Bit by Bloody Bit: CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? edited by Lincoln Crisler – Part 4: The Final Chapter

We are nearing the home stretch of the Bit by Bloody Bit Corrupts Absolutely? edition. This is the Final Chapter where we wrap up the closing stories in the dark metahuman fiction collection. Unlike the Friday the 13th entry by the same name, editor Lincoln Crisler will not come back from the grave to torment you and other mentally unstable residents of a backwoods halfway house. Not yet anyway.

I think Crisler’s team of author-heroes have almost exhausted every possible angle to dark metahuman fiction. While some of the superheroes featured in these stories are inherently corrupt by their own evil, others are puppets of the government, and others still are driven to corruption from the pain and anger of abuse and exploitation. Until now, the majority of the stories in this collection highlight the human element in metahuman, tugging on the heartstrings of the readers as we are offered a glimpse into the psyche of man and woman burdened with superpower.

This anthology closes with a healthy mix of metahuman tales, but many of the stories celebrate the Tony Stark and Bruce Waynes of superherodom. They are powerful corporate moguls for whom monetary influence isn’t enough. Or in other cases, they use their endless funds to control the superhero game, rigging a system to work in their favor, and never for the little guys.

We finally get some much needed female sex appeal in Anthony Laffan’s “Sabre” which features a powerful, seductive protagonist Leandra Shields, a.k.a. superhero Sabre. Katy Pierce, a journalist with The Informer, is determined to prove there is a connection between Sabre and Miss Shield’s company Aegis Inc. “Sabre” is one of the shorter shorts in this collection and more of the beginning of a story than a complete tale, but with an undeniably sexy edge that will leave the reader wiping drool from their mouth. I run the risk of revealing too much by saying more since this is a very brief story, but the heavy eroticism, while understated, was a welcomed surprise.

While the first two stories in this section have a bit of fun with the traditional superhero mythos, Lee Mather’s “Crooked” is a dark and violent drama. When we meet up with Leon Light, a.k.a. Lightfingers, he is making his way to Dale Howard’s place, though at the time we’re not sure why, then he heads over to his former girl Willa’s place. When he gets there Willa is missing along with their kid. Leon Lightfingers has been on the run from Jimmy Delvita, the Mouth of Truth, after taking his money for sixteen years, but his past has finally caught up with him. The history between Leon and Jimmy is deep. He took Leon in when he was just a kid, starting him in his burglary racket. All the sordid details play out from the time Leon is picked up by one of Jimmy’s henchman at Willa’s to the blistering finale at Jimmy’s headquarters. “Crooked” is one of the few stories in this collection with strong horror elements. Both Jimmy and Leon have acquired their power in tragic accidents. The former proudly displays a scar across his stomach known as the Mouth of Truth which mimics Jimmy’s emotion in its varying forms. And the latter can control objects with his mind, the result of a crippling beat down, and subsequent stroke, by his father. Only one can survive this final standoff. Vicious and cruel, “Crooked” is a heartbreaking story with a satisfying twist.

We get back into the mechanical gadgetry of superheroes with Trisha J. Wooldridge’s “Fixed.” Victoria Chattham works for a real asshole of a boss – excuse my language – Broderick. Despite her over qualifications in engineering, she’s treated like a glorified secretary. She also sports a prototype prosthetic arm, a project in which she was lead engineer. This bionic arm becomes the focal point of the story. Broderick needs her expertise to make an entire suit of the same caliber. This may sound a lot like Tony Stark’s Iron Man suit, but this story isn’t about the suit or Broderick, it’s about Victoria breaking free from his corrupt power and taking back what is rightfully hers. But that requires hard work and late hours, both threatening to breakup her already fragile marriage with Bill, a serious hothead. Wooldridge reveals the volatile relationship between Victoria and Bill tactfully and the tension between them is palpable. The only trouble was I wasn’t particularly interested in them making it work. As I mentioned, Bill is a hothead, but not just a little irrational, he is at times violent and often whiny. I feel like I may have missed an integral point to what drives this relationship, besides their children. Victoria was relatable though. She’s obviously strong and highly intelligent, but marginalized for more than just her disability – she’s a Hispanic female in a predominantly male field. A minor downside for me, though, was a majority of the scenes were focused on the mechanics of the project Victoria is working on with heavy mechanical speak that went right over my head. This made it difficult for me to stay engaged. At the same time, that’s the point of the story! I suspect that fans who dabble in straight sci-fi, or fans that are less superficial than myself, won’t have that complaint. Don’t get me wrong, I like straight sci-fi too, but I struggle with too much technobabble.

Next up is a piece from a writer with a name worthy of only a tried and true badass, Cat Rambo and her short “Acquainted with the Night.” She has either the coolest name or pen name in the history of names. “Acquainted with the Night” is heavy on the supernatural elements focusing on a group of superheroes, the Weather Team, that enjoy a bit of pleasure with their work, in particular our protagonist Captain Hurricane. Unfortunately, Captain Hurricane can’t have the love he truly pines for, an alien from beyond Betelgeuse named Waterlily Elegance. “When she returned home to engage in the mating ritual that would lead to her explosion in a rain of seeds,” Captain Hurricane finds himself in the arms of Sunshine Princess. He can’t shake his infatuation for Waterlily Elegance and Sunshine Princess’ affection only fuels his anger and depression further. Too bad his convienent lay bears real fruit and Sunshine Princess reveals that she is with child. This is much like a fantasy-fueled Jerry Springer episode in its dramaticism, but despite this Rambo makes the whole tragedy play out in beautiful prose. All this culminates in a gut-wrenching conclusion that will turn any reader’s stomach. “Acquainted with the Night” has very light and dreamy prose, but seriously dark subject matter. Bravo to Cat Rambo for offering up a piece that lives up to the soft / hard dichotamy of her name.

That wraps up this edition of Bit by Bloody Bit. Remember when I said there would be no ressurection? OK, I lied. I know this isn’t the way to foster healthy relationships, but I promise this is the last time 😉

I’ll be back next week with the final two stories in this collection and the wrap-up!

Don’t wait for the conclusion to get your copy, you can pick up Corrupts Absolutely? at Damnation Books or Amazon.

Stop back next week for the real finale of Bit by Bloody Bit Corrupts Absolutely? edition!

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Bit by Bloody Bit: CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? edited by Lincoln Crisler – Part 3

In Part 3 of Bit by Bloody Bit Corrupts Absolutely? edition, the review column for taking apart books limb by bloody limb, we take a look at the next five stories in this dark metahuman anthology. Now beyond the halfway point, we continue to delve into the cruel reality of meta-human life like the previous five stories, but instead of grappling with their own personal demons it’s the corruption of others that put them in danger.

First up is Joe McKinney’s “Hero.” McKinney introduces Robert Hanover, a man with the power of premonition–exactly seven minutes and twenty-two seconds into the future–and Dr. Lange who is working with Hanover in the insane asylum where he now resides. Hanover wasn’t always a crazy man confessing his woes to a doctor in the nuthouse. Once a media darling, saving lives left and right, his ego turned the public against him. Now he is denyed that much needed attention. Dr. Lange seems unimpressed with Hanover’s claims despite the undeniable heroism he’s shown in the past. McKinney’s story demonstrates that it’s not always the superhero’s ego we have to watch out for. There are plenty of other people that will be inclined to exploit the gift. McKinney is known for his horror as well as crime fiction with a heavy police procedural angle, but he weaves a delectably suspenseful yarn with “Hero.” He builds the tension between Hanover and Dr. Lange without spoiling the ending and includes little details to throw the reader off as well–Hanover calls Dr. Lange by his first name, Gene, which Lange attributes to his narcissism, but could these men have a past history? While I had questions that were never answered, I could appreciate that McKinney was coercing me into thinking outside the story and this was one of my favorites in the entire anthology.

“Pride” by Wayne Ligon shows that superheroes aren’t exempt from the corrupt world of politics. In fact, they are perfect targets for a politician’s selfish agenda and unfair legislation. Calvin Carmichael is a young meta-human trying to overcome his dark past. Carmichael worked as sidekick Kid Kinetic for the Detroit’s Teen Corps One. When his mentor put a woman in a wheelchair after a botched job, Kid Kinetic took the blame. Now, he works construction with the threat of prison looming over him like a dark cloud and all it would take is one more screw up to put him away for life. Of course, this makes Carmichael an obvious candidate for playing the fall guy (again!) when the Detroit Mayor’s plans for expansion are threatened. Like McKinney’s tale before it, Ligon’s “Pride” takes a more realistic approach to a world of metahumans. Ligon also introduces an important real world component — metahuman legislation. In a world with superheroes, there would have to be laws and regulations to control their activity. Ligon addresses the social implications of a metahuman world without bogging his story down with too much legislation talk, but instead uses it as a backdrop for the main action. For a story about a kid with superhuman strength and power, Ligon spins a believably realistic yarn.

Keeping consistent with this group of stories, “G-Child” by Malon Edwards is a tale about the marginalization of methumans. In this short, Aieesha (a.k.a. Bliss) and her partner Ray J (a.k.a. Rayge) are the result of an experimental prenatal supplement. Luckily these children were born healthy, but have the unfortunate side effect of superpowers. This has alienated them from parents they love and need most. Relegated to the institution that created them, both Aieesha and Ray J suffer from emotional turmoil. When this story opens Ray J has gone rogue, destroying homes and putting innocent lives in danger. Aieesha is there in hopes of reigning him in. Initially I struggled to get into this story. “G-Child” is a high action narrative from the opening and I was a little confused about what was going on and the relationship between Aieesha and Ray J. The turning point for me was when Edwards started to intersperse flashbacks in the present day storyline. The reader gets some much needed background on the origin of Aieesha and Ray J, but also a heartbreaking glimpse into how this life has impacted our protagonists. The element I’ve enjoyed most about many of the stories in this collection is the realism the authors bring to this supernatural fantasy world. Edwards does this successfully with “G-Child” as well. Even though I found the opening to be a bit disjointed I found both Aieesha and Ray J to be sympathetic characters that heightened the harshness of Edward’s metahuman world. This author also addresses how these superbeings might act out given the emotional abuse they suffer. Aieesha, like any other angsty teen, finds unhealthy ways to deal with her internal demons, but when you’re a superhuman they’re particularly dangerous.

Jason Gehlert’s “Static” goes in more of a supernatural direction with a story about a spirit resurrected. Skylar comes from beyond the grave, taking over the body of Jamison, to challenge New York City police officers Lincoln Carter and Joe Buchanan for signing his death sentence years ago. Gehlert’s police procedural focuses on the battle between Skylar (in Jamison’s body) and Officers Carter and Buchanan, but the reader never has the opportunity to connect with any of the characters. I wasn’t necessarily rooting for Carter and Buchanan to defeat the resurrected criminal Skylar, but I wasn’t cheering for him either. I also didn’t feel particularly bad for Jamison, the innocent vessel caught up in this battle. Without having that connection with at least one character in the story I found it difficult to stay engaged. Skylar is genuinely creepy and I found the scenes between him and Jamison most effective. There were horror elements, which have been mostly absent from this collection, and there are extensive fight scenes that fans of action will enjoy. I still would have liked to have characters I could connect with beyond the surface. Since the stories that precede “Static,” and the one following, focus on the human component of metahuman and the psychology of that existence, this story felt a bit out of place as a straight up action narrative.

Karina Fabian’s “Illusion” returns to the exploration of personal tragedy in being a superhuman. Deryl Stephens is thirteen years, four months, and seven days old. He is in eighth grade. His favorite subject is science. He likes metrology best. His worst subject is Social Studies. He has to repeat that mantra multiple times everyday because Deryl can hear everyone’s thoughts and has seemingly no control over his gift. To Deryl this is a curse. The voices flood his head in an unceasing cacophony of chaotic, foreign thought. Fabian’s sad drama is much like Edward M. Erdelac’s “Conviction” in that both deal with a young child not quite in control of his power, but who also have the likelihood of misusing their strength to lash out at those who have hurt them. Both Fabian and Erdelac’s perspective on metahumans show the terror and isolation of having power you don’t understand. Fabian easily gains the reader’s sympathy for Deryl, illustrating his pain and anguish exquisitely.

Despite a little misstep in the placement of the action driven narrative, “Static,” amid the dramatic, psychological driven stories, Corrupts Absolutely? continues to offer a wide range of dark metahuman fiction. At the 15th story mark, editor Crisler shows there is much to offer in the realm of superhero fiction from the authors he has picked for this collection.

You can pick up Corrupts Absolutely? at Damnation Books or Amazon.

Stop back next week for part 4 of Bit by Bloody Bit! Link to Part 4 here.

Bit by Bloody Bit: CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? edited by Lincoln Crisler – Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of Bit by Bloody Bit, Corrupts Absolutely? edition. Corrupts is anthology featuring dark metahuman fiction, the perfect collection for horror fans with a taste for superhero prose or lovers of hero tales who enjoy a bit of corruption with a horror flavor. This medley of stories has a common theme–fiction about people with superpowers–but covers a range of scenarios which bring into question what real life human beings, people with vulnerabilities and flaws, would really do if they had superhuman strength or advanced mental capabilities.

The first installment from this collection featured some downright nasty, sadistic, and purely evil individuals using their power to inflict pain and suffering on the innocent, but this next round of 5 stories goes in a slightly different direction. Now we explore the gray area of vigilante justice, or the misguided hero. Some of the superheroes (?) featured in these stories have all the best of intentions, but human weakness has a tendency to corrupt their cause, hence the question mark in the title of the anthology. Are these people really corrupt? Or are they doing what is best for mankind? Is an eye for an eye real justice? Is man (or woman) meant to play God?

These are all questions provoked in this 2nd quarter of Corrupts Absolutely?

Out of the five stories in this installment of Bit by Bloody Bit, Jason M. Tucker’s “Enlightened by Sin” is the closest to being a straight superhero vs. supervillain story. Victor Ives is a reporter for the Angel City Beat by day, moonlighting as a superhero, cleansing the city of scum, by night. While this scenario may remind you of Clark Kent or Peter Parker, Victor ain’t no Superman or Spider-Man. As readers will quickly realize reading this anthology, this is a fantasy world but considers a very real darkness in our human character. For such a brief story, Tucker is able to provide a lay of the land in Angel City without being cumbersome with his words for the set-up. There is complicated web of Aberrants, corrupt politics, and vigilante justice at play in this tale, but all the detail develops naturally without overwhelming the reader. Victor Ives has a mantra he likes to repeat before doling out justice; “I know the bad things you’ve done. I know the horrible things you are going to do. Your fear betrays you. I can smell the blackness on your soul and I see your inhumanity flash in my mind’s eye. You can’t hide your corruption. No one can. And that’s why you have to die.” Even though Victor starts out with his heart in the right place, there is a tricky side to power; you could “be a dark god or a shining hero.” And Victor can’t be too sure where he will fall.

The next story was the main reason I picked up this collection. I am a fan of Lincoln Crisler and our tastes are aligned when it comes to horror fiction, so I knew I would be in good hands with him as editor, but the inclusion of a Jeff Strand title made this a no-brainer. As fans have come to expect from Strand, and the title suggests, his short “The Origin of Slashy” is thick with inky black humor. The subject matter is serious, but Strand is a master of horror-comedy, so even though the content is centered on brutal reality he elicits chuckles without being inappropriate or offensive. “Kaylie was raped.” That’s how his story begins. After this tragic incident, thinking she can’t live with the horror of the violation, she attempts suicide, but discovers instead that she has self-healing powers. This discovery gives her a renewed sense of purpose and an uncontrollable urge for vengeance. Like the protagonist in Tim Marquitz’ “Retribution,” Strand’s Kaylie offers a grim perspective on misguided vengeance considering circumstances in which there is no clear target for retribution. Good and evil may be black & white in the superhero world, but in Corrupts Absolutely? there are various shades of gray that exist in between.

Following that, we meet poor young Punkinhead Abassi. He lives in a rough area, is tormented by the GDs that run the streets, and haunted by the death of his drug addicted sister Lateesa. Edward M. Erdelac’s “Conviction” opens as counselor Daniela Orozco tries delicately to get the emotionally fragile Abassi to open up about his problems. His drawings indicate a strong artistic talent but also a potentially dangerous mental disorder. Of course, it is the non-stop abuses of all those around him dragging him down to this depressed state. Miss Orozco encourages Abassi to draw what he wants to see in the world, the world he wants to live in. Like the titular Carrie in Stephen King’s classic novel, Abassi channels his talents to work to his advantage and I don’t think there is a reader who won’t be cheering him on. Compared to Strand’s story which precedes it, Erdelac’s tale has a decidedly serious and heartbreaking tone, but that is the beauty of this collection. The imperfections in man that guide their choices upon the acquisition of superhuman power are complicated and vast. While some men are driven by greed, others are driven by pain and loss.

In “Threshold” by Kris Ashton, we continue to explore the cruel fate that comes into play, even for a superhero driven to use his power for good. Told in the first-person, our narrator explains his special skill. He can read the deepest and most vile acts of man and woman. Unfortunately his talent comes with the crippling migraine that can only be cured when he ends their life. He never knows when the pain will strike or who will be the target, or even what causes the unbearable episodes. He only knows what they did to cause his agony and what he must do to stop the pain. His next mission hits too close to home and our narrator must make a decision. “Which of us has to die?” Even if you’re driven toward good, in the world of Corrupts the life of a superhero can never be that simple, or that black and white. Ashton builds the suspense in his story impeccably and elicits sympathy for his narrator effortlessly. Those two elements facilitate an ending that is both shocking and heartbreaking.

The last story in this section of the book, “Oily” by A.D. Spencer, highlights the dangers of human error in vigilante justice. Jim and his daughter Cin are a team. Jim crafts a special marble, oily, each time he gives Cin an assignment. She must then figure out what the mission is by perusing the papers for suspects. Once Cin has her target she becomes Cat’s Eye, manipulating the gifted oily with unlimited ease, doling out justice and freeing the streets of scumbags one marble at a time. Cin suspects her latest mark of murder, but is this a clear cut case of “eye for an eye?” Spencer’s story stays on track with this group of stories illustrating how the good guy can inadvertently do bad. Cin finds out that it’ll take more than a hunch and an oily to do the right thing. Even if this a test to evaluate her ability to make a fair judgment, does that mean she will always be equipped to make the right decision?

All the stories in this section of Corrupts Absolutely? were consistently entertaining and perhaps contained the most sympathetic characters in the collection. Instead of the corruption, greed, power-hungry metahumans of the first section, these people want (or are driven by outside forces) to use their powers for a positive end. But unfortunately, good intentions are never enough. Each story had its own unique charm and were all memorable.

You can pick up Corrupts Absolutely? at Damnation Books or Amazon.

Stop back next week for part 3 of Bit by Bloody Bit!

Part 3
Part 4

Bit by Bloody Bit: CORRUPTS ABSOLUTELY? edited by Lincoln Crisler – Part 1

I originally came up with the idea for Bit by Bloody Bit when I took on Stephen King’s masterpiece IT. That book was too epic, too immense to cover in one sitting, so I broke it up and reviewed it in parts. I got to thinking this would be the perfect review format for not only the larger-than-life novels breaking the 1,000 page mark, but in particular anthologies.

Even if every story in a collection isn’t exceptional, it feels wrong to leave anyone out, so usually I don’t. That can be a bit daunting for readers who want to sit down to read a quick review, so I decided to apply the Bit by Bloody Bit technique to the superhero anthology Corrupts Absolutely? edited by Lincoln Crisler and out from Damnation Books.

We can find superheroes in movies and comic books, but it’s not often you come across superhero prose. This is a unique collection of short stories that editor Lincoln Crisler has good reason to gush over and horror fiction fans with a taste for superhero tales can geek out over too.

These aren’t your run of the mill superhero stories. With a variety of authors, including horror veterans alongside fresh faces, each contributor asks what would someone really do if they had superpowers in what Crisler has dubbed dark metahuman fiction. Crisler and his legion of author-heroes offer stories where the reader can enjoy a bit of escapism, but also explore the possibilities that come with infinite power. You might even learn a (bloody) bit about yourself too.

Without further adieu, this is part 1 of Bit by Bloody Bit, the first five stories from Corrupts Absolutely? Squeeze into that fitted body suit and pull on your matching pleather boots, it’s time to get Super!

The opener, “Retribution” by Tim Marquitz, is exactly the type of real world scenario I imagine when I think of average human beings, flawed and vulnerable, being bestowed with superpowers. In this case, our protagonist lost almost everything with the death of his wife and son in the tragedies of 9/11. “Once all the tears had dried and the empty words of comfort had soured on sorry tongues, there was still my fury.” This broken man signs up to fight against the bastards who stole his family from him asking for only “a gun and a one way ticket to the desert.” But they gave him more than ammunition; the ability to explode and regenerate. They made him a human bomb and therein lies the problem. His insatiable vengeance turns him into the same villain he hates, killing with impunity, guilty or innocent. This is the ideal story to open the anthology, generating thought-provoking inner dialogue for the reader as they consider their own potential reaction in this situation and also including the main element of superpower for the character. This story tows a more predictable line establishing the common thread that will run throughout Corrupts but the story is no less interesting because of it. Marquitz offers exquisite prose that shows a beautiful and poetic side to blowing yourself up.

The next story, “Hollywood Villainy” by Bram Stoker Award-winning author Weston Ochse, was my favorite in this block of stories and ultimately the entire collection. A fifteen year old Chinese boy born Valiant Fang (pretty cool, huh?) hasn’t aged a day since 1937 and now he tools around Hollywood on his old bicycle making a real mess of the world, destroying lives by utilizing his mind-reading powers. Valiant Fang, a.k.a. The Yellow Shadow, didn’t start out that way. In fact, when he discovered his mind-reading ability, he set out to be a hero like the ones all kids admire. Unfortunately, he “soon learned that no one liked a little Chinese kid superhero.” And that’s the hook to “Hollywood Villainy.” Despite being an evil lil’ bastard, you feel sorry for the kid and even root for him while he enacts his horrible, life crushing deeds, and laugh along to all his silly jokes. For a mind-reading boy who doesn’t age the world has endless possibilities and your worst nightmare is his playground. The Shadow explains that while there are three types of heroes, there is only one type of villain. “No matter the power, no matter the ability, no matter the technology, the single factor that decides if someone is a villain or not is their desire to do evil.” “Hollywood Villainy” is a suspenseful dark comedy with a disturbed but ultimately likable narrator. You kinda feel bad cheering him on, but it’s hard not to. Who knows what evil lurks in the heart of man? The Shadow knows.

On the surface, it seems William Todd Rose’s “Mental Man” strays a bit from the theme than the first two, but it turns out this is just a more unconventional way to explore the main premise of Corrupts. Instead of a protagonist with enough power to go to his head, our narrator Rob is struggling with post traumatic stress disorder and a taste for downers. He deals with all this while trying to make a name for himself in the detective game utilizing his unique skill; he can see into another person’s past. Ron, known appropriately as Mental Man by his associates, is working on the case of The Suburb Slayer, but struggling to identify the killer in his flashbacks. Instead of a feeling a defeat at not catching The Suburb Slayer, this killer becomes Mental Man’s arch enemy and purpose for living. Like the first two entries, this short is told from first person perspective giving the reader direct access into the mind of the desperate Rob. Rose skillfully builds the suspense in a short amount of time, letting it linger but careful not to reveal any important clues early on so the twist ending has the most impact. “Mental Man” is a murder mystery / detective story that reads like an old noir tale turned on its ear. Rob isn’t your typical gumshoe detective and the plot has a unique spin, but his dialogue has a classic noir flavor at times. “I want this fucker so bad I can taste it. He haunts my dreams, a faceless shadow dancing on graves that bulge as if they’re about to explode with the expanding gasses of the corpse below. His laughter echoes through the corridors of my mind, mocking me with haughty arrogance as I stumble about in the darkness like a blind man.” With an interesting premise that kept me guessing until the very end, this story fits easily into my top five.

Owen McKinney discovers the ability to heal in “The Real Church” by Jeremy Helper. After lobbing a fatal baseball at the neighbor’s dog in anger, Owen is immediately filled regret. He places his hands on the limp dog while praying to Jesus to bring him back to life and surprisingly it works. Like the other stories, “The Real Church” is also told from first person perspective following twelve year old Owen when he discovers his talent to the moment he and his mom, dissatisfied with what she called Greedy Commercial Churches, open the titular The Real Church and through to present day. While the first two stories feature characters that become corrupt by some outside force of evil or wrong-doing, Owen uses his power to attract more members to worship at The Real Church. Not every person bestowed with superpowers dons a cap and tights. “The Real Church” offers another bent to the darkside of exceptional skill if it was in the hands of a boy desperate to make his religious mother proud. The last three stories maintain the central theme of Corrupts — what would a person really do if they discovered they had a superpower —  but are still wildly different. “The Real Church” also offers another fresh idea for this anthology that may not immediately spring to readers, but fits perfectly with the theme nonetheless.

Unlike “The Real Church,” “Ozymandia Revisited” by A.S. Fox features the kind of dilemma I would expect from a flawed human who acquires superpowers. The story reminded me in a way of the predicament celebrities and star athletes might find themselves in when they become larger than life. If you can have anything you want and do anything you want, how do you get your kicks? Can you resist the temptation to abuse your status? Doesn’t the sky’s-the-limit lifestyle get boring when there’s no door your restricted from opening? Our narrator, who calls himself Ozymandia a.k.a. Oz, discovers firsthand how his greed for ultimate power is actually a curse. “Ever wonder what Hell looks like? It looks like a suburban Thursday night, where you can score as much coke, meth, girls and danger as your body can endure and come away unscathed.” For Oz, this is a curse he brought on himself. Unlike The Yellow Shadow, Ron the Mental Man, or Owen the healer, Oz went looking for the ultimate power completely blind to the consequences. Oz has a bitter and biting humor, but a cocky disposition that isn’t likable. Oz and The Yellow Shadow of Ochse’s “Hollywood Villainy” are both inherently evil, laughing in the face of other’s pain, but Oz’ evil acts aren’t near as elaborately calculated as The Yellow Shadow from Ochse’s “Hollywood Villainy.” Oz is looking for instant gratification, trying to satiate a taste that in a world where anything goes will never be satisfied. This results in a The Twilight Zone type groundhog day effect that any horror fiction fan can appreciate.

The first five stories in Corrupts Absolutely? set the reader up for a variety of tales all with that one continuous thread; what corruption would be born from a person with superpower. There is tragic drama, black comedy, a suspenseful murder mystery, and more horrific entries signaling the start of a diverse anthology. The authors that open this collection have fresh ideas and sick imaginations giving their following contributors much to live up to.

You can pick up Corrupts Absolutely? from Damnation Books or Amazon in paperback and Kindle format.

Come back next week for Part 2 of Bit by Bloody Bit: Corrupts Absolutely? edition.

Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 5: The Ritual of Chud

This week concludes the first installment of Bit By Bloody Bit and the end of my journey through Derry, Maine. While I’m a bit sad to leave the haunted town and the Losers Club, I am ready to move on to new terrors as well. There is also a gnawing disappointment that comes with finishing a book like Stephen King’s It. For one thing, the excitement of not knowing, of trying to figure out the big reveal is gone. And for another, you have to start that hunt for the perfect book all over again. You’ve got an itch you just can’t scratch. Many genre fans started here with It or with another epic Stephen King book. Maybe this was your gateway drug to horror, the one that led you down a path lined with trees casting ominous shadows that hide monsters, ghouls, sinister fiends, and lost souls.

I think It deserves a more diverse categorization than simply horror, but still I can’t help coming back to the same conclusion: It is almost the perfect horror novel. The characters are relatable. Not even secondary characters are lazily drawn into the background as fodder for plot development. As I mentioned in the first Bit By Bloody Bit post, King takes great care with all the characters in his book. He gives them emotional context and makes the reader care about them. King also has a terribly complex monster with a rich history anchored to the town of Derry. He has developed the landscape as diligently and scrupulous as the people in it.

That painstaking effort and care for his story make the entire reading experience a level above the simple act of taking in a book. The story takes on a life of its own, haunting you long after turning the last page. It is not just a scary book. It is many things: horrifying, sad, psychological, suspenseful, social commentary… The book isn’t just filled with bullies and monsters; it’s filled with real life truths, hard truths that exist in and out of the book.

So why is It only almost the perfect horror novel? There are probably many fans that had the same reaction as me, but the conclusion was a bit of a let down. After a thousand pages sharing the lives of seven other characters, a monster, and some bullies King unveils the big reveal which left me with a womp womp womp ringing in my head. I don’t know that there could be a perfect conclusion to such a great story. Your expectations are built so high that it’s hard to imagine how you could finish it off gracefully. Maybe I had that reaction because part of me didn’t want it to end at all.  The ending doesn’t ruin the book and I would still highly recommend this novel to anyone (not just fans of speculative fiction), but if I had one gripe about the almost perfect horror novel, that’s it.

If I read It in my youth, my literary history would probably be much different, but as it were I finally found It, the seven Losers, and Derry at the ripe young age of 30. I’d be curious to see how someone who read this in their youth would interpret the story as an adult.

Did you read It when you were still a kid and then again as an adult? How was the experience different or the same? Did you appreciate certain aspects of the book more or less? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you!

Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – The Covers

I’ve been reading Stephen King’s It for over a month. Of course, I had to take breaks from reading to get married, buy a house, do a little remodeling, move in, and all the good stuff that comes with being a grown up. But still, after a solid month and a half (maybe even 2 months!) of reading the same book I am getting a little burned out. Don’t get me wrong, King’s It is by no means plodding. The characters are engaging, sympathetic, and carefully developed. The history of the town is deep and complicated. Only a novel of this girth could possibly cover all the ground necessary to make the story really impactful and truly terrifying. And yet, as we near the month of October I find myself getting restless. My pre-ordered copy of Cosmic Forces, Greg Lamberson’s third installment of The Jake Hellman Files (review by Colum here), has arrived. I started Cullen Bunn’s Crooked Hills and there are a number of books coming out in October that I have been looking forward to all year, John Everson’s The Pumpkin Man among them. So, I’m getting a bit distracted. I thought this would be a good opportunity to have an intermission and peruse the covers of It across the globe. Join me beyond the break for my favorite interpretations of Stephen King’s It in the art of the covers!

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Bit by Bloody Bit: Stephen King’s IT – Part 4: July of 1958

Stephen King famously likened his writing to the “literary equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.” A Big Mac and fries leaves you feeling lethargic. Calm and content, but soon after mildly depressed and vaguely sick. I can’t imagine any reader feels lethargic, calm, and content after reading It. The book is definitely satisfying, but I’m usually left feeling more tense than calm. Now past the halfway mark in his epic tome It, I can see where King would draw the comparison, but perhaps not for reasons that are immediately obvious.

The obvious parallels would be accessibility and affordability. Whether you travel to Germany, Australia, Japan, Sweden, Spain, Russia, France, Israel, Serbia, The Netherlands, Brazil, or Finland you can find a McDonald’s. And there, too, you will find a copy of It. Both are (or even certainly more so in the late-80s) instantly recognizable American icons. Either can be found in the most convenient locations. But while one has become the ultimate metaphor for mass consumption and social complacency, the other is revealing of the dark and terrifying side of those social trappings. King’s Big Mac and fries is actually a Happy Meal and the prize is, well, your worst nightmare!

In Part 4 this week, King uses one of his most popular devices; de-romanticizing the American Dream. We go back to July of 1958, the summer the Losers Club became whole with the addition of their seventh member. The final piece to complete this puzzle is Mike Hanlon – our tour guide in Derry’s past, present, and future via the Derry Interlude chapters – in a flashback that exposes the biggest blemish on America’s white picket fence dream; racism. Mike is chased to the other six – Big Bill, Ben, Eddie, Richie, Stan, and Bev – by a group of older bullies whose ignorant leader Henry Bowers is the most feared of them all. This particular incident comes after a series of heinous crimes against the Hanlons, Derry’s only black family.

King loves to revel in the hypocrisy of the American dream and does so with reckless abandon in the opening of this book. He forces his reader to consider the underside of America’s great quilt of diversity and the real life monsters lurking there. He makes prejudice a personal story, first in the opening with a hate crime against a gay couple and again with Stan’s wife Patricia. King can be both subtle and overt in his commentary on the result of hate and ignorance. For this part which features more of Mike’s back story, he takes the power of ignorance to a terrifying level. We shift between the supernatural monster and the real life human predator. Both are equally terrifying, but unfortunately the latter is one that doesn’t vanish when you close the book.

Mike is in good hands with the Losers Club though. Each member is an outcast and they are all excluded from polite society for different reasons. Bill stutters, Stan is a Jew, Ben is fat, Richie can’t keep his mouth shut, Eddie is a weak mamma’s boy, and Bev is poor and socially awkward because of her overbearing father. Finally, there is Mike Hanlon, the only black kid in Derry. To their peers they are lame duck losers, but together they find that each member possesses an exceptional quality and by joining forces they just might be the saving grace of Derry for future generations.

When King refered to his writing as a Big Mac and fries I’m sure he was talking about the power of his brand, but you could draw a less obvious connection to the ubiquitous fast food chain. More people than not have a taste for Micky D’s and I think almost anyone will be able to relate to the tale King presents in It. Sure, there are plenty of people who would never eat at a fast food joint and certainly people who aren’t King fans. But more often than not the fast food chain is able to draw in crowds with a waft from their grease soaked kitchen. Likewise, King brings millions of readers, many of which aren’t typically fans of speculative fiction, who want to be scared and know they will connect to his story. It sounds dismissive to compare a master like King to an evil corporate empire like McDonald’s, but it’s really a compliment to the power and universality of his words. Of course, it’s important to note that his words won’t clog your arteries or give you an addiction to sweet tea!

Before I wrap up the first edition of Bit by Bloody Bit with the final chapter of It by Stephen King, I want to take a look at all the incarnations of his monster on book covers across the globe. So, come back next week and check it out!