REVIEW: Six-Guns Straight From Hell

Six-Guns Straight From Hell

Tales of Horror and Dark Fantasy From the Weird Weird West, edited by David B. Riley and Laura Givens (Science Fiction Trails Publishing, 2010). This is yet another, very welcome addition to a series of weird west short story anthologies. Overall, the writing and editing isn’t quite as strong as Showdown at Midnight, but there’s a nice variety of weirdness.

Chin Song Ping and the Fifty-Three Thieves, by Laura Givens

A clever, lazy, but resourceful Chinese immigrant outwits a sorcerer and wins the treasure in this amusing weird western take on Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves.

Clay Allison and the Haunted Dead, by Bill D. Allen & Sherri Dean

A mercenary gunfighter kills a murderer who won’t stay dead until his bruja wife can exorcise a demon. (Sharply penned, surprising twists and developments, and loaded with thrills and chills. Excellent protagonist.)

Six Guns Straight From HellDecently and Quietly Dead, by Matthew Baugh

An outlaw and a sheriff work together to stop a cult led by a hanged, self-healing preacher with a god complex. (Outstanding action and weirdness.)

Trouble Huntin’, by Bill Craig

A hunter on the trail of a werewolf finds the people in a frontier saloon less than helpful. (Abrupt shift in point of view and tone mars the big plot twist.)

On the Road to Bodie, by Lyn McConchie

A poor Mexican girl is harassed and pressured into a forced marriage by a local ranch hand until she receives supernatural assistance by a legendary and kindly ancestor. (Deftly written, emotionally engaging, offers a small supernatural thrill.)

Spook, by John Howard

A contingent of Buffalo Soldiers confronts a town of serial killers. (Excellent sense of danger and empowerment.)

Bleeding the Bank Dry, by David Boop

Would-be bank robbers convince an old vampire to help them rob a bank, by turning one of them into a bloodsucker. (Inventive, fun, a bit cynical.)

A Specter in the Light, by David Lee Summers

In New Mexico, a couple of science professors use Nicolas Tesla’s electricity generator to illuminate a mine, revealing more than anyone expected. (Very well researched and plausible, with a couple of chills.)

As Ye Sow, by Renee James

Riding rough through Kansas, Civil War terrorists meet their match in an elderly former slave woman. (Sadistic bad guys, and their comeuppance reads like a classic supernatural revenge comic.)

Night Bird, by Dorn Hornbostel

A reluctant temporary sheriff locks up an attractive, shapeshifting witch who can’t be restrained, except by the limits of her own spells. (Haunting in more ways than one. A lovely, sad story.)

Smile, by Kit Volker

A Civil War battlefield photographer struggles with her portrait business until she taking pictures at night in a haunted cannery. (More about a liberated woman finding empowerment than the weird west, but still interesting.)

Ghost Dancers, by Sam Kepfield

Alternative history in which an Irish journalist records the successful Ghost Dance campaign to unite the Indian tribes against the genocidal white men. (A bit preachy and politicized, but an excellent premise.)

Justice, by Nicole Givens Kurtz

A homicidal prostitute takes refuge from a posse in a Navajo hogan. But is she safer inside with the ancient Indian woman, or outside with the lynch mob? (Unreliable narrator causes over-the-top emotion, and there’s too much reliance on coincidence, but well-intended.)

The Man from Turkey Creek Canyon, by Lee Clark Zumpe

A confused gunfighter makes a deal with the devil to kill some Apaches but doubts his mission. (Mischievous and more than a little confusing, with bookending scenes that aren’t quite weird west.)

The Last Defenders, by Carol Hightshoe

Written in present tense, which I skipped as a matter of principle.

Long Night in Little China, by Joel Jenkins

A Lone Crow, Indian bounty hunter adventure set in San Francisco’s Chinatown, in which he rescues a mysterious woman from pursuing Tong gangsters and a supernatural beast. (Excellent action, lots of magical mystery, a touch of romance, with a forehead-slappingly obvious way to defeat the monster.)

The Enterprising Necromancer, by Henrik Ramsager

An entrepreneur with the power to reanimate the dead fends off disgruntled customers, resists giving refunds, and otherwise tries to keep his shop open despite his serious “illness.” (Rambling, unfocused series of vignettes. More of a character sketch, but still interesting.)

Snake Oil, by Jennifer Campbell-Hicks

A traveling salesman with an airship sells a strange brew that affects the townspeople adversely, and it’s up to a little boy to save the day. (Steampunk and zombies. Exciting and action-packed.)

The Murders Over In Weirdunkal, by James Patrick Cobb

A sheriff is in over his head when townsfolk are murdered by something that leaves strange puncture wounds on the bodies. (Starts off as a delightful comedy of western incompetence, throws in a possessed Saguaro cactus for weirdness, changes tense several times in the narrative, and ends badly.)

Grumpy Gaines, Texas Ranger, by David B. Riley

A curmudgeonly Ranger dispenses Texas-style justice to a vampire, then runs afoul of a coven of alchemists. Good thing he has a loyal Alaskan sled dog. (Whimsical, loads of fun, healthy dose of weirdness, but way too short a story.)

REVIEW: Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, Vol.1

Billy the Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, Vol. 1.

old-time-oddities-1This Weird Western, 104-page graphic novel stars the uncouth, illiterate, ill-mannered, xenophobic Billy the Kid in one of his bizarre adventures after faking his death. Henry McCarty/William Bonney is recruited by a six-armed, dapper gentleman who is a kind of ringmaster/mastermind of a circus sideshow. Turns out the “oddities,” which include a lizard man, a dog-faced boy, a tiny person, a wild man and a tattooed lady, need the gunslinger to help them retrieve the fabled “golem’s heart” from Dr. Victor Frankenstein.

And it just gets weirder from there.

Frankenstein has been using the golem’s heart to continue his bizarre experiments with mutated human beings, creating legions of icky, gooey, misshapen and mostly-mindless monstrosities. The Kid needs to overcome some of his own personal demons involving child abuse, learn to trust the carnies, and wipe out Frankenstein’s unending horde of nightmarish creations.

Billy the Kid is an entirely unsympathetic protagonist and Frankenstein’s living hallucinations are way beyond bizarre, sort of like Dr. Seuss having a really bad LSD trip. The story by Eric Powell and outlandish illustrations by Kyle Hotz push the envelope pretty hard, but the story turns out to be entertaining and emotionally satisfying, despite the reader never really siding with the hero.

CLICK HERE to purchase a copy of Billy The Kid’s Old Timey Oddities, Vol. 1.

REVIEW: ‘Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise’

Jonah Hex ClassicBack in the days before comic books became collectibles and graphic novels evolved into their own literary genre, DC Comics put out a slew of western and weird western comic books.

The most popular character was Jonah Hex, a ruthless bounty hunter with uncanny tracking skills and a quick draw who is relentlessly hounded by a vengeful “man from Virginia with an eagle-tipped cane.”

Jonah Hex: Welcome to Paradise is a collection of early Jonah Hex stories from the DC comics. In addition to thrilling chases, shoot-outs and a familiar hodgepodge of western settings and character types, the collection offers a flashback origin story explaining how Jonah Hex unfairly became a pariah, and unjustly accused of betraying the Confederacy. It does not describe how he got that face, which is highly symbolic of his own inner struggle between good and evil, wanting to fit in but being unfit for society. In fact, every good person he befriends in these stories either dies, betrays or shuns him. He walks the line between hero and villain.

There are no supernatural or paranormal elements–Hex is just a man, not a demon or someone who dealt with the devil. The horror is more psychological, and while there is plenty of mayhem, it’s all gore-free.

There are nine classic tales in this collection, all from the 1970s, including All-Star Western #10, Weird Western Tales #14, 17, 22, 26, 29 and 30, and Jonah Hex #2 and 4. The stories were written by John Albano and Michael Fleischer, with art by Tony Dezuniga, Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, and others.