TIPPIN' HANCOCK'S HAT-Reviews by Tommy Hancock
"EPISODES FROM THE ZERO HOUR: VOL THREE"
Written by Jason Butkowski, S. E. Dogaru, and Anthony Schiavino
Art by Rich Woodall, Duane Spurlock, and Dave Flora
Production and Design by Anthony Schiavino
Reviewing a magazine or collection format book is a bit different than just a straight story or book review. Each tale has to be looked at almost individually, then as a group. Art has to be considered in the same way and I, at least, also give a lot of weight to production and design in magazine type things simply because that is almost more important to a book that expects readers to buy its next installment or issue than the writing or art.
So, let’s get the easiest bits out of the way first. The art in this work is outstanding. Each artist delivers fantastic images, every one extremely evocative of the tale being told. The lineup of artists makes the excellence no surprise. Flora, Spurlock, and Woodall deliver one two punches with each illustration, in many ways adding almost extra chapters to the tales themselves. Top of the line art makes this collection a joy to view.
Anthony Schiavino’s design for this volume only adds to its appeal. The presentation of the stories, the placement of the art, and the design that went into font and even things so many people overlook, like the Table of Contents page, make viewing and navigating this work an awesome experience. It’s very clearly laid out and presented in a way that makes it easy for any reader, the Pulp diehard or the new novice, to enjoy all it has to offer.
Now to the stories-
“Rex Rockwell: Weird Game Hunter” is simply amazing. This story takes several stereotypes, archetypes, and cryptids and mixes them together in an exciting, believable fashion.
The premise of the story is that Rex Rockwell, a big game hunter type, is actually less hunter and more rescuer, and less big game and more unbelievable, mythological quarry. Rockwell’s mission-To find and capture creatures that are the stuff of rumors and legends and bring them to his preserve, named for his beloved wife, to insure their safety and for study. On this mission, Rex brings a team of his own, including a Texan cowboy, a morose psychic, an Indian bodyguard and ward, among others. The stories within this volume center on the arrival of a new member of Rockwell’s team, Daniel Whitlock, a noted folklorist. Through Whitlock’s eyes, we see how this odd team works together while getting some over the top action, creatures, and overall pulp thrills and chills. The dialogue is convincing, the description is dead on, and the narrative flows like good pulp should.
“Mac Sampson: Secrets of the Lost City” is one heckuva rollicking adventure tale. The storytelling in this action packed romp is top notch for the most part. Mac Sampson, the titular character, has all the heroic aspects a pulp icon should have, plus a few foibles that make him somewhat human and interesting. The strength of this story, though, rests in an odd spot-with the supporting cast. The characterization of almost all of the characters in this tale is dead on, inspiring, and just leaves this reader wanting more and more of the most basic of characters. The pilots, Mac’s buddies, even the bad guys had a charm that endeared them to me as I read. I enjoyed this cast of characters, in fact, more than I liked the main character. Mac reads more like a plot device instead of the character stirring the action that this story is full of. Hopefully later installments make me care about Mac more than I do everyone else around him, but fortunately I care enough about them that I will be back again for wherever this ride goes.
Lastly, “CT and The Savage Chimps of Cannibal Mesas” is last not only in magazine placement of stories, but it is unfortunately last in quality. The idea of a ‘cowboy meets mad monkeys’ western is interesting, even intriguing on some level, but in this story it barely makes it to intriguing. The main character, Cowboy Tony, is supposed to be driven by vengeance and a desire for….I was never really sure what. And his enemies are the aforementioned savage primate types. The entire story seems implausible even in the realm of pulp and characterization is one dimensional. Although the idea has merit, the execution of it in this story just didn’t make me want to know what happened to CT next, monkey hand or not.
Overall, EPISODES FROM THE ZERO HOUR: VOL THREE delivers as a whole package. The set up, the art, and most of the stories hammer home why pulp is good stuff and offer fans a plethora of action, great characters, and all in all, a volume worth having. And yes, a volume that does its job-making sure I’ll be back for #4.
Four out of Five Tips of Hancock’s Hat (usually reserved for heads of state, arresting officers, and little old ladies, which is pretty darn good.)