Monday, November 26, 2012

REVIEWS: "Blood of the Centipede" by Chuck Miller


From Amazon: 
4.0 out of 5 stars Gonzo Pulp!!! October 27, 2012
By Greg Daniel

If Peculiar Oddfellow wasn't already the name of an interesting New Pulp character in his own right, it would be an apt descriptor and tagline for the Black Centipede. For the uninitiated, it is hard to describe the Black Centipede as a character without leaving the reader with slack jaw and raised eyebrow. Chuck Miller has really created a one of a kind hero ... or maybe anti-hero ... heck, by the time Miller is done with the Centipede Saga, he may play two supporting roles and be the villain as well.

For starters, the Black Centipede's adventures are presented in the first person "as told to" Chuck Miller. The Centipede's adventures were also chronicled back in the 1930s in his own pulp magazine by a writer who the Centipede views as an untalented hack. In Blood of the Centipede, said hack is now serving as screenwriter for a "B" movie featuring the Centipede, directed by Fatty Arbuckle and produced by William Randolph Hearst. This combination of multiple chroniclers, fiction within fiction, and a potentially unreliable narrator all lend a meta quality that one does not normally encounter in New Pulp, old Pulp, or any Pulp (except maybe that Tarantino movie).

The other thing that jumps out immediately and grabs the reader by the throat or eyeballs or other vital part is the voice. As I mentioned, it is in first person, which, while not unheard of, is relatively rare in masked vigilante stories. But it is the actual voice that makes it truly unique. It is sardonic, sarcastic, and downright snarky. It is not like any voice in the genre and it delivers a wild, twisting ride that touches on the action, adventure, mystery, and mysticism one comes to New Pulp to experience and delivers it in a manner that is both comforting and disorienting, like a funhouse at an amusement park. That is if that funhouse was designed by Salvador Dali

Miller walks an amazing tightrope in this book and it is testament to his skill and the character of the Black Centipede that I enjoyed it as much as I did, For you see, this story had several elements that, in general I don't like and yet I must admit that not only they worked, but they were necessary to the book. I hate it when a book (or movie or television show) starts in some predicament near the climax and then tells the bulk of the story in flashback. I hate dreams as a plot device. I am tired of Jack the Ripper stories. But here, these things worked.

It is hard to discuss much of the plot for fear of giving too much away. The Black Centipede heads to Hollywood with new partner-in-action, Amelia Earhart, to investigate a mysterious threat while also serving as a consultant to the aforementioned movie. There he discovers a familiar foe (or two) and a new nemesis, the White Centipede. He is helped and hindered by a new costumed vigilante, the Blue Candiru. He discovers a mystical tome of great power, has a run-in with Aleister Crowley, and is introduced to the Order of the Centipede, all while investigating a string of Jack-the-Ripper copycat killings.

But, trust me it isn't as simple as all that.

Blood of the Centipede is a whirling dervish, spinning wildly from childish fun to mystic ecstasy. It is The Shadow by Hunter S. Thompson. It is gonzo pulp. Give it a spin.

Lest I forget, I loved the back cover by Sean Ali. I don't know if it is the Spy vs. Spy vibe or what, but that is one cool piece and should be a poster or t-shirt or both. 

5.0 out of 5 stars A new spin on the pulp hero October 18, 2012

By D. G. Lee

Perhaps there's nothing new under the sun, as Ecclesiastes said 6,000 years or so ago, but Chuck Miller's Black Centipede is definitely a breath of fresh air amongst his neo-pulp brethren.

If I had to pick one dimension of the character and writing of Chuck Miller's adventures of of the Black Centipede that makes them sing, I'd be stuck, but I can pick two: first, the whole conceit of having the "real" Centipede telling his stories in old age to Chuck Miller, is a wonderful framing device which pays off. Not that it hasn't been done before -- Harry Flashman's memoirs are "edited" for publication, etc. -- but I don't recall this tactic used in pulp or especially neo-pulp. Whatever the case, it is an intriguing framework/backstory.

Which ties into the other angle I so enjoy about Miller's writing: the Centipede tells his own stories, first person, laying out the "real" story-behind-the-story while his pulp biographer (whom he thinks is a putz) chronicles the fake tales the made it into the Centipede's pulp magazine, back in the day.

Is it hard to imagine Doc Savage pulling this off (possibly one of his aides could), a pulp adventure tell-all that includes historic personages like William Randolph Hearst, Amelia Earhart (who turns out to be more than just another familiar name or pretty face), etc. Not to mention intimations of mortality by the Centipede himself. Will he make it? Sure. Will he make it without getting his ass kicked somewhere along the way? Probably not. Go Centipede!

So instead of the usual slavish imitation of the classic three (Doc Savage, the Shadow, the Avenger) or a pastiche of some character who appeared once in a back issue of NERVOUS TALES in 1934 -- not that there's anything wrong with that! -- with the Black Centipede we are given new wine in old skins, and in a good way. 

4.0 out of 5 stars 

This is another original "new pulp" or "neo pulp" character. While set in the 1930s, the author doesn't trying to imitate the style or characteristics of that period. This can be either good or bad, depending on your tastes. (do you want something totally in the style, or are you willing to accept a modern work set in that period?)

Chuck Miller has for some time been working on his "Black Centipede" character and the world he lives in thru his blog theblackcentipede .blogspot. com. This then is the second book length appearance of the BC. The first one, "Creeping Dawn: Rise of the Black Centipede" served as an origin story for the character, and I recommend you read it before this one. You'll have a better understanding of the character, his origin, and his link to two of the other characters in this story. Some shorter stories have appeared in Pro Se Presents, Pro Se's monthly digest 'zine'.

Overall, the BC is a mixture of crime/pulp heroics/weird menace. Real characters from the period (Hearst & FDR, Amelia Earhart, Fatty Arbuckle, Einstein, Aleister Crowley, and others this time) are mixed in, along with fictitious characters and places.

With this story, set in 1933, after the first one, has the Centipede in Hollywood dealing with a movie based on him called "Blood of the Centipede", written by his pulp biographer and directed by Fatty Arbuckle. While there, he is accompanied by Amelia Earhart at the bequest of FDR, whom the Centipede saved from assassination.

But the Centipede must deal with a new menace: Jack the Ripper, who is helped by the mysterious White Centipede and the Black Centipede Eater. While he defeats the White Centipede, he doesn't learn who/what he is, and hints at the end indicate he will return to plague the Black Centipede and the world in the future. We are also introduced to some new characters in the world of the BC: Doctor Unknown and Doctor Unknown, Junior, Vionna Valis and Mary Jane Kelly, the Blue Candiru (some have appeared in short stories, and am sure they will appear in future stories as well).

As noted, there are 2 BC related short stories that have appeared in Pro Se Presents so far, and a new story being serialized, so should see more stories of the BC and the others. Can't wait.