The preparations for the big day took some time, as the posse assembled their previous contacts for aid. Colonel Jeffries organised some 'manoeuvres' that would keep the Lost Angels fleet occupied. Chin-Hsueh Wong and a passel o' martial artists offered their services. Hamumu got the Necessity Alliance shamans to aid their struggle in the spirit world. The mad scientists of Elspethtown, the russians of Felicity Peak, even Doctor Ernest Weissmann - all were enlisted. Missives were sent to the Agency and Texas Rangers, even with little hope of reply. It was Hogleg Dunstan - rescued from The Rock way back when - who proved pivotal. With his contacts in the Men of the Grid (
terrorists freedom fighters that rebelled against Reverend Grimme's rule) he could get the posse into the city, and aid in getting innocents out before the big end came.
A couple of days before the Big Day, there was another: Cal and Clara got married on the Big M Ranch, with him writin' a will as well, just in case...
The posse smuggled themselves in under cover of a Gridder explosion a day before the ritual, with Cattlegirl Jill in tow, eager for vengeance for what happened to Bill.
The day, August 23rd 1880 (American calendar) saw the posse striding through the streets of the city toward the cathedral in the Golden Circle. They gladly gave money to the unwashed, starving masses that thronged around, hoping that a crowd of locals would mask their approach.
A lone figure approached them, tearing through the crowd to grab Cal and give him a dire warning! It was Steve, another of the cattlemen from the Big M, with news that the night before a winged figure had smashed into the ranch and made off with Mister Shelton! Clara had tried to save him, and been snagged as well!
Grimme and his Thirteen Ghouls were planning a feast that day, and who better to dine on than the man who had been feeding their enemies...
With renewed speed, the posse made it to the cathedral square, where Cal called out a challenge as he slit his palm, bleeding onto the bare earth. The glass of the cathedral front shattered, shredding the guardians that stood outside, but Grimme and his Thirteen Ghouls walked calmly from the front door, ready to kill. It looked like the flood would not be immediate, and the heroes may have to hold out against all the forces of Hell.
The posse was prepared, opening up with everything they had, gunning down villains who had previously only been names. Andrea Baird, Grimme's right-hand matron, and Lily Spratt, schoolmarm, were shot by Trent; Horace Mosely, commander of the Lost Angels fleet, was drowned by Elworthy's water gun; Vertiline Miller, Grimme's thief, was electrocuted by Marty; Ernie Miller, Lost Angels chamber of commerce, and George Woolbright, chief missionary, were shotgunned by DImitri; Mordecai Noss, land baron, took a rifle round from Cattlegirl Jill.
Grimme rallied his forces, opening with a sermon whose power left the posse reeling as he and his remaining Ghouls walked calmly down the steps, guns and black magic striking out. A gargoyle tore itself from the front of the cathedral, a deluge of stone that threw itself at Trent. Two flights of guardian angels approached from opposite sides, rapidly surrounding our heroes.
The land answered in kind, four stone hoodoo emerging from the ground to interpose themselves, their hides being torn apart so that fragile flesh might live. They tore apart Michael Coulter, ruler of half the city, and Darcy Wardlow, Wasatch liaison, and the other Ghouls took pause. Grimme strode on, determined to kill Cal, and with him followed hunger, a famine that tore at the guts of the posse.
Elworthy kept up his science bolts, taking down the one-armed Darren Ambrose, commander of Jehosephat Valley, Cal claiming Gabriel Fannon, a similarly duel-wielding Ghoul, and Journey and Dimitri held one flank, keeping the encroaching guardians at bay. On the other side though, Marty experienced a catastrophic malfunction with his lightning gun, blasting himself, Jill and Hamumu from their feet. The guardians approached this weak link, their devilish fear spells striking at Dimitir and causing him to run in panic. Trent moved to plug the hole, and Cal kept the demon off his back, his bone-handled revolver the only thing doing damage as Hamumu was stuck healing his comrades and Elworthy was trying to distract Grimme.
As the demon fell, Grimme called more to his side, but his last two Ghouls were irreplaceable, Cal taking down Daniel Rotten-Belly, a berserk murderer, and Journey putting a bullet through the skull of Caroline DeCarlo, harrowed reformer of prostitutes. With an opening, Cal made a break for the cathedral, shouting for his wife as he rolled past the swings of Grimme's hickory stick.
Elworthy kept the demons under control, even as the charges on his weapon began to drain and his non-harrowed companions began to succumb to the hunger, necessitating switching to his resuscitation devices every now and then. Hamumu aided him with this, but Marty kept passing out each time they revived him. Dimitir was deep into the guardian angels, breaking them with the butt of his shotgun, and Trent took down half a dozen more, his concentration not broken by the sulphuric fiend not three feet behind him.
Cal entered the cathedral to see mass in full swing, and as he paused to question and execute the two guardians at the door Grimme caught up to him, laying down a punishing blow that threatened to drag his soul from his body. Clinging to consciousness, he tripped the reverend with his lariat, running further into the building, shouting for Clara.
The church-goers didn't take kindly to the intrusion, swarming the bounty hunter and holding him down. The rest of the posse, external foes dealt with and injured being helped along, were coming to his aid, but as Grimme tore free from the paltry impediment he turned to consider them, striking them blind with his righteous prayers. Then he turned to stalk toward Cal, held helpless by the throng and destined to be added to the menu.
The hickory stick broke bones but the soul held, and even as Cal fell unconscious he could hear his comrades bursting in, Dimitri's shotgun and Hamumu's bow taking down some of the parishioners. They couldn't harm Grimme, but they had delayed him lomg enough.
The Flood came.
The City of Lost Angels was washed clean, the posse miraculously surviving. Clara was alive, her father was only missing an arm, and a whole new California lay waiting for tomorrow...
The posse stood firm in the face of the Mexican army, blasting away at the cavalry and gatling guns. Santa Anna couldn't hold himself back and charged forward, shortly followed by two-dozen loyal men. All attempts to dismount him met with failure, but as the cavalry drew closer the shotguns, flamethrower, six-shooters and lightning gun made a mess of them.
The cavalry engaged, yet the power of the leg kept the posse standing tall, and Hamumu assumed the form of a mountain lion as he began pouncing on the Mexicans and dragging them from their steeds.
Santa Anna himself went for Cal, knowing that it was he that bore the leg. The bounty hunter attempted to shoot the weapons from the general's hands, yet he kept a firm grip and drove his sabre through him, leaving him incapacitated and the leg within Santa Anna's reach.
Doctor Elworthy intervened, bathing Santa Anna in the fire of his flamethrower. While the horse collapsed beneath him, the general strode defiantly on, even as he burned. He cut Elworthy down for daring to kill his companion, leaving the scientist dead in the dirt, and then turned back to Cal, determined to have his leg.
Trent opened up with his pistol, fanning the hammer and blasting great holes from the Mexican general. Finally, Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón died.
The Mexican forces, having seen their invincible general die, and finding that their weapons were not having the desired effect upon their foes, turned tail and ran, leaving the posse to pick up the pieces.
Stanley demanded rights to Santa Anna's body, seein' as how he'd died on his land, but settled for four hundred dollars in emotional damages. The posse kept both corpse and leg. Cal was revived and able to limp, and enough horses were rustled up so that they ride away, taking Elworthy's corpse with them back to his boat. Doctor Journey was most upset.
The doc was given a moving eulogy once the posse reached the steam-launch that he had hand-built and customised. Then he popped up behind them to give one of his trademark insane cackles, thank everyone for their kind words and get huged by Journey. Turns out that Big John wasn't the only posse member looking like a decent ride for a manitou...
With their pilot still capable of piloting, the posse ran up to Shannonsburg, stopping at 'most every port on the way to spread the good word of the Mexican general's defeat. Colonel Jeffries congratulated them when they arrived, with medals all 'round!
Then it was time to pop in on the Explorers' Lodge, to see the construction coming along nicely, with a memorial wing for the fallen members ready, plaques beneath a personal token from each. Holly, Garrett, Ryan, Renard...
With calm restored, and everyone healed up from their serious injuries, they returned to the tomb of the Archangel Sabtabiel. The being congratulated them on their success and asked that the worthiest of their number be left alone with it to receive a reward. They refused, running off when it started to get angrier. It pursued them from the tomb, the unveiled majesty of its glowing form causing Cal to collapse with a heart attack. The others rallied to fight back, Dimitri finding that his shotgun was having no effect, but the spells of Hamumu and gadgets of Marty tore the angel apart, leaving it to disintegrate with a distinctly sulphuric odour...
After Cal recovered, they returned to the tomb to take a look behind Sabtabiel's sarcophagus. There was the seventh and final glyph, and now that it was blooded they would have to prepare for the appointed day when they would have to travel to the centre of the City of Lost Angels and trigger the flood that would destroy Reverend Grimme and his Thirteen Ghouls forever!
TO BE CONCLUDED!
is, so far, well worth the wait of about seven years since the lead-in series to it - FInal Crisis
- ended. It's also worth the price, twice as many pages as a regular comic (and with so very few ads eating up that count!) for less than twice the price. In fact, it's twice as many pages as a Marvel book for only 125% the price. How about that?
It's Grant Morrison doing yet another riff on his familiar tale of Lovecraftian entities threatening the multiverse and only a rag-tag group of superheroes able to stop them, but he does that so well, who cares? This time there's a pirate chimp and a super-bunny around, and the first world to be attacked is an ersatz Marvel universe with some... interesting takes on the Avengers.
The format of the series is to be a whole bunch of one-shots with some underlying them before an epilogue ties them all together (and there'll be some form of multiversal guidebook!)so I'm prepared for quite the line-up of bizarre alternate universes.
Other noteworthy things I got this week include the much-delayed fifth volume of the Transformers Classics UK
, which continues to feature some pretty amazing insights from James Robinson and this time has one of the greatest fight scenes ever: Death's Head ("This makes me feel sick") and Shockwave ("Bring me the Psycho-Probe!"). It's not very long, but that is some astounding Geoff Senior artwork right there. How disappointing to learn from an interview in this book that he'd have preferred to work on the Death's Head
solo comic rather than Dragon's Claws
. Gah! Why didn't you let him, Marvel? That would have been amazing!
Also, 2000ad prog 1895
reveals that some things will never die, as Mega-City One has tv shows 'The Mega1 Show' and 'Pantone 18-3949 Peter'.
Five days the posse waited for Blumquist, barricading and fortifying their position in fear that more outlaws or monsters may attack. On the fifth day they beheld the glory of the Mexican army marching north, clearly intent on conquering California!
Blumquist returned and paid them their dues, content that he was rich beyond even his wildest dreams. Elworthy and Journey returned by boat not too long after, with a message and some gifts from Colonel Jeffries of Shannonsburg. The Mexican army was besieging the City of Lost Angels, and while Reverend Grimme was a threat that needed to be dealt with, if the Mexicans were victorious then the whole of California would be in danger a lot quicker.
The combined forces of the City and the Wasatch rail warriors were holding the invaders for the moment, but the battle could be ended if someone could cut the supply lines. The Mexicans were being supported directly from Mexicali, not too far from where the posse was currently located. Hence the gifts: a crate full o' dynamite and a map showing an old mine shaft that led under the village.
So the posse left the heavily wounded Doctor Johnson behind while they set off to take on a whole army with a fistful of dynamite. The mine was easy enough to find, and with lanterns lit the six of them felt fairly confident. The knocking sounds that echoed ahead before dying out and starting again behind din't bother them. When the three bringing up the rear - Elworthy, Journey and Hamumu, the three who could best be termed 'healers', but also 'carriers of all the dynamite' - were dragged down by misshapen, clawed forms and some of the lanterns went out, then they started panicking.
There was a blaze of gunfire, and the wave of tommyknockers that had somehow come out of nowhere were put down. Of the injured, two were unconscious and Hamumu was grievously injured and exhausted. They trekked back outside to leave them
with the wagon, this time deciding to upright a rusty old mine cart to carry the explosives in.
When they eventually saw a light at the end of the tunnel, Dimitri went ahead to check it out, finding a group of Mexican soldiers feeding some mixture of meat and drugs to caged zombies. It seemed like Santa Anna had a secret zombie dungeon!
The Russian wasn't too quiet, and as he went back to report he was pursued by irate soldiers. Both sides doused their lights in the tunnel, leading to a pitch-black gunfight that the posse came out of alive.
Not all the soldiers had pursued Dimitri, so some must have gone off to sound the alarm. The posse gave pursuit, only to be ambushed by most of the remaining guards. Once again they emerged triumphant, but Dimitri took a nasty gut wound.
With a couple of soldiers alive, the posse questioned them, learning of the plantagrito that Santa Anna used to keep his army o' the dead docile (taking a sample to study later) and where it was stored, in a shack between the two main factories of the village.
The two captives were tied to the front of the cart as a cheap distraction if anyone should happen upon the posse, but they made their way safely through the rest of the dungeon until the exit with an elevator, where over a dozen Mexican soldiers were hunkered down behind crates. Their officer shouted for the posse to surrender, but Cal replied with some dynamite that shut him up but good. One of the soldiers threw a stick in reply, and since the posse were currently in possession of almost sixty sticks themselves, they feared the worst. It fell short, only killing one of the human shields on the front of the cart, and then the Mexicans fixed bayonets and charged.
The posse emerged victorious and ascended to Mexicali, where they proceeded to dress up in Mexican uniforms and use the cover of dark - from the noxious factory smog that blotted out the sun - to sneak their dynamite into one of the factories, next to its ghost rock stash. Several hundred feet of detonation wire were used, and so they were underground and well on their way to escaping when the site was destroyed.
The aftermath could still be seen when they emerged from the mine, but they didn't stick around too long, racing off in their wagon.
A couple of days into their trip back to California, they ran into a group of Mexican cavalrymen. Cal sat alone at the reins of the wagon while the others, all horribly wounded by now, hid in the back. All they wanted was directions though, to some place called 'Stanley's Live Bait and Curios'. Cal gave them bad advice, making a note to look into this place, as if Santa Anna wanted it, they wanted it first!
Meeting back up with a recovering Marty, the posse travelled to the curio shop, some miles north of San Diego. There they found nothing more than an old man selling junk and worms. Well, mostly junk; on one wall was a remarkably preserved wooden leg supposedly belonging to Santa Anna!
No sooner had they laid eyes upon it than the voice of Antonio de Padua María Severino López de Santa Anna y Pérez de Lebrón himself, demanding the return of his leg! The posse could see through the windows that they were being surrounded by over four dozen soldiers, already setting up a pair of gatling gun nests. There was no way they were going out there.
Stanley told them that, so the legend went, no force that carried the leg could be defeated by men under the command of Santa Anna - they could take on that entire army!
The posse ignored the crazy old man and hunkered down in cover.
The gatlings opened up, churning the building to splinters in seconds. One by one the posse members fell, cut down by the culling fire.
Then they got up. Finding themselves to be unharmed (well, no more harmed than they already were), they began to think that perhaps there may be some truth to the legend...
The posse's ruse to get past the Guardian Angels worked, and they parked their wagon up alongside the steam wagon. Just as the guardians working away at its chassis looked over toward the opening back of the cart, Doc's Johnson and Elworthy opened up with their scince gadgets, electricity and flame lashing over the vehicle and killing the crew.
The other guardians rallied to their leader, but despite successfully scaring the wagon's horses they were slain.
The posse proceeded into the tomb, finding a succession of bodies, all with their eyes and/or faces melted off. Thus they were prepared when they came across the terminus of the tunnel, a large, ornately decorated cave with a coffin at one end. Paying heed to the angelic carvings about the walls, they averted their eyes as the coffin creaked open, and they were welcomed in soothing tones by a being calling itself the Archangel Sabtabiel.
It probed them with a few questions to get the full measure of their character, and finding that they were far less villainous than the Guardian Angels that it had punished it agreed to help them. It could not directly tell them where the next glyph was located, but advised them to track down old acquaintance William Blumquist. Meeting with him would be the first step that would lead them to what they sought. It would not be an obvious path, but the reward would be there.
The posse high-tailed it outta there, heading to the Big M Ranch for a little relaxation and to introduce the Sheltons to the latest newcomers to the group. Blumquist had been helping the ranchers with digging up the wrecks of the steam-ships that had attacked the island months ago, and now that salvage was complete, the scrap metal ready to be utilised in defence of the island. Doctor Elworthy also took some to combine with the steam-gatling he had taken from the angels' steam-wagon, using the components to upgrade his own vessel with heavier armour and weaponry. With the aid of Dimitri and Marty, it was done in record time!
Blumquist had left a message for the posse to meet with him again down by the sunken ruins of San Diego. There, they found his camp deserted but for a pair of cowpokes who had been waiting around to pass on directions from Blumquist. He claimed to have found the motherlode, and wanted the posse to share with him. The gunhands were reluctant to accompany our heroes to the location, happy to move on now that their task was done.
Blumquist turned out to be living in a bare manor house atop a cliff. He was happy to see the posse, as he needed someone to protect his claim while he went off to register it - he feared claim jumpers something fierce, and the Confederate fort to the east didn't look too friendly either.
The motherlode was in a cave directly beneath the manor, and mainly beneath the waterline. Only at low tide was it possible for a man to row under and lie back to hack ghost rock from the ceiling.
The posse spent a couple of days fortifying the house with trenches and a sniper-lookout post, wishing they'd brought some of the barbed wire from the Guardian Angel encampment with them. One night they heard the sound of cannonade, and Hamumu called upon the spirits to assume the form of an eagle to check out the disturbance.
He returned to the posse to tell of the sacking of the CSA fort - by the Mexican army and their vanguard of flesh-hungry walkin' dead. This was bad news, so the posse sent Elworthy and Journey north in the boat to warn Shannonsburg.
The morning brought no relief, as a pair of corpses on horses rode up to their defences. These were dead bodies though, tied to their steeds and with nails driven through their eyes to protrude from the back of their skulls. Cal recognised the sure handiwork of the Redhorns Gang, and everyone recognised the bodies as those of the two cowboys that had given them directions to the manor.
The posse hustled back to their defences, with Marty keeping watch from the tower. Unfortunately, the batty scientist got distracted, meaning that the first warning he got of incoming riders was when they sent several rounds of hot lead through him, leaving him in a mewling heap.
Five of the Redhorns hung back covering with rifles while their leader rode forward with dynamite. He was shot between lighting and throwing it however, and exploded before he could reach the line.
The others held out slightly longer in the gunfight, but were eventually overcome. Marty survived, but in critical condition, and Blumquist declared the posse to be more than capable of defending his property, riding away and leaving them in charge until he got back with his deed!
The captured martial artist explained to the posse that he and his comrades had been just a small part of the force that Kang had sent to Whateley Isle. When they mentioned that they were good friends with Emperor Norton, that just prompted laughter; whatever happened out of sight of Shan Fan need not concern the puppet emperor.
Leaving the guy tied up, the posse continued digging through the rockfall and emerged into a series of tunnels, following the sound of water to a sea-cave. There, the Caretaker began laughing as a series of human figures emerged from the darkness. While dressed in ordinary (if damp) clothing, their complexions were that of mollusks. The kid called them his family.
The slug-creatures attacked, with both their disgusting, gooey touch and arcane bolts of darkness, and the Caretaker joined in with a club, and harsh words directed as Dimitri, who was only too happy to get into an argument. Thing was, the kid's words had an effect, reducing Dimitri's self-confidence and combat prowess as much as his powerfully-wielded club reduced his body to a bloody pulp.
Doctor Marty Johnson's electrical fidgin gadgets proved handy in striking the gooey masses of the slug-men where bullets plipped them almost harmlessly, and once they had fallen the posse turned their attention to the Caretaker, more annoyed than upset at their attempts to hurt him. While the others held him down, Cal put a bullet in him from the bone-handled revolver.
Charlie had died in the fight, trying to keep the slugs from devouring an unconscious Trent and instead being eaten himself. He died a hero.
They smeared blood on the glyph at the back on the cave, Marty took a pack of cards from the pocket of one of the sluggers' empty jackets, then they high-tailed it back to the boat, where Doctor Elsworthy informed them that a Maze Rat steam launch had just circled around, almost certainly spotting the vessel.
A trip back to Shan Fan saw Charlie's body added to the growing graveyard on the former Isle of Ghost's Tears, while the deck of cards - once the posse discovered that the face cards moved in obscene and lewd ways - were to be locked up somewhere safe in the Explorers' Lodge.
Then they stopped by the sunken mission where they had found a glyph previously, relieved to find that, besides being a bit of a squeeze to get through fallen rubble, there were no monsters.
Next up was Progress, where aside from checking up on the construction of the Lost Angels fleet (going great) they also daubed the glyph where Professor Vandergrift had been experimenting. No hoodoos this time.
Lastly came Perdition, and the railhead town was where they met up with Lacy o'Malley, to check on any replies that may have been made to their classified ad asking about glyphs. There was nothing specific, but a couple of days' ride from the City of Lost Angels the city's Guardian Angels had set up a staging ground, as if they'd discovered something in the earth.
The posse headed off - overland, for a change - secure in the stolen angel robes that they still carried with them. The Guardian Angels had erected a mess of barbed wire around an earth mound with a cave mouth. There were plenty of robed guards, and they also had at their disposal an armed and armoured steam wagon.
The posse was very confident in their disguises...
I finally got around to reading some Fritz Leiber. I'm not sure whether the near seven-hundred pages of this book are the totality of the Fafhrd and Gray Mouser stories, but there's definitely enough to get a decent handle of the material.
I've heard so much about this pair, and they are everything they've been hyped as: some of the best-realised characters ever. They're hugely human, in that they're immensely self-centred and often have no interest in being forced into the plot of the stories. The world around them is similarly beautiful, everything burbling along naturally, even the most minor characters working toward their own motives. Nothing at all comes across as contrived or happening purely for narrative convenience.
Fafhrd and the Mouser are two self-employed adventurers who live in a grim world (there's an openly operating Thieves' Guild with a well-known headquarters that somehow doesn't get shut down by the never-seen Overlord) that never does them any favours. They're just out to get by, grabbing girls, gold and glory to various degrees, but very rarely getting all that they want, never making the big score to pull themselves up form the gutters. They're lovable losers, often without even each other to rely upon.
Very little exposition is given regarding the world. Often, our heroes will just be in a strangely-named place with odd customs and bonkers inhabitants, and things just happen without explanation. Bizarrely, that's just fine, as it's more fun learning the stuff as it goes along, and Fafhrd and the Mouser are often just as confused as the reader, which is delightful. Whether it's invisible moon people, a man who regularly has his own eyelids pierced or a curse that causes kissers to turn into slugs, nothing need ever be explained if it leads to the protagonists deciding to jump to outlandish conclusions of their own.
The book as a whole is great, and I can see immediately how it's influenced dozens of fantasy books following (for one thing, I finally 'get' that those cameos at the start of The Colour of Magic) and it definitely has the spirit that all Dungeons & Dragons games should be going for. I think it may even be the first place where that term 'swords and sorcery' shows up, and not a few times. It's a lovely counterpoint to the pompous, whimsical and distant Lord of the Rings series, as there's nothing like the fate of the world at stake, only more important things, like peoples' lives. There's magic and there're monsters, but both things are kept in the shadows, always mysterious and terrifying.
It's clear that the book was never intended to be that - a book - instead being a compilation of unlinked short stories. Still, it's something of a shame that there's a lack of connectivity between the tales. Some follow on directly from others, and callbacks are made to earlier adventures, but mentions are often made of things that happened that the reader didn't see first hand - adventures that happened off page, between chapters. It's nice, giving the world an increased sense of scale, as not everything in the lives of these two people can be displayed, but is disappointing too since often the exploits alluded to come across as more exciting than the current narrative.
I praised the lack of artificiality in the story structure earlier, but it's true that perhaps it could have done with a little more. Too often do Fafhrd and the Mouser disappear from the stories, and several times events are resolved without their involvement, leaving one to wonder why they were featured in them at all. Interesting seeds for future stories (the elaborate backstories of each hero, for example) are dismissed or never referred to again (that interesting cast of villagers with various reasons to want to see Fafhrd again are all killed off between the lines, with no ceremony).
It's just too freeform, perhaps. There are lovely turns of phrase and inventive descriptive phrases to mask the ambling momentum of the plot, and the fights are all described briskly and with energy, but these stories have a habit of getting away from themselves. For example, way more time is paid to the details of climbing a mountain than I would have cared for, whereas the business of the two parting ways to take their own paths is skipped over in a few omniscient paragraphs.
There are great characters and settings, and most of the stories end with killer one-liners, but all too often I found myself skipping over pieces of text as I struggled to reach something of relevance. Definitely more of a casual read than something you want to read all at once, is what I'm saying. Existing as a collected edition does no favours to the work. Read as disconnected short pieces, where there's no requirement for the reader to wonder why those people from three pages back have all disappeared to, is how it should be.
While in Shan Fan, the posse decided to head back off to the cave that they had investigated back at the start of this whole affair, the hole of the Wailing Doom just north of the city, where they had first found one of the glyphs.
The cave was still coated in the crushed remains of the Tongs who had been killed by the Wailing Doom, yet as the posse moved to the rear of the cave to apply blood to the glyph the bodies began to move. In one unholy conglomeration they attacked, fleshy tentacles of corpsey matter smashing into the heroes. Cattleman Bill was swept up in one pseudopod and crushed, his spine shattering.
Cal desperately applied blood to the glyph while Dimitri held the 'glom back with his shotgun, Charlie and Trent brought dynamite from the horses and blasted the site all to Hell.
Cattleman Bill's remains were buried with all due honour on the Isle of Ghost's Tears,with Jeffery his mighty steed watching over his gravesite eternally.
The Explorers' Society had news for the posse. Their message in the Tombstone Epitaph asking about sightings of the lightning bolt glyph had gotten a reply. An ugly, disheveled scientist with an arrogant air ("Call me Marty") had turned up a scrap from a diary in his travels, wherein a resident of the town of Gomorra mentioned having seen such a symbol in a book in the library of a family called the Whateleys...
One boat trip and the posse was strolling through the ruined boomtown with their new colleague in tow. They found a nest of faminites in the old newspaper office and blasted them dead, but at the Whateley Mansion - untouched where everything else in town was burnt and rundown - they found something more peculiar: a rather simple yet burly young man who referred to himself as the caretaker.
He wondered where his family had gone, not that he could remember them or even knew his own name, but he happily showed them down to the library. From the occult books there, and a handwritten note left by a Nicodemus Whateley, they determined that the clan had headed off to an island of theirs - named Whateley Island with startling originality - some sixty miles away, where the glyph was to be found.
The caretaker begged to come with them, and they let the young ragamuffin tag along, even if Dimitri took a disliking to his cheerful dimwittedness.
There was a maze rat ironclad docked in the bay of the island, so they puttered around to the other side, putting in at a ruined pier beneath a devastated mansion in a copse of trees. Digging through the wreckage they found some tattered pages of forgotten lore, and the entrance to the basement. Beneath was a cave entrance with footprints leading to a cave-in. Time to get mining.
Trent was on lookout when a Chinese ogre and a gaggle of martial artists attacked from the trees, but the posse were quickly on hand to repel them, even managing to take one alive for questioning despite Marty's rather destructive lightning gun...
The posse found several treasures in the Explorers' Society's vault: Cal got himself some pistol with a strange bone handle, Dimitri an eerily pale fur coat in the Russian style and Cattleman Bill a fancy guitar that supposedly belonged to Tumbleweed Tom, travelin' musician. More important was an ancient stone map, displaying the location of two of the seven glyphs that they would need to defeat Reverend Grimme and his Thirteen Ghouls.
One just so happened to be on an island in Shan Fan Bay. An island cheerfully called the Island of Ghost's Tears.
Boldly setting off, the posse were greeted by a crazy old man calling himself Genija. The hermit talked to himself a lot about how he was safe from the ghosts. His cackling whimsy was of no use in helping them find the location of the glyph, so they abandoned him and set off to exploring the thirteen mile diameter (!) island.
There was a cliff on one edge beset by riptides, and many evergreen groves. The dozens of unmarked graves were disturbing, and the Chinese style pagoda in the island's centre was inscribed with a language that they couldn't read. Daylight was fading by the time they decided to head back to their boat, but that was when the ghosts came out.
They were from all walks of life (and, uh, death) and wailed for the posse to leave as they attacked them with their chill touch and poltergeist-y tricks. After finding out that they couldn't harm them, the posse changed tack, standing up from themselves and cowing the ghosts into talking like decent folk. They were in deathly fear of something they called 'the wolf', which was devouring their kindred.
The posse continued on toward the boat when they spotted a crow roosting in a nearby tree. Dimitri tried to catch it, and it flew off toward the gazebo. There, the most imposing ghost of all was waiting, a hauntingly beautiful Chinese woman, always crying.
Once again the posse made with less shooty-shooty and more yakkety-yak, and the ghost explained her sad tale: her name was Meng Chiang-nu, the first of the ghosts of the island. With her haunting it, the place had become a popular burial ground for those that people didn't want to find, all buried in unhallowed ground. The wolf was preying on them weekly, but if the posse could deal with the predator she would lead them to the glyph.
Tired of traipsing around the island, the posse returned to the mainland to swot up a little. The Explorers set to work on determining what they were dealing with from the clues the posse'd gathered, while Cal went out onto the streets to find a holy man to perform some consecration of the land. With their recent public profile in the Battle of Shan Fan, one was happily forthcoming, eager to accompany the posse even if he wad dismissive of their talk of ghosts.
The Explorers revealed that the creature they were dealing with was a Sin Eater, a creature that devoured those buried in unhallowed ground, could assuem the form of and that could only be slain if it was cut into several pieces with a blade. Everyone checked their Bowie knives.
The posse had the holy man praying at the gravesites while they gathered the ghosts at the central building. They organised a list of persons dead, based upon what the ghosts remembered of their lives, so that the graves could eventually be marked. And when the Sin Eater came for its snacks, they'd be waiting!
They waited a long time. Past midnight, one of the ghosts screeched and disappeared. All too late the posse realised that the Sin Eater had to devour the bodies to get the souls, and wouldn't have to come to their ectoplasmic jamboree! Luckily, they knew where that ghost had been buried, and rushed off!
Genija was crouched over the grave, and while he tried his best to give off his senile old man act, the posse was on to him. They unloaded their guns into him, not even caring as his true form - a humanoid shape with the souls it had devoured clawing to get out - revealed itself. When he stopped trying to get up, Cattleman Bill set to the grisly task of sawing it apart.
Meng guided the posse to the cliff, where the waters calmed, allowing them to climb down to a cave, at the back of which was a familiar jagged. One bloodprint was applied, and they returned to the island to find that the ghosts were fading, bound to the glyph...
The holy man helpfully translated the inscription on the building. It was Meng's tale, how she was the first Chinese immigrant to die in the quake, abandoned by her lover and left weeping for a now-ended eternity.
The posse spread the tale of their victory to Shan Fan, and the people were cheered by it. Emperor Norton brought them to an audience with him, and the ruler of Shan Fan was so impressed by the derring-do that he awarded the island's building rights to the Explorers' Society. Fearing a possible conflict with the triads, the posse argued that equal pieces should also be given to Kang and Tam's forces, with a new Explorers' Society lodge - a Sin Eater head mounted above the fireplace - erected.
The Emperor, in his wisdom, made it so.
One glyph down, six to go.
(Also, Samantha Journey picked up a few more phobias and marks o'fear during her time on the island...)
That cover to Dark Engine
#1 looks just like the cover of Pretty Deadly
, which I hated. This, I hate for different reasons, though.
Lots of people will say that it's incomprehensible, with no explanation for what's going on, but with a little examination it's easy enough to piece together what's happening. Umbilical, that's what cleared it all up in the end.
The author has a pretentious afterword, and besides the purple prose he mentions how he was loathe to put too many words over the pretty pictures in the book. And while there is some lovely art of a woman chopping dinosaurs up, it would have helped if there'd been more to it than that.
The fight is prefaced by an obscure prologue which I think
might give away what the 'twist' is, and has an exposition dump in the middle with some dudes going over an 'as you know' conversation. A shadowy figure is seen at the end of the conversation. Given that we don't know any characters yet, I fail to see what is gained from that last part; it's hardly keeping anything secret.
There must have been a more organic way to explain the time-travel shenanigans without cutting away from the action for several centuries...
And nothing happens. The central character has no actual character ("Everything she sees will die." is not character). There is a dinosaur fight that takes far too long, and not much of a hook for getting the next issue. So I won't.