Short Story Review: “Wolverton Station” by Joe Hill

WolvertonI’ve never traveled abroad, but I think I’d be able to relate somewhat to Saunders, the main character of Joe Hill‘s short story “Wolverton Station.” He’s in a strange place, unsure of some of the things he’s seeing, and getting more overwhelmed by the minute. Of course, I imagine my feelings would stem from things like the strange food or the language barrier rather than, you know, wolves who walk upright, wear business suits and casually slaughter my fellow passengers.

Hill’s story, previously published in the 2011 Subterranean Press anthology Subterranean: Tales of Dark Fantasy and recently released as an ebook single, mixes a little Twilight Zone with a little Tales From the Darkside and a substantial dash of
sociopolitical commentary to produce a solid if unspectacular horror tale. Saunders is an executive for a restaurant chain that specializes in coffee, and he’s come to England to oversee the chain’s first steps in expansion. This means finding locations that are near mom ‘n pop type operations and crowding his way into the market. Saunders makes no bones about his methods, and Hill does little to try and paint the man in a sympathetic light. So really, it’s no big deal when a wolf in a nice suit sits next to him on the train – we’re pretty sure Saunders is going to die, and we really don’t care.

Hey, not all horror stories have to be about the hero that gets away – sometimes they can be about the scumbag who gets what he deserves. Saunders is the kind of guy who went to a monastary and came away with the revelation that a burger joint across the street would have made a killing. While he’s adept at making great business decisions he’s made some poor life choices in his time, and he makes a couple here that seal his fate.

“Wolverton Station” is a minor note in Hill’s overall (brilliant) catalog, a fun, quick piece that would be right at home in a pulp magazine. It doesn’t hold a candle to the stories in his collection 20th Century Ghosts, his novels, or his work on the series Locke and Key, but for a buck it’s definitely worth a download and a half hour of your time.

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Hill and Rodriguez to bring the Keyhouse down with two-part ‘Locke & Key’ finale

locke-key-head-games2-gabriel-rodriguezOver the past six years or so, writer Joe Hill and artist Gabriel Rodriguez have been crafting one of the finest comic series on the shelves – Locke & Key. I’ve not been shy about professing my appreciation for their work in the past, and I’m anxious to see how they wrap up this intricate, intimate story of a family haunted by demons of both the internal and hellishly external natures.

The series is currently in the middle of its concluding arc, Locke & Key: Omega, and it’s killing me because I wait for the nice hardback collections to come out so I have no idea at this point what’s going on. And now comes along this news, which is great because it means we get just a little bit more Locke & Key than was originally planned, but awful because now we have to wait just a bit longer to see how everything plays out.

While adding an extra issue may scream “cash grab” to some, it’s clearly not the case here. Hill gives me the impression of being a guy who is all about the integrity of the story, first, last and always, so if this is the space they need to tell the ending, then I’m glad they are getting it.

Hill has also promised that, while this is the definitive end to the story of the Locke family, there are still more stories to tell involving the rambling Victorian mansion known as Keyhouse.

Can. Not. Wait.

NOS4A2 gets a cover, Abe Sapien gets a ‘Dark and Terrible’ series

Just...awesome.

Just…awesome.

I shy away from doing “news” posts here because, let’s face it, by the time I’ve read something I consider newsworthy it’s likely been splashed across a dozen or more websites that do “news” far better – and faster – than I can hope to. Still, every now and then something really cool catches my eye and I just want to share it…

Today, two cool things caught my eye.

One, Subterranean Press has unveiled the cover of their limited edition of Joe Hill’s upcoming novel NOS4A2. It’s painted by Hill’s Locke & Key partner-in-awesome Gabriel Rodriguez, and it’s stunning. Subterranean is planning two editions: a limited of 750 signed and numbered copies, oversized, with a novella (“Wraith”) that was cut from the book’s manuscript, an alternate ending, and more illustrations by Rodriguez; and a lettered edition that’s already sold out, so it’s not even worth mentioning that it comes with custom-made autopsy bone mallet (a device that apparently figures heavily into the book’s plot) because we can’t order one anyway. $125 for the limited edition is steep for one book in my corner of the world, but the temptation is growing.

Cover art for ABE SAPIEN: THE DARK AND THE TERRIBLE #1, as seen originally at Robot 6/Comic Book Resources.

Cover art for ABE SAPIEN: THE DARK AND THE TERRIBLE #1, as seen originally at Robot 6/Comic Book Resources.

Two, Dark Horse Comics has announced that 2013 will see longtime Hellboy partner Abe Sapien get his own ongoing series, The Dark and the Terrible. Titles don’t get much more foreboding than that, and considering Mike Mignola had no qualms about killing Hellboy, it’s likely the upcoming years aren’t going to be a walk in the park for Abe. I’m not even going to try and summarize what’s been going on in Mignola’s ever-shifting universe as of late – suffice to say Hellboy is, literally, in Hell, and Abe is mutating, and all sorts of beasts and creatures have overrun the Earth. I’m contemplating a larger writing project about the Hellboy series for later this year, but for now I’m in an almost hopeless game of catch up. Thankfully, Dark Horse continues to let Mignola and his crew run wild, so there’s lots of good stuff ahead.

Review: “In the Tall Grass” (Part 2) by Stephen King and Joe Hill

(My review of “In the Tall Grass” (Part 1) is available here.)

On the cover of the August 2012 issue of Esquire magazine in which the second part of Stephen King and Joe Hill’s novella appears, there’s a caption under the story’s title that says “Now it gets weird.” True, but an even more accurate phrase would be “Now it gets dark.” Because there’s one element to the concluding chapter of this tale that is as dark as King (and Hill, for that matter) has ever gone – we’re talking Pet Semetary-levels of bleakness here.

No, I’m not going to spoil it for you. I want you to discover it the same way I did. Let it dawn on you with the same sort of creeped-out, oh-no-they-didn’t realization in which it dawned on me. It’s not gratuitous, it’s not over-the-top – it’s a subtle reveal that proves that when the King men get together, they aren’t messing around.

But let’s back up for just a second. When we left off in Part 1, the DeMuth siblings (Cal and Becky) were just beginning to understand how much trouble they were in. They’d gone into a field of tall grass next to a seemingly abandoned church to try and find a young child who was calling for help. They soon realized that something is toying with them, bending the physical rules of reality they’ve known their entire lives in order to drive them in circles, always tantalizing close but oh so far away from each other.

In Part 2, things progress from bad to worse. There are echoes of another King story in “In the Tall Grass,” particularly in this final part. In “N,” King wrote about a Stonehenge-like circle of stones that were a portal to some sort of mad, Lovecraftian God. There’s a stone in “In the Tall Grass,” too – just one, but like its cousins in “N” it wreaks all sorts of havoc on those who cross its path. This stone isn’t keeping something out; rather, it seeks to draw things in, like a cunning and ageless spider that’s had its fill of food but keeps spinning its web just because it can. It’s remorseless, and the things it drives people to do – well, you’ll see.

It’s clear that King and Hill had a blast working together on this, and they seem to feed off of one another to produce something that’s even darker and more purely horrific than either of their recent solo works. Here’s hoping these two continue to work together to bring us the kinds of simple, effective, good old fashioned horror stories that they are so clearly adept at writing.

Review: “In the Tall Grass” (Part 1) by Stephen King and Joe Hill

Much like the situation facing siblings Cal and Becky DeMuth in its plot, the story “In the Tall Grass” seemed to sneak up on people. The announcement of its existence (as part of Esquire magazine’s renewed emphasis on “men’s fiction”) came with little of the fanfare that accompanies most projects bearing the name Stephen King (not to mention that of his growing-rapidly-in-reputation-and-fanbase son, Joe Hill). One minute you’re minding your own business, the next you’re cursing yourself for not renewing your subscription while you search the cluttered shelves at Books-A-Million looking for a copy.

But it has arrived, at least in part (the concluding half will arrive in the magazine’s August issue) and so far it is quite good.

The DeMuth kids are called the “Irish twins” by their parents because, even at 19 months apart, they seem to share the uncanny closeness of actual twins. They finish each other’s sentences. They rarely make decisions without the input of the other. They are inseparable. Or so they thought.

They are on a cross-country drive to San Diego, where Becky is moving in with relatives to tend to the bun in her oven. Becky is unmarried and the father turned out to be “a fool,” so once again she leans on her brother to get her to her next stop in life. But somewhere in rural Kansas, in a field of unseasonably (and unreasonably) tall grass, a voice calls out to them to stop. To help. Stop they do, and they try to help, but within minutes they find that being close to one another – a condition that’s been a given their whole life – is suddenly physically impossible.

King and Hill capture the fragility of everyday life in this extraordinary situation – the way things can go from being perfectly normal to irreversibly altered in the snap of a finger. It’s a helpless feeling for the DeMuths, and for the reader as well. Like them, we’ve waded into the tall grass, and the place we want to be is close, but not nearly close enough. At least in our case, rescue (in the form of Part 2) is getting closer. For the DeMuths, and the little boy and his mother who called out to them, sanctuary is slipping farther and farther away.

Preview ‘Road Rage’ from Stephen King and Joe Hill

Back in October, IDW Publications announced they would be releasing a two-issue comic adaptation of “Throttle,” a short story written by Stephen King and his son Joe Hill. The prose version originally appeared in He Is Legend, an anthology of stories inspired by the works of Richard Matheson; it was also released as part of an audiobook package called “Road Rage,” which featured it alongside the Matheson story which inspired it, “Duel.” (Stephen Lang provided the vocals for that, and it’s excellent – his rough-around-the-edges voice is a perfect match for the gritty subject matter of both stories.)

IDW’s take on “Throttle” will also be part of an overall package called Road Rage – as in the audiobook version, “Duel” will adapted in a two-parter as well. IDW’s Chief Creative Officer Chris Ryall will script both adaptations, with Nelson Daniel handling art for “Throttle” and Rafa Garres taking up penciling duties on “Duel.”

The first issue of “Throttle” won’t be out until February, but Stephen King’s official website has some advance artwork up, including a downloadable PDF of the first eleven pages (sans lettering and color) and an incentive cover by artist Tony Harris depicting King and Hill embarking on their own two-wheeled road trip. Looks like a lot of fun, and IDW (home of Hill’s acclaimed series Locke & Key) has a proven track record with original and adapted works. This looks like a great way to kick off what promises to be a busy 2012 for King and Hill fans alike.

Ten Essential October Comics: ‘Locke & Key’

This Essential October Comic has been hailed as an immediate classic, and is one of the most intriguing titles on the shelves today.

4. Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Locke & Key is an incredibly fresh twist on the classic ghost story – and so much more. It concerns the Locke family – mom Nina, sons Tyler and Bodie, and daughter Kinsey – who flee to the family’s Massachusetts estate after their father is killed in a brutal attack. The estate is called Keyhouse, and it’s a central character in the story – a rambling old mansion that holds many secrets within its towers, spires and endless rooms. It is in Keyhouse that the remaining Lockes try to piece their shattered lives back together, but there are forces gathering against them, old ghosts with old business that needs tending to…and then there are the keys….

Bodie, the youngest Locke, is the first to discover the keys, and the strange powers they grant. Some open doors that lead to out-of-body experiences; some give the users a literal peek inside their own minds. But these aren’t mere gimmicks, as Hill masterfully weaves the keys and their powers into the larger story without making them the focus. In fact, there are many elements at play here, and Hill juggles each one expertly, making sure they feel natural and organic and important to the overall picture.

And while we’re talking pictures, let’s go ahead and praise the artwork of Rodriguez, who turns in striking imagery in each issue. Rodriguez is a master of details, whether it’s drawing facial expressions that convey as much emotion and meaning as those on a living person’s face, or the beautiful and imposing architecture that makes up Keyhouse, or the feral and savage demons that sometimes come out to play. This work cements his reputation as one of the best working artists today.

I haven’t really scratched the surface of the story, and that’s by design. Hill has been careful not to give away too much at one time, just as he’s been careful not to hold too much back. It’s truly an amazing piece of storytelling, and deserves to be discovered as the author has written it, rather than in a clumsy bit of blog exposition.

Locke & Key comes to us from IDW, and is available in a variety of trade paperback and hardcover editions. Track them down, and then feel free to come back and thank me later.