Stack Overflow: Trick or Treat

Stack Overflow: Trick or Treat!

Books Columns Comic Books Stack Overflow

Okay, I didn’t manage to plan ahead to do a Halloween-themed Stack Overflow this year (partly because I was working on our list of Halloween board games), but I do have a few spooky tales and some other treats for you today.

Spirit Week

Spirit Week by Ira Marcks

Ira Marcks first introduced us to Elijah, a young amateur filmmaker, in Shark Summer (see this Stack Overflow), where he was working on his entry for a youth film festival during the filming of a Jaws-like movie. In this book, Elijah has traveled to Estes Park, Colorado, where he’s been invited to the Underlook Hotel by the reclusive horror writer Jack Axworth … or so he thinks. He meets Suzy Hess, a teenage engineer who has also been hired to stay at the hotel to tutor Jack’s son. Jack is planning to leave, and residents are anxious about the fate of the town, which has built a reputation as a place filled with haunted stories of vampires and ghosts. Jack is convinced that the hotel is actually cursed, and plans to tear it down—Elijah and Suzy have a week to save it, and a lot of investigating to do.

The story has a lot of allusions to The Shining, including a paranormal investigator named Stanley Rubrik, but unlike Shark Summer it’s not about the making of a famous film with some details changed. Instead, it’s more about a tangled web of mystery surrounding the hotel and the various disasters that befell it. Many of the town’s residents (including Suzy herself) have connections to the hotel that are gradually revealed. Like Shark Summer, it is lightly creepy and kid-appropriate—some readers may appreciate the ties to The Shining, but you don’t really need to know much about the book or film to enjoy this comic.

The Keeper

The Keeper written by Tananarive Due and Steven Barnes, illustrated by Marco Finnegan

This comic turns up the dial a bit on the horror. After Aisha’s parents are killed in an accident, she moves to Detroit to stay with her grandmother, who promises to take care of her. But her grandmother’s health is failing, and with her dying breath she opens a mysterious bottle and makes a final wish after making Aisha promise not to tell anyone that she’s gone. Aisha finds herself living on her own, but some things are mysteriously taken care of by something she calls the Keeper. The Keeper is bound to protect her, but some of its actions start to draw the attention of the other residents of the apartment building. I don’t want to say much more to avoid spoilers, but it’s a story that uses horror to raise issues of generational trauma and how vulnerable people can get lost in the systems that are supposed to care for them.

Silver Book 1

Silver Book 1: Of Treasures and Thieves by Stephan Franck

This comic book is like Ocean’s 11 meets Dracula. Jim Finnigan is a con man and a grifter, an infamous thief that the FBI has failed to apprehend. But a mistake during his “one last job” leaves him and his crew with almost nothing except a bar of silver and a dusty old book belonging to one Jonathan Harker. At first, Finnegan dismisses the writing as Harker’s poor attempts at fiction, but then he suspects there’s some truth to the tale. He puts together a crew, tracks down the granddaughter of Van Helsing, and plans a heist: to steal a mountain of silver from a castle full of vampires.

The story is set in the 1930s and has a pulp-adventure feel to it, but I particularly like heist stories so I enjoyed the various skills that Jim’s crew relies on. And, just like a good heist story, there are wrinkles and hitches, backup plans, and lucky saves. I also enjoyed the way that it weaves in the original story of Dracula as a backdrop. This first volume introduces the characters and sets up the scene and the first part of the heist, but ends on a bit of a cliffhanger, so I’ll have to wait to see what happens next.

The Last Mechanical Monster

The Last Mechanical Monster by Brian Fies

This one isn’t a horror tale, but it’s a new comic that was released last week, so I wanted to include it. An old villain was just released from prison and manages to make his way back to his old hideout, where his army of robots had been smashed to bits by a superhero. Rebuilding is difficult: the world has changed in the decades he has been in jail, and the vacuum tubes that power his robots are hard to obtain. There are people in town eager and willing to help this old man, but their care just irritates him. When he does get one robot up and running, it doesn’t work the way it should—instead of robbing the bank, it brings back garbage. Worse yet, it seems to exhibit … compassion?

The story is one of the desire for vengeance being confronted by friendship and kindness, and what we are remembered for. What’s fun is that it is inspired by an old Superman cartoon from 1941 called “The Mechanical Monsters.” The design of the robots, the villain and his lair, are all taken from this short, even though Superman himself never appears in the book and is only alluded to. Brian Fies has taken this two-dimensional character from the comic, a villain whose primary purpose is to be defeated by Superman, and fleshed him out. He’s given a second chance and an opportunity to change his ways, but will he?

My Current Reads

I did finish the third book in the Chilling Effect series by Valerie Valdes, so I’ll share about those soon! I’ve also been reading What If? 2 by Randall Munroe, where he answers absurd questions using real (but often bizarre) science, and it’s fantastic. More on that one soon as well.

Portland Book Festival

I also wanted to put in a plug for the Portland Book Festival. If you’re near Portland, Oregon, this is a fun opportunity to meet some authors and illustrators and hear them talk about their books. The one-day event takes place on Saturday, November 5, and more information and tickets are available here. Passes are $15 in advance or $25 at the door, and kids are free (youth can get in with a valid high school ID).

Disclosure: I received review copies of the books in this column. Affiliate links to help support my writing and independent booksellers!

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