Tag Archives: dark

Torchwood: Forgotten Lives (2015 Audio Drama)

Big Finish Productions

My rating: 3 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience, because Torchwood

It’s been years since “the miracle,” and Gwen and Rhys have settled into a quiet life with their daughter, far, far away from Torchwood, aliens, and any such things. So it’s with a bit of trepidation that they respond to a late-night phone call claiming that Jack Harkness (whom they haven’t heard from in years) needs their help . . . and yet, how can they help but respond? Leaving their daughter with Gwen’s mother, the two drive to a nursing home in northern Wales, hoping to find Jack and save the world (again). But what they find is enough to leave them more than shaken, even with all they’ve seen in the past.

Forgotten Lives is a pretty solid contribution to the Torchwood canon. It’s a full-cast audio drama set a few years post Children of Earth, and it does make allusions to that, so mild spoilers there. As for the cast, the only main-cast members to show up are Gwen (Eve Myles) and Rhys (Kai Owen). Jack does show up as well (naturally), but not in his own body, so no John Barrowman appearances here–bummer that. The acting is solid, and the flow of the story is easy to follow. I did find it interesting that the story focuses on a nursing home and the vulnerabilities of the people who live there–definitely some social commentary going there, despite the main threat being (once again) an alien invasion. As is typical for Torchwood, this leads us to some dark places, so fair warning there–as with literally everything related to this series, I would recommend avoiding if you’re prone to depression. But yeah, for those who enjoy the series, Forgotten Lives is an interesting continuation going beyond what we got in the show and is worth checking out.

Written by Emma Reeves/Directed by Scott Handcock/Produced by James Goss/Starring Eve Myles, Kai Owen, Philip Bond, Valmai Jones, Seán Carlsen, & Emma Reeves

 

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Supernatural (2005- TV Series)

The CW

Status: Ongoing (13 Seasons)

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience/rated TV-14

Two brothers, Sam and Dean Winchester, travel the country in the 1967 Impala that is more home to them than any building has ever had the chance to be. They start out searching for their father who has disappeared while hunting the demon that killed their mother years ago. Along the way, Sam and Dean hunt as well–fighting monsters, ghosts, demons, the stuff of nightmares, and saving people from horrors they can’t even imagine. Sometimes their efforts go utterly unnoticed; other times, they meet incredible people who help them on their journey. Regardless, they always have each other, except for those rare, horrible times when they just don’t. And somewhere along the line, hunting simply becomes who they are–it’s no longer just a revenge mission or a search for their father. Sam and Dean are, quite simply, hunters; they save people, they save the world. A lot.

I’ve put off reviewing Supernatural for, like, 2 years now because I love it so very much, and I know I can never do it justice in a review. So know that first, before I delve into details; this show has my heart in a crazy way that almost no other story ever has, and it has continued to consistently for years now. I couldn’t say exactly what makes this show so incredible, largely because it’s a lot of little, subtle things combined. I love the characters, first and foremost. Jensen and Jared do such an amazing job of getting in their characters’ heads and of portraying them deeply and transparently, as do the immense number of wonderful guest cast members. So much so that, although this is at times a monster-of-the-week kind of show (much less so as you get to later seasons), it manages to be highly character driven. The characters grow and experience a lot of internal conflict over the course of the series as well, which is another thing I love–the show evolves as it goes, so that just when you think they’ve done it all (I mean seriously, we hit the biblical apocalypse in season 5) you find yourself seeing things afresh, finding new frontiers. And the writers do such a great job keeping the balance between all the angst (and yes, here there be angst) with family support and outright humor (e.g., recently in the midst of this big series of episodes focusing on busting into an alternate dimension to save family members–lots of angst and tension–we get a random crossover with Scooby Do that, while darker than typical for the cartoon, is brimming with laughs and fun as well). I guess what I’m trying to say is that Supernatural somehow manages to be a lot more than hot guys fighting scary monsters and saving the world, although yes, it’s definitely that. It’s family and understanding and acceptance and so many things that I long to see more of, and I highly recommend this show.

Created by Eric Kripke/Starring Jared Padalecki, Jensen Ackles, Katie Cassidy, Lauren Cohan, Misha Collins, Mark A. Sheppard, Mark Pellegrino, & Alexander Calvert/Music by Jay Gruska & Christopher Lennertz

 

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Lost Boys

Author: Orson Scott Card

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature audience; also, 1) this book made me cry more than I have since Grave of the Fireflies, and 2) kids do get hurt here–it’s dealt with as the heinous, awful thing that it is, but it still happens, so worried moms might not want to read this if they want to sleep at night.

In 1983, Step and Deanne Fletcher move their growing family to the small town of Steuben, North Carolina, for Step to start a promising new job for the growing computer company Eight Bits, Inc. But right from the start, things seem to go wrong. Step’s new job turns out to be nothing like what he’d expected, being relegated to writing program manuals and being told to sneak around behind his immediate supervisor’s back, even though he had great success in the past as a programmer himself. Deanne’s pregnancy makes her constantly sick, adding to the burdens of caring for their three young children. Their oldest, eight-year-old Stevie is becoming withdrawn, spending his time talking to imaginary friends. The house they’re renting seems beset by plagues of insects. And little boys in the area have started disappearing, presumed kidnapped and murdered. But in the midst of all their stress and worry, the Fletchers are determined to not quit, throwing themselves into serving in their new church ward, parenting their children, and generally doing their best with the situation they are given, however difficult it may be to trust all will be well in time.

Lost Boys was an unusual and unexpected book. The only other think by Card that I’ve read is Ender’s Game, and this book is nothing like that. The majority of this story is just this story about this Mormon family and their lives–the most innocuous, simple thing imaginable. And Card does that aspect of the story well, giving us a deep, developed view of Step, Deanne, and Stevie in particular, as well as of their other kids, Robbie, Betsy, and later Zap. The pacing is slow, leisurely, giving us time to get into these people’s day-to-day existence, sharing in their concerns and their little joys and victories, feeling how much their faith and family bolster them. And you know what? I really came to like these people; they’re good people, doing their best to do what’s right, to protect each other, to love others and be compassionate. But underneath this innocuous slice-of-life story, you’ve got this constant undercurrent of something deeper and darker and possibly supernatural going on. It reminds me of some of Stephen King’s books, the way the tension lies just under the surface. There’s a slow, certain inevitability to the plot development in this regard that makes the ending (which I won’t spoil) an expected conclusion by that point–which makes it no less a tear jerker, but it’s kind of cathartic as well. Peaceful, strangely enough. In any case, Lost Boys was a story that struck a deep chord with me and that I would highly recommend, if you have the patience for the slow development.

 

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Landscape with Invisible Hand

Author: M. T. Anderson

My rating: 5 of 5

Warning: Mature Audience (for language and dark themes, but mostly for language)

Young artist Adam Costello and his family remember a time when things were different. But it seems like a long time ago, now. Since the vuvv made first contact, bringing promises of new technology and wealth, well, everything has changed–and not for the better. Sure, the ultra-wealthy who live in close contact with the vuvv may have a pretty comfortable life. But for everyone else, the coming of the vuvv has meant nothing but hardship: economic collapse, no jobs, looting, costs of medicine going through the roof. Everyone is forced to make tough choices, and Adam chronicles it all in paint, watercolor, and VR rendering.

On the one hand, I’m not surprised that Landscape with Invisible Hand hasn’t made a big splash in the YA community or in the literary community as a whole. (I hadn’t even heard of it until I stumbled on it in the library, and the average Goodreads rating is only 3.59.) Because while this is a solid dystopian novel (novella, whatever), it’s hitting towards the end of that genre’s popularity storm and the type of dystopian is just enough off from the mainstream that it’s not going to fly so well. Plus, it’s not all mushy romance and fighting the invading hordes. It’s dark and depressing at times. . . . Which brings me to why, on the other hand, I’m shocked that this book hasn’t taken the literary world by storm. Other than the obvious–this is an M. T. Anderson book, people! Why is it not getting attention?! But back to my point: this book is one of the most intentionally, incredibly artistic books I have read in a long time. It delves into the darkness and reveals the underlying truths . . . and finds the spark of hope in it all. The topics it handles–while couched in terms of an alien invasion–are incredibly timely for readers today, at times painfully so. Not to mention that the writing itself, the actual choice and arrangement of the words, is remarkable. It’s all present tense, sparse, yet artistic, each word carefully chosen that–were it not for the obvious paragraph structure–I might almost have thought I was reading free-verse poetry; it has that sort of feel to it. Even the book design feeds into the whole artistic structure of the whole–the unusual proportions, the cover that looks like an oil painting on canvas, the way each chapter is outlined and titled by the picture Adam is working on at that time. I get that it’s not for everyone, but I would really recommend giving Landscape with Invisible Hand a try, even if the initial premise doesn’t sound so interesting. Because this reach of this story goes far beyond what it promises on the surface.

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The Betrayal Knows My Name (manga)

Mangaka: Hotaru Odagiri/Translator: Melissa Tanaka

Status: Complete (8 volumes, although the first 5 are 2-volume omnibus editions, so really more like 13 volumes)

My rating: 5 of 5

Growing up in an orphanage, believing his parents didn’t want him, Yuki struggles to find meaning in his existence. Yet even in the midst of his pain, he brings kindness and healing to those around him, perhaps even more so as he begins to develop the ability to see a person’s emotions and past when he comes into physical contact with them . . . although not everyone takes his kind intentions well. But as Yuki’s strange ability grows stronger and other odd things being to happen around him, he encounters a beautiful, silver-eyed man calling himself Zess who seems oddly familiar. Then another beautiful man comes to the orphanage claiming to be Yuki’s long-lost older brother. Not only that, but Yuki actually has a large extended family, all of whom are delighted to meet him, and Zess is somehow connected to them all as well. But all is not well for this family as they find themselves trapped in a centuries long war against dark and evil forces, being endlessly reincarnated to fight over and over again. And Yuki himself is a pivotal figure in this was, the reincarnation of their princess, bringing healing and hope to them all . . . if only he could figure out why he doesn’t remember anything about his previous lives. All he wants to do is bring an end to this war and to the hurt felt by these people he has quickly come to love.

Love this manga soooo much! If you can imagine a mashup of Fruits Basket and Black Butler, you probably have a pretty good idea of what The Betrayal Knows My Name is like. You’ve got the gorgeous art (and people), demon contracts, and mystery/fight aspects that you find in Kuroshitsuji. Then you’ve got the super air-headed and kind MC, the oversized cast, the reincarnation aspect, and the dark family history themes that you find in Furuba. Not necessarily an expected combination, but it works. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking and mysterious–but there’s a nice mix of cutesy slice-of-life segments filled with sweetness and humor as well. The cast is huuuuge, so it is admittedly hard to keep track of everyone at first, but as you get to know the characters, they become not only unmistakable but beloved. It’s rare for me to find a story in which I love so many of the characters so very much, which is one of the primary reasons that I give this a full five-star rating. As for the plot, there’s currently a lot of mystery and unknowns that could go in a lot of directions, so I’m curious to see whether it ends up some huge shounen-style fight or a hug-it-out shoujo conclusion or something else altogether. (I’m hankering for a very sappily sweet shoujo ending myself, but I’ll be thrilled just to see this story finished, whatever the conclusion. It’s been on hiatus for 4 years, and I had given up hope that it would every be continued. Soooo . . . happy dance that the mangaka has picked this series up again!) Fair warning that the mangaka is fairly well known for writing yaoi stories, but also firm clarification that this particular manga is not yaoi at all–it sits on the verge between shoujo and josei with aspects of shounen and a mild shounen ai flavor, but it never goes beyond that. So honestly, The Betrayal Knows My Name is generally appropriate–and highly recommended–for any T+ audience. Love it and looking forward to reading the rest!

Update 6/29/18 – So this series is officially complete now (data above updated to reflect this). Or at least as complete as it’s going to get. The mangaka got it to a reasonable stopping point, and has declared it done due to health reasons and such. There are still a lot of loose ends and unknowns that I would have loved to see developed more, but we did get some major stuff resolved and at least got to the reasonable conclusion of the current story arc, so I’m glad for that. The story leaves us at a point where things are still uncertain but hopeful, which I can accept. Still definitely a 5 star recommended read.

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Doctor Who, Series 10 (2017 TV Series)

BBC

Status: Complete (12 episodes)

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The Doctor has made a vow. No more gallivanting off through time and space, no. He’s committed to staying at a  college, teaching a class, all the while guarding the vault hidden beneath the school and the secrets it contains. He could have just managed it, too, if it weren’t for her–Bill Potts, the chip girl from the school cafeteria who’s been attending some of his classes–standing in his office with her eyes full of that rare combination of wonder and wit and compassion and curiosity and  intelligence that The Doctor can never resist. After all, what’s the harm of just one trip, so long as Nardole doesn’t find out and scold him over it.

It’s always interesting (and just a bit scary) coming into a new series of Doctor Who when you’ve got a new Doctor or a new Companion, because there’s a different dynamic that’s not fully developed yet. I quite enjoyed the dynamic that developed between Twelve and Bill over the course of Series 10, however. Bill is unexpected, her reactions sometimes coming from a completely different line of reasoning that what I was expecting. It works, though, and she’s exactly who The Doctor needs at this point, someone who will challenge his way of viewing the world and who will make him feel alive. Adding Nardole into the mix is fabulous as well–I’m soooo glad they kept his character on for this season. His sass and worry-wart attitude serve both to keep The Doctor grounded and to keep the humor in the story, even in the dark points. And yeah, there are some pretty dark episodes here, although there are also some classic running-around-hand-in-hand-saving-people episodes. But I feel like, overall, this season’s a bit darker. It works, though. I feel like Twelve’s personality really shines through well, and he’s forced to wrestle with some stuff he’d rather not confront about himself. Ooh, and we get some more Missy involvement in the latter parts of the series, which is always fun. Also random, but kind of notable, while Doctor Who has always been a haven for diversity, I feel like it’s a more intentional focus in this series, in a good way. I enjoyed Series 10 quite a lot, and am eagerly anticipating the Christmas special–because we got left with quite the cliffhanger ending!

Produced by Steven Moffat & Brian Minchin/Written by Steven Moffat, Frank Cottrell-Boyce, Sarah Dollard, Jamie Mathieson, Peter Harness, Toby Whithouse, Mark Gatiss, Mike Bartlett, and Rona Munro/Starring Peter Capaldi, Pearl Mackie, & Matt Lucas

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The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch (Graphic Novel)

Story by Neil Gaiman/Art by Michael Zulli/Lettering & Adaptation by Todd Klein

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Partial Nudity

Our narrator invites to listen to his tale of a most unusual evening, one he might not have believed himself had he not experienced it himself. A couple of his friends convinced him to come along and help them entertain an out-of-town guest who shall, for purposes of his story, be called Miss Finch–a strange woman to be sure, a biogeologist with an awkward personality and a great desire to see extinct creatures like Smilodon alive in their natural habitat. As fate would have it, the party winds up in a bizarre underground circus of questionable taste, but fate takes a strange turn when they arrive at an exhibit in which one individual is to have their greatest wish granted . . . and Miss Finch is the one chosen individual.

I first read “The Facts in the Case of the Departure of Miss Finch” in Gaiman’s Fragile Things as a short story, which I found quite outstanding and memorable. This graphic novel adaptation is also quite intriguing, staying close to the spirit of the original short story. It’s this strange blend of magical realism and an almost macabre oddness that gets under the skin somehow. Typical Gaiman, that, I suppose–his stories have a way of being unsettling but brilliant in ways I didn’t even know stories could be. Zulli’s art is just perfect for the story, bringing together that darkness and unsettledness and all the totally out there aspects of the circus in a way that fits and ties everything together. I love the departure from a typical comic-book style; it’s more neutral tones and semi-realistic styles that work really well for this story (and are much more what I prefer in general). I would definitely read more of this artist’s works (and am pleased to see that he appears to have illustrated a few other Gaiman graphic novels!). I think for those who enjoy Gaiman’s work or who are looking for a different but quality graphic novel, The Facts in the Case of the Disappearance of Miss Finch would be a great choice.

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