image by me and Midjourney


Emil Laughner had the same dream every night: he would wake to use the bathroom, and while standing over the toilet he would look out into the back yard through the window. But the back yard would not be there. Confused, he would pull up his shorts, still dribbling, and head to the back door. When he opened it, a cold wind would slap him in the face. Balls good and shrivelled, he would walk out onto the porch and see down below, far below, the fields of his property. His house was in the sky, and not just floating. It was rising. It rose higher and higher and he could see the lights of town and then more and more lights but by then he was scared and he would rush inside and stupidly grab the phone to call for help. But of course there was no dial tone, so he would run back to the bedroom and jump into bed and grab the covers and hide under them like a little kid again, crying and praying.

And then he would wake up staring at the clock. It said 3:23 every time. With not just a little trepidation, he would go to the bathroom and try and piss while peering through the window. Beyond, in the gloom, he could make out the back yard and the fields beyond. After he finally forced his bladder empty, he would go back to bed and lie there until dawn, wishing he could fall asleep but also dreading it.

One, he told Clayton about the dream. It had taken a lot of nerve to work up to it, and when he did — over their daily coffee and eggs, which Clayton always ate sunny side but Emil switched up now and again between scrambled and over easy — when he told Clayton, Clayton laughed until he coughed up brown phlegm. Emil never mentioned the dream again, to anyone.

It went on like that for weeks and Emil was sure he would eventually go crazy, so he decided to take control of matters. That was, after all, what Margaret had always expected of him. “Take control of matters,” she would always say whenever he had some trouble with money or farm hands or the law. Truthfully, more often than not it had been her that had taken control of matters. But she was gone now and he was the only one left to take control of matters.

So one night when he had worked up the nerve, he made a pot of coffee at damn near midnight and drank one cup after another. He sat on the porch, rocking in his chair against the autumn cold with a shotgun across his knees and he checked his watch every few minutes for hours.

At 3:19 he felt it.

The house began to shake. Not bad, not like an earthquake. Just a vibration, like a train going by. It shook like that for a minute or more then stopped. Emil shot up out of his rocker and headed toward the porch stairs but it was too late. The yard was already forty feet down and moving away fast. On the one hand, Emil was terrified, but on the other, he was glad to know he wasn’t mad.

Emil didn’t run to hide under his covers that night. He stood on his porch and watched the world fall away until the air got cold and thin.

His last thought was about Margaret and that maybe he would see her again soon. His next to last thought was about Clayton and how that son of a bitch wouldn’t be laughing tomorrow.

She Sees

She Sees

I wake. I masturbate. I shit. I eat. I dress. I go. I work. I work. I work. I return. I undress. I eat. I shit. I masturbate. I sleep.

She speaks to me. She sings to me. She gives me dreams. She fills my empty void. She heals me. She wounds me. She hurts me. She comforts me. She loves me. She commands me.

I wake.

“Rogers,” says the smelly man with the beard, “someone shat all over stall 13. Go clean it.”

I clean the explosive offal from stall 13. All the while, I imagine my hands around the man’s hairy neck. I imagine his stink growing sharper with fear as he dies.

“Rogers,” he says, “someone puked in stall 9.”

I clean stall 9 and salivate at the thought his mouldering corpse.

I return. I undress. I eat. I shit. I masturbate. I sleep.

She blesses me with her visit. I see her in all her glory, her beauty and her vast wisdom, a void of white where a mind should be. I am entranced. I am aroused. I wake. I masturbate.

“Rogers,” says the woman with the cold scowl, the one that never smiles, the one that judges. “You aren’t a good fit.”

I leave. I weep. I spit. I mutter. I swear. I ignore the ones that look at me on the street. I hate them. I hate. I hate. Hate.

I eat. I shit. I mastur—. Dammit. I lay awake. I weep. I wish. I mast–. No. I cry. I spit. I rage. I swear. I beg. Eventually, exhausted, I sleep.

She judges. She scowls. She disapproves.

I beg. I worship. I vow.

She demands.

I agree.

I wake. I masturbate. I shit. I eat. I dress. I go. I fire. They run. They scream. I fire. They cry. They beg. I fire. They yell. They command. I fire. They fire. I fire. They fire. I die.

She smiles. She embraces. I smile.

Night Terror

art by me and midjourney

Night Terror

I was asking Brad Pitt — well, it wasn’t Brad Pitt, it was my high school soccer coach being played by Brad Pitt — why we had to use an inflated rhinoceros testicle for the ball in our game against South Southington. I was just about to point out his nakedness and suggest we turn up the steam in the car when my eyes shot open.

The dream evaporated. I started to turn over onto my back but found myself tangled in my sheets. I realized I was soaked with sweat but felt cold and wondered if the furnace had gone down again. When I actively went to sit up and literally could not, my chest tightened and my skin prickled with goosebumps.

I became suddenly aware that breathing was difficult and imagined for a moment a weight on my back, pressing me into the mattress. No. I didn’t imagine it. There was a real weight on me.

That’s when I felt the presence.

The sensation crawled up through my mind from the deepest part of my lizard brain. It was the feeling that a rabbit gets when a hawk’s shadow crosses it in the field. It was the dread that comes with a certain smell in your own shit that you know means you are sick. It was the deep and inescapable certainty that something is lurking in the gloom just beyond the edge of shadow, just outside of your peripheral vision.

I let out a shuddering breath and I felt the presence shift its attention. It suddenly focused on me, as if it became aware only at that moment that I was conscious and that its malevolent intelligence found this to be — what? — amusing?

I very much at that moment did not wish to be awake.

How I knew I could not say, but the presence was curious. It did not want to know my name or anything personal about me. No, it was curious how I would react to what was coming next.

Something slithered beneath my skin, like a muscle that wasn’t my own spasming and undulating in ripples from my groin outward. It was as if a thousand thousand worms or snakes wriggled out of my balls and crawled through my muscles until they could escape through my eyes and nose and mouth and ears.

The presence noted how I wished to scream but did not allow it. It simply went on exploring me, head to toe, inside and out, violating my every orifice and organ.

Until, with no preamble, it was not. The weight on my back lifted. The invasive internal touch stopped. I could move.

But I didn’t. I did not shift or turn. Nor did I sleep. I laid there, shivering, weeping, dreading the return of the presence.


“Cumulus,” said Stacey.

“Right!” said Dan with the beaming pride that only the father of a 6 year old daughter can radiate.

They lay together in the park with neither blanket nor picnic basket. It was an impromptu excursion, after all. It wasn’t Dan’s day, after all. In fact, he wasn’t supposed to see Stacey without Eleanor being present. Which was ridiculous. She was his daughter, for God’s sake. What sort of danger could he possibly put her in? None. Obviously. Eleanor was the one who burned through a bottle of wine every night and who went home with strange women and who forced her daughter to go to a prison like school full of nuns and rich brats. Why couldn’t Dan see her? Why couldn’t he bring her to the park–

“That’s weird?” said Stacey.

“Huh?’ asked Dan, blinking himself back to the present.

“The cloud,” she said, “it looks like it has a tail.

Dan let his eyes focus on the sky again. He found the big, bulbous, weird shaped cloud they had been tracking as it floated over the park and then tried to let his atrified old brain see what hers was seeing. Tail? Did she mean like a dinosaur, or like a monkey. But when he tried to force the cloud into a shape, it just wouldn’t fit.

“There,” Stacey said, pointing like he could see through her eyes. Kids…

Dan suddenly held his breath. He sat up slowly, blinking. He could see that the look on his face was draining the wonder and joy from Stacey’s expression. She went stoic and pale. “Daddy?” she said.

“Shh,” he hissed.

There WAS a tail on the cloud: a long fleshy tendril that hung down from the center of is white fluffy form. It wasn’t an elegant jellyfish tendril or a muscular octopus tentacle. Instead it was a jointed and bulbous thing, like a finger with a thousand knuckles that had recently sloughed off third degree burnt skin, leaving only pink flesh and watery blisters.

“Daddy,” Stacey said again.

“Jesus,” said Dan. He sat bolt upright and grabbed her by the wrist. She squeaked in paina nd fear and resisted but he pulled himself to his feet and started to run. “Come on,” he said while she cried.

The cloud lowered itself toward the city. The tendril swept the streets. Dan couldn’t see what happened. He was too busy running. But he heard it, even from the great distance of the park, even through the muffling of the trees. Screams — horrible, pained, desperate, dying screams.

Heavy Petting

art by me and midjourney

Heavy Petting

We drove down Manor Street with the headlights off. The moon was bright enough to see by, at least enough to avoid the exposed catch basin frames and so as not to overshoot the cul de sac. Some developer had run out of money after putting the road in during the last crash so there weren’t any houses, just overgrown lots, a crumbling road, and hundreds of scattered beer cans and used condoms. Luckily, no other cars were at the turn around and I pulled to a stop at the far end.

Tricia — no, Tonya — did not waste any time. She had been rubbing me the whole way and as soon as I stopped she all but clawed me out of my jeans so she could swallow me. “The moon is pretty tonight,” I said because I thought I should say something while she worked up and down, hands and mouth. She grunted like she agreed but kept working.

I felt myself start to get close and pulled her up. I wanted to be cool and tell her to take off her dress when she said, “I want you to fuck me on the hood.” I started to say something, but I don’t know what stupid shit would have come out of my mouth. I didn’t have to embarrass myself, though, because she added, “Doggy style,” with this funny, almost hungry grin and I was speechless.

Her skin was so pale in the moonlight. At the bar I hadn’t noticed that she wasn’t wearing anything under the sundress, but now I could see it all. She jerked my jeans down around my knees, swallowed me again and then slid slowly and full of teeth off me. When she turned around and crawled on all fours onto the hood she made this growling sound that almost made me go off all by itself. When I lifted the dress I admit that I did, a little.

The scent of her was so strong, like an animal musk, I barely thought, and just thrust forward into her. She reached back and grabbed my hip with one hand to pull me deeper. I remember feeling bad because I knew I wasn’t going to last long and my older brother had always told me, “Let them come first.” There was no way, though. Half a dozen thrusts and I was on the verge.

That was when the pain hit. My hip burned like fire and the immediacy of my climax receded. “Don’t stop,” she growled. I mean, really growled. I didn’t realize until that moment that I had been doing it with my eyes closed, trying to concentrate on not going off. So I opened my eyes.

Her beautiful, pale-skinned ass against my hips was now covered in dark brown, soft fur. The hand that held me hit was long fingered, cruel, and ended in wicked nails. My hip and buttocks were bleeding as she squeezed. “Fuck me!”she growled again, turning, showing me her white teeth and yellow eyes.

And, well, I did. After a moment of pure shock, pure terror, I felt myself stiffen again and I started driving into her. The pain in my bloody hip was suddenly pleasure and her velvet covered muscles felt so good against me. She howled and I howeld and we came.

I don’t remember much of what happened after, except that she turned on me suddenly, fully human again, and kissed me deeply. She pulled her hand up from my hip and sucked the blood from her fingers. Then she looked up at the moon and said, “See you in a month.”

I fucking hope so.

The Door

created with midjourney

We found it while searching for Emily Dansforth. She was the third child that had gone missing in the last 6 months. We were expecting to find shallow graves, but instead we found this: a door to nowhere, looking like something out of Grimm’s fairy tales, just out of sight of but still within earshot of the highway.

Ms. Farnsworth, the social worker we had brought along because we thought we might have found one or more of the girls alive, said, “The wall isn’t deep enough for a door. What’s beyond it?”

I wanted to scoff. I wanted to tell her she was overreacting and that she should go back to her comfy office couches and leave us, the real cops, to our work. But I couldn’t. I just looked at it. Ancient stairs, tread by uncounted feet, led up to a gaping maw of an arch. Maybe it was ceremonial, my mind said. Light some candles and incense and everything would make sense. But it didn’t. That thing was a door. No doubt about it. But it didn’t go anywhere. It just sat there, a hungry darkness, inviting and terrifying all at once.

Dr. Byram from forensics spent three days at the site. He took samples of everything. He took shoe impressions in the soft ground leading to the… portal, I guess. He took lichen scrapings and found some blood droplets and even what looked to be human vomit near the ”door.”  After a week of analysis he pulled me aside and said, “I don’t know what it is, but if I were you, I would let it go. They’re missing. End of story.”

I wish I could. I wish I could imagine them abducted, strangled, raped by some sick fuck who was, at the end of the day, just another broken human being. But here I am, staring into the blackness. I know there is something more. I know there are answers on the other side. I know that it isn’t just a sculpture. I know it is, in all the senses of the word, a Door.

And, fuck it. I am going through. I have to know what happened to them.

Fear the Night of the Return of the Walking Zombies

It’s October! Spooky Month! That means 31 days of flash fiction, vignettes and fragments for your reading pleasure — with accompanying AI generated art! I am starting off with the lowest of low hanging fruit: Zombies. Enjoy!


The first time you see a horde (hoard? — shit, I can never remember) of zombies (I know, I know, we aren’t supposed to use the “Z word” but come ON) the thing that gets you isn’t the thing you think will get you. First of all, it isn’t that they are dead — because they aren’t. At least, not like we think of as “dead.”

People know “dead” even if they have never seen a dead person. Maybe your cat died, or you had to go to an open casket funeral. Or maybe a squirrel got crushed in the road in front of your house where you stood waiting for the bus and no one ever picked it up and nothing ever ate it and it just was THERE, every morning of second grade, for MONTHS, and since it was fall it didn’t even rot it just lay there, bloody and smashed and — anyway, where was I?

Right, people know DEAD and zombies aren’t it. Dead doesn’t move. Dead doesn’t even hint at movement. It’s so still it is eerie. It is, I don’t know, slack, like gravity has taken full control. But zombies move. They don’t move RIGHT — they shuffle and they jerk and they grope and they lurch — but they move. They aren’t dead. They are something else, and whatever it is, while it is horrible and disturbing, it isn’t dead.

It isn’t even the rot which, don’t get me wrong, is gross. Especially in summer. I mean, Jeezus Motherfucking Christ, the smell and the maggots and the, I don’t know, oil? pus? Whatever that drips out of them. But that is just disgusting. That isn’t what gets you.

No, the thing that gets you when you see the horde (I’m sure it is h-o-r-d-e) is that they are HUNGRY. You can sense it immediately. That shuffling and jerking I mentioned? It is in YOUR direction, with a purpose. They want to eat and they want to eat YOU. Not since the African savanna fifty-thousand years ago have we been honest to God prey, but we remember. Deep down inside, we remember what it felt like to be on the menu, and zombies bring it right to the surface.

I think that’s why so many of us don’t make it past that point. We freeze, or we run blindly. We can’t deal with being on the menu and freak the fuck out. And it always leads to a mistake: trip and fall, sprain and ankle, end up with your back to the wall, whatever. That real terror takes over and then you’re lunch.

And then you are one of them.

So, if you find this, read it twice then leave it for someone else to find. Maybe one of you will live.

The Dreams of Ruin: The Review

Truthfully, this will be more of an “overview” of The Dreams of Ruin by Geoff Grabowski than a review. Being friends with Geoof and having written for him, plus being a huge fan of the out there weird fiction science fantasy that populates the spaces in Geoff’s head between gardening and economics (no, really) I am not really qualified to give you an unbiased review of the book. That said, my goal isn’t to simply sell you the book either, except by telling you what it is, for real, and if that’s a thing you want to experience (and it should be) then go out there and get it. Or, well, click here.


 The Dreams of Ruin (DoR) is a 261 page supplement for Labyrinth Lord and Mutant future, so called Old School Renaissance games published via the Open Games License by Goblinoid Games. As such, the book is compatible with most other old school rules systems, from Swords and Wizardry to OSRIC and, with a little more work, the likes of  Basic Fantasy and Castles and Crusades. It is not a complete game, but is also more than simply a setting book or an adventure. Aimed at high level (15th or higher) play it is designed to give epic heroes a run for their money.


Setting and Tone

The title refers to a setting element that can best be described as an inter-dimensional infestation or infection — a world ending seepage across realities that takes the form of a terrible, primeval dark forest haunted by corrupted beats, faceless puppets and hate filled unseelie Fair Folk. It is at once the villain of the piece as well as the location in which adventures take place, and due to its pan-dimensional existence it can contain elements from worlds of fantasy, science fiction and every permutation of the two together. this is the key component of the DoR from a genre standpoint: it hearkens back to the weird fiction roots of D&D, where elephant headed alien gods entertained Cimmerian barbarians and fantastic city states of the dead sat on the ruins of a billion year old Earth. In an era of fantasy dominated by Lord of the Rings and The Song of Ice and Fire on botht eh page and the screen, it can be easily forgotten that what we call the fantasy genre started out much more diverse and stranger than it appears today.


If you are familiar with Geoff Grabowski’s work as line devloper of White Wolf Publishing’s Exalted RPG the fusion of epic struggle and science-fantastical elements that dominated that game are here as well, though in a much more focused manner.




The art of DoR is evocative of that same weird fantasy vibe. It ranges in both polish and quality but never wavers in tone. Whether it is a horned devil encased in power armor or a Puppet of Ruin (seen in the image above) massacre, the art remind the reader that this fantasy is different than the endless stream of heroic quests that have come before it.


In tone, the writing of DoR is generally conversational. The author addresses readers’ (presumably Game Masters) concerns directly, anticipating questions and alternating between readable prose and bullet points. He wants you to be able to understand this stuff so that you can use it in your game, which is often forgotten by game designers and authors. This book is full of strange ideas and non-standard fantastic elements and the author endeavors to get you to understand and accept those elements before moving on to the next bit. That said, it is not “simplistic” and the book does not appear to be written for the Game Master new to the craft or new to Old School games. it is safe to say that the author expects that your campaign reached the suggested high levels through actual play and therefore the GM knows how to run the game and incorporate new ideas.


Nuts and Bolts

The Dreams of Ruin is more than a descriptive book. The author develops a numbner of subsystems that provide concrete guidelines on how to implement the DoR into a campaign. The two most important are the rules governing how the “dark forest” manifestation of the Dreams works in play, and the rules for actually overcoming the threat of the dreams.


As stated above, the DoR are an infection in the world. Not surprisingly, that means it starts out small and grows in both size and virulence. In the parlance of DoR, the Dreams go through a series of Blossomings before they consume the whole world. The author lays out in meticulous detail how each blossing occurs, including tables for the size of the Dreams as they spread. In addition, each stage of the Dreams is given its own encounter tables and associated rules. It is possible using these rules to divorce the Dreams from its world ending aspects and simply use it as a very dangerous zone in the campaign world.


In addition to encounter tables, there are rules for the effects the Dreams have on those that travel through the forest (hint: it isn’t good) and the various sorts of entities and hazards that fill the Dreams. These are more than quick stat blocks. there is an ecosystem of terror here, with warring factions and dangerous interlopers — because of the inter-dimensional nature of the DoR, almost any sort of terror or treasure can be found within. Make no mistake, this is a truly high level threat zone and low level characters attempting to pass through, even briefly, will very likely meet a grotesquely cruel end.


The other major rules component covers how the player characters can actually cleanse their world of the infection that are the DoR. This is not simple task of killing a boss monster or casting a high level spell. Instead, a detailed process of research and experimentation is laid out. There are the usual assortment of new spells and magic items, but in order to “win” the player characters will have to understand the threat their world faces and then develop a method by which to counter it. It is a long process that engages players as well as their characters and gives the GM a built in system for motivating investigation and adventure. Most of all, the process is as spectacular as one would expect to be undertaken by PCs that amount to godlings themselves.  For example, one of the prescribed methods to stem the tide of the Dreams is referred to in the book as “Massive Geomancy.”


Final Word

The Dreams of Ruin is unlike anything currently on the market for Old School Renaissance games. It considerably expands the horizon of that particular subgenre of adventure game fantasy, inviting the audience into a world where slaying the dragon and saving the princess are barely more  interesting than doing the dishes. It embraces the weird fiction influence of the past while being wholly original. And while I will not give it a grade due to my personal relationship with its creator, I would unhesitatingly recommend it to anyone who enjoys OSR gaming and wants to try something out of this world.


For a few more days as of this writing you can back the Dreams of Ruin Kickstarter here. You can even get a copy of the game here beforehand and then decide that Geoff deserves your support. If you want more information, read my interview with Geoff here.


Happy gaming.

Superman vs Cthulhu: Super Heroes and Cosmic Horror


A new project has me thinking about how Super Heroes and Cosmic Horror interact with one another. At first blush, these two genres would seem to be mutually exclusive.

Super Heroes are ultimately symbols of optimism. Their stories are generally about normal people who, when granted powers far greater than those of their peers, seek to bring justice and peace rather than bring war or ruin. Some modern interpretations disagree, of course, but these kinds of deconstructionist views act as the exceptions that prove the rule: you would not have an Authority, for example, without Superman and Batman engaged in the neverending battles and crusades.

On the other side of the genre coin, you have the kind of existential horror exemplified by the work of H.P. Lovecraft and his many collaborators and imitators. Here, heroism is, at best, a naive notion that is quickly dispelled by despair and madness. In cosmic horror, there is no justice or peace, and even war and ruin don’t matter, for the real terror comes not from the amorphous things living just outside of our vision, but from the unfeeling and uncaring universe. Everything is sliding toward entropy and nothingness. Even the monsters are doomed. It is the ultimate expression of pessimism and nihilism.

So how do we bring these two genres together? And, more importantly, why? What can we hope to create from mixing these reagents, and how do we avoid blowing ourselves up in the process?

Is that a deep one?


Comic book super heroes and undulating weird horrors have cross paths many time before, of course. super heroes emerged out of the same primordial pre-pulp fiction as did Lovecraft’s work, who was inspired by Edgar Rice Burroughs and Algernon Blackwood. The violent, criminal yet essentially “good” masked heroes of the pulp era gave rise to the earliest Super Heroes (the Man of Steel owed much to the Man of Bronze, and Bat-Man was heavily inspired by The Shadow). The pulps were waning just as comics started to rise, but many of the young men (and a few women) creating those early costumed heroes had cut their genre teeth on pulp magazines like Weird Tales. Characters like Dr Fate and The Specter appeared very early on and considered great cosmic powers and elements of horror in their stories.

Super hero stories have always mined horror for villains and plots, embracing whatever monstrosities sit atop the cultural consciousness. Vampires and werewolves have always been popular, usually inspired by the Universal movie versions of those creatures, and there are a number of Frankenstein’s monster analogs and even outright uses. Zombies, the current favorite of pop culture horror, are everywhere and have devoured both the Marvel and DC universes within the last few years. And there are many comics and heroes that site squarely in a place of horror, from Marvel’s Blade and Morbius the Living Vampire to Todd MacFarlane’s Spawn to DC’s Swamp Things and more recently Justice League Dark.

From the Official Dark Horse Hellboy website.

One book in particular, though, really embraces the Lovecraftian side of horror (mixed with just everything else as well). Mike Mignola’s Hellboy — the titular character is a demon, but also a super hero — is a horror comic that does super heroics, or a super hero comic that does horror. In either case, it represents probably the most perfect marriage between the genres, and Mignola’s evocative art and tight scripting do not hurt. However, as good as Hellboy is at mixing these oil-and-water genres, in doing so it pulls the Hellboy character out of the lofty clouds of primary colors, capes and cowls and grounds him with the guns and the ever-present gritty cape analogue of the trench coat. So while we can use Hellboy as a way to start thinking about Super Heroes versus Cosmic Horror, it is just a point of beginning (but a damn entertaining one).


You don’t get much Super Hero vs Cosmic Horror than Starro


What would Superman do in the face of Cthulhu? How would Batman react upon discovering the Shadow Over Innsmouth? Could Captain America maintain his sanity when confronted by vast uncaring cosmos via the Color Out of Space?

Although the trappings vary, all super heroes essentially punch things for justice: they use direct intervention against enemies that can be beaten, captured and otherwise negated. In short, super heroes can win. By definition, the terrors of cosmic horror cannot be beaten — their victory is inevitable and the only succor against that knowledge is to retreat into madness. This seems at first to be an insurmountable problem in marrying the genres.

What I think allows the super hero to continue to not only exist but to operate and even succeed after a fashion in the context of cosmic horror is their inherent optimism. Super heroes fact insurmountable odds daily — or at least monthly. A meteor rocketing toward the Earth, a virus transforming people into mindless drones, an army of hyper intelligent gorillas invading from two universes over, these are all familiar threats to the super hero, and they all threaten the very existence of mankind. Yet, the super hero soldiers on and preservers.

The only difference between those typical comic book threats and the threat posed by cosmic horror is that the latter cannot be overcome. But that is knowledge reserved for the audience. As far as the super hero is concerned, that elder thing spreadings its dark influence throughout the world and threatening to wake is just another villain to be defeated. That heroic optimism provides the hero with not only the will to face these eldritch horrors, but also at least a modicum of protection against the mind rending, soul shattering truths at the heart of cosmic horror: that we are insignificant in the fact of the enormity of time and space and that we are no more than insects to the vast and incalculable minds of the monstrosities that exist in the dark between the stars.

Moreover, even for the hero that has accepted the inevitability of the ultimate end, the true motivation of most super heroes remains: protect the innocent. In this case, it means saving potential sacrifices from cultists who would hasten the rise of the elder thing, destroying the weird alien creatures that wander aimlessly into our reality, and, occasionally, push back the timeline of that waking just a little longer. It may also mean something else, often outside the usual purview of the super hero: protecting people by hiding the truth from them, sparing them the madness that invariably comes with recognizing the futility of it all.

As different as the genres seem, I think the combination of super heroes and cosmic horror provides a lot of potentially compelling stories, without needing to tarnish or deconstruct the heroes or water down the existential threat of the cosmic horror.


Comic Books and Genre Freedom

I recently purchased a subscription to Marvel Unlimited, a Netflix like service from Marvel Comics that lets you read tens of thousands of older (from the earliest days to just six months old) Marvel Comics. I dove right into The Mighty Thor series from the 1960s, specifically Walt Simonson’s run. Those stories always seem to top “Best of” lists not only for Thor but for Silver Age Marvel Comics in general, and since I am not nearly as well versed in Marvel lore as I am DC, I thought it would be worth my time.


And boy has it been so far. The most surprising aspect of the run is how modern it feels, relatively speaking. Both the art and the writing would have me place the book much closer to the 1980s, when I started reading DC Comics. The other thing that struck was just how Out There the stories are, not only steeped in Norse mythology but also science fiction and cosmic horror and, of course, super-heroic derring do. If you have never read the saga of Beta Ray Bill, alien champion who wins the mantle of Thunder God, I urge you to do so at your earliest convenience.


The “Out There” quality is what inspired this post, as recognizing it helped me coalesce a thought that has been swirling about in my head will-o-the-wisp like for ages: in comic books, it seems to me, one has license to break the rules of genre as nowhere else. That is, in comic books, be they superhero tales or science fiction, fantasy and horror stories, there is an implicit freedom to go a little gonzo and let your imagination run wild. Sure, there are many slice of life, realistic and even “hard” sci-fi and “low” fantasy comics out there, but by and large, comics are a place where creators are keen to indulge their most extreme flights of fantasy, often to the benefit of their readers.


Allow me to present a personal example: I have had, for some time, this idea about a “reverse Superman” of sorts — a human character from Earth who, when he travels to another planet, he gains super-human powers. In this tale, the “planet” is actually a system of moons around a super-Jupiter, and it is the strange radiation from that world that gives the protagonist his powers. The hero is the fiance of an alien princess who was “slumming” on Earth before her pre-arranged marriage but fell in love with our hero. When she was forcibly escorted back by the agents of her father and husband-to-be, he stowed away and only upon their arrival did he learn of his powers. The moon worlds are all pulp sci-fi environment worlds — and ice planet and a desert planet and an ocean planet, etc… — and his adventures are equally operatic.


It used to be that this sort of non- or wrong-science adventure was the province of the pulp magazines. Over the years, though, prose science fiction and fantasy has gained a certain level of respectability, or at least there is a level of expectation from fandom that works will be either “realistic” or, at the very least, quite serious in their treatment of fantastic elements. But in comics, that unwritten rule has never taken hold. In comics, John Carter can still adventure on Mars and Thor, God of Thunder, can team up with a genetically engineered cyborg hero to fight demons from a dimension beyond space and time.


Why is that? When Simonson was writing, at least, one could point to comics as a medium aimed at children, so adherence to any sort of scientific or internally-consistent standard was unnecessary, even unwelcome. My response is: Perhaps, but that does not explain why comics continue to be that way now. We still accept an alien from Krypton who can fly under the power of our yellow sun’s radiation and who fights cyborgs powered by pieces of his dead homeworld. Ridiculousness, to be sure, but both acceptable and preferred, even. Comics readership has gotten older with each passing decade, and more and more speculative fiction media, including the newest in the form of video games, tries to enter the field with solid grounding and “realistic” speculative elements.


I think it because strange ideas, the kind of things present in the pulps of yore, are more easily conveyed through the juxtaposition of image and art and that we, as a community of readers of speculative fiction, still need a little gozo to go with our hard sci-fi, low fantasy and psychological horror. In a few strokes of an artists pen and a few captions of a writer’s words, whole worlds can be created. Moreover, because most of us do come to comics when we are children or adolescents, we retain a childlike wonder in engaging comics and are more accepting of the wondrous in panels and thought balloons.


Sometimes I worry that I am simply being “lazy” wanting to write comics instead of prose, but the reality is that often what I am looking for is not ease of creation — it is said Allan Moore’s scripts are longer than most novels, and he is perhaps the greatest of all writers who embrace the gonzo aspect of comics storytelling — but the freedom to use ideas I fear are not “acceptable” for prose, like humans made interplanetary superheroes by way of gas-giant radiation belts.