Comic Review: Midnight Task Force, Issue 1

A couple days ago I stumbled upon the indie comic book studio Mad Cave Studios. This is a past time of mine, looking for indie comic book publishers that might accept scripts. Well, Mad Cave doesn’t accept scripts, but they are holding a talent search. All you had to do is write a 6-page sample of a story held in one of the worlds of their existing comics. I picked Midnight Task Force because, A) I love cyber-punk and horror, and this comic fuses the two nicely, and B) I’m not really into anthropomorphic animals, and the other choice was Battlecats. As much as I love cats, I wasn’t really feeling that.

Image result for midnight task forceSo, to get a sense of what Midnight Task Force is like, I picked up the first issue on Comixology, Amazon’s digital comic store.

Like most cyber-punk, the plot takes place in a broken world, teeming with drugs and sex and violence. This has a bit of slasher horror in it as well, as, apparently, this piece was originally planned as a B-movie horror flick. Let’s get into what this piece offers up.

Plot: We pick the story up 7 years ago before whenever the actual story starts. There’s a military operation going down. It’s in some warm desert climate, maybe the Middle East, but it’s tough to say. Why, with all the technology that they seem to have in the 2050s, there would still be armed human soldiers trying to carry out a military op, is a question best not asked, but something goes wrong. There is an explosion and Aiden is left missing an arm. His friends and comrades are blown to shit. All dead.

Skip forward to present day Detroit. Present day 2055. It hasn’t gotten any better. If anything it’s worse.

A couple are having sex in a car in an empty lot when they are attacked and brutally murdered. The killer leaves a calling card–he/she carves a triangle into each body. The killer also takes the eyes of its victims.

Enter Aiden McCormick, hotshot detective. The man who had his arm blown off 7 years ago has found a new profession. But the first thing we see of him, as readers, is him boozing at a bar and trying to take a scantily attired woman into the bathroom so can fuck her. She isn’t having it and lets him know too. So, we’re not really supposed to like Aiden. He also has all these voices in his head. Each signaled by a different colored speech bubble. That gets explained later, and I don’t want to ruin anything.

Art: The art is pretty vivid. Very 3D, and it works for a cyber-punk world that had neon lights on almost every page. It does, however, get a little cartoony at times, or at least, it just seems a little hookey–again, B-list horror movie, so it makes sense. For me, it’s not the style I’d choose, but I do think it is effective.

Execution: I don’t know a whole lot about the execution of comics, but I do know plot. In fiction of all mediums, there’s a trope called “saving that cat.” This could be a literal cat, but it’s mostly metaphorical. It’s a moment for the protagonist to do something “good,” like saving a cat from a tree or baby from a burning building. There’s a scene in which McCormick cracks this big case in a matter of minutes in order for readers to say, “oh yeah, I like this guy, he’s got his shit together,” but I found it rather transparent. Furthermore, there was some procedural stuff in terms of how the police handled the whole situation that didn’t quite ring true. For instance, the police chief introducing McCormick to the media, which would make him an instant target. I’ve never seen an investigator introduced to the media. Seems like a losing strategy.

Conclusion: Intrigued to be sure. I’ll likely pick up the next one and see where it goes. The first issue did a good job establishing an interesting world. One I like and want to know more about, McCormick, on the other hand, isn’t completely believable, but maybe he’ll grow on me. That’s likely the point.

The Adjunct by Cassandra Rose Clarke, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine, July/August 2018

I connected with this story. Maybe because I’ve spent the last 2 years trying to get undergrads and high school students to follow formatting standards for their papers.

The narrator has been teaching at *cough* Miskatonic University. Anyone familiar with H.P. Lovecraft will recognize that place. This narrator has been trying to get her students to use a formatting for their papers, abbreviated as CFSR, which is some strange kind of hybrid citation system that connects experience as well as a bibliography.

Plot:

cov1807lg-250The narrator, a burned out adjunct English Professor, tries to get her students to follow CFSR citation formatting. When many of her students can’t do it correctly, a higher up in the college calls her into his office and insists she makes sure all her students do it perfectly.

Later, when she visits a Starbucks on campus, a long time adjunct professor there tells her to visit the “restricted section” of the library and look for CFSR. She didn’t even know there was a restricted section, so of course, she goes. What she finds is. . . a wonderful joke on the horror genre.

Character(s):

As someone who has spent a lot of time showing students how to format things, giving them examples, outlining the ins-and-outs of MS Word, and then find that only 1/4 of the students listened or even tried to use MLA or APA, I connected with this narrator really well. Her roll of the eyes, her absolute disdain for students who won’t or can’t do what is literally the bare minimum. It all fits horribly well with the eventual outcome. She goes to teach at a community college. (HA!).

Conclusion:

A really well written and fun piece of ironic fiction. I don’t know if this is something everyone would connect with as much as someone who shares the experiences of the narrator. I guess that’s every piece of fiction. But still, it’s a fun jog down a Lovecraftian horror comedy.

Pitcher Plant by Adam-Troy Castro, Nightmare Magazine, Issue 67, April 2018

Adam-Troy Castro has written some of my favorite short stories in recent years. His dry humor is clever and he constantly takes risks with his narrative forms. This piece is no different.

This piece, written in second person PoV, follows the protagonist into an ever-changing house, with warnings to leave which the protagonist obviously ignores because if they had left then the story would be over.

th_a0580aaeccec739569f2502c0aa86498_nightmare_67_april_2018It becomes clear that the protagonist, or “you,” of this story is the grim reaper or some interpretation of the reaper. You travel through this house, rich descriptions are everywhere, searching for those you must steal.

I took the house to be a metaphor for the universe, or earth, or whatever you believe the cosmos to be. One could interpret this as the reaper taking up the memories of gods that have been forgotten.

What works:

The setting is vivid. Little is left to chance in this piece.

What doesn’t work:

Any story that is written from the perspective of death is pretty cliche. This certainly wasn’t one of my favorite stories by ATC. While the writing was quality and immersive the concept felt lazy, and the overall plot and flow of the piece didn’t do enough to make up for the cliche idea for this piece. Furthermore, I didn’t feel as though there was a payoff for the reader in this piece. Instead, it felt as though the piece consisted of a series of actions with little change for the character other than circumstance, i.e. a lack of emotional or personal change. (C-)