds: Professor X and Jean Grey try to learn the extent of her power boost, Fantomex demands sanctuary from the X-Corporation, and Cyclops asks Emma Frost for help.

I like what Morrison is doing with the X-Men during his run on the book but I can't help feeling a little sad that they're going to start undoing everything the instant his run is over.

Fantomex: Weapon 12 is unleashed and Fantomex enlists the aid of Professor X and Jean to help him.

This one was a bit slow paced but jumpy at the same time, kind of like Final Crisis would be years later.

Weapon 12: Weapon 12 is running amok and Fantomex and the X-Men try to bring him down.

Fantomex's identity is somewhat revealed and a team member dies. Again, slow paced but good.

Some Angels Falling: The X-Men attended Darkstar's funeral and Emma Frost begins "helping" Cyclops with his marriage.

This was mostly setup for future tales. The most memorable part was actually Angel kissing Beak.

Ambient Magnetic Fields: The X-Men go to Genosha and find a deranged Polaris and several mutants building a monument to Magneto.

It was cool to see Quicksilver acknowledged as Magneto's son and Sabra as a mutant. Other than that, not a whole lot happened.

#133: Wolverine meets Phantomex and someone tries to kill Professor X.

Good stuff. It was cool to see old members of X-Force and Sunfire again. I like how Morrison always brings back lesser known characters, like Sunfire, Warpath, and Feral in this issue.

Kid Omega: Mutant fashion designer Jumbo Carnation is murdered. Quentin Quire starts having big ideas. Beast and Cyclops chat.

This was a setup issue. I think Quentin Quire is going to do big things in the future. Also, I haven't said it before but I love the Stepford Cuckoos, Morrison's homage to John Wyndham's Midwich Cuckoos.

Teaching Children about Fractals: Quentin Quire starts organizing the other young mutants and the drug Kick starts appearing in the school for gifted youngsters.

I like what's happening with Quire and his comrades. I think things will come to a head in another issue or two.

When X is not X: Quentin Quire and his gang wander farther from Xavier's dream. The U-Men disrupt Xorn's camping trip with the remedial class. Cyclops and Emma Frost share a telepathic moment.

Yep, things are coming to a head. Emma Frost is one of my favorite mutants these days.

Riot at Xavier's: Quentin Quire and his gang start a riot on open house day.

The Quentin Quire storyline comes to a head in this one. Emma Frost and the Stepford Cuckoos take center stage.

The Prime of Miss Emma Frost: The Xavier school mourns the death of Sophie in the aftermath of Quentin Quire's riot, Angel is allegedly pregnant with Beak's child, and Jean Grey catches Cyclops and Emma Frost in the act.

The aftermath of the Quentin Quire story was well done, as was the telepathic affair between Emma Frost and Cyclops.

Murder at the Mansion: Jean confronts Emma Frost about what she and Cyclops have been doing.

The alleged affair between Cyclops and Emma Frost is brought to the forefront. The last panel is a shocker and leads nicely into the next issue.

Whodunnit?: Emma Frost has been killed by an assailant with a diamond bullet and Bishop is on the case.

So who killed Emma Frost? I'm still not completely sure. Morrison did a good job using Bishop as the lead in a murder mystery. Beak and Angel's kids were an odd brood. Esme leaving the school was a nice touch, as was hinting that Cyclops was the murderer on the last page. Looks like I'll be tracking down the next volume after all.

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Codename Prague

Codename PragueCodename Prague by D. Harlan Wilson

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

After killing the Nowhere Man on his last mission, Vincent Prague was promoted to Anvil-in-Chief of the Ministry of Applied Pressure. Now, he's tasked with going to Prague in the former Czech Republic, going to the Hotel Prague on Prague street where he will meet Henri Prague, who will introduce him to his sister Madchen "The Prague" Prague, who will take him to the Delova Prague. Prague, Prague, Prague, Prague, Prague. There's also a monster that's a clone of John Keats and Hitler that looks like Jean Claude Van Damme with a mustache.

Codename Prague is an absurdist cyberpunk spy thriller, emphasis on the absurd. I'm kind of at a loss to describe what actually happened and I'm not sure whether I liked it or not. There were parts where the wordplay made me snicker like a psychopath and I loved all the obscure pulp culture references. The idea of people crossing the Atlantic via catapult was nicely done. The technology was so over the top that it was awesome.

So what wasn't I crazy about? Most of the characters were incredibly flat. I think Dr. Teufeldrockh was the only one I had any attachment to. About halfway through the book, the wordplay became so thick that the whole book threatened to go off the rails at any moment. There were a few times that I wondered if I'd gone insane and the book was completely normal.

To sum up, Codename Prague had its moments and I loved parts of it but it was no Dr. Identity and not my cup of tea.

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Saturday, July 9, 2011

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America

National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America (National Wildlife Federation Field Guide)National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Insects and Spiders & Related Species of North America by Arthur V. Evans

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I'm a bug geek. There, I said it. I've been interested in the creepy bastards since I was a kid and I've been photographing them ever since I bought my first digital camera years ago.

Bug books have been hit or miss for me in the past. Either they try to take on too much, are too narrow in scope, or just have unclear pictures. This book is by far the best insect and arachnid guide I've ever read.

Each page has at least two entries on it. The entries are very detailed and the pictures are at a high enough resolution that it's fairly easy to identify the bugs I've photographed in the past. Also, the cover is waterproof in case I need to take this handy little book into the rainforest with me.

As far as insect books go, this one is going to be hard to top. Five out of five stars.

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Thursday, July 7, 2011

Batman & Robin: Batman Reborn - The Deluxe Edition

Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn (Batman & Robin)Batman and Robin: Batman Reborn by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Batman Reborn: In their first case as Batman & Robin, Dick Grayson and Damian Wayne take on Professor Pyg and the Circus of the Strange.

I'll be honest, despite reading comics off and on for the last 30-ish years, I haven't read all that many Batman comics. When I heard Grant Morrison was doing the Batman monthly, that's when I got on board. Batman and Robin is Morrison at his best.

Remember when Bane broke Batman's back and they replaced him with someone who wasn't Dick Grayson? Well, Morrison didn't make that mistake. I love the dynamic between Dick and Damian. Damian saying "That will be all, Pennyworth" made me laugh when I read it, even the second time. For once, Batman is the lighthearted member of the dynamic duo. Professor Pyg is pretty creepy and made a good first foe for Batman and Robin. Other things I liked: the flying Batmobile and the paracapes.

Revenge of the Red Hood: While looking for the man behind Professor Pyg, Batman & Robin run up against a different dynamic duo, The Red Hood and Scarlet.

I didn't like this one as much as the first story. Batman and Robin were made to look like chumps, which is no way to get the fan boys behind them this early in their run. On the plus side, Flamingo seemed like a very credible threat in his first outing. Jason Todd chewed the scenery as always but he and Scarlet contrasted well with Dick and Damian.

The sketches in the back provided an interesting look behind the scenes.

So what gripes did I have? Only that I know all of this will be nullified when whomever follows Morrison on the title hits the reset button on everything so no one will ever have to read interesting Batman stories again.

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Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? by Neil Gaiman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

So I caved in and got the individual issues for this. Come on, it's Neil Gaiman.

First issue:
So there's a funeral in a church in crime alley. Batman is in the casket. His friends and foes are assembled to give their respects and tell how Batman died.

The thing I've always liked about Neil Gaiman's comics are that they're about something. They have themes. They're actually pretty clever. Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader is a good example.

In the first story, Catwoman gives her tale of her relationship with Batman and how he died, bleeding to death on her couch after a freak gunshot wound. In the second, Alfred tells about Bruce going off the deep end and becoming Batman after his parents died. Since he wasn't having much luck fighting crime, Alfred hired some of his actor friends to be Batman's rogue's gallery, with Alfred himself portraying the Joker!

The best part, in my opinion, is that Adam Kubert draws the different parts of the story in the styles of artists of other time periods.

Now I have to either wait a month until the second half comes out or wait until the collection comes out. Based on the first half, I'm giving it a four for now.

The second half wasn't quite as good as the first but still very very good. More accounts of Batman's death and then Batman's alone at his own funeral. Well, not precisely alone...

Good night, mechanical dinosaur. Good night, giant penny.

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Batman: RIP

Batman: R.I.P.Batman: R.I.P. by Grant Morrison

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Batman gets cut by one of the Black Glove's minions on the first page, drugging him in the process. A little later, Jezebel Jet (who wouldn't have spotted a girl named Jezebel as being linked with the villains?) utters a code word Dr. Hurt implanted in Batmans' subconscious during an isolation experiment years ago (see Batman: The Black Glove) and the shit hits the fan. The Bruce Wayne part of Batman's psyche is completely eclipsed with the Batman part. Batman goes on a rampage in a patchwork costume and finally catches up to the Black Glove at Arkham Asylum. He's consequently defeated and buried alive. But even being buried alive isn't enough to stop Batman...

I didn't like this one as much as the The Black Glove and here's why. First of all, you knew the vague ending was letting the door open for Bruce Wayne to return, even though Nightwing looked pretty impressive in the final shot holding Batman's cowl. Secondly, the two stories that followed, also in this volume, showed Batman surviving the helicopter crash. God forbid the fanboys think Batman might be dead for longer than ten minutes. THEN, Batman is "killed" by Darkseid in Final Crisis. It seems like they would have been better off leaving him "dead" at the end of RIP. The ending was vague enough that a return would have been believeable. However they end up bringing him back after Final Crisis (and they will) is going to be hokey as hell.

I'd highly recommend skipping the last two stories in this book. If you do and never read another Batman comic again, you can pretend something actually happened. Otherwise, it's just another example of why comics will never rise above their pro-wrestling type status with the general public. Nothing ever really happens that won't be undone later.

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Batman: The Black Glove

Batman: The Black GloveBatman: The Black Glove by Grant Morrison

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The reason most people grow out of reading superhero comics is that nothing ever changes for long. Inevitably, everything eventually returns to the status quo. Enter Grant Morrison.

I've been a fan of Grant Morrison's work for quite some time. From Animal Man to The Doom Patrol to the Invisibles to Marvel Boy. His appeal for me is the same as Roger Zelazny's: he has so many ideas flying off the page at the same time. I started picking up Batman because I had a hunch Morrison would shake things up. In his first few issues, he had Batman's illegitimate son turn up and had an army of ninjas injected with the Man-Bat serum. That's what led me to continue reading, which brings us to The Black Glove.

The Black Glove starts with Batman meeting a group called the International League of Hero on a reclusive billionaire's private island. From what I gather, the League first made its appearance in a Batman story in 50's. Anyway, one member of the League isn't what he appears to be and starts killing the other members in a pretty good story.

The second story involves someone Batman trained as possible replacement going haywire and nearly killing Batman. Batman hallucinates/has flashbacks of an ritual he went through in the Himalayas as well as an isolation experiment he took part in. Eventually Batman recovers and things get settled.

The third story does little more than set up the next arc, Batman RIP. Bruce Wayne and his love interest, Jezebel Jet, are attacked by terrorists and Jet discovers Bruce is Batman in the process.

The common thread of these three stories is the Black Glove, a secret organization that has its sights set on taking down Batman. I won't go into how they are involved so as not to spoil the story. Needless to say, they are a foe unlike any Batman has faced.

To sum up, if you're a fan of Batman movies, you'll like this. Morrison's Batman is the most like the movie Batman than any other writer's depiction.

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Batman and Son

Batman: Batman and SonBatman: Batman and Son by Grant Morrison

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the middle of a story involving man-bat ninjas, among other things, Ra's Al Ghul's daughter dumps a ten year old brat off at the Batcave, saying he's Batman's son. Damian, raised by the League of Assassins, shakes things up immediately and raises the ire of Robin. Who will emerge as Batman's heir?

I swore I reviewed this when I read it but apparently I didn't. Morrison picks up a plot thread left over from the twenty year old Son of the Demon story and runs with it. Damian, Batman's alleged offspring, is a colossal prick and provides a nice contrast to the usual Batman and Robin relationship. Overall, I liked the story but it wasn't a masterpiece. The most memorable part for me was the Man-Bat ninja's and Damian decapitating the main villain. The future story where Damian is Batman was kind of pointless being that it will immediately be invalidated when Morrison stops writing Batman. In all likelihood, so will Damian's place as Batman's son, for that matter.

Not a bad read but pretty pricey in hardcover. It's a must read for people that are fans of Morrison's run with Dick Grayson as Batman and Damian Wayne as Robin.

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Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Mollusks and Murder: The Jordan Krall Interview

Today's guest is Jordan Krall, author of Piecemeal June, Squid Pulp Blues, Fistful of Feet, and King Scratch.

How did you get involved in the Bizarro movement?
I’d say it was in 2006 when I read about it on the Internet. It was very intriguing and seemed like the type of things I’ve been writing. Eraserhead Press specifically was something that appeared to cater to my tastes. However, at that time I believe they were closed to submissions so I sort of just sunk back into a disappointed state because I really didn’t think I could write fiction that wasn’t weird. Also, at the time I didn’t write all that much. Anyway, in about 2007 they opened up submissions, I submitted, and the rest is history. Rose O’Keefe contacted me and we talked and then I was offered a contract. It was a dream come true.

After reading Squid Pulp Blues, I could tell you have some serious noir love. How did Squid Pulp Blues come about?
Well, when I first signed to Eraserhead, they wanted me to be included in the second Bizarro Starter Kit. The only catch was that it was being published pretty soon so I had to write something quickly. That’s where “The Longheads” came in. After that, I decided to use it as the middle novella in SPB, my second for EHP. I wrote the story “The Haberdasher” which takes place before “The Longheads” and then “The Apocalypse Donkey” which takes place after. I’ve gotten a lot of good feedback from crime fiction fans.

What's the story behind the spaghetti western-influenced Fistful of Feet?
I’m a big fan of Spaghetti westerns and giallo flicks… and I really wanted to do something involving those genres. I believe I talked about it with Carlton Mellick III at World Horror in 2008 and he thought it was a good idea. It took me quite a while to really cement the idea down and writing it was pure hell (in retrospect, it was worth it).

Any more adventures of Calamaro or visits to Thompson, New Jersey in the Future?
Thompson will be used again for sure. I’m not sure about Calamaro or the world of FoF. If a publisher approached me about a sequel to it, I’d consider it.

Foot fetishes were prominent in both Squid Pulp Blues and Fistful of Feet. Do you, in fact, have a foot fetish or do you just think foot fetishes are hilarious?
Well, all I’ll say is that I don’t find foot fetishism funny at all.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
It was probably a combination of William Burroughs, Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, Clive Barker, and Dean Koontz. Not one book specifically but I read those authors in a time in my life when I was exploring my creativity. I’m sure they all contributed to it. I do remember my friend and I writing really bad Conan rip-off stories as well as Lovecraftian stuff (but surprisingly I don’t think they involved the Cthulhu Mythos but more of his tales like The Tomb).

Who are some of your influences?
As far as authors go….Like the above, Lovecraft, Barker, Robert E. Howard. Also, Jim Thompson, J.G. Ballard, Edward Lee, Thomas Ligotti, Mario Puzo, Elmore Leonard especially. I’m also influenced by movies: horror, film noir, 80s and 90s movies and TV shows. David Lynch, Andy Milligan, Charles Bronson, Fernando Di Leo, Dario Argento, Ginger Rogers. I’m also influenced by history.

What's your favorite book?
Not sure I can narrow that down. Teatro Grottesco by Thomas Ligotti. Pronto and Mr. Majestyk by Elmore Leonard. Savage Night by Jim Thompson. The biography of Andy Milligan. Perfume by Patrick Suskind.

Who's your favorite author?
Can’t pick just one. Top five are probably Jim Thompson, Thomas Ligotti, Elmore Leonard, H.P. Lovecraft, and Edward Lee.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Godfather.

After digging through your shelves on Goodreads, I see that we're both fans of the Hard Case Crime Series. Which Hard Case is your favorite?
Shit, I don’t even remember. I started reading them in the beginning but they eventually got pretty boring. I’m not sure they were publishing the best of the best. Sometimes a book is rare for a reason. And Stephen King’s book just didn’t belong. I understand why they published it ($$$$$) but it made the title of the series (Hard Case Crime) appear ironic.

What was with the Karate Kid III references in Squid Pulp Blues?
It’s all part of a ritual to resurrect Ralph Macchio’s career.

Who would last longer in Thompson, New Jersey: Jimmy Plush, Teddy Bear Detective, or Roma the tomato from Eric Hendrixson's Bucket of Face?
Jimmy Plush wouldn’t last two minutes. Then again…Roma would probably be made into sauce shortly after that.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
You have to read a lot. You have to write a lot. You can’t wait for inspiration. If you write fiction, concentrate on believable dialogue. You wouldn’t believe how many books I’ve stopped reading because the dialogue sounds unnatural. Also, WATCH MOVIES. I don’t know why some writers think they shouldn’t watch movies. That’s bullshit. As an author your first job is to tell a fucking story! You can learn a lot from cinema. You’re just closing yourself off from inspiration. You can look a perfect scene in a movie and think, “How can I describe that in words in order to make that just as effective on paper?” or any of the other countless things movies can do for you as an author. So basically just get as much inspiration as possible and tell a good fucking story.

What's next for Jordan Krall?
I just finished up TENTACLE DEATH TRIP that Eraserhead Press is going to publish in the fall. Basically it’s like Death Race 2000 meets Mad Max meets the Cthulhu mythos. Also, I’m writing a novella which will be part of a “double feature” paperback with William Pauley III. My story is called YOUR CITIES, YOUR TOMBS. That’s coming out on Library of Bizarro Horror. Lastly, Australia’s great LegumeMan Books is publishing my horror novel PENETRALIA. Just imagine if film maker Andy Milligan and author Edward Lee got together to write an extreme horror novel. Horrific gothic grotesqueries will abound. After that I have quite a few projects in the works. Stay tuned.


Sunday, July 3, 2011

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy

Sorry I Ruined Your OrgySorry I Ruined Your Orgy by Bradley Sands

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy is a collection of flash fiction and prose poems by Bradley Sands.

Life is full of oddities. For instance, I like hot tea but hate iced tea. I like cooked cauliflower by dislike raw cauliflower. And I hate short stories but it turns out that I enjoy flash fiction quite a bit.

Sorry I Ruined Your Orgy, along with having one of my favorite titles of all time, was a great read. All of the stories are delightfully strange and the perfect length for what they are. A man shows up at an orgy wearing a bear costume. A detective is hired to find a man's remote. Mount Holyoke prepares to hike Bradley Sands. Tao Lin acquires the ability to turn his eyebrows into gold after drinking an ape smoothie.

There are a lot more gems than duds in this one. Where else will you find a short story called Cormac McCarthy that consists of two sentences, one of which is a page and a half long? Or a book reading an author? Or the Pope getting sued?

If you're in the mood for 52 tasty morsels of absurdity, this is the book for you.

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Saturday, July 2, 2011

No Place to Write: The James Thane Interview

Today's guest is James Thane, all round cool guy and author of No Place to Die.

What was the inspiration behind No Place to Die?
This is something of a long and convoluted story, but the essence is that I was at an author’s event in Phoenix when the woman hosting the event made a chance remark that got me to thinking about the possibility of setting a crime novel in a neighborhood just south of downtown Phoenix. I thus had the setting first and my challenge was to find a story that would fit into it. The idea then popped into my head that someone might be kidnapped and held captive in one of the deteriorating houses in this neighborhood, and with that the story was off and running.

How was your experience dealing with Dorchester? They've caught a lot of flack in recent weeks.
I had a really good experience with Dorchester on this book. I had a great editor, Don D’Auria, who, sadly, is no longer there. The other people I worked with were also very good. All the turmoil there began just after No Place To Die appeared, when Dorchester decided to stop publishing mass market books in favor of e-books and trade paperbacks.

Before that happened, they had accepted my second book, Until Death, and Don and I had begun working on it. Dorchester’s reorientation scuttled their original plan, which was to publish the book in a mass market edition in May, 2011. They are now going to publish it as an e-book, an audio book and as a trade paperback in December. At the same time, they will release a new edition of No Place To Die in trade paperback. In the meantime, print copies of No Place To Die have become a bit scarce, but it is still available as an e-book in most formats.

Like a lot of other Dorchester authors, I’m hoping that the reorganization will resurrect the company’s fortunes, and at least from my perspective, the plan seems to be working thus far.

Will there be more Sean Richardson in the future?
Yes, there will. Until Death features Sean Richardson, Maggie McClinton, and several other characters from the first book in a new story that takes place three months after the conclusion of No Place To Die. The book I’m working on now is a stand-alone that does not have room for Sean, but I hope to return to the character after that.

If there was going to be a No Place to Die movie, who would you want playing Sean Richardson?
I think I’m going to duck this one. This is a question you often hear at author events, and I always cringe when the author answers it by naming an actor. When I’m reading a book, I create an image in my mind of what a character looks like, especially when the author has described the character only very generally. Once I do so, I tend to become wedded to that image and I hate it when the author comes along later, outside the context of the book, and tells me what the character should look like.

However, once someone actually makes a movie from a book I’ve enjoyed, the actor’s image usually preempts my own from that point on, especially if I liked the movie. A good example is Matthew McConaughey as Mickey Haller in The Lincoln Lawyer. McConaughey looks nothing like the image of the character I had developed in my own mind, but I really enjoyed the movie and I’m sure that, from now on, whenever I read one of Michael Connelly’s Mickey Haller books, I will see McConaughey as Mickey.

We're both fans of the Hard Case Crime series. Which one would you say was your favorite?
Oh, you would have to ask a really hard question like this! You’ve read more of these than I, but of the ones I have read, I would probably pick either Money Shot, by Christa Faust, or Songs of Innocence, by Richard Aleas. (Or maybe Lemons Never Lie, by Donald Westlake.) A sentimental favorite would be Top of the Heap, by A. A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner). My father was a huge fan of Gardner’s and as a young child I got hooked on crime fiction by reading the paperback editions of these books that my father had accumulated and left in our cabin at the lake.

Was there a book that made you realize you wanted to be a writer?
No, I don’t think there was any one particular book. From the time I was a small child, I’ve always been a voracious reader and at some point when I was in the third or fourth grade, it struck me that it would really be a lot of fun to be the person who was writing the book as well as the person who was reading it. Once the idea popped into my mind, I was hooked.

Now that I am a writer, what actually happens is something along the reverse of what you suggested. Occasionally I’ll read a book that I really love, like Don Winslow’s The Power of the Dog, or more recently, Stuart Neville’s The Ghosts of Belfast. And when I finish a book like that, I will often put it down and wonder what in the world I’m doing trying to write books when I’ll never be able to write something as good as the one I’ve just finished.

Who are some of your influences?
I assume that, like any other writer, I’m influenced at least to some extent by every other author I read—even the bad ones. I try not to consciously imitate any other writer, but I love people like Lawrence Block, T. Jefferson Parker, Don Winslow, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Robert Crais, and James Lee Burke. Certainly they’ve all had some affect on my own efforts, at least subconsciously.

What's your favorite book?
Oh, another tough one. Like most avid readers, I think it would be awfully hard to select just one. But if I had to, I’d probably pick A River Runs Through It, by the late Norman Maclean. This might be something of a surprise since it is not a crime novel, but Maclean wrote beautifully about Montana, which is my native state, and this book is a classic. I keep coming back to it every couple of years or so.

Who's your favorite author?
Lawrence Block—an easy choice—principally because he’s written so many books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed. As I suggested above, I became addicted to crime fiction at a tender age, and Block has created my favorite series character of all in Matthew Scudder. I’ve loved watching Scudder evolve through the years, along with the rest of the cast with which Block has populated Scudder’s world. I’ve read the series from beginning to end several times now, and yet I still always look forward to pulling one off the shelf and reading it again.

What's the best book you've read in the last six months?
The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville. It’s a book that’s beautifully imagined and even more beautifully written. Second place by a whisker would be The Creed of Violence, by Boston Teran.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Write. And read. A lot.

I’ve attended a number of writers’s conferences in the last few years and it strikes me that an awful lot of would-be writers spend a great deal of time thinking about the book they’d like to write and studying how to write, rather than actually writing. If you’re really going to be a writer, there comes a time when you need to just plant yourself in the chair and actually do it.

Also, I never cease to be amazed by the number of people who aspire to be writers but who don’t actually read—not even in the genre in which they would like to write. I think that if you’re going to be a writer—especially if your are going to write genre fiction—you need to read widely. Conferences and books about writing can be invaluable for teaching you about the business of writing, but the truth is that you can learn a lot more about writing from reading other writers, both good and bad, than you can by attending conferences and reading how-to books.

What's next for James L. Thane?
As I said above the second Sean Richardson novel, Until Death, will be published in December. I’m now working on a third novel, and in the best of all possible worlds, I’d continue to write one book a year and read about a hundred and fifty others…

Buy a Book, Punch a Dude in the Face: The Rico Slade Interview

Today's guest is Rico Slade, star of Rico Slade will Fucking Kill You! and Rico Slade: Hero of the Octopus World.

Can you tell us about Bradley Sands’s pledge to donate his royalties to the ADA during the month of July for his book about you, Rico Slade Will Fucking Kill You?
Bradley Sands didn’t pledge nothing. I convinced him to donate his royalties to the American Decency Association when I was all like, “Hey, dude, look what I’m gonna do to you if you don’t donate all your royalties to American Decency.” And then I launched into this massive mixed martial arts exhibition for like two hours and the dude pissed himself. Then I ended it by doing a back flip through his wall into his bathroom and then I took a monster shit. After all that, Bradley agreed with me that pornography and indecent media are the most evil shit attacking our society today and he promised to give away his royalties so American Decency could fight the power of evil.

How old were you when you first killed a man?
I was like negative something cause there was this scientist who pissed me off so I had to do some kung fu action on his ass. I was an embryo, bro. Grown in a lab to be the most kick ass dude in the world. They succeeded, but the scientist who I killed sorta missed out on his glory.

How old were you when you lost your virginity?
Two hours old. There was this hot scientist who was really into younger men. She was also there to nurse me. Had the sweetest tits in the secret underground lab. I swear they were filled with chocolate milk.

Who was the best f*ck you ever had?
I don’t know what the fuck a f*ck is? What’s with this star shit?

Is it true that you and Hulk Hogan once got into a brawl?
Yeah, but it wasn’t real. Just a promotional stunt to promote his movie, No Holds Barred. That movie freakin ruled. The Hulkster is my bro.

What happened when you met Sylvester Stallone?
I made fun of Rocky for only lasting 15 rounds against Apollo Creed instead of winning in the first movie. He cried and told me he was a total sell out and that he had fixed the match so Rocky wouldn’t win cause he wanted to win an Academy Award and movies with dudes who aren’t totally fucking lame never win that shit.

What's the story behind your meeting Pamela Anderson after the 1995 Royal Rumble?
We taped some post-Royal Rumble coverage for Pay-Per-View. It was pretty awesome, but Pay-Per-View never showed it cause its CEO was jealous of my giant dong.

What about the time you had that drag race with Macho Man Randy Savage for Elizabeth?
I was totally kicking Macho Man’s ass, but then this dude materialized in the seat next to me. I was like, “Whoa! You look like me. But you’re old and shit. And he was like, “Dude, I’m you from the year 2011. Can you let Macho Man win? He just died where I came from and he freakin rules.” And even though Macho Man does freakin rule, I was like, “I ain’t trying to win an Academy Award” and I totally beat Macho Man’s ass. After I made him watch me and Miss Elizabeth bonk each other, I was all like, “Listen up, dude. You rule and Slim Jims rule and having sex with Miss Elizabeth rules, but you’re gonna die in 2011. Sorry, dude.” And he was like, “Oh yeah! Whatever! Slap into a Slim Jim!” And then we all had a threesome. But Macho and I didn’t cross swords.

Could you take Chuck Norris in a street fight?
Hell yeah. I’d rip the pavement out of the ground and beat him over the head with it. Then I’d force him to watch the movie, Karate Cop, which would totally break his spirit once he realized that it was superior to every movie he had ever made except for Sidekicks.

Let's do a little word association:
Crowbar : Your face.
Condom: Difficult to fit over your face but I’ll manage.
Taco:  In your face!
Octopus: Attacking your face.
Aardvark: Attacking the Octopus that is attacking your face.
Lobster: Attacking your face, the octopus, the lobster, and being kind of a son of a bitch.
Hippopotamus: Stomping on your face.
Guacamole: That shit would taste good inside the other taco that I kept for myself instead of shoving it in your face because I’m hungry and shit.

What would you do if you were on the space shuttle and terrorists suddenly tried to take over?
I would blow the freakin space shuttle up and jump down to Earth and release my space parachute. This actually happened in 1986.

Any truth to the rumor that Baron Mayhem is your brother?

Nah, I don’t have a brother. I was grown in a secret underground lab, dipshit.

What's on the horizon for Rico Slade?
Gonna kill some dudes, save the planet, beat a kangaroo in a boxing match.