The Black Sable

In recent months, I’ve been enjoying Zenescope Publishing’s Van Helsing series which tells the story of Liesel Van Helsing, inventor and daughter of Dracula’s famous nemesis. Like many comic companies, Zenescope features a large common universe with characters who meet and interact. While learning more about their universe, I came across their space pirate character, the Black Sable. As someone who has written his share of space pirates as well as vampires, I decided to check this out.

Zenescope has been making a name for itself by creating a set of strong women characters. Most of these women are the type who kick ass now and ask questions later. The Black Sable is no exception to this. Set one century in the future, we find that humankind has developed a star drive and colonized much of the galaxy. They’ve also bumped up against the Mer, a race of vicious shark-like people. Humans have come out on top so far, but the Mer want to reclaim their place as the dominant species. The shark people are one of many ways we see that although this is a space saga, this pirate yarn is modeled strongly on tales from the golden age of piracy.

The story opens when Sable’s ship, the Fury, attacks a cargo transport only to discover the ship is hauling alien slaves. Sable refuses to make money off of slaves and frees them. As a result, they go back to a safe harbor to see if they can learn about any new sources of plunder. Sable runs across an old acquaintance named Blake who has a line on Korvarian Fuel Cells, which are, apparently quite valuable and should be an easy score. The two make plans to find these fuel cells. This immediately takes them into the middle of the conflict between the humans and the Mer. Not only that, but another pirate, Captain Blood, has also gotten word about the Korvarian fuel cells.

Over the course of the story, we learn that Sable herself was born a slave and has a deep connection to Captain Blood that she’s not aware of. I liked the fact that Sable is written as a pirate with something of a moral compass. The story is written primarily as swashbuckling adventure and doesn’t delve very deep into character motivations or the politics of the struggle between the Mer and humans and the corporation that’s also involved. Still, there’s enough there that the story kept me turning pages. Given that the story features nautical-inspired space pirates, they get bonus points for giving us a battle with a space kraken.

I had fun seeing some parallels between The Black Sable and my own Space Pirates’ Legacy series. Like Sable, Ellison Firebrandt is a pirate with a moral compass. Although he’s not born a slave, he does run up against slavery in The Pirates of Sufiro. A large, red, alien investigator named Officer Stanas reminds me a bit of my Rd’dyggian characters Arepno and G’Liat. Even the space kraken brought to mind the implacable alien threat of the Cluster in my novels. You can, of course, learn more about the Space Pirates’ Legacy series at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#pirate_legacy

The Black Sable was published in 2018 and it’s not clear how this story could feed into their bigger fantasy universe which is largely set in the present day. Still, it was such a fun ride that I hope they haven’t given up on this story and will produce another arc, or at least a one-shot, down the road. You can pick up a copy of the graphic novel at: https://zenescope.com/products/the-black-sable-graphic-novel

Two Van Helsings

Over the last year, I’ve been enjoying Zenescope Entertainment’s comic book mini-series, Van Helsing vs. the League of Monsters along with catching up on some of the earlier offerings in their Van Helsing universe. Last week, right after concluding League of Monsters, they released the Van Helsing 2020 annual, entitled Bloodlust. The comics follow the adventures of Liesel van Helsing, daughter of the famed vampire hunter Abraham van Helsing. She’s an inventor who was trapped in a hellish dimension called the Shadowlands for many decades, but finally emerged into the modern era where she continues the fight against vampires and other monsters.

Van Helsing: Bloodlust and Van Helsing the TV series.

In fact, Van Helsing vs. the League of Monsters reminded me of an updated version of those Universal monster fest films of the 1940s like House of Dracula or even the 2004 film Van Helsing with a strong woman taking Hugh Jackman’s role. Bloodlust finds scientists in a secret New Mexico laboratory investigating an ancient body only to unleash a vampire-like monster. Van Helsing and her sidekick Julie Jeckyl are called in to save the day. Unfortunately the monster kicks the game up a notch by attacking a nearby youth camp. Like those earlier movie examples, Zenescope’s Van Helsing is less about deep, thoughtful plots and character analysis and more about thrilling action. That said, it delivers the action well and gives us enough character development to care about the heroes. It’s just what I need when I’m looking for some fun, light reading.

Having become a fan of Zenescope’s Van Helsing, I was interested to discover there’s a series on the SyFy network of the same name “inspired by” the comic. I spent the last week watching the first season. The series imagines that the Yellowstone Caldera erupts, unleashing a cloud of dust and ash that lasts for years. This allows vampires to appear in the daytime and they have started rampaging the world. Meanwhile, in Seattle, Vanessa Seward is attacked by a vampire and falls into a coma. The show’s action starts three years later when vampires rush in and attack Vanessa again. This time, we learn her blood has the power to restore vampires to humanity. Now awake, Vanessa finds herself caught in a fight for survival with a handful of humans in a Seattle hospital. Vanessa desperately wants to leave so she can find out what happened to her daughter who was in the apartment with her when she was first attacked. As the season progresses, Vanessa learns that she’s a descendant of Abraham van Helsing.

The series mostly seems inspired by the comic in the sense that it’s focused on a woman vampire hunter named Van Helsing. The way vampires are portrayed is also similar. Both stories portray most vampires as vicious, animal-like predators. Only a few seem to rise to higher consciousness, though they are just as evil as their more feral counterparts. What I did find interesting was that the storyline of Vanessa looking for her daughter echoed another Zenescope storyline. Part of Zenescope’s Grimm’s Fairy Tales comic involves its protagonist, Sela Mathers, seeking her daughter.

It’s fun to think about what my own Scarlet Order vampires would make of either Van Helsing world. I suspect they’d do their best to avoid a confrontation with either Liesel or Vanessa. In Vanessa’s world, I could actually imagine them helping the humans, which would make an interesting plot twist. Of course it helps that the Scarlet Order vampires don’t have to drain humans of all their blood, though a couple have been known to get greedy! You can learn more about the Scarlet Order vampires at: http://davidleesummers.com/books.html#scarlet_order

Halloween Reading

In the lead-up to Halloween, I’ve been indulging in a mix of comic books and novels that fit the season. Throughout the year, I’ve been reading the Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters miniseries published by Zenescope Entertainment. This month saw the release of the finale, so I took time to re-read the entire series. October’s selections for the Vampyre Library Book Club were the first two novels in Charlaine Harris’s “True Blood” series, Dead Until Dark and Living Dead in Dallas.

At their roots, Halloween and horror fiction are about humans facing the one thing they can never escape—death. The confrontation can bring out the best and worst in people. They might face death with bravery and dignity or they might do everything they can to run away from it. They may even try to cheat death, but that usually has horrible consequences.

The “True Blood” novels tell the story of telepathic cocktail waitress Sookie Stackhouse who has started dating a vampire named Bill Compton. In Dead Until Dark, a murderer is stalking women who date vampires. Of course, Sookie would like to see this murder caught before they come for her. Along the way, her grandmother is killed, her brother is thrown in jail, and Sookie must face the real murderer. In the second novel, Bill is asked to bring Sookie to Dallas to help solve the mystery of a vampire’s disappearance. She ends up a captive of a church who wants nothing more than to see all vampires destroyed. I’ve been enjoying these novels because Sookie is an ordinary person who rises to extraordinary heights when confronted by death.

Van Helsing Versus the League of Monsters is sort of a cross between a superhero comic and those great Universal Monster Mash-ups of the 1940s like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man or The House of Frankenstein, which adds Dracula to the mix. Zenescope’s title character is Liesel Van Helsing, daughter of the famous vampire hunter. In this set of comics she teams up with other Zenescope heroines such as Robyn Hood and Angelica Blackstone to face off against Dracula, Frankenstein’s monster, a group of werewolves and more. As with most comics, the heroines of Van Helsing face death with a quip upon their lips and stylish action, but they are ready to throw their lives on the line for humanity.

Both sets of books are good fun romps. Of course, both have vampires in common. I’ve long been fascinated by the different ways vampires are used in fiction. Sometimes they’re the implacable monsters who have seemingly defeated death. Sometimes they exist as a metaphor for addictive behavior. Some vampires are heroes and many are villains. I’ve long thought an extended life could either be a blessing or a curse. It all depends on what you do with it.

My Halloween reading doesn’t tend to stop on October 31. I’ll keep reading scary stuff well into November. Somewhere around Thanksgiving, I may turn to some lighter fare to get into the spirit of Christmas. Or maybe I’ll keep reading spooky stuff. Of course, it wouldn’t be Christmas if there weren’t a few ghosts lurking in the shadows. With that in mind, allow me to present you with a couple of Halloween treats. First is a reminder that Vampires of the Scarlet Order is November’s selection for the Vampyre Library Book Club. You can learn more by joining the Facebook group at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/663608917753704. I’ll be sharing behind the scenes looks at the novel throughout the month, then Vampyre Librarian Steven Foley will interview me at the end of the month. If you attend, you’ll be entered to win some cool prizes.

If you’re more interested in ghostly scares, you can pick up the ebook edition of my novel The Astronomer’s Crypt for just $1.00 at Smashwords until November 15. In the novel, astronomers, ghosts, drug dealers, and a monster from the beginning of time collide at a remote observatory during a violent thunderstorm. Use the coupon code YL57J on checkout. The book is at: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1025608

Happy Halloween!