Écrasez L’infâme

OgreIn the beginning, the monster in Mark Ronson’s novel is far from overwhelming. Initially it’s described vaguely as a sheet of silver reflecting in the sun. A little like Reynolds Wrap Aluminum Foil, I suppose.

It takes a while for the author to get warmed up, but he slowly finds his groove. “Down the tunnel came a sound indistinct and liquid,” he wrote. “The pallid organism pulsed and glistened with mucosity.”

Eventually the monster blossoms into an unholy abomination with a history reaching all the way back to pre-Roman English antiquity (and beyond). But oddly, in no way did the gelatinous titular blob resemble an ogre. There was nothing Shrek-like about it. What’s up with that?

The explanation comes from Patricia Derbyshire, a character who conveniently has a university degree in Celtic history and mythology. Her lesson in etymology helps clarify the monster’s linguistic origins. According to her, ancient English religious cults worshipped a deity they called Ooga. Later, French author James Perrault borrowed the word and used it in a new literary genre, the fairy tale. And that, dear reader, is how the word ogre transitioned into popular culture.

And that’s also why Ronson chose Ogre, and not vampire or hobgoblin, for the title of his book. “We’ve been face-to-face with a genuine man-eating beast all this time,” said Richard Finlay, the man at the center of the story. “At least we now have a name for it.”

No matter what it was called—ooga, booga, slug, vampire, cockatrice, griffin, hobgoblin or wyrm—the ogre had to be destroyed. Or as one character put it: “I want to see that damn thing poisoned, burned up, killed—kaput!”

But killing an ancient pagan idol was harder to do than you might think. Gas, bombs, napalm, flame-throwers, acid, lasers, nuclear artillery—there was nothing in mankind’s arsenal that could stop the ogre. Or was there?

Finding clues in weathered scriptures and faded church etchings, Richard and Patricia eventually discovered how the old Celts controlled the ooga. Translating Latin and interpreting ancient iconography was the easy part. More difficult was finding a modern solution that was compatible with hoary sacred rites.

Before the final showdown, Ronson throws a few curveballs to keep readers on their toes. There are competing subplots featuring a village idiot, a serial rapist (infamously known as the Leopard Man) and a clergyman with secrets. In addition, there’s a love story brewing between Richard and Patricia, which, to be honest, is a bit contrived.

By the end of the novel, the ogre is as big as a frikkin’ house with tentacles as thick as telephone poles. When it destroys buildings the effect is like an adult’s fingers smashing through the windows of a dollhouse. It is a vision of hell as only Pieter Bruegel could have imagined it. “Here Satan was no gentlemanly Mephistopheles,” concludes Ronson with an endgame flourish. “It was the very essence of evil—an ever-changing shape with the stench of a plague pit.”

[Ogre / By Mark Ronson / First Printing: June 1980 / ISBN: 9780600200390]

King of the Monsters

MiscreationsI agree with author Alma Katsu. In her chatty foreword to this book, she says that Mary Shelley created the greatest and most iconic monster of all time. Forget about giant gorillas and colossal kaiju, Frankenstein’s Prometheus remains king of the monsters.

Everybody knows the story of Shelley’s iconic creature. Made by man and rejected by mankind, he begged for his creator’s love and humanity’s pity. Born in 1818, Frankenstein’s monster was a sympathetic and lonely figure doomed to an eternity of unhappiness. “What heart, on hearing such a story, could still scorn a monster like that?” asks Katsu rhetorically.

Monstrosity is a complicated topic, that’s for sure. But we can learn a couple of things from Frankenstein. It is a cautionary tale that can teach us what not to do and how not to behave. But it can also teach us how to be heroic. After all, a monster to one person is a savior to another. Amirite?

With Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors, editors Doug Murano and Michael Bailey have tasked their contributors to submit prose and verse inspired by the Frankenstein mythos. Some of the stories are linked solidly to Shelley’s original effort (“Butcher Blend” and “Imperfect Clay”), and some have only a tangential connection to the source material (“Ode to Joad the Toad” and “Sounds Caught in Cobwebs”). Despite my predilections, all the efforts are excellent. There’s not a stinking corpse in the whole bunch.

The anthology begins with a dollop of metafiction called “A Heart Arrhythmia Creeping Into a Dark Room.” I enjoy deconstructive monster tales as much as the next guy, but Michael Wehunt’s story (as good as it is) lands the collection on less-than-solid ground.

To better establish the theme of the book, the editors might have considered slotting “Frankenstein’s Daughter” at the top of the ToC. Author Theodora Goss explores the dynamic between the monster and his descendant. And in this way she’s able to give a new perspective on the influential and ongoing legacy of Frankenstein.

One thing is consistent throughout these 23 stories and poems: Man and monster are inescapably twined together. Like it or not, monsters can’t exist without man to will them into existence. Frankenstein walks among us. Get used to it.

[Miscreations: Gods, Monstrosities & Other Horrors / Edited by Doug Murano and Michael Bailey / First Printing: February 2020 / ISBN: 9781732724471]

The Navy vs. the Night Monsters

MonsterEarthEndGow Island was a pile of drab rocks in the middle of the ocean—3,000 miles from New Zealand, 2,000 miles from Chile, 600 miles from the Antarctic ice cap and a million miles from home.

It was unending dreariness and monotony for the 19 military personnel assigned to the isolated and remote government outpost. Many of the inhabitants were suffering from acute island fever (or as author Murray Leinster put it, they were “rock happy”). “Propinquity plus tedium plus tension plus extreme uneasiness inevitably produced some queer situations,” observed Mr. Drake, the island’s dour administrative officer.

He weren’t kidding. On a normal day, Drake did his best to keep Gow running smoothly for the U.S. Navy. He had full responsibility for the conduct of affairs, and the morale and the efficiency of the island. To do so, he willingly put his private concerns on the backburner. He was particularly discreet about his romantic interest in his secretary, Mamie Van Doren.

The military post’s boring routine was interrupted one day when an airplane crashed onto its runway. There were 10 people onboard the plane when it left Antarctica. By the time it reached Gow, however, the pilot was the only one remaining. And he didn’t last very long. He shot himself in the head before he could be safely extracted from the cockpit.

First responders immediately spied eight bullet holes in the airplane’s flooring. Checking out the cargo hold, they also found a quartet of cute Adélie penguins and a bushel of thorny and weird-looking plants. That was it—no military personnel, no passengers, no copilot, no nuthin’. The situation was suspicious, to say the least.

Suddenly, the airplane’s curse became Gow Island’s curse. Navy personnel (along with a couple of unlucky dogs) started disappearing, and Drake and his crew quickly grew hysterical with fear of a nameless and indescribable menace. Was it the penguins or the otherworldly vegetation from the aircraft that was responsible for the ambuscade? I’ll give you one guess.

The Monster From Earth’s End is a wildly understated novel. The horror is subdued, the circumstances are forthright and the resolution is measured. It’s a quirky little book and I liked it very much. If you’re curious, the movie adaptation from 1966 (The Navy vs. the Night Monsters) is cheap and laughable, but enjoyable as well.

Gow Island was a bit like Thomas Hardy’s Wessex. Even though it was a pile of rocks in the middle of nowhere, it was a major character in the novel. With its dangerous and foreboding atmosphere, it was a barometer of escalating tensions between man and man—and man versus monster. “The island lay wrapped in darkness as profound as that at the bottom of nothingness,” wrote Leinster. You can’t get farther from the madding crowd than that.

[The Monster From Earth’s End / By Murray Leinster / First Printing: January 1959]

Dig Dug, Part 2

ReturnTunnelIn Gayne C. Young’s previous novel (see my review here) a troop of subterranean albino baboons killed and devoured an alarming number of people at the Texas-Mexico border. Victims included a team of paleontology students, a gaggle of drug cartel musclemen and a handful of highly trained soldiers of fortune. At the end of the book, Lt. Col. Jeff Hunter and Capt. Jarrett Taylor barely made it home alive.

Even though Hunter and Taylor ultimately escaped to safety, they left things messy at the border. The cave dwellings beneath the Rio Grande were still teaming with deadly Agartha baboons, a mutated new species of haplorhini. The situation was still unresolved.

With its talon-like claws, its maw of elongated canine teeth and its massively over-sized eyes, the baboons had successfully adapted to living in an underground cavern of eternal night. “It’s become the perfect predator,” observed a primatologist, “and it has lived for centuries in an extremely isolated and almost completely unpopulated area.” It’s beautiful, he admitted, absolutely beautiful.

Now three months later, both Hunter and Taylor were being recruited for another tour of duty down at the border. A specialized private military service organization called Primal Force was working for a client who wanted to capture a couple of the “unknown-to-science monstrosities.”

A new species of primate, one that’s remained hidden to the modern world, would be worth a great deal to science. After all, who knows what their genome looks like? What secrets did their cells carry? All that new information could lead to a bucket load of knowledge and understanding. It’s the kind of thing that could be turned into a fortune.

And so, like dogs that returned to their vomit, the two mercenaries agreed to join P.F. Services and return to the tunnel to hunt Agartha baboons. Time to buckle up, buttercup.

Despite the book’s title, no one actually returns to the tunnel. One unlucky guy falls down a hole, but Hunter and Taylor had a plan to lure the mutated beasts into the open. No spelunking involved. Their plan works more or less—if you overlook the eruption of gun and baboon violence during the final act.

I enjoyed revisiting the author’s world of killer monkeys and sharp-shooting mercenaries. But I had two minor criticisms. Number one: There were a lot of “red shirts” in this book—the entire crew of a cryptology internet show, the entire “Texas First” fringe group, an entire squad of Mexican cartel gunmen and a handful of Primal Force agents. It’s ridiculous. I think there’s only one significant character introduced in this story that survived the onslaught.

And number two: I winced every time a character named Dori showed up. The author never missed an opportunity to disparage her physical appearance. She was sweaty and big (“nearly 300 pounds,” said Young), she had a massive bust and she jiggled when she rode in a car. For jewelry, she wore a livestock nose ring like a pig or a cow. Her colleagues collectively gagged at the thought of seeing her in her pajamas. Even in death, we are reminded of Dori’s obesity: “The baboons began devouring the flesh from her cheeks, jowls and multi-tiered neck.”

A reasonable solution was eventually found to curb the baboon problem, and I’m confident that we’ll see more of the cave-dwelling cryptids in future novels by Young. In the meantime, Hunter, Taylor and their Primal Force comrades-in-arms rushed onto an airplane bound for Asia. “We’ve got a problem in Mongolia,” explained their new boss. “A big one.” To be continued.

[Return to the Tunnel / By Gayne C. Young / First Printing: January 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323231]

Remember the Titans

Titan ProphesiesThe Titan Prophesies is dedicated to “all those who helped craft amazing tales of giant monsters that thrilled us with wonder, filled us with awe and swept us away to realities where giants walk among us.”

Thus inspired, editor Kevin Candela has given readers a collection of short stories featuring a 200-foot-long “robot virus,” a couple of hungry Cyclopes, an MMO filled with thunderous daikaiju battles, cyborg titan paladins, kujira sanjuutou, a prehistoric tree monster and a gigantic, mutant man-shark.

Overall, it’s a legit assemblage of daikaiju fiction with only a single misfire. For better or worse, the two best stories are slotted near the back of the book. Editor Candela makes his readers wait, but he eventually delivers a satisfying payoff at the end.

“Walking Among the Trees” is about a friendship between an 11-year-old boy and a tree from the dawn of time. “It was a tree of beauty,” says author Essel Pratt; “royal in stature and brooding in strength.”

Working together, the boy and the tree stop a logging company from ravaging the surrounding forest. “Speaking ancient words that were never meant to be heard, the giant woodland beast rose from the ground.” Even though no one understands the low rumbles emanating from its jagged mouth, the tree’s message is clear: man is not welcome in its domain.

Like every movie from Hayao Miyazaki, Pratt’s story celebrates nature and vilifies technology. In this case, mononoke manifests itself in the symbiotic relationship between a young boy and an ancient tree. The results are something Miyazaki would definitely approve of: The majestic protector Tapio, King of the Forest!

Humanity’s relationship with nature can also be found in Roma Gray’s story “Locusts of the Sea.” This time, however, the beasts of nature are 100 times more aggressive and exploitive.

In 1492, sailing the ocean blue, Christopher Columbus’s fleet is attacked by 30 enormous sea creatures. Making an ominous tick-tick-tick sound (like the crocodile from Peter Pan), the whale-sized monsters attack the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria like sharks on a feeding frenzy.

The evil minions from Hell quickly discover they enjoy the taste of man flesh and chase Columbus back to Europe. “What had started out as an expedition to find an easier route to the Orient had created a far bigger problem than the one they had attempted to resolve,” writes the author. The entire civilized world was now in danger.

Jumping to the year 1984, the monsters are no longer confined to water. Evolution has given them legs and their appetite compels them across the continent. The clock was ticking down to an unimaginable apocalypse.

[The Titan Prophesies / Edited by Kevin Candela / First Printing: May 2019 / ISBN: 9781097578207]

So Alone

IShallNotMateShindo Yamaguchi from Japan’s Ministry of Defense knew trouble was brewing. It wasn’t because COVID-19 was spreading or because the 2020 Olympics had been postponed or because manga piracy was on the rise. Yamaguchi knew there was a new kaiju threat on the horizon.

It wasn’t like Japan hadn’t seen a giant monster or two. Tiamatodon, a two-headed mutant theropod, and a Mesozoic-era marine lizard known as Tylogon, had been terrorizing the South Pacific for years.

At the moment, Yamaguchi wasn’t particularly worried about a two-headed Megalosaurus or a prehistoric whale. The new kaiju threat was linked to a nearby flock of pterosaurs. Yamaguchi was alarmed by first-hand accounts of a new flock member covered in body armor. The Japanese agent knew that a bulletproof hatchling would grow up to be a tank-proof adult. Evolution had suddenly become a race war.

“Nature equipped mankind with an advanced intellect and tool-making abilities, and these abilities allowed us to become the dominant animal on the planet,” explained Yuzo Abe, college professor and kaiju expert. “But Mother Nature has not forsaken her other children. We are in an arms race against the flock. If the armored juvenile lives long enough to sire offspring, his descendants could produce even more dramatic adaptations.”

Along with husky body armor that made him look like a medieval warrior, the pterosaur also sported opposable thumbs. And later, when the flock attacked a couple of island military outposts, the youngster (now called “Brown Scale”) was seen to possess a keen strategic intelligence. “Those monsters don’t fight like monsters,” said a sea pirate who witnessed the flock in action. “They fight like soldiers.”

As the danger escalated, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force went on the attack. Its mission was clear: destroy the mutant pterosaur as quickly as possible.

The Japanese weren’t the only ones that wanted Brown Scale dead, however. The flock didn’t want his seed contaminating future generations. Brown Scale was an aberration. “He was deformed,” said the flock’s matriarchy, “and deformity breeds more deformity.”

Everything led to a novel-ending kaiju clash pitting Brown Scale against the Japanese, the flock matriarchs and Tiamatodon, the two-headed freak. Each of them wanted Brown Scale dead—or at least permanently clipped.

But as things unfolded, all the blood and thunder turned out to be nothing but sound and fury. Nobody wanted Brown Scale to sire an X-flock of mutant pterosaurs. In truth, Brown Scale didn’t want to surround himself with a harem of breeders anyway; he only wanted a monastic, sexless existence (although he probably wouldn’t mind spending a little bit of time with his sister Razor Beak occasionally). “He yearned to be alone with the same intensity another person would long for company. The idea of becoming physically intimate with his own kind filled him with revulsion.” Props to author Neil Riebe for writing a unique kaiju story and giving readers a surprisingly reflective novel-ending resolution.

[I Shall Not Mate / By Neil Riebe / First Printing: February 2019 / ISBN:  9781794482463]

The Blitzkrieg Hop

RooReaders don’t have to wait long for the killer kangaroo to show up in Alan Baxter’s latest novelette. The Australian buck begins its blitzkrieg hop right away on page two: “The roo’s mouth closed over its victim’s neck,” writes Baxter. “The flesh peeled up and away with a wet tear.”

Yes, there’s a ferocious kangaroo bedeviling a small town in the Aussie outback. But why is it so bloodthirsty and violent (and where the heck did its sharp teeth come from)? Normally these grass- and shrub-grazing animals are harmless and pastoral “like upright deer,” says the author.

The explanation dutifully comes during the final chapter, but observant readers who can identify the book’s outside/inside story will probably figure everything out pretty quickly. Or, if not, they can simply read the author’s Forward and Afterword. That’ll do the trick.

Only 400 people live in Morgan Creek (a town described as a “human blemish on the pristine outback”). Most of the local men are layabouts and wife beaters—the worst of the bunch is old Bill Catter. He’s so bad, his wife Pauline prefers to sleep in an abandoned goldmine at night rather than in her own bed. “No one likes that shit cunt,” says one neighbor. “We should have run him out of town years ago.”

And now Morgan Creek’s got a rampaging roo to worry about. Over seven feet tall and insanely jacked, the animal could be seen in the moonlight flexing its muscles like a parody of Mr. Universe.

Just because it looked like a kangaroo, however, didn’t mean it actually was a kangaroo. In truth, it could be anything. Up close its fur had a musky and dusty odor, says Baxter, like something spicy and smoky. Like something brought forth from the fiery pits of Hell, perhaps?

After decapitating, eviscerating and dismembering a handful of unlucky residents (it’s all good fun btw), the monster is eventually trapped in the town’s abandoned goldmine. This is when Bill Catter, his wife Pauline and the roo have their final showdown. Spoiler alert: the last paragraph provides a #MeToo kick in the pants. I think the men of Morgan Creek are about to get hammered.

In his foreword, author Baxter freely admits that he shamelessly wrote The Roo to be as ocker as the outback. The word “ocker” is slang for “aggressively boorish in a stereotypically Australian manner.” That’s a great way to sum up this book. Mission accomplished, mate.

[The Roo / By Alan Baxter / First Printing: March 2020 / ISBN: 9780980578263]

The Big O

OscawanaThere are many things I hate (Starburst candy for one, cow’s milk for another). But specific to this site, I especially hate authors who write monster novels and don’t fully commit to the genre.

How many times have you read a novel where the monster lurks in the shadows until the final chapter? How many times has an author used vague and unsatisfying descriptive language? In other words: How many times has a monster novel not been a monster novel at all?

I’m happy to report that Oscawana by Frank Martin wholeheartedly embraces the monster novel playbook. The creature (affectionately dubbed “Oscar”) is big enough to blot out the sun when he arises from the titular lake, and there’s plenty of explosive kaiju carnage during his relentless slog from Upstate New York to Manhattan.

When Oscar first shows up, he’s unquestionably a bizarre sight. But he’s far from intimidating. He’s short and fat (about the size of a pit bull) and his face looks somewhat like a Picasso painting. Despite his fierce grotesqueness, says the author, April Hawkins finds the creature to be innocently sweet.

April is a 16-year-old city girl who’s spending the summer lakeside with her mother’s brother. With his dorky grin and nerdy beachwear, Uncle Henry looks like he’s a Monkey D. Luffy wannabe. During April’s first night by the shore of Lake Oscawana, Uncle Creepy sneaks into her bedroom looking for a little One Piece.

And there it is. Author Martin introduces the most enduring genre trope: Man, not beast, is the biggest monster of all. I think we can all agree that pedophilia trumps giant sea blob mayhem every day of the week.

But there was always a chance that Oscar wasn’t real. Maybe April’s imagination was stuck in overdrive. I mean, what made more sense? That she discovered a freaky lake monster, or that her mind was fractured and broken after being abused by her uncle?

The answer comes in one explosive moment. Oscar is real, and April is unintentionally controlling him to do her bidding. She’s using the beast as a murder weapon to wreck vengeance on a couple of horny boys, a grumpy neighbor and a child molester. She even sends him to Manhattan to smash her parents. “Her mission had consumed Oscar and become the only force driving him forward,” writes Martin. “Nothing else mattered or registered in his mind.”

The kaiju action that follows is dramatic and totally satisfying. The author may have been making a point about mankind being the ultimate super monster, but that didn’t stop him from unleashing Oscar upon New York. Let monsters be monsters, that’s what I say.

[Oscawana / By Frank Martin / First Printing: January 2020 / ISBN: 9781922323224]

World War B

ZombieBigfootRuss Cloud was a wildlife expert and the star of a reality program called Survivor Guy. But over the years a lot of copycats had chipped away at his show’s popularity—shows like Man vs. Nature, The Naked Survivalist and The Mormon Family Robinson.

According to network bean counters, Cloud needed a big ratings boost to keep Survivor Guy ahead of the pack. “Your show is beautiful, but you’re hemorrhaging market share,” warned his agent. “Ya gotta shake things up. You run around in the woods, but think about it. What else runs around the woods? Ghosts, aliens, monsters … Bigfoot!”

Cloud thought monster-hunting shows were stupid, but he reluctantly agreed to participate in a bigfoot-themed edition of Survivor Guy anyway. Maybe that would put him back on top of the ratings again. Fingers crossed.

Along with an ace crew of trackers, hunters and academics (and one eccentric billionaire), Cloud sets up camp in the Idaho woodlands. Within a day or two, his team stumbles upon a troop of sasquatch. What luck!

But hold on. Something was obviously wrong. Even though Native American tribes referred to their cryptid neighbors as “wild men of the woods,” most experts believed bigfoot were not “wild” at all. History suggested that they were reclusive and non-aggressive “as long as humans didn’t carry a boom-stick,” said author Nick Sullivan.

The creatures that Cloud and his team discovered were the exact opposite of “reclusive” and “non-aggressive.” Their eyes glowed with madness, demonic features stretched into a perverse rictus grin, sounds of feral rage gurgled from their massive vocal cords—“a wild-eyed, slavering monstrosity that would have been home in a nightmare,” underscored the author.

What could possibly be going on? Were the sasquatch psychotic? Did they have rabies? Were they under an evil spell from Baron Mordo? Or was some form of environmental (or otherworldly) toxin disrupting their brain chemistry?

Spoiler alert: the title of the novel gives it all away. The bigfoot troop had somehow become a ravenous horde of zombies. And that was bad news for reality TV stars and anyone else hiking, camping, engaged in paintball military simulations or micro-dosing in the Idaho woods.

There were two sides to Sullivan’s novel. As you’d expect, there was a horror and shock element to the story. Someone gets their head sliced open by a low-flying drone, for example. But there’s also a warm-and-fuzzy Hallmark Channel vibe too. In other words, there’s a pinch of humanity in the brutal inhumanity.

In addition, the cast was mostly sweet and goofy. Cloud was a bit of a prankster, Brick Broadway was a musical lovin’ ex-wrestler and Dr. Sarah Bishop was on a quest to exonerate her disgraced father. Even a few of the bigfoot youngsters scored high on the eccentric scale.

Throughout the novel, my two favorite characters were billionaire Cameron Carson and his devoted assistant Bill Singleton. I’m positive that the author created them as knockoffs of Waylon Smithers and Montgomery Burns. Even when events turned fatal, the pair’s relationship continued unabated. “Call my personal chef,” cried the hungry walking dead billionaire. “I’m craving several Wagyu rib-eye steaks.” “Of course, sir,” said Singleton with undying servitude.

[Zombie Bigfoot / By Nick Sullivan / First Printing: August 2016 / ISBN: 9780997813203]

Monster Fight!

DuelMonstersAccording to editor Christofer Nigro’s introduction, the inspiration for this 2019 short story collection goes all the way back to 1965. That was the year Creepy #7 appeared on newsstands.

Nigro wasn’t around back then. But years later—as a kid obsessed with Warren comic mags (Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella)—he became aware of that particularly iconic issue. With its striking Frank Frazetta cover painting (see it here) and an interior story featuring a fight between a werewolf, a vampire and a ghoul, Creepy #7 hooked Nigro on the idea of dueling monsters.

As such, Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 1, is both a tribute and an homage to that memorable comic. Fifty-plus years later, the concept of monsters fighting monsters is still pretty cool. Who wins in a fight between Abbott and Costello and the Invisible Man? The 50-foot Woman and the Amazing Colossal Man? The Phantom of the Opera and the Phantom of the Paradise? Electric Frankenstein and Dr. Funkenstein? These are questions that all monster fans have pondered at one time or another.

Nigro’s anthology is a straightforward and bountiful collection featuring werewolves, vampires, zombies, ghosts, space aliens, serial killers, clowns, sea creatures, mythological beasts, dragons, cryptids and urban legends. They’re all here and they’re all ready to rumble.

The concept is strong, the stories are fun and the enthusiasm of the authors is real. Unfortunately, the execution is weak. Many of the writers come from the small press (or indie) community and their grasp of craft is clumsy and immature. Even a professional author such as Matthew Dennion stumbles with a wisp of an effort. Ultimately, Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 1, rises and falls depending on the reader’s forgiving nature.

But I want to keep things positive. The anthology is not without some merit. In particular I liked the slow burn of “House of Secrets” by Robert Galvin. “Gashadokuro Battles the Kee-wakw” by Zach Cole is a nice nod to Japanese mythology. And I really enjoyed Breyden Halverson’s kaiju-like story “Wrath of the Okanagan Lake God.”

I gather from the Nigro’s introduction that he plans to turn Duel of the Monsters into an on-going series. Even though Vol. 1 is deeply flawed; I look forward to follow-up editions. I would encourage Nigro to exercise more editorial control in the future, however. The monsters are counting on him.

[Duel of the Monsters, Vol. 1 / Edited by Christofer Nigro / First Printing: November 2019 / ISBN: 9781732365773]