DON GATES is the author of "Challenger Storm: The Isle of Blood" from Airship 27 Productions, a Black Centipede Recommended read.
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Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede
REVIEW BY DON GATES
Chuck Miller's take on classic pulp vigilante tropes first came to my attention through his blog, where he's been posting bits and pieces of his writing for some time. The Black Centipede isn't the only character Chuck's been working on, but it's the one that grabbed me personally due to my love of Shadow-like pulp heroes and after reading the short stories on the blog I eagerly anticipated the full-length Centipede novel. I was not disappointed with the novel, and was actually very pleasantly surprised: I was familliar with what Miller did that made characters like Centipede and his world unique creations, but wasn't prepared for what the sustained reading-experience of a whole novel would be like.
If you are expecting an untarnished hero with a heart of gold pitted against plainly obvious "eeevil" characters, you may be disappointed. There are no blacks and whites in this book, only shades of gray. It sounds like a cliche, but it's true... it's also true that Miller pulls it off in ways I've never seen a writer do it. For an example, start with the Centipede himself: a wry and sardonic narrator who channels the croaky "voice" (among other traits) of William S. Burroughs into a Spider/Shadow hybrid- a master of skills both martial and esoteric and who seriously enjoys cracking the skulls of criminals. There are quite a few times that the Black Centipede's witty and conversational narrative made me chuckle out loud... it's been a while since a character- especially in a pulp- made me do that. The Black Centipede ultimately comes off as human (even though his skills are often obviously fueled by something more) and it's this humanity- with all the pitfalls and shortcomings that being human includes- that makes him a terrific character.
The Centipede's world is also a unique creation: from the phantasmagorical origin sequence involving Lizzie Borden and eldritch forces to the strange parallels of the JFK assassination that come later in the book, "Creeping Dawn" is a funhouse mirror of figures from our histories both real and imaginary, infamous and legendary. There was quite a few times I thought "Wow, I can't believe he's doing this" in regards to people or events referenced. Many writers squeeze in events from history or fiction into their works, but none of them do it in this particular way... it feels both natural and weird, and by "weird" I mean "weird in a good way" since weirdness is a key element in the story.
And what of the story? Well, it's hard to discuss it too much here without giving away some of the finer plot points, but it involves an eternal dance of death and love between the Black Centipede and his friend/lover/enemy Bloody Mary Jane Gallows, an entity not quite of this earth yet not entirely otherworldly. The story also involves the rise of a mysterious criminal mastermind in the nowhere/everywhere city of Zenith, a man known as Doctor Almanac who echoes (to me, at least) some of the earlier Batman villains. Lastly, much of the story also deals with the public's perception of the Black Centipede himself, as he rises from "masked-nut" to unacknowledged force for good to media-darling and "sanctioned masked-nut". It's these threads, Centipede's place in them, and the movers and shapers behind the threads that make this a fun read.
I can't find too much wrong with the book. Modern pulp books are often fraught with typographic errors within their pages, but this book has almost none that I was able to find. If I had to find any fault with it, it would be with the climax, or rather the series of climaxes in the story: one of these is related to Centipede via one of the supporting character's flashbacks. This technique makes for a bit of an unusual feeling that I'm not used to when it comes to a pulp's boiling-point of action. Then again, this book is a unique experience all around and this just goes to add another special twist to the book's storytelling.
I can't recommend "Creeping Dawn: Rise of the Black Centipede" enough. It may not be for everyone, but if you want to experience a truly unique and one-of-a-kind pulp novel then give it a shot.
ORDER CREEPING DAWN FROM AMAZON RIGHT NOW!!! WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU WAITING FOR??? WE'RE NOT GETTING ANY YOUNGER!!!