Month: June 2016

The Immortal Princess Femi

lg03_femi_smallA good villain can make all the difference.

With The Peregrine, most of his enemies were dead and buried by the end of each adventure, though he had a few (The Warlike Manchu, for instance) who made return appearances. When I created Lazarus Gray, I knew that one of the things I wanted to do with the series was to create a series of recurring villains. I wanted him to have a vibrant rogue’s gallery that could return again and again.

But which of his enemies stands above the rest? If our hero is defined by his villains, which of those foes is his dark mirror?

Obviously, Lazarus Gray has Walther Lunt, his former mentor. Lunt was a major force in Volumes One and Two but his death in 1936 (“Die Glocke”) has yet to be undone so aside from casting a looming shadow over the series, he hasn’t been a physical force since then.

So is he really Gray’s arch-enemy? I think he still qualifies but I do think honorable mention must be given to the immortal Princess Femi.

A beautiful Egyptian princess, Femi was involved with a cult known as The Undying. This group repudiated the Gods, believing that mankind was itself the highest form of life – they frequently shouted “God Is Dead!” as a way of displaying their blasphemous beliefs. In retribution, the priests of Egypt captured Femi and mummified her, using special magicks to keep her alive, in an eternal sleep.

In early 1935, she managed to make a psychic connection with a man who had bought her corpse, intending to display it in his house. The man used a powerful gem to revive Femi, who was reunited with the remains of The Undying. Femi was now able to control the undead but her power came with a price — she now had to feed on human flesh to remain young.The exact process that Femi uses to create her armies of mummified warriors is mystical in nature and bestows upon her followers great strength and durability. The tale of her resurrection and subsequent battle with Assistance Unlimited took place in “The Corpse Screams At Midnight!”

Her next appearance spanned late 1935 and early ’36, as Walther Lunt revived her to accompany him on his search for the Die Glocke.

Later in 1936, Femi was resurrected yet again by Constance Majestros, who formed Murder Unlimited in direct opposition to Assistance Unlimited. Femi and Constance were joined by Abraham Klee, Stanley Davis and Doc Pemberley. Femi and Pemberley became lovers at this point though the romance was a disturbing one for both parties. This time, Abigail Winters (a member of Assistance Unlimited) defeated Femi in single combat. She was placed in a locked room at 6196 Robeson Avenue, becoming a prisoner of Lazarus Gray. This adventure was detailed in “Murder Unlimited.”

At some unknown point, her body was stolen by the madman known as Dr. York, who attempted to revive her in Atlanta so that she might aid him against The Peregrine. This revival literally lasted only a few moments before she was put down once more and returned to the care of Assistance Unlimited (“The Peregrine Animated Script,” The Peregrine Omnibus Volume Three).

Unfortunately, she was freed a short time later (in the story “Eidolon”) and became involved in an attempt to revive an ancient devil. Working alongside a Nazi werewolf named Silverwolf, Femi ended up facing the mysterious vigilante known as Darkling. Darkling managed to destroy her once more.

Abigail vs. Femi, from Lazarus Gray Volume Three Abigail vs. Femi, from Lazarus Gray Volume Three

In Volume Five, we saw that her remains were kept in an urn at Robeson Avenue (“The Felonious Financier”). In 1937, she gets revived just in time for a group of Egyptians who serve the ancient gods to come calling in hopes of destroying her once and for all. Femi gained a handmaiden named Madison Montgomery, a girlfriend of Morgan Watts who becomes enamored of Femi’s power. The duo found themselves briefly allied with The Three Sisters (Selene, Phoebe & Fiona), immortal witches that sought to control Sovereign City. At the end of this adventure, Femi and Madison escaped the clutches of Assistance Unlimited. Madison was now empowered by a small fraction of the same energy that preserved Femi, making them a deadly pair (“Immortals”).

1938 will be a full year for the villainess – in the upcoming Volume Six, we see that she and Madison play a large part in the possible resurrection of a fallen hero. They will also team with Paul Alfred Müller-Murnau, the leader of an American Nazi organization. His role as Nemesis will help lead them to the fabled Emerald Tablet and help Femi transform The Undying into a public organization… a cult that plays upon America’s obsession with Egyptology to expand into positions of power. (“Nemesis,” Lazarus Gray Volume Six).

For her roleplaying game stats, you can look here.

Our art today is courtesy of George Sellas.

My Favorite Shadow Novels (Updated 6/22/16)

death_towerAs most of you know, I’m a big fan of The Shadow – in fact, I host a podcast entitled The Shadow Fan. Today I thought I’d share with you a few of my favorite Shadow novels, so that if you are looking to jump into the series, you’ll have some recommendations about where to start. These are by no means all the great Shadow stories — it’s just a handful that I really love. In addition, there are still Shadow novels that I haven’t read yet — so I might go back and add to this list as time passes.

To be honest, I think it’s a great idea to simply start with the first story and go forward — but that’s not always possible, I know. So here are my favorites, in order of publication:

The Living Shadow – April 1, 1931

The Eyes of The Shadow – July-September 1931

The Shadow Laughs – October 1, 1931

Gangdom’s Doom – December 1, 1931

The Death Tower – January 1, 1932

The Ghost of the Manor – June 15, 1933

Murder Every Hour – June 1, 1935

The London Crimes – September 15, 1935

The Sledge-Hammer Crimes – August 1, 1936

Crime, Insured – July 1, 1937

The Shadow Unmasks – August 1, 1937

The Green Hoods – August 15, 1938

Death From Nowhere – July 15, 1939

The Golden Master – September 15, 1939

Shiwan Khan Returns – December 1, 1939

The Invincible Shiwan Khan – March 1, 1940

The Prince of Evil – April 15, 1940

Masters of Death – May 15, 1940

Murder Genius – July 1, 1940

The Man Who Died Twice – September 15, 1940

The Devil’s Paymaster – November 15, 1940

The Thunder King – June 15, 1941

The Devil Master – September 15, 1941

Temple of Crime – November 15, 1941

The Book of Death – January 15, 1942

Death’s Bright Finger – May 15, 1942

The Vampire Murders – September 1, 1942

The Black Dragon – March 1, 1943

The Sinister Shadow – 2015

Lazarus Gray Volume 3 Reviewed

20130615-153603.jpgWojtek is back with another lengthy review – this time he looks at the third book in the Lazarus Gray series, which he says is the best in the run. Let’s see what he says:

When reading a series consisting of several books we can sometimes spot a moment, when author runs out of ideas, gets bored with characters, or simply stops caring. Usually it comes around third book, so one could think that the third volume of “The Adventures of Lazarus Gray” would be another victim of this writer’s curse.

But no, no such thing happened to Barry Reese, heck it gets even better than before, and I have to admit that “Eidolon” is my personal favorite out of all books starring Assistance Unlimited… Which You probably got from the review title… 😛

But let’s get into the book itself.

First we have a two-page comic “The Secrets of the Dead”, which is a really nice re-introduction to the character of Lazarus Gray, with great art by always awesome George Sellas. Despite being so short, the comic does its job, by giving it’s reader all necessary information about our protagonist, while also forever affecting our perceptions of them.

I mean, before reaching this volume I had my own vision of how Lazarus Gray and his companions should look, but now all I can see are the products of Mr. Sellas imagination.

It also helps, that his style is rather old-school, with sharp, angular designs, reminiscent both of the works of great John Romita, and Jack Kirby, and Bruce Timm’s cult-classic “Batman – The Animated Series”, which really fits with the Pulp atmosphere of the book.

If only we could get a full-blown comic book by Barry Reese and George Sellas…

Next we have, and I am not going to lie, my favorite story with Lazarus Gray ever, “Murder Unlimited!”.

Everything starts with our good friend, doctor Melvin Pemberley, better known as Doc Pemberley, who serves his time in Sovereign City’s jail after his last encounter with Assistance Unlimited, which understandably fuels his hatred for them, as well as his thirst for revenge.

But what can he really do while being jailed? Well, not much, but that does not mean, that he is left without certain options.

Using his knowledge of the occult, as well as certain items sneaked into his cell, by his lawyer, Doc Pemberley manages to use a rather dangerous ritual, that could free him.

He succeeds with summoning a demonic entity, that promises to free him… for a price of course.

Desperate, Pemberley agrees, and immediately finds himself on the streets of Sovereign City once again, but this time without any resources or backing of powerful criminals as he used to. But a man of his… talents, would always find someone willing to pay him for them.

This time it’s a mysterious woman named Constance Majestros, who has her own grudge against Assistance Unlimited.

Rich and powerful, she was once obsessed with youth and beauty, which led her to using a rather gruesome treatment discovered by her brilliant, but unhinged father. Using a special oil created from the bodies of dead virgins she was able to stop aging, and remain young and beautiful forever.

At least, until Assistance Unlimited uncovered their heinous deeds, and stormed laboratory of Constance’s Father. During the fight Eun Jiwon had knocked the mad chemist into a shelf of chemicals, splashing both him and his daughter with corrosive acids, that killed doctor Majestros and changed Constance’s face into a scarred, frightening mess, forcing her to hide it behind a thick veil at all times.

Now, she wants to regain her former beauty, but also to exact her revenge on Assistance Unlimited, and Doc Pemberley can help her with achieving both of those aims. But it’s not enough for Ms. Majestros, as she had used her fortune to hire others, who share her hatred for Lazarus Gray.

First, we have a frequent enemy of the Assistance Unlimited, the immortal Princess Femi, cursed with an eternal unlife by Egyptian priests, whose attempts at regaining power she welded in life were thwarted by Gray, and led to her temporally deaths twice.

Aside from being virtually unkillable due to her regenerative powers, she is also a powerful necromancer, able to raise dead as shambling monstrosities bound to her will, which makes her very useful ally for vengeful Constance.

Next we have one of the best assassins in the business, a man named Abraham Klee.

His father, brilliant but also mad surgeon, Dr. Adolphus Klee had used his own son as guinea pig in his amoral experiments, changing Abraham into something more than a mere man. Thanks to the operation Klee Jr. is able to use 90% of his brain capacity, which gives him no only an ability to process and analyze information at superhuman rate, but also has incredibly enhanced reflexes, which makes him extremely deadly.

Last, but not least is average looking man called Stanley Davis.

Despite not looking particularly impressive, he possesses psychic powers giving him a form of clairvoyance, that enables him to learn useful information about person, if he can get his hands on an item belonging to them, or describing them, like a photo.

This not only help his allies to plan their actions against such people better, but also gives them opportunities for blackmail.

Together with Constance and Doc Pemberley they form a rather unusual organization they call Murder Unlimited, as a mockery of Gray’s own group, due to being antithesis of Assistance Unlimited.

Ms. Majestros is rather rich despite her criminal past, but even her resources are limited, and bankrolling her own team of supervillains is not cheap. So, she decided to hire themselves to other criminals, just like Lazarus Gray does for the law abiding citizens, thus earning resources and improving their own standing in the criminal underworld.

Soon enough both organizations would clash with each other, but it is really hard to say which one would prevail…

I have to admit that I fell in love with the idea of Ant-Assistance Unlimited, it’s dark mirror image, as well as rather twisted relationships between our villains, their quirks, and motivations. Not to mention the fact, that Barry Reese’s villains are always interesting, and here we get a whole sinister, murderous package of them…

Actually, in my opinion this idea works a bit too well… I mean, Murder Unlimited could work very well in their own stories, because all of them are interesting, and have certain villainous charisma, that at times made me forget they were the bad guys here.

We had so-called “Villain Pulps” before, best known of which were the tales of sinister, yet honorable Doctor Fu Manchu, and masked madman known as Doctor Satan, and Barry Reese used those characters numerous times in his works (Manchu is an ex-teacher and arch-enemy of The Peregrine, who also clashed with Doctor Satan several times), so I can really see stories about them…

Here the whole idea of Murder Unlimited is rather underutilized, which does not mean they are not great, but ultimately they end up as just enemies for Assistance Unlimited to defeat, despite their tremendous potential.

We also get some development on our protagonists part, and their relationships, due to significant changes Grey’s team had experienced due to events described in “Die Glocke”, trying to work out their roles in the group, and getting used to each other once more.

Die-hard fans of Pulp would also be rather pleased with a surprising cameo by one of the most recognizable villains of the genre near the end of the story, which IMO improves on the original vision of the character, making him much more menacing, than he originally was.

As a bonus, we also get great illustrations by George Sellas, that only improve the story, especially the one showing us the roster of Murder Unlimited.

So, all in all, great story with incredible villains, and superb fight scenes, that is a must read for every Lazarus Gray fan.

Next, we have “Eidolon”, a story that would change Assistance Unlimited forever.

Lazarus Gray is contacted by the members of US military, who unexpectedly want to hire Assistance Unlimited services.

Their agents had intercepted a message from Nazi Germany, concerning our heroes old enemy Walther Lunt, about something called “Temple of Pain” collapsing, and containing a request about access to sorcerer’s private papers to help with the search of the mysterious “Body”.

As it tuns out Gray not only knows what the message is talking about, but is directly involved in the case… Or rather was, in his former life.

According to legends Temple of Pain was a home to a bloodthirsty cult of demon-worshippers, hidden somewhere in the jungles of Peru. Tales claim, that their brutal and unnatural rituals had gained the interest of The Devil himself… who was then killed by the frenzied cultist.

The man who had killed the demon had carved out its heart, that became an object of worship in the area, until all the cultists had died out, and it spent hundreds of years gathering dust in the crumbling temple.

Until six years ago an expedition founded by The Illuminati, led by Walther Lunt and a man who would become Lazarus Gray had found The Temple of Pain, and claimed the artefact for themselves.

But it’s not the only legend connected with the Temple.

According to Lunt, The Devil’s body was somehow preserved, even retaining some form of consciousness that enabled it to answer the questions of those who possessed it, or even teaching them the forbidden secrets of Dark Arts, making it very useful for all adepts of occult.

While the legend was discredited in the late 1800’s by a pair of investigators from Illuminati, named Caleb and Nancy Grace, apparently someone high ranked in Third Reich’s government believes in it, and considers Lunt’s private notes a key to finding Devil’s Body.

Now, our heroes have to gather clues contained in Nazi sorcerer’s papers before Hitler’s agents, but it would not be easy, as their opponents would not be normal soldiers or SS-men, but rather superpowered agents of the mysterious Occult Forces Project overseen by Heinrich Himmler himself.

If that wouldn’t hard enough, members of Assistance Unlimited soon realize they have another rival, who is no less dangerous than mystically powered soldiers of Hitler. That rival is mysterious and violent scourge of underworld known as The Darkling.

According to the tales whispered in the dark corners by frightened criminals, The Darkling is not a human, but rather a vengeful spirit that acts as an executioner for the forces of the underworld, and as such is immortal, invincible, and unstoppable.

Of course, more rational crooks considers those stories stupid, and absurd, but the fact is, that no one who had tried to fight the dark avenger had survived his wrath…

The story is really fast-paced, and action packed, even by Mr. Reese’s standards, with situation changing completely every few pages, as the fight for demonic body parts gets even more heated with each page, leading to brief alliances, betrayals, and reveals of uncomfortable truths.

Aside from deepening the characters of our protagonists even more, we also get several new characters, most striking among whom is certainly The Darkling.

Now, at first glance he appears a yet another clone of The Shadow, but Barry Reese once again had taken the elements we know and love, and reshaped them into something new, and fascinating.

As his famous predecessor The Darkling is a merciless vigilante taking out criminals with the help of his net of agents, as well as his trusty pistols, who cultivates a frightening reputation to unsettle his enemies, and has a fake identity of a vapid, rich playboy called Harold Grant, very reminiscent of Lamont Cranston, but his motivation, and sense of justice are drastically different than the ones connected with The Shadow.

The Darkling sees the world as just a façade behind which the truth is hidden, and according to him only men like him, who learned to look into their own souls and accept the darkness within it can see the world as it is, instead of idealized illusion we are taught to perceive.

Because of that he has no doubts, no fears or morals to chain him down, and prevent him from doing what he considers right.

But some would say he is cruel and inhuman because of that, as he does not see causing others pain, or death as something bad.
It is really hard to decide if The Darkling is a hero or the villain, because while he ultimately has good intentions, his methods, and mindset are rather extreme, even for a vigilante. Nevertheless he is an interesting opponent for Lazarus, especially since they are more alike, than it would appear at first glance.

As I mentioned above, we also get appearance of the O.F.P members, an organization that had clashed with The Peregrine before, which creates a tighter sense of continuity for the stories, in addition of giving us rather fun villains.

First, we get general Luther Strauss a.k.a Geist, who was gifted with ability to turn insubstantial after a fateful encounter with an ancient Tibetan artefact. Yet, despite his powers he remained a petty, power-hungry man who is not as strong as he likes to think he is. Nevertheless, his abilities had enabled Barry Reese to write interesting fight scenes with him, so I am sold.

Next we have member of SS called Karl Raeder, nicknamed The Silver Wolf, due to the fact that he was artificially transformed into a being similar to a werewolf, but unlike his supernatural cousins totally in control while transformed, and not limited by the phases of the moon, which made him an incredible scout, and assassin.

Unfortunately for him, he did not expect, that there are things much worse than mere werewolves…

Additionally, we also get an appearance of the old enemy of Assistance Unlimited, who also has plans for The Devil’s Body, and is not very pleased with Gray and Darkling trying to claim the price for themselves…

Aside from breakneck pace, great action scenes and characters, both old and new, we also get something rather unexpected, as Barry Reese significantly changes the status quo of Assistance Unlimited, which would have its own consequences in future installments of the story…

But spoilers are evil, so I’ll write no more.

Must read for any fan of Assistance Unlimited, or just really well written New Pulp.

Thanks for the detailed look at the volume. I think that books 2-4 really fit together well so I’m pleased that you felt the series didn’t lose any steam as it moved forward.

Reviews!

lg08_samantha_grace_smallA couple of new reviews have been added to Amazon lately so let’s take a look at what people are saying.

First up is Ray Bara with a review of Gotterdammerung:

Great Crossover Story from One of the New Pulp Masters – 5 Stars

Another great work by Barry Reese! I loved seeing all his creations (and then some) in a single volume. I loved the action. I loved seeing the Lovecraftian angle to the plot. I loved his interesting use of time travel. The one thing I disliked was the character he killed off; I hope he rectifies that in a later story. Overall, though, this was another Reese masterpiece. Go read it!

Thanks, Ray! I’m glad you enjoyed it — and the death will be a major plot point in The Adventures of Lazarus Gray Volume Six, currently scheduled to be released from Pro Se in December 2016!

Bob Deis gave five stars to Legends of New Pulp Fiction:

An amazing and significant anthology showcasing stories by the best writers and artists in the realm of “new pulp”

The editorial pilots at Airship 27 – the prolific writer/editor/publisher Ron Fortier and equally prolific artist and book designer Rob Davis – have played a major role in establishing and promoting the genre of novels, stories and comics referred to as “new pulp.” The list of new pulp books put out by their Airship 27 imprint in the past few years is jaw-dropping. For anyone who is a fan of that genre, or interested in learning about it, their amazing anthology LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION is a must-read. It includes stories by more than 60 of the best writers in the broad and diverse realm of new pulp, plus top notch illustrations by nearly 40 talented artists. This is a massive and significant book, almost 800 pages long. The stories cover just about every niche in the new pulp realm, from fantasy to exotic adventure to neo-noir. It’s the kind of book that is normally a retrospective of a genre, like an anthology of classic science fiction stories. In this case it showcases stories by the writers and illustrators who are creating a new genre that will someday be viewed as classic. You can’t read all the stories in the book in a short period of time. But whenever you’re in the mood for some good, new-fashioned, escapist pulp, you’ll enjoy being able to read one of the stories in LEGENDS OF NEW PULP FICTION. I know I have.

It was an honor to contribute to this collection, Bob. I’m glad you enjoyed it!

Our art today depicts Samantha Grace from Assistance Unlimited and is by George Sellas.

From the Vault: Just Write, Stupid

snoopy_writingPeople often ask me for advice about writing. I’ve even given talks about writing to would-be writers. But I don’t think people really like what I have to tell them. You see, a lot of them are members of “writer’s groups” where they swap stories, critique them and go into re-writes. I don’t really believe in those because they’re an example of why a lot of people never manage to finish that novel they’ve been working on for twenty years: they spend too much time talking about writing and not enough time writing. I once infuriated a room full of folks by saying that nothing was scarier to me than somebody with an English degree and a passel full of “How-To” writing guides.

Because that English degree person is probably never going to write a damned thing. They’re going to spin their wheels, talking about this and pondering that, instead of sitting down at the keyboard and pounding the keys.

Look, I’m not the world’s greatest wordsmith. But I write. I write a lot. I don’t sit around on my ass and say “Boy, I’d love to write a book.” I wrote a book. And then I wrote another one.

There’s no “one way” to do it, either. If you like to do 80 page outlines and that works for you, do it. If you like to have a swig of beer, unbutton your pants and then start writing without any clue where you’re going with the story, do it! Never ever, ever, let someone tell you that you’re doing it wrong. Hell, if you’re in a writer’s group and it helps you (ACTUALLY WRITING), then do it. It doesn’t work for me and I can count on one hand the number of folks I’ve met that it did work for, but hell, there are exceptions to every rule.

And by all means, DON’T FEAR WRITING CRAP. Even if you write the worst novel of all time, you’ve still written a novel. That puts you way ahead of all the Charlies and Nancys who spend their lives saying, “I always wanted to write a book!” Besides, you won’t be the first person to write crap and you won’t be the last. Enjoy the fact that you completed a project and then get to work on the next one, so you can move up to mediocre the next time around 🙂

But my main advice to wanna be writers is this:

1. READ. A lot. Look at how things are written and dissect them. Think to yourself, “I like how writer x does that… HOW does he do that?” and try to learn from it.

2. WRITE. A lot. You get better the more you write. You really do. But don’t navel-gaze so much. Finish a damned project and then do some revision but then MOVE ON. Keep going forward. It will never be perfect. Accept that.

3. NETWORK. You need to meet other writers and make friends with them. You never know who might help you someday. How did I become a professional writer? Because a friend of mine worked for Marvel Comics and recommended me for a job. I didn’t submit anything to them — Marvel emailed me, on the basis of my friend’s recommendation. It went from there.

So… here’s my suggestion for today. Stop reading this blog. Stop flipping through that Stephen King book on writing. Stop over-analyzing the act of creation.

And then go CREATE.