Book Review - Mike Baron's Skorpio

Full disclosure - Mike is a friend of mine.  We connected online over a shared love of pop-music and pop-culture, so take that as you will.  However, I stand behind this review, and want to thank Mike for sending me an advanced copy to read a couple months back.  It took me a while to get this review, as I wanted to give it the praise I think it deserves without gushing like a fanboy.  Enjoy, and thanks for reading!

            There is something about the printed word that appeals to my personality.  The feel and smell of paper and ink add a sense of importance to almost any writing. Truth be told, I’m a bit of a Luddite, and have had a hard time adapting to the “new media” practice of reading book-length text on a digital screen, so it speaks to the compelling nature of Mike Baron’s “Skorpio” that I blazed through it over a weekend in October of 2013, reading from the screen of my work-issued Galaxy Note 2.
            It is fitting, actually, that I’d prefer to read from a codex, as it helped ingratiate to me the primary protagonist of “Skorpio”; Vaughan Beadles is an anthropology professor of ancient Native-American cultures, a man’s man blessed with good looks, a good reputation, a beautiful wife, and the envy and admiration of his students.  He seems, at first blush, to have it all, and exudes the kind of self-deprecating humility that is easy to maintain when one is privileged and looking down from the top.  However, when things go south, as they invariably do when dealing with cursed artifacts of questionable origin, Beadles character is revealed to be less than pure.  His selflessness turns to selfishness, as he seeks to justify and magnify his standing, and regain the reputation he’s fought hard to maintain, even as we learn part of it was based on a lie.
            In fact, all of the characters in “Skorpio” are like broken decorative pots, at once beautiful and flawed, but clearly capable of good if just subjected to a little repair.  There is Summer; the stripper with the heart of gold, whose poor choices are quickly catching up to her in the form of Vince; her former boyfriend/pimp whose life is a mess of thuggery and drugs. But still, if only he had been able to break into MMA… Then there is Ninja, the tweaked out hacker whose exterior belies a hidden genius.  At various times, I found my sentimentalities both drawn and repulsed by each of these figures, and I appreciated that these juxtapositions kept me questioning each character’s fate, even to the last page. Mike Baron’s strength is certainly in character construction and dialogue, as it is in his comic-book work, and “Skorpio” flows because of it.  Even where events seem unbelievable, the characters react believably, which kept me connected to the story as a whole.  There are few horror cliché “dumb-ass” moves, and those that exist are punished appropriately.
            Make no mistake, this is a ghost story, and terror lurks throughout, though it often bares its claws, or rather stingers, in unusual ways.  The title character, and star of the cover art, is exactly what the jacket details – A ghost who only comes out in the sun.  The mystery and fear comes from trying to understand the motivations of this ghost, and the source of its power.  After an introductory chapter that serves as a demonstration of Skorpio’s methods, the reader is subjected to a kind of slow burn, as we learn the lore of the missing “Anasazi” tribe Professor Beadles is seeking to discover, as well as the circumstances that lead Beadles, Summer, Vince and Ninja into Skorpio’s realm and influence.  The payoff is well executed, though with any knowledge comes understanding and even a bit of sympathy.  By the time the final confrontation had reached its apex, I wasn’t really sure who I was rooting for.  However, I was still satisfied by the denouement, though there is a tonal change presented in the last paragraph which was at once exciting, but also a bit jarring, turning “Skorpio” from a ghost story to a cliffhanger adventure story, with unresolved futures waiting to be explored.
            I’ve tried to remain vague on plot points, as the fun of “Skorpio” comes with the shifting changes, like a desert in a windstorm.  I do recommend digging in, and not just for the plot twists and surprises.  Despite the slow-burn I mentioned, “Skorpio” is gripping and dripping with character. It’s a great choice for a hot day stuck in air-conditioning, or a cold night wishing for a blazing sun – sans ghosts, of course. 


I Played with My Toys, and Then Wrote Something.

Click-r to Flickr

The description of the picture says it all.  I put these figs on a shelf, took some pictures for posterity, then wrote up a description for context.  It's all very simple and nerdy.  Plus, it was fun to play with Word a bit.  Neat little tools.

Maybe I'll do an Invictus shelf someday.  Or just do more pages...


Comic-Con Countdown: T-minus 30

Comic-Con Countdown T-minus 30:

SD Comic Con comes to town in a month! This may be the last year I get to go all 4 days, based on the way things are going, but I'm really looking forward to seeing friends both personal and professional, and finding some inspiration for my own creative endeavors. So, for the next month I will present some of my favorite Comic and Pop-Art memories and milestones to help us all get in the mood.

This month marks the 31st anniversary of the launch of a comic near and dear to my heart: GI Joe, by the indomitable Larry Hama. Hama defined GI Joe for most fans of the property, and variations on his themes is usually met with controversy at the least, and derision at worst. Snake Eyes, Storm Shadow, Zartan, Cobra Commander, Scarlett, The Baroness, Destro, et al; The characters Joe fans know and love were defined by Hama in the comics, who wrote the file cards found on the back of the figures as well.

Those who know me know how much GI Joe means to me as a pop-culture property. Check out this commercial for the comic, and let me know your favorite memories of GI Joe.


What the Heck is Up with Invictus? (And who cares...?)

Another post to tell anyone that's listening - I haven't abandoned Invictus yet, but time has abandoned me.  Since the year began, I've been struggling to decide how to proceed with the numerous artistic projects I've taken on, and frankly, it's drawn me out thin like an overstretched rubber-band.  Comic Con is coming up, and with no Invictus pages, and no comic pages of any sort, I'm feeling rather bummed.

However, that's not to say I've been lazy.  The bands roll on - Cotton the Machine is putting the finishing touches on our new album.  The record I did with The Secret Seven is almost done, save for mastering .  In fact, you can listen to it right here. Check out "How to Imitate Thunder. 
I've also managed to do some prose writing for a local performance group called So Say We ALL.  My last story was all about collecting GI Joes, so...there is that.

Probably most difficult; On February 28th, my dad passed away from a massive stroke.  It wasn't unexpected, but it was sudden, and fast, and shocking.  His name was Joe, and he was my favorite GI Joe.  I miss him all the time.  But I'm still living, and am thankful to God for that, and for a life well lived by my father.  You can check out a blog post I wrote about it right here.

So...when will Invictus come back?  I don't know yet, but I've got the itch to get the story told, so I hope soon.  Thanks again for all who continue to check in.  I'll be having a birthday in June, and I already know what I'm getting...you might see a certain Soviet team invade my Joe universe.  Maybe...


New Year - I got nothin'

I don't know that anyone really cares for excuses so I'll just say - it rained.  A lot.  No Invictus pages yet.  HOWEVER - I got a new camera for Christmas from my lovely wife, so...

Nothing else to say on that front, really.  I hope everyone had a great Holiday season. 2013 looks to be another interesting year for all of us - I can dig it.  The best memories are those that you survived rather than floated through.  Here's to new challenges and new creative endeavors - as well as continuing some old ones.