Geeks and nerds often get the reputation that we’re too serious, too intense, but what people don’t know is that we often have a wicked sense of humor.
And that’s what we’re tapping into this month – sci-fi comics, books, and films that will make you laugh out loud (not in the “Gosh, I can’t believe how bad this is” kind of way but on purpose. We’ve got clean fun and stuff you can’t tell your mother, but what the hell – it’s summertime. The sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and if anyone deserves a laugh, it’s you.
All Indie. All Awesome.
Ryuhei Kitamura’s Versus is an over-the-top, resourceful genre mash-up. Ensuring that there was literally something for anyone to love, the film features dimensional portals, vampires, escaped prisoners, zombie hordes, bumbling yakuza gangsters, gore and swords and guns aplenty. The movie takes place entirely in a strange forest where a fight between immortals has raged throughout the ages, but a group of interlopers have committed to playing fast and loose with supernatural forces. Dense as Versus is with influences, the film is obscenely entertaining, even though it was somehow produced for the questionable sum of $10,000. It really seems ludicrous — I mean, considering the many shootouts within it, one would assume that this amount wouldn’t even cover the cost for squibs. Regardless, it’s such an artful and engaging micro-budget work, wrangled together by a true visionary in Kitamura, where almost every shot and scene is strategically inventive and memorable. It does the most with the least, and no fan of Asian action cinema should go another day without experiencing it. The Ultimate Versus Edition is available on DVD and streaming on Amazon.
by Tetsuro Takeuchi’s
Staying in Japan for another hugely entertaining romp (with zombies again!), let’s consider Tetsuro Takeuchi’s Wild Zero. At the end of the day, sure, you could call it an extended music video and promotional art project for legendary Japanese rockabilly punk band Guitar Wolf, but there’s little else like it. And with a story-line centered on aliens, zombies, and rock and roll, you might be surprised to find that there’s a poignantly genuine emotional core to the tale which alights on transgender themes. Despite the fact that Wild Zero is a low-budget, somewhat trashy film — one possible reason it was produced in Thailand was to keep the budget micro-small — it also defiantly wears its heart on its sleeve, right before a zombie bites a chunk out of it. Sadly, Takeuchi has rarely made anything since, but Wild Zero remains a fascinating feature-length directorial debut. It’s John Waters meets George A. Romero, and the DVD version even includes a notorious drinking game built right into the disc.
Film by Higuchinsky
Finally, we jump into 2002’s Uzumaki. An adaptation of Junji Ito’s brilliant manga by the same name, Uzumaki occupies a unique sense of place that is split between hilariously goofy, nigh-slapstick scenes and utterly nightmarish ones. The film takes place in a small Japanese town that has been overrun by a unique disease where, little by little, most all of its inhabitants begin obsessing over the iconography of spirals. They discover that spirals exist everywhere, be it in a snail’s shell, curls of a schoolgirl’s hair, or the sliced fishcakes in their soup, and increasingly lose their minds with this obsession, eventually leading to murders and accidental deaths. Meanwhile, several members of the town actually realize that something is amiss, and try their best to halt the madness, determine the cause of it, and protect their fellow townsfolk. Uzumaki is a somewhat imperfect film, but it’s replete with beautiful and haunting moments, a blend which seems to heighten its unpredictable tone. That blend may be why some critics were put off by it on release, but ignore the naysayers and give Uzumaki a look. Beyond that, Ito’s original 3-volume manga is powerfully unsettling and excellent and leverages Lovecraftian themes to an extent rarely seen in the medium. Either version presents a great way to experience the story.
by John Jakes.
“I, Hoptor, write this. None other.” Because if you’re gonna write about what really happened to Atlantis, you better get the credits right.
Originally published by Daw books in 1972, Mention enjoyed a bit of resurgence via an indie outlet in 2014. Jakes, famous for his Kent Family Chronicles historical fiction, was savvy enough at the time to realize the fantasy/new age movements were ripe for spoofing.
Lord knows they still are.
Considering that Atlantis features prominently in my own book (nudge nudge wink wink), it’s no wonder I fell for this book. It’s wild, unpredictable, and hella fun. When your narrator describes himself thusly: “First, it has been said—by ignorant, cheating rascals!—that I, Hoptor, the Vintner, am no more than a thief, panderer, and peddler of influences of the most dubious sort. This narrative shall, perforce, prove all that false, and paint a portrait of myself neither flattering nor distorted, but only truthful: revealing me only as I am: brave, resourceful, compassionate, keenly intelligent…” and goes on to blame most of the fall of Atlantis on an oafish Conan wannabee, you should know you’re in for a good time. Not to mention the glowing discs zipping all willy-nilly through the Atlantean sky. I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…
Skeeter Enright is an author who likes to have fun. She’s like that aunt you were always happy to see come over because she always had that twinkle in her eye that meant you were about to laugh at your parents and get away with it. Carnival Charlatan is the begrudging story of Ariel Land, a witch in a dead-end job (as a carny fortune teller, no less!) and soon-to-be stalking victim of the only person who’d actually believe she was a witch: a deranged witch hunter (of course).
Mixed-in with the humor is mystery, romance, suspense, and fantasy, which make for a satisfying corndog as you thread your way through Ariel’s carny life!
by Aaron Ethridge
How do you take a sci-fi device that’s been done to absolute literal death and resurrection via every iteration of Star Trek there is, over half a century of Dr. Who, Marty McFly reruns on basic cable every weekend, and, yes, let’s mention her again (in prep for the new season), Dr. Who?! How do you make time travel fresh and fun and funny?
You don’t go in pretending your timeline is all fresh and new and shiny and uber chrome. You go in with a wink, you go in firing all engines, and you have zero qualms about making things as wibbly wobbly timey-wimey as you want.
Which is what Ethridge does. Me, I love a book that starts out hot and ready with an implied warning to hang on or fall off. Tropes get flipped, genres gonna get mixed, and before you know it there are temporal paradoxes and cows using autotune. WHICH MAY OR MAY NOT BE IN THE BOOK. You’ll have to read to find out.
Because when you’re the last time traveler, you get to dictate how things will go, to hilarious effect. Timelines, you know.
by Brian Olsen.
We’ve all been there: unglamorous, soul-sucking temp job that we would have dropped like a hot potato…until the murders, possible alien infiltration, and super-secret addictive video games start turning up. Then it’s a mystery! And, as anyone worth their weight in Scooby Doo episodes watched totally ironically knows, a mystery demands at least another two weeks on the job.
This is the first of 4 books. Books 2 through 4 are, respectively, Caitlin Ross and the Commute from Hell, Mark Park and the Flume of Destiny, Dakota Bell and the Wastes of Time.
Imagine the characters of New Girl dropped into a sci-fi techno-thriller with special appearances by Mulder and Scully (Hannibal Lecter saved for sweeps week) and you’re pretty much up to speed with Olsen’s corporate plan. Utter nonsense and utter fun, poking fun at the paranoid tech bits that drive us, the cutthroat jobs that barely pay us, and the otherworldly mysteries that we usually ignore anyway so why bother, just get a latte, share a cab, and find a slamming lesbian bar!
Writers – Lewis Trondheim and Zep
Artist – Dominique Bertail
From Lion Forge Comics, a growing publisher unafraid of doing things differently, this 17+ rated comic is a zany, sexy swashbuckling space adventure. Hell, the first arc of this story is titled, Love and Mummies. Traveling from the Milky Way to the distant galaxy of Andromeda, the Infinity 8 is a massive starship that stumbles across a sector of space that contains a massive number of derelict ships, wrecks, planetary chunks and strange artifacts, and it’s up to Agent Yoko Keren to go in and discover what caused it. If you like books that remind you of Heavy Metal and Flash Gordon, you’ll really dig this first arc of this witty, twisted space opera.
Writers – Jason Inman and Ashley Victoria Robinson
Artist – Ben Matsuya
To bring it back for the all-ages crowd, this pulpy book is a fun, quirky adventure with hints of steampunk for everyone. What started as a Kickstarter has moved to Action Lab as a series ( the cover shown is for the collected edition of the first five issues.) Follow Jacqueline “Jacky” Johnson, a 16-year-old, and her super genius brother, Chuck, as they rob from the mob to help the poor, and work the puzzle of the jetpack that gives her flight (and the mysterious power gems that make everything go zoom-zoom). With fun dialog and engaging art, this is a great book for parents looking to get their kids into reading.
Writer – Brian K. Vaughan
Artists – Marcos Martin and Muntsa Vicente
This book will test your high school Spanish to its limits and knock you on your side, literally. Originally published on the web, Barrier has transitioned to the printed world in a landscape format, creating a cinematic widescreen style for Martin and Vicente to help tell Vaughan’s engaging story of Texan rancher Liddy and Oscar, an illegal immigrant from Guatemala, two people abducted by aliens who have to work together to survive without fully understanding each other. And that’s the simple version of this story that explores racial and political divides, as Liddy tries to save her home from gangs and Oscar just wants to create a new life in America (a very timely subject). This collection can still be found digitally at the Barrier’s site where readers can buy it with “whatever the hell they want to pay” or you can support buy a collector’s edition hard copy here.
My bonus recommendations are from two events in NYC where I was fortunate to meet several of the creators on hand and have them sign my copies!
Editor – Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
Writers/Artists – Various
Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez’s creation Marisol Rios de la Luz, aka La Borinqueña, is back and aided by the heroes of the DC universe in the recovery efforts for Puerto Rico. Besides being an amazing collection of all-star talent crafting tales of hope and upliftment, Ricanstruction helps put a spotlight on the issues that force this island of Americans to continue to struggle with just getting back to the basics of pre-Hurricane Maria life.
Editor – Will Dennis
Writers/Artists – Various
On October 1, 2017, the citizens of Las Vegas became victims of domestic terrorism. Out of the hurt, pain, and death of this deplorable act, the Comics community has united to help the survivors. From stories of inner strength and recovering to eyewitness accounts of survival during those horrific moments, in a horrendous era of mass shootings Where We Live is a snapshot of hope.
These bonus recommendations are two anthologies that aren’t light in subject matter but are books meant to help, with 100% of the proceeds going to the people who need our support.