BLOOD OF THE CENTIPEDE
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.