Dead of Night: Devil Slayer – A Review

“One Foot in Hell”

Written by: Brian Keene
Art by: Chris Samnee
Published by: Marvel Max

There are three Garth Ennis-es. The bad (like when he wrote Goddess), the mediocre (you know when he’s walking through a book, like with Ghost Rider or Midnighter), and the great (Preacher, Hitman, or the fun he’s having on The Boys) And he was truly at home writing war comics, like with Enemy Ace, Unknown Soldier, and War Story. And it was Garth Ennis in his war story mode (with a hint of Preacher) that I thought of when I started reading Devil Slayer.

I didn’t know what to expect of Devil Slayer given the cover and my unfamiliarity with the character. I also suspect that it wouldn’t matter: this seems to be the re-working of a B-list character so revamped that he barely resembles the original (so beware both of you Devil Slayer purists). As its writer Brian Keene (The Rising, Terminal, Kill Whitey) explained in his IGN interview:

The original Devil-Slayer (Eric Simon Payne) was a Vietnam veteran, mob hitman, and occult assassin who eventually became a member of the Defenders. He was psychic and had a magic cape that allowed him to travel to other dimensions and carry around an unlimited cache of weapons. He was to demons what the Punisher is to organized crime. The new Devil-Slayer is Danny Sylva, an American soldier on his third tour of duty in Iraq. He has no super powers or magic clothing. In fact, he’s got a good bit of disdain for superheroes in general (as well as everything else—he’s a young man who’s lost his trust and faith in just about everything). So yeah, this is an all new incarnation. Same name, but different character.

Here’s what we get in the first issue of the introduction to the character: character and the war in Iraq. Danny Sylva returns to the frontlines for another tour after a failed bid at returning to a normal life Stateside. And the story reads like the beginning to a really good war story. Just don’t get married to the idea of this remaining “just” a really good war story.

Keene’s strength lies in his dialogue, breakneck pacing, and his ability to create relatable characters (and he manages to namedrop his friends, though there was no Private Broaddus to be found!). Here, the plot has a more leisurely pace (setting up the big reveal at the end) so the book moves like the initial ascent of a rollercoaster, building tension and atmosphere.

Miles Ochse: “So what do you believe in?”
Danny Sylva: “I don’t know anymore …”

Faith is a tenuous then, fragile and strong at the same time. Many of us are barely a stone’s throw from where Danny Sylva finds himself, his faith laid waste by war and circumstances, failed love, disappointment, frustrations, the realities of life. Even as he declares “Don’t rely on God. Just rely on me,” he finds that his faith in himself also fails.

Faith is also a difficult journey, one where we’re simply called to hang on, persevere, and push through the walls we sometimes hit. That journey inward that happens, typically signaled by when God feels especially absent or at least silent.

“If praying works for you, go for it. It’s just never worked for me.” –Sgt. Danny Sylva

True faith is not without hardships, nor is it all that pragmatic. So when problems arise, there are no pat answers. There are no steps. It sucks. The key is to endure it and hold on, even if you are reduced to simply trusting in the few things you know with absolute clarity.

At the end, or at least once one gets through their dark night of the soul/their crisis of faith, they still may not have the answers, but they may be able to make peace with that. Maybe they’ll be in a place, a journey outward, where this time of shattering reflection causes one to turn outward in focus. These times of crisis will either break us and cause us to abandon God or break us down and draw us nearer to Him. We, as a community of believers, need to be there for each other.

Though Devil Slayer is a grittier work, Chris Samnee makes great use of shadow to convey mood and he has some of the most expressive faces I’ve seen in a while. The sheer … normality of the scenes heightens the moments the story goes off the rails. Once again, Brian Keene bleeds or his readers, drawing on personal experience and demons (hopefully long slain … but never as slain as they should be). The story is lean, firmly entrenching us in the character of Danny Sylva and introducing us to his figurative demons. I can’t wait for the literal ones to appear.

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Why I’ll never be Brian Keene

Besides the whole “he’s a best-selling writer thing” … blah, blah, blah … here’s the latest difference in the trajectories our respective careers are taking: his fans get together and form the F.U.K.U. Army (Fans ‘uv Keene United).

My friends, aided and abetted by Team Broaddus, end up starting FUMB! (F. U. Maurice Broaddus).

*sigh*

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this snippet from the Maurice Broaddus school of parenting:

This morning had to tell the eldest “You know, if your mother’s tubes weren’t tied (because, I live by a code), we’d be making a better version of you right now.”

FUMB Forever!!!

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Battle of the Nitwits

As I read far too many author blogs, one of the things that continues to bug me is how many spend time arguing with nitwits. To be clear, I’m defining nitwit as a particular kind of Internet troll who spends their time endlessly sniping at a target or otherwise running their yap in a state of self-importance/attention whoring. True, true, this defines most message board interactions, but the nitwits tend to focus on a primary target and fixate.

I’ve had my share of nitwits (fairly insulting blogs, e-mails, letters, phone calls, and message board threads dedicated to me included in the prize package) and answering their charges is simply not worth my time. I don’t care (as long as they link to me). Seriously, the first thing I ask is “who are they?” because while I don’t mind constructive criticism, not every critic is equally worth hearing from.

It’s fairly common for the newbie writer to seek to establish themselves by going after a few easy targets, whoever the perceived bad boy is (in the horror community, Nick Mamatas and Brian Keene are popular targets). These would be iconoclasts may rationalize their behavior by declaring that they simply won’t put up with the behavior of an unprofessional martinet or what have you, but it’s so regular a practice that I’ve taken to calling this the Brian Keene effect. Since the theory is that you make a name for yourselves by going after someone bigger, not smaller, take heart in the fact that you’re a target.

They know you, they read you. That’s not a relationship you’re obligated to reciprocate. People have a right to free speech, buy you are under no obligation to be given a platform in your house. The Internet is a big place, so let them go start their own blog/message board and run things their way. You don’t need to expend energy validating their opinions or otherwise giving them a platform. If you feel that their comments rise to the level of slander or harassment or threat, that’s why God created police and lawyers. Not taking up your blog space.

Unfortunately, sometimes nitwits can take over a forum. It’s funny how it takes only 2-3 prominent voices to seemingly poison a whole community. That will happen if they are allowed to dominate discussion. They can change character of board by simply posting so often they become the face of the message board. So, sometimes folks have to be asked to leave for the health of a board. It can seem unfair or even arbitrary but “you talk too much and spew little of value” can be just as abusive to folks’ sensibilities.

(To prevent this, whoever has the “vision” for said board needs to be a main voice on the board either through themselves or via their mods. In a lot of ways, the vision/voice is the main draw to the message board, which means that their mods need to not only grasp that vision, but also have the necessary people and communication skills to facilitate the discussions. Not let the nitwits run amuck.)

In the end, arguing with a nitwit only reduces you. Oh, I know it’s hard to not swing back and crush them. Lord knows, I know. Think of it this way: you swinging back at them is a no lose situation for them. Suddenly you are bringing your audience to them and when it’s the strong (read) versus the weak (not read), you are the bully. You don’t want to let the nitwits drive you to being unprofessional. And there is no reason I need to know who the members of the legion of nitwits are because you keep giving them air time. Notice none of mine were mentioned by name. Or linked to. And the Internet is a better place for it.

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Mo*Con II Recap I: First Impressions

Dear Jesus,

The idea of Mo*Con always seems like such a good idea on paper. You know, being missional, continuing conversations with people, serving others. But you know these things can go terribly, terribly wrong without any notice, especially when you have Brian Keene and Wrath James White involved. Please remember, I’m just trying to do my best.

Love always, your working-on-being-humble servant,

Maurice

Mo*Con II actually started Friday night with my reception dinner for my guests of honor, one of whom was late (because 2007 is the year of planes vs. Wrath James White. So far, Planes 2/Wrath 0). It was my way of saying “thank you” for all of my friends who made the trek in from all over the country. With Wrath MIA, it gave Brian Keene and I the perfect opportunity to have our Magic: the Gathering tournament in peace, re-matching our on-going battle. I don’t care what you read elsewhere on the InterWebs, goodness triumphed over trash-talking evil.

There’s no way I can cover everything that went on at the convention. We opened with a panel on spirituality and horror featuring myself, Wrath, Gary Braunbeck, and Lucy Snyder and moderated by Keene. My first inkling that things were going well (besides the church being packed) was when the early criticisms running along the lines of “why’d you have to end the spiritual panel so early?” and by early, they meant after only two hours. Next came lunch and apparently Bob Freeman won the chili cookoff.

The readings were great. Keene read “Burying Betsy” due to appear in the next issue of Cemetery Dance. Gary B. read Rami Temporalis and then screened the short film based on the story. After that came a panel on Race and horror, featuring myself, Wrath, and Chesya Burke. In short, the discussions were fabulous. A whole day of engaging dialogue with bright people talking about big ideas – exactly what we were aiming for.

Um, Saturday night. We had an after party at my house. Alethea Kontis sums it up on her blog this way:

The ambulance just left.

Again.

I have GOT to get some sleep.

It’s probably a really good thing we’re all going to church in the morning.

The evening started simply enough with another re-match of Magic, with Keene setting the rules (“I can’t believe I just spend $130 on a game of Magic”). I am positive that I neither did or said anything that would lead to this picture:

As for the ambulance incident, I’ll leave the details for my wife to blog. Suffice it to say that in the Necon tradition, someone (a fan of Keene’s) ended up needing to be rushed to a hospital. I won’t tell you how ghetto we got, posing with the ambulance or stretcher while the EMTs were working. Nor will I mention the EMTs, upon realizing that they were at a gathering of writers, stopped to network. In fact, they came back after dropping off our injured party … to pitch their “Forest Gump in space” science fiction novel. I’m not kidding.

Sunday morning, The Dwelling Place gathering welcomed the convention attenders in ways that surprised even me. There’s nothing like having the cover to Dead Sea projected on the big screen to greet a congregation. The only difference from our usual gathering was that Gary Braunbeck spoke instead of our pastor. (Keene spoke also, but 1) it was a rough Saturday night for us and 2) NO ONE wanted to follow Gary. I am posting his comments in the next two blogs and you’ll see why. I don’t think I can use the word “tremendous” often enough).

After the official end of Mo*Con II, we hosted an informal hang out time so that we could say our good-byes. My cooking schedule was insane. Friday night, chicken marsala and fettucine alfredo. Saturday, my “skyline” chili and white chicken chili. Sunday, my pan seared pork chops with mandarin oranges. And because Chesya was hungry, and I was showing off, Sunday evening I grilled steaks (with my home made Jack Daniel’s sauce) and burgers.

At which point, I set the grill on fire. Literally.

Capping off a perfectly splendid weekend. I’ll hopefully have a full gallery of pictures up on my website before too long.

(Things Overheard at Mo*Con II)

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Mo*Con II: The Intersection of Faith, Race, and Art (Updated 4/5/07)

Yes, I’m doing it again.

Featuring Guests of Honor:
Wrath James White
Brian Keene
Gary Braunbeck & Lucy Snyder

with a very special guest appearance by Chesya Burke.
(seriously, she makes me do this sort of stuff)

The mission statement of the Dwelling Place states that we exist to help people resist empty ways of life by becoming fully human in the way of Jesus. We desire to be a refuge or sanctuary, a place of rest and freedom for people to be themselves, where we connect with God and one another by joining Jesus’ mission to bless the world. To that end, we believe art is an important part of who we are and should be valued.

Just as each one of us is a masterpiece in progress and creation is continuing in us, so we desire to keep generating new creative possibilities. We long to be students awakened to the process of learning to create in the way of the Master Artist, Jesus, who saw lilies, children, mustard sees, plowing, vineyards, and housework as indicators of a wider truth. Art is never for its own sake, but people’s sake. We believe that art should be engaged with and in its own way explores truth – and we shouldn’t be afraid of truth. Another thing we want to be is a safe place for folks to work our their spirituality and ask questions.

About continuing conversations. Which brings me to Wrath James White and Brian Keene and our continuing mission to test the boundaries of what we say we’re about.

Regular readers of my blog may be familiar with Wrath James White. He has guest blogged for me, I have reviewed him, and have interviewed him (part I and part II). His blog has opened up a new audience for him. And folks who know us or are aware of our blogs, style, politics, and personalities are stunned that the two of us are friends. I explain it to them in one word: respect. We don’t try to convert each other and we don’t have the arrogance of certainty about our positions. In a nutshell, we believe what we believe, we can argue why we believe, but we’re open to the possibility that we may not be right and are willing and able to listen and learn from each other.

Adding to the conversation will be Gary A. Braunbeck and Lucy A. Snyder. Those familiar with their backgrounds will know exactly why I want them added to the conversation (and note that I used the word conversation: Gary and I know better than to argue with Wrath and Lucy).

Keene’s determined to see us all go down in flames, serving as Moderator and general provocateur.

The overall weekend will look something like this:

Saturday, July 28th
The Dwelling Place
7440 N. Michigan Road
Indianapolis, IN 46268
Starts at 10:00 a.m.

Will feature discussions on faith perspectives, writers discussing their craft, and a book launch party for Dark Dreams III (that, coincidently, Wrath, Chesya, Lawana, and myself are in). Lunch will be hosted by the Indiana Horror Writers and (due to the amount of trash talk done at the 2007 World Horror Convention) will feature a chili cookoff between myself, Wrath, and John C. Hay. Dinner will feature authentic Jamaican cuisine.

Sunday
10:30 am – Dwelling Place Service
Will feature “sermons” by Brian Keene and Gary A. Braunbeck, followed by a Guest Farewell Luncheon.

Cost: Nothing. Donations appreciated.

Hotel Information
Here’s the deal: I tried to schedule Mo*Con around the other major cons going on (sorry those going to the San Diego Comic Con instead). Unfortunately, I paid no attention to events going on in my own city, namely, the Brickyard 400. So hotels in the area are filling up fast. We however are using

Hampton Inn
7220 Woodland Drive
Indianapolis, IN 46278
(317) 290-1212 (or 1-800-HAMPTON)

Mention The Dwelling Place or Mo*Con when you book your room. Right now the rates are $199 + tax per night (two night minimum) full deposit required at time of booking (non-refundable after 5/28/07). If enough rooms are booked, the room rate will be discounted. We will also have a few spaces available at Chez Broaddus plus some members of our congregation are opening up their homes for some folks to stay at. They are going on a first come, first serve basis. If you have any questions, or need to be picked up from the airport, write your host at Maurice [at] MauriceBroaddus.com

Other confirmed guests include:
Wayne Allen Sallee, Steve Shrewsbury, Jason Sizemore, Debbie Kuhn, John C. Hay, Lawana Holland-Moore, Taylor Kent, Gary and Nancy Frank, Lauren David, Carrie Rapp, Tracy Jones, Steve Savile and Alethea Kontis. You can let me know if you are coming by leaving a note here.

Hosted by The Dwelling Place and the Indiana Horror Writers.

This page will be updated as more guests and details are confirmed.

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Thanksgiving Announcements

Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m thankful for friends, family, my church, my job, my readers, and my health. I try to live my life being grateful every day, so this holiday offers me only the occasion to be thankful for a day off. So rather than do some holiday themed blog, I got a couple of announcements:

1) I got around to having my website updated. By “I” I mean Deena Warner stepped in and bailed out my “the Internet works by magic”, techno-oblivious self. Among the updates, I have finally posted the footage from Mo*Con I, which means you can now see Brian Keene’s sermon as well as a reading and Q&A; time. It’s on the photos page of my site.

2) I was interviewed by Taylor Kent AKA the Snark Avenger as a guest for his podcast Snark Infested Waters to talk about ministry and horror and Christian horror and stuff. You can find my interview here. You might as well keep the site bookmarked: next week it’s Angeline Hawkes and Christopher Fulbright.

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If you want to make sure that I see your comment or just want to stop by and say hi, feel free to do so on my message board. I apologize in advance for some of my regulars.