Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Vionna and the Vampires: Afterword

(From the private files of Doctor Unknown Junior's Pal, Jack Christian)

I make it a rule to avoid funerals. There is nothing about them that I like, and I hate what they represent.

By which I mean death. I have had my fill of death and then some. I've stared the Grim Reaper in the face until I'm sick of it. Sick to death, you might say, if you wanted to sound cute. So I generally choose to ignore him as much as possible. I'm under thirty, and already have no living relatives, and more friends underground than on the surface. Death is tragic and painful at first; after a while, it just becomes a pain in the ass. That's why I usually boycott the awkward ceremonies that spring up in its wake.

Sometimes, though, I get trapped. That was what had happened to me on a chilly day in late November, as I stood in an unassuming little marble orchard just outside the city of Zenith, next to my adopted sister Vionna Valis, listening to a brief eulogy for the extremely late Professor James Moriarty.

Yes, that Professor Moriarty. You may have thought he died in 1891, and you would have been right. However, he did not stay that way. Not exactly. There was this whole thing with Dracula, you see, who brought Moriarty back as a vampire. He would have occasion to regret that, but it would be too late. The Professor schemed and planned and waited for years. His opportunity came in 1908. Dracula was obliterated and Moriarty became the Lord of the Vampires.

Vionna has chronicled much of this for posterity in a memoir she wrote and published under the somewhat less than humble title Vionna and the Vampires. Further details are available in the pages of Black Centipede Confidential, the third volume of the endless autobiography of the Black Centipede. I won't rehash any of it here, except to say that the Professor had finally been undone. His vampiric existence had been brought to an end and he had gone on to whatever fate, if any, awaited his soul, if any.

All that was left to bury was an old suit of clothes soaked through with the foul-smelling ichor into which Moriarty had dissolved after succumbing to severe garlic poisoning. The clothing had been placed inside of a black vinyl body bag, which had been placed inside of an inexpensive but tasteful casket, which had been placed into a hole in the ground and covered with dirt.

There were six people present at the graveside service, including myself and Vionna. The others were Doctor Dana Unknown, Mary Jane Kelly, the Black Centipede, and a character named Scudder Moran.

In fact, this Scudder Moran was delivering the eulogy I mentioned earlier. Why him? That's a damn good question. He wasn't what you'd call the soul of eloquence. I guess he had earned the "honor" because he was the man who had finally put Moriarty out of business for good. Seeing and hearing Moran at the cemetery, I had a difficult time believing he was capable of such a feat, but Vionna and Mary swore it was the truth.

They also swore that the ghost of Sherlock Holmes had played a part in Moriarty's downfall.

My reaction to that was, What the hell, why not?

As Scudder babbled I stood between Vionna and Mary, holding their hands. Vionna was sniffling and sobbing, wiping at her eyes with a kleenex. Mary was dry-eyed and quiet, and seemed to be in a very strange mood. Across from us, on the other side of the grave, stood my magical little pal, Doctor Dana Unknown, and the legendary crime-fighter/criminal/possible lunatic, the Black Centipede, whom I also numbered among my tiny circle of friends. These two maintained a distance of several feet between them; if there's anything they dislike more than one another, I don't know what it would be.

Dana looked solemn, and that was about it. The Centipede, though he was unmasked, was completely inscrutable, as always. He was not one to wear his heart on his sleeve, or anywhere else. He had something of a history with Moriarty, and it wasn't a friendly one, though he seemed to harbor no ill-will toward the deceased.

"And so," Scudder was saying, "as we, uh, commit this fine old suit of clothes to the, ah, clay from which it... y'know, whatever... we look back on our dear, ah, guy that... that we kind of knew for a little while, and we, ummm... We wish him the best of luck, and no hard feelings, even though he did act like a total dick, you have to admit... But, um, y'know, bygones will be bygones, and he really wasn't so... Well, actually, he was pretty bad, really... But, I mean, we won and everything, right? So , I guess there's no point in just totally ragging on Moriarty now. It sort of reminds me of the episode of Professor Conundrum where he..."

Vionna, who had stopped crying and started glaring at Scudder, finally erupted:

"Oh my God! That's enough! I knew it was a bad idea to let you get up and talk! Didn't I say that, Mary? Didn't I?"

"About a hundred times, dear," Mary said calmly. I gathered she had spent a lot of time learning how to remain calm around my sister.

"And I was right, wasn't I?" Vionna snapped.

Scudder had stopped talking and was looking both confused and hurt. Dana and the Centipede both appeared to be making heroic efforts not to laugh out loud. I had to join them. I didn't think I could hold out for very long.

I looked away and tried to think of something sad so as not to succumb to a giggling fit in the middle of a graveside service. I caught sight of a familiar tree on a familiar little knoll a hundred yards to my left. Just beyond the knoll was a grave in which were interred the mortal remains of Captain Mercury-- such as they were. Inside the regulation-sized casket was a small metal capsule containing approximately seven ounces of biological material. That was all that had been left of Captain Mercury after the bomb that killed him had gone off. Most of it had been gathered up by crime scene technicians at the blast site. Some of it I had scraped off of the front of my old Kid Mercury costume. A tiny amount had been sent to a DNA lab for identification. The remainder had been laid to rest with full honors.

That was a part of my life that I hated to think about. Actually, most parts of my life fell into that category. This was the first time I had been to this cemetery since the Captain, my old superhero mentor, had been planted. That whole thing was grim enough to keep my merriment under control. In fact, it was more than was required for the job. Overkill. I was going to need a few drinks very soon.

Then I noticed someone standing by the tree. Whoever it was had been behind it, and had stepped out into my line of sight. He or she had on a long, black overcoat and a black hat, not unlike the gear the Black Centipede usually wore. I couldn't see a face, but I had the strong feeling that this individual was looking right at me, but that could have been the paranoia that always lurks just beneath the surface of my psyche. I could probably train myself to ignore it, but it comes in handy sometimes. When balanced against Dana Unknown's relentlessly rational and supremely confident frame of mind, it is a business asset. There's plenty of friction, but it helps keep both of us closer to the center of the spectrum, which is where you want to be, if you have any sense, which practically nobody does.

... to be continued in The Return of Little Precious...


Sunday, June 22, 2014

More Miscreants


reviewed 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.


Thursday, June 19, 2014

From Doctor Unknown Junior's Rogues Gallery

From "Who Was Little Precious?"
by Garrison "Grassy" Knowles
National Watchdog Magazine

Perhaps the most famous correctional facility in history, the federal prison on Alcatraz Island in the San Francisco Bay had a history that went back to before the American Civil War. In 1934, it was acquired by the U.S.  Department of Justice and turned into a federal penitentiary.

It was shut down in 1963, and eventually became a popular tourist attraction.

Ten years ago, the property was taken over once more by the federal government, and Alcatraz was refurbished and specially outfitted to house one single prisoner.

That prisoner was the most dangerous criminal mastermind, terrorist and mass killer the world has ever seen. None of us who experienced those four hellish days will ever forget Little Precious' orgy of terror-- the time-displacement wave in Beijing that left the city knee-deep in medieval plague victims. The DNA Scrambler Bomb that wrought genetic havoc in Egypt. The city of Rio De Janeiro teleported to the surface of the moon. The President of the United States forced to commit an act of inspired perversion on live television with a creature nature did not design with such antics in mind.

Nor will we forget the epic battle that finally brought her down.

A decade ago, after an epic trial,  she was sentenced to a total of seven thousand years in prison on multiple counts of murder, assault, theft, kidnapping, mayhem, terrorism and assorted other crimes, ranging from simple felonies to treason, sedition, and crimes against humanity.

She was taken to Alcatraz to begin serving her sentence two weeks after her ninth birthday. She has not aged a day since. Nobody knows why.

So ended the Little Precious Crisis.  With Jessie Von Cosel safely locked away, the world buried its dead and tried to forget. The unanswered questions-- and they are legion-- were brushed aside by our leaders, who told us it was time to "look to the future."

But the questions remained, a herd of elephants in the world's living room. Jessie Von Cosel was only half of the entity called Little Precious-- a single consciousness inhabiting two bodies. The other half was a mysterious robot, a small mechanical man whose origin and ultimate fate were never conclusively determined. Some "experts" maintain that the robot was destroyed during the final battle with Little Precious in the Nevada desert, but there is no proof of this.

Where did the robot come from and what happened to it? How did it enter the state of quantum entanglement with Jessie Von Cosel that gave birth to Little Precious?

Where did Little Precious get the super-weapons with which she nearly wiped out mankind?

How can we be sure Little Precious has really been neutralized forever?

If anyone knows the answers to these troubling questions, they haven't spoken them publicly. Though the government denies it, all information pertaining Little Precious is classified at a level so far above Top Secret that the President himself may not be privy to it. The public record has been scrubbed clean of all but the most innocuous and least controversial data.

All of this is troubling enough, but the final unanswered question is the most troubling of all:

Did Little Precious Act Alone?

This reporter believes that she did not.

The Harrison Commission told the public that she did. But the Commission's proceedings were held behind closed doors, and no transcript has ever been released. Who testified before the Commission and to what did they testify?

This reporter is currently pursuing leads that may establish a link between Little Precious and one of the most respected and revered figures of the modern age, a man who, without explanation, disappeared from public life several years ago. There is credible evidence that this man acted in concert with one of the most notorious criminals of all time, and that, together, they at least abetted Little Precious' deadly rampage, and may have facilitated it. And there is also the clear implication that this public figure worked in concert with the Harrison Commission to prevent the truth from becoming known to the public.

This reporter has chosen to go public with the existence of these

leads, before they have been confirmed sufficiently for publication, as a means of safeguarding his own life. Copies of all the information and evidence thus far compiled have been placed with several individuals around the world, to be released to the public in the event of this reporter's untimely death.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Remembering Myra

An excerpt from a Doctor Unknown Junior classic-- and I use that word indiscriminately. You can get the whole thing HERE:

By Chuck Miller



 The following afternoon, just for the hell of it, I was doing some actual work. I had cataloged all of the magical objects and fetishes Dana had on hand at the brownstone, and was now busy updating files pertaining to new occult spells and procedures. Dana needed to keep up with all this stuff for when and if she ever got herself back up to full strength. I wanted to have the administrative stuff in good shape before I left.

Dana, looking as glum as I had ever seen her, entered the office and went straight to her desk. She flopped down into her chair and busied herself with the vital work of staring at the wall. I continued with what I was doing, not wanting to embarrass her with inquires about her well-being.

Suddenly, the boards I had nailed over the broken window burst apart and flew across the room in a shower of splinters.

"Dammit!" I shouted, "that took me two hours!"

It was, of course, that goddamn stupid Piecework Horror again.

"I'm back," it said. This time it had two distinct voices, both of them speaking German-accented English. "Once I get some arms and legs, I'm going on a spree!"

Dana said a bad word, and so did I. The situation called for it. Who the hell wants to look at a thing like that? It hung there in the air, a few feet off the ground, Peter Kurten's nasty head, now welded onto the neck of a limbless torso. It was enough to give a person bad dreams.

I was startled, I'll admit, and my first move didn't amount to much. I stood and picked up the closest object at hand, a magic marker, and threw it. It bounced off the Horror's head, landed on the carpet, and rolled under the sofa.

"Bravo," Dana said sourly.

"Well, if you can do any better, go ahead!"

The Horror had not reacted at all to my withering barrage. It just drifted there, bobbing gently up and down. I wasn't sure what it was trying to accomplish. Keeping my eyes on the creature, I slowly and carefully opened one of my desk drawers and removed from it two objects. Meanwhile, Dana had gone into action of a sort. She had started up some kind of weird chant, and was moving her hands in intricate, sinuous patterns.

Though she had never explained it, I gathered that Dana's magical abilities were part genetic, part learned. She came from a family of powerful sorcerers of various stripes. Her father, Doctor Raul Deveraux Unknown, had been a crimefighter for years and years; her mysterious, never-mentioned mother had been some kind of a Voodoo bigwig down in New Orleans. Dana's slightly dusky complexion and dark hair hinted at some Creole in the woodpile. She never spoke of that side of her family, and I figured there was a story there that would one day manifest itself in some catastrophic way.

I did not know exactly what had been damaged in her or how she was going about fixing it. She kept that information a closely-guarded secret. It looked as though she was now trying to cast a spell, and I hoped she'd made progress since the last time she'd had a go at something magical.

It seemed that my hope was not in vain, because a small ball of light took shape in the air in front of her. Her hand movements speeded up and the chant rose in pitch. She seemed to be straining herself; she was sweating profusely and chanting through gritted teeth. The ball of light grew larger. The Piecework Horror just floated in place, as though it hadn't a care in the world. I was fiddling with the objects I had taken from my drawer, making sure one was charged and activated, and the other fully loaded.

Dana's ball of light swelled until it was a bit larger than a basketball. This seemed to satisfy her; her face and body relaxed and she took a deep breath. Shouting something that sounded like "Alakazam," (though she later denied that) she made a shoving motion with her hands, and the ball sped toward the Horror.

Almost. A valiant try, but Dana had rolled a gutter ball. The globe of whatever it was missed the floating monster by a good two feet and slammed into the wall, shattering the glass over a framed portrait of Harry Houdini. Dana cursed and ducked as the ball bounced back in her direction, whizzing over her head and hitting a bookcase, scattering volumes of sorcerous lore all over the place. Dana lost her footing and fell to the floor. The ball shuddered for a couple of seconds, then winked out.

"Nice," I said, aiming an ordinary automatic pistol at the Horror. "At least my magic marker didn't wreck the whole house, practically."

I fired five quick shots at the Horror's head. I didn't expect that to do anything but distract it, which was all I wanted. It rocked back a little and seemed to be in some mild distress. I sprang forward and tackled it around the waist, a very unpleasant experience. The thing was clammy and smelled of mold. It shook me off easily, which I had also expected.

I stepped back and fired my remaining two shots at the limbless ghoul. It bobbed and weaved and evidently decided it had had enough of me. It zoomed toward a window, crashed through it, and was gone.

I walked over to Dana, who was sprawled out on the floor among the scattered books. "Here, Annie Oakley," I said, holding my hand out. "On your feet."

She glared at me and took my hand. I hauled her upright.

"I don't want to hear anything else from you about this," she said. "Not ever."

"I'm sure you don't, but something tells me you're doomed to be disappointed."

She stomped over to her desk and sat down, scowling blackly at the scattered books.

I sat down at my own desk in a calm, self-possessed way, turned on my computer, and plugged a little gadget into one of the USB ports.

Dana got up and started picking up books and slamming them back onto the shelves. The occasional muttered curse word reached my ears.

I went online and typed in a URL that was known to very few people. I logged in, using a 75-character, case-sensitive password that I had committed to memory. I found the page I wanted, typed in an activation code, and sat back while a map of the United States loaded and the server on the other end of the connection opened a channel to a satellite in geosynchronous orbit.

"If you're looking at that Wet Hooters site again, Jack, I swear I'm going to put a parental control on that thing," Dana groused. "Why don't you help me clean this stuff up?"

"Because, one, I didn't make the mess, and, two, I'm busy."

I zoomed in on the map, enlarging the area in which a small red light was blinking. I took note of the direction and speed and made a few quick calculations in my head. Then I used my cursor to draw a straight line on the map. I smiled as I saw that the line passed right through a very interesting spot.

"Well, if you're too lazy to help pick up," Dana persisted, "you could at least do something vaguely productive."

"Such as?"

"I don't know, but we need to try to find out where the Horror is going next."

"Oh, I know where it's going," I said.

"What? How could you possibly know that?"

"I know because, while you were shooting off your Roman candle, I stuck a GPS tracker on the Horror."

That took the wind out of her sails.

"You did?" Dana asked, apparently astonished by my competence.

"Yes, I did," I said, studying the display on my monitor. "I'm on the Outrenet right now, tracking it. This is very interesting. If the Horror is traveling in a straight line, which it appears to be, and if it continues on its present course, it will be in Plainfield, Wisconsin, in a few hours."

If you don't know about the Outrenet, don't worry. You aren't supposed to. It exists alongside the Internet, and is used by people you've never heard of, to do things you know nothing about, for reasons you wouldn't understand.

"Is that significant?" Dana asked.

I laughed. "Yeah, kind of. Do you know who is buried in the Plainfield Cemetery?"

"Quite a few people, I would imagine."

"There's one in particular. I'll bet you anything that's where the Horror is headed. And if we hurry, we can get there before it does." Dana wanted to ask about fifty different questions, but I just gave her a nasty smirk and said, "Zip it, sister, and get your hat. We have miles to go before we put this baby to sleep."

I was enjoying knowing more than she did.

Before we left, Dana said, "I may be running on fumes, but I can at least keep that crazy bastard from getting into the house again." She performed some sort of a ritual that would seal the premises tight against further incursions by the Horror. This, evidently, did not constitute doing something to the creature, so it wasn't prohibited by the crazy rules.

"How do we know it worked?" I asked, reasonably enough.

"Well," she said, "we don't. But if the Horror does come back in, we'll know it didn't work."

I didn't find that reassuring at all. Maybe that was her revenge.