Sunday, April 19, 2015

My review of Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede by Chuck Miller. A unique and rewarding tale of adventure.

 Creeping Dawn: The Rise of the Black Centipede is a 196 page novel, written by Chuck Miller, and published by Pro Se Press. The story details the origin and early adventures of a pulp style vigilante, known as the Black Centipede, and is set forth in the form of a memoir written by the titular character. The memoir has been written by the Black Centipede in an effort to cut through the decades of propaganda that has surrounded his adventures, and reveals the truth behind his origin and early adventures.

The tale begins in the 1920's, when the character is still a young boy, and details his fateful encounter with Lizzie Borden in the town of Fall River, describing the strange friendship that grows between the two of them. The secret behind the murders of Lizzie's family is ultimately revealed, and young William Lee Williams' feet are set on a new path, one which will see him become the masked vigilante known as the Black Centipede. The bloody night that begins his journey also introduces him to his greatest nemesis, lover, and friend, Bloody Mary Jane Gallows. Avowed enemies when they are apart, their relationship changes drastically when they are in close proximity, as they are inexorably drawn to each other in an almost mystical fashion.

After the events at Fall River, young William cuts all ties with his family, except for his corrupt Grandfather who is a backroom power broker residing in the metropolis of Zenith. Inserting himself into the old man's circles, he quickly becomes one of his Grandfather's most trusted agents, all the while building up his own network of contacts and sources of monetary funding. Eventually, having trained himself in any number of both esoteric and martial regimens (and having robbed his Grandfather of all his resources, along the way), William feels ready to finally complete his transformation into the Black Centipede. The time has come to wage war both more commonplace criminals, along with the ever-growing ranks of supervillains that are appearing in Zenith. Along the way, he might even be able to further piece together (and understand) the events that brought the Black Centipede, along with Bloody Mary, into being...

While the framework of the story is pure pulp, Miller takes the tale in a much stranger (and ultimately, more rewarding) direction, allowing his characters to move beyond the usual borders of the pulp style. Much of the overall narrative is hard-charging action, but the author combines interludes of humor, esoteric events, and off-the-wall character development to swing the entire story decidedly off-kilter. And that's a good thing. Certainly lacking a cut-and-dried sense of good versus evil, the story has much more to offer, with many of the characters being capable of actions that are both good and bad. The main character admits that he is drawn to the inherent violence that comes part-and-parcel with his occupation as a masked vigilante, and that many of the hoi polloi are absolutely beyond his comprehension, while still working towards their benefit. His nemesis/friend/lover, Bloody Mary Jane Gallows was birthed as a mindless construct of horrible vengeance, but still had the willpower to attempt to live as a normal human being for a number of years, and chooses to come to the rescue of her greatest enemy (and only friend and equal, their relationship is very complex) despite knowing that he is the only one capable of ending her existence. Allies and enemies are static, at best, and all of them seem to move through an ever-shifting world of shadows... Much like the one that we all exist in.

The author has a knack for blending in both authentic historical events, and actual characters from these time periods into the narrative, which work to reinforce and ground the story into pseudo-reality, adding a sheen of believability to the fictional narrative. Couple this with some of the character's more inexplicable actions, when faced with an utterly logical course of action, and you get a novel that explores the human condition, disguised as a retread of old pre-war pulp vigilante stylings. Make no mistake, I love the New Pulp genre to no end, but seeing an author take it in an inventive new direction is a decided pleasure, and an absolute revelation of where the genre can go from this point on. One last note, I love the way the author can allude to a number of no-doubt epic adventures, in a single aside from the main character. If Miller was held to filling in the backstory of his character, in an absolute sense, readers would be entertained for a number of decades, at the very least. All told, this is highly recommended reading.

With both fast-paced action sequences, esoteric interludes, and a realistic portrayal of human nature, this is a story that is a bit off-center, and all the better for it. Chuck Miller takes a tried-and-true genre in a totally unexpected direction, and stamps his name all over the genre of New Pulp fiction. A total mind-trip, this is a story that must be experienced firsthand. Highest compliments and best wishes for a vital, and truly unique, ongoing series!

Here's where you can pick up a copy of the release. Here's the publisher's site. Pop by and take a look around! Finally, here's a link to an interview that my friend Derrick Ferguson did with the author. It's a couple of years old, but check it out, nonetheless! With that, I'll be signing off... Zero-signal... Happy reading, all!

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