Meet Sabrina Spellman. She’s the new girl at school, dealing with the typical problems of dating, peer pressure and trying to get a part in the school play. But now that she’s turning 16, she faces an even more important rite of passage — signing her name in the Devil’s book. Wait, what? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrator Robert Hack embraces historical depictions of witchcraft, goat sacrifices and all, in its depiction of the usually jolly witch from Archie Comics. So ’90s nostalgists beware: This Sabrina resembles Melissa Joan Hart about as much as Melissa Joan Hart resembles Black Phillip from the film The Witch.
This companion series to the similarly horrific Afterlife with Archie is just as satisfying but more subtle and psychological, with allusions to Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury in place of Sam Raimi and George Romero. But both series deserve to be read if for no other reason than they’re the only horror stories that you can read and witness the characters being traumatized or mutilated, and then go and can revisit with the original Archie and his gang getting ice cream and having a swell time as a chaser in the Archie Superstar series.
This collection also includes a reprint of the original Madam Satan series from the ’40s in which the title character seduces men and kills them with a kiss, while an angelic monk on a donkey attempts to thwart her from leading men away from the path of righteousness. It really is something. You’d think an old man on a donkey isn’t quite the hard sell that a supernaturally attractive bride of Satan is, but you’d be surprised.
If you tore through Netflix’s Stranger Things as quickly as I did and are craving more nostalgia-inducing science fiction, look no further than Paper Girls. Created by an all-star team including Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame and Cliff Chiang, the artist behind Wonder Woman, Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story that reads like the twisted result of a partnership between John Hughes and John Carpenter.
Four preteen newspaper delivery girls trying to make their rounds early the morning after Halloween are met with hurdles in the form of costumed bullies, overbearing local police and mysterious masked figures with secrets aplenty. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work will recognize his signature oddball brand of science fiction here; the truly bizarre is interwoven with the ordinary in a way that brings out the best in both. The interactions between the paper girls and the surreal and strange characters they meet result in some of the snappiest dialogue I’ve ever read; this pre-teen gang genuinely feel like they fell right out of your favorite '80s movie and into this book.
Cliff Chiang reunites with colorist Matt Wilson here to create a truly dreamy nostalgic landscape. The almost flat pastel colors lend an ethereal air to the whole book; even the scenes that are grounded in reality have a certain otherworldliness to them that is well suited for the tone of the book.
Grab yourself a Crystal Pepsi, put on John Carpenter’s Lost Themes and prepare to get weird.
A tale of human trafficking and refugees masquerades convincingly as an L.A. noir thriller in Dr. Knox, the latest novel from Shamus Award-winning author Peter Spiegelman. In three previous books featuring banker-turned-detective John March, Spiegelman pretty much created the genre of “Wall Street noir.” Now, he takes that same grim sensibility and applies it to Dr. Adam Knox, a man whose apparent death wish is constantly at war with his desire to save the world. These conflicting goals lead to lots of trouble, not only for Knox, but for his employees and the few friends he has.
In Dr. Knox, a woman fleeing Russian mobsters leaves her little boy at Knox’s shabby clinic in L.A.’s Skid Row. Rather than turn the child over to Social Services, Knox becomes convinced he can save both child and mother. He sets out to do so with the help of his buddy Ben Sutter, a former Special Forces operative. The vibe between these two was very reminiscent of the relationship between Robert Parker's detective, Spenser, and his sidekick, Hawk.
Like that master of L.A. noir, Raymond Chandler, Spiegelman keeps much of the real story bobbing just below the surface throughout this tale. As Knox searches for the boy’s missing mother and runs afoul of mobsters and corrupt American business tycoons, readers get unsettling glimpses into Knox’s own messy backstory. It becomes clear that while the doctor’s heart is in the right place, his penchant for self-destruction could hurt the very people he seeks to help.
Fans of classic noir fiction and old-fashioned “hard-boiled” detective stories should enjoy Dr. Knox.
When we talk about the distant future, we almost always look at it from how our current perspectives will change — what new technologies will emerge, what catastrophes may occur, what discoveries will be made, etcetera. But often we also assume that what we know as true today will still be true in the future.
But what happens if it turns out that what we believe now is proven false in some far-off future?
Chuck Klosterman plays devil’s advocate with that notion in his book But What If We’re Wrong? Thinking About the Present As If It Were the Past by examining the idea that what we believe as infallible now will be proven invalid in 100 or 200 or 500 years’ time. Just because we believe it now may not necessarily mean it’s really true. After all, people used to believe that the sun went around the world, among other things. Then the Scientific Revolution happened and our understanding changed. So, Klosterman argues, what’s to say that won’t happen again?
This book is a delightful mind trip, equal parts thought-provoking and entertaining. Klosterman works interviews with various notable scientists, writers and philosophers into the text, posing such questions as “are we right about gravity?” and “do we understand what time is?” as well as “will the NFL and other sports leagues still exist?” and “which artist will define rock’n’roll music for future generations?”. His style of writing and use of humor keep the book from getting too esoteric; Klosterman is just as funny and approachable here as he is in his other works. Just don’t expect any definite answers — But What If We’re Wrong? is largely an exercise in conjecture and speculation.
Because after all, who knows what the future holds?
Dust off your Ouija board, draw a salt circle and prepare to get spooked. The creepiest season of all is upon us, and what better way to celebrate than with six ghastly graphic novels sure to keep you creeped out all month long?
American Vampire follows the often macabre adventures of the immortal bloodsucker Skinner Sweet throughout American history. Look no further for an inventive and twisted take on traditional vampire lore with an ever changing backdrop.
Baltimore is a long-running series that follows the titular character from the horrors of the trenches in WWI to the nightmarish dwelling places of ancient evils, and everywhere in between. This is a masterfully-paced suspense story that just keeps getting better.
Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham is the only superhero book you’ll find on this list, but its quirky combination of classic Batman characters and the otherworldly horrors of H.P. Lovecraft make for a spooky and surreal read.
The Beauty is a new series that imagines conventional physical perfection as a sexually transmitted disease with horrifying side effects. Dealing equally in body horror and suspense, this is an unsettling story that explores the disturbing lengths to which people will go in the name of beauty.
Colder is the story of Declan Thomas, a man with the incredible ability to cure mental illness in others. What Declan doesn’t realize is that his newfound power draws the attention of unsavory entities that seek to undo his work. Feel free to judge these books by their covers, because the frightening artwork that graces them perfectly suits the stories inside.
Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight is a double feature that pays homage to the outlandish B-movies of years long past. “Bee Vixens from Mars” and “Prison Ship Antares” channel the over-the-top absurdity and low budget charm of grindhouse cinema, even down to the fake posters paired with each story.
In The Glittering Court, Richelle Mead weaves a tale that transports readers from the royal palace of Osfridian to uncharted territory in the lands of Adoria. At the center of the story is Lady Whitmore, Countess of Rothford, who has a major dilemma, one that will decide her fate. Descended from a long line of royalty, at age 17 she is quickly learning the consequences of maintaining a privileged lifestyle and the obligations that come along with it.
Caught in a world where a woman’s greatest asset is her beauty or family name, a marriage to one of equal status may be the answer to a secure financial future. Despite the precarious situation, a timely meeting leads to a decision that charts the course of this entertaining read. Assuming the identity of another, the countess risks everything to have the freedom to make her own choices. She encounters the true meaning of friendship along the way, and also finds that following her heart comes with its own complications — especially when it comes to a particular gentleman she is unable to avoid.
The front cover may promise the reader an evening of “glittering” festivities, however, Lady Whitmore is not the average princess. The Glittering Court takes you on an adventure through rugged terrain as you follow the journey of a fearless heroine who discovers that life is more than ball gowns and fine dining. The first in the series, read as a stand-alone or continue on with Midnight Jewel, which is due out in early 2017.
In Jeffrey Ford’s new collection A Natural History of Hell, there is such a variety of creepiness and at such different comfort levels that I feel I should offer a travel guide to whoever reads this book. Something like:
Here lie straight creeps.
Here’s one night’s lost sleep.
If you read this story you’ll only be able to eat bananas, rice and applesauce for a week.
But for those with an appetite and a broad palate for horror, there’s not likely to be a better book this year.
Many of these stories take place sometime in a Nathaniel Hawthorne-esque past, or other liminal areas where bizarre traditions overtake common sense. The opening story “The Blameless” sets the table, with a couple receiving an invitation to a neighborhood girl’s exorcism. Surprisingly, the couple finds their neighbors celebrating the supposed banishing of a demon with the small-portioned enthusiasm of a bat mitzvah.
Elsewhere, Ford ably glides between genre lines. Some of his stories don’t seem like horror at all until he drops the floor out from under you. For instance, in “The Angel Seems,” an angel comes to a small village offering protection. For a while, the story resembles Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s “A Very Old Man With Enormous Wings,” and then it turns and you realize it’s been re-written by Clive Barker.
There are also ghost stories, fantasies with dark wizards and even a story about gun control if monsters aren’t scary enough for you. Ford’s use of imagery and violence is implemented masterfully and tastefully throughout, creating an experience that is less like a horror movie than a nightmare weighted with meaning. Have fun!