Thursday, 2 May 2019
Tales Of The Shadowmen
The Shadows Know...
Tales Of The Shadowmen
Edited by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier
Okay, so it’s time I try to finally make right something which has been on my mind since not too long after I started this blog review site. Long term, regular readers will probably know of my two Christmas book rituals, which have been celebrated in reviews on this blog every year apart from the last two, when the two authors concerned didn’t write any new books in their respective series. I’m talking about my annual Christmas week tradition of reading first, the newest release from Patricia Cornwell of her latest Scarpetta story, followed by the latest Temperance Brennan mystery, as written by Kathy Reichs. However, there’s actually a third Christmas book reading ritual I have every year and, each year I put off reviewing it because I’m always exactly one book behind in the order of the releases and I always figure I’ll start off with an overview review of the current volumes to date. The reason being that the newest volume in this specific series, which is an annual short story collection called Tales Of The Shadowmen plus whatever the latest volume’s subtitle is, are released in December each year. Shipping being what it is, I always ask for the previous year’s volume the following Christmas. This is still the case and I need to break that cycle soon, I guess.
And this is my way of doing it... by getting the overview out of the way so I can start reviewing the individual volumes as I receive them each year without having to reintroduce the concept of this series in such a detailed way each time.
So, yeah, here we go.
I discovered these books around about 11 or 12 years ago, I think it was. I’d heard the names of Jean-Marc Lofficier and his wife Randy before because they used to be associated with some Doctor Who guides I used to read back in the 1980s. I think they have handled a lot of different franchised and individual science-fiction and fantasy projects over the years and Black Coat Press, a French imprint with an English translated equivalent, is one of those projects.
So what, or who, are The Shadowmen... well the term originally derives as a collective name for various French characters from past literature who are revived by a number of various writers for these collections... except it’s more than that. So initially, we’re talking about famous characters, some of whom are more familiar to French readers than British ones I suspect... and we’re talking about The Black Coats, Fantomas, Judex, Arsene Lupin, Irma Vep, Josephine Balsamo, The Musketeers, various Jules Verne characters, The Nyctalope, Rouletabille and so on and so forth. However, these characters are, in the parlance of the youngsters of today, mashed up by the various contributing writers of these collections... not just with each other but with many other fictional characters from around the world. So you will have two or more characters from various completely different literature sources, often a lot of heroes or villains and their supporting characters, mixed together in brand new stories.
So yeah, add in to the mix characters like Batman, Sherlock Holmes, Madame Atomos, Harry Dickson, Sâr Dubnotal, Sexton Blake, Bulldog Drummond, Fu Manchu, The Green Hornet, The Shadow (an inspiration for young Bruce Wayne in one tale), Hercule Poirot, King Kong, Solomon Kane, John Carter, the Frankenstein Monster, Nosferatu, various Bond villains, The Scarlet Pimpernel, Babar the Elephant... the list goes on and on. They’re up to volume 15 now already (I just finished reading volume 14) and there are many different heroes crossing over with each other. Heck, there's even a very short story where Barbarella abducts Captain Kirk in order to have sex with him, if memory serves.
And there’s quite a few writers involved in these... sometimes very famous ones such as Michael Moorcock or Kim Newman. Heck, Kim Newman’s Angels Of Music, which are a kind of 19th Century group of female characters operating as the ‘Charlies Angels’ of their time and run by Eric, The Phantom of The Opera as their Charlie figure, was originally instigated in the pages of a couple of stories from these collections (I believe Mr. Newman’s novel from a year or so ago, detailing their adventures, is an expansion and continuation of these original tales).
Now the possible disappointing thing about these, if you’re new to them, is that these characters don’t all link up in a single continuity like Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold-Newton family tree. So story consequences in one won’t often, unless it’s a continuation of a previous story, spill over into other stories involving some of the same characters. For the most part these are stand alone stories with the odd serialised story (some book length serials are published in sections in consecutive volumes) and mostly should be enjoyed for the flights of fancy they are. Many times a family tree connection is established by a writer but it won’t always hold true for another story. So, for instance, in volume 14 there is a Honey West adventure where she takes on the main arch nemesis from The Wild, Wild West. This makes sense within that tale (where she also meets Gene Roddenberry and Julius Schwartz) because in that particular continuity the writer establishes that both James West from The Wild, Wild West and, also, Herbert West (Lovecraft’s re-animator!) are descendants of hers. That lineage probably won’t be present in any future Honey West tales in the series however, unless it’s one written by the same writer. So, if you can forget the possibility of a bigger, over reaching continuity within the collections, you can get a lot of enjoyment out of them.
Of course, by their very nature, depending on whether the reader finds each writer’s style entertaining or not, all the volumes are a bit hit and miss in their overall make up but, for me at least, they have become more hit than miss as the series of volumes has grown over time.
Actually, a big part of the enjoyment of these things is that the various references and character identities are not always given away up front, from either the writers themselves or from the Lofficier’s, who usually write a brief intro to each story. So it does also become a game of reference spotting a lot of the time and sometimes the amount of references can be quite dense... I remember a story from one of the early volumes mixing up various Spaghetti Western characters with Shaw Brother’s style kung fu action references and it’s sometimes a bit difficult to spot all the different props and people in these tales. Luckily for anybody reading along and playing that kind of game with the text, there is usually a ‘cast list’ for each story given at the end of the book, listing the main characters, supporting characters and references plus the original creator they are credited too. Very useful if you miss out on any. So, for example, I may have realised that the Roger Delgado incarnation of The Master from Doctor Who was taking on Professor Quatermass in one story but, there was probably a lot more going on than at first met the eye and the post story ‘dramatis personae’ can sometimes help clear up the odd references that litter these tales.
So there you have it, you’ve probably got more of a flavour of this ongoing series of books now and, frankly, if you are a fan of period set fantasy, science fiction, horror or crime fiction (or preferably all of those genres) then you’ll probably find at least a few tales in each volume that you’ll have a good time with. I’ve never seen these books sold in even specialist shops like, for instance, Forbidden Planet but you can usually get them from places like Amazon and, of course, the Black Coat Press themselves at http://www.blackcoatpress.com, which is a website which really is worth checking out. If you click on their catalogue link you’ll find a list of intriguing titles (not just Tales Of The Shadow men) where you can get English translations of hitherto rare or out of print science fiction, horror, crime and fantasy which you just can’t get form anywhere else, plus a load of new stuff too. Their new releases are always a bit of an eye opener (and often of stuff I’ve never heard of) so just reading about their release schedule and existing back catalogue can be an education in itself, sometimes.
So there you have it... Tales Of The Shadowmen and Black Coat Press... something you may want to get into if interpenetrating, famous and not so famous characters are your thing. Definitely worth a recommendation and definitely worth a look. And now this ghost of a review is finally committed to reality (at least in the digital realm), I can maybe review Volume 15 with a clear conscience when I get around to reading it. Maybe even before Christmas this time.