Bad@$$ Artwork for Sleepless Hollow

I’m 5/12ths of the way done with the art for my next book. Follow me on Insta and Twitter (@DreadPennies) for updates in real-time.

Just knocked this one out Saturday, biggest piece in the book.

Silas and Josie.

Kay, the ghost hunter.

Kerstan, a ghost who helps the good guys.

The Headless Horseman with shotguns, riding a mammoth. Because yolo.

“Bumblebee” shows us what might have been.

Credit to James Raiz, @boxofficeartist

Today I saw the new Bumblebee movie, after swearing off future Transformers flicks in 2014.

The original cartoon was excellent, tentpole stuff. A true staple of the 80s. When big screen graphics finally got to the point where they could handle a realistic adaptation, we got stuck with whatever Michael Bay felt like shoveling on us.

The first film was…adequate, but flawed. So audiences lined up for the second one, which was…hella flawed. But it gave us great visuals! So we lined up for the third film, which was flawed but better than the second.

Since the franchise was trending upward, audiences lined up for the fourth film…

…and it sucked tailpipe. Hard. 2014 was when I realized I was the problem. Paramount kept heaping money on Bay because people kept seeing his crappy movies, hoping they would get better, that we should just put some makeup on this one and it wouldn’t happen again.

I boycotted the 5th film, which still made a ton of money, but was universally panned as being manure.

Then I heard about Bumblebee.

I wasn’t optimistic, until 2 things happened: first, I heard Michael Bay wasn’t in charge (though he got a producer credit, probably on a technicality). Second, the trailer was awesome.

You could clearly see the original Transformers, with their original voices, looking like their original forms during a fight on Cybertron! No spiky metal turds that were indistinguishable one from another!

I was in. So I went and saw it.

On its own, the film was good. Compared to the last five, it was great. Here is why.

  1. Respect for the source material. Within the first two minutes, you see cameos on the fly from Autobots and Decepticons who look recognizable by their shapes and colors. Arcee was the first one I spotted, followed by Brawn and Ironhide. Then Soundwave, Shockwave, Starscream, Skywarp, and Thundercracker. Cliffjumper even had a speaking line or two. And Ravage! Above all, Optimus Prime was there, looking correct and proper, and of course, killing any bad guy in sight without hesitation.
  2. A human lead who didn’t suck. Hailee Steinfeld (name?) was really good. Convincing, realistic, showed emotion, had heart. Her supporting cast had slightly fewer than one dimension each, which works if you are John Cena, but not if you are her emotionally demanding family.
  3. Just enough to legally bind it to the original film franchise, with enough changes to work as a reboot. No spoilers, but while the movie begins with a fight on Cybertron, and we see Sector 7 at Hoover Dam with a young Agent Simmons (John Tuturro’s character later on), the story wraps up in such a way that it porks the timeline from the 2007 film. Which is fine with me. I know I want decades between reboots of anything, but with Transformers, no. Give me that do-over NOW.
  4. Easter eggs. Won’t list them all here, but when Bumblebee played “You got the touch” on his stereo, I squealed a little.
  5. Maybe we can get a full-on makeover of the Bay cesspool, with someone sane at the helm. I can’t say this enough. Make the rest of the movies over from here. Hell, give us a sequel called Optimus Prime, and round out the trilogy with Megatron, who, by the way, does not appear in this film. Again, in the original timeline he is technically frozen in Hoover Dam…but the story on Earth plays out as if this is not the case…

Guh. I will shut up now. Just go see it, it is a fun romp that is worth the money. There are some poorly acted teen drama tropes that happen for…I dunno, checkbox reasons, I would count those as the major weakness of the film. The action scenes were great, the effects were top notch (you can actually see what is happening when they fight), and DAMN dude, Bumblebee is a scrappy, brawly, dirty fighter. He takes his hits, but he also kills like six Decepticons one-on-one in this film.

That’s all folks. See the movie. Reboot the rest. Get back to work.

My Best Reads of 2018

With 6 days to go, my stats for the year are as follows:

Total books read: 138

Print/eBook: 38

Audiobook: 100

Re-reads: 14

Did not finish: 27 (adjusted total 111)

And now for the best!

Calvin, by Martine Leavitt. A schizophrenic boy is convinced he can make his visions go away if he crosses Lake Erie on foot and meets Calvin & Hobbes creator Bill Watterson.

Iron Gold, by Pierce Brown. Fourth of the Red Rising series, first in the follow-up trilogy. Gush gush gush.

Thunderhead, by Neal Shusterman. Second in his Arc of a Scythe trilogy, and worthy of its incredible first installment. My only knock was that it felt like the third act of the story was derailed by a need to add allegory to the 2016 US presidential election. Still, Shusterman told his story well, as always.

Shatter, by Aprilynne Pike. Second of two in AP’s excellent future corporate regency tale, billed as “Marie Antoinette meets Breaking Bad.”

MHM Sinners & Saints, by Larry Correia and John Ringo. Counted as one because of the series factor. I love Correia’s MHI world, and was shocked to find that I love Ringo’s take on it…almost more than the original. (Don’t shoot, Larry! I’m sure you agree.) A great tie-in trilogy with a stunner of an ending.

Quiet, by Susan Cain. Superb book on introversion, what it really is, how it manifests, why it is a benefit to society, and why all those Facebook pages kissing up to it are crap. Read this instead.

Only Human, by Sylvain Neuvel. Though this trilogy experienced a sophomore slump, the third installment brought it back around to greatness. Weird and unique, but ultimately brimming with imagination and an interesting view of life.

The Vanishing American Adult, by Ben Sasse. Did you watch those insane hearings this summer for the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh? I mean before all the bogus rape accusations. If you remember the one Senator in the chamber who was saying anything at all that made sense, that was Ben Sasse. Read this book.

The Fantasy Fiction Formula, by Deborah Chester. Recommended to me by Lisa Mangum, this was a belter of a book that will one day make me a million dollars.

Dry, by Neal & Jarrod Shusterman. Hey, it’s Neal again! Dry talks about what would happen if southern California suddenly ran out of water. Crazy book, made all the more horrific because its premise isn’t that far off. While the actual occurrences are debatable, the self-interested human nature depicted in it is not.

MCU Villains, Ranked.

Based on charisma, motivation, impact on the protagonist, and impact on the overall story.

Batroc the Leaper, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Nothing against MMA legend Georges St. Pierre, but he had a throwaway role. His only job was to get his butt kicked by Cap. Never heard from again.


Malekith, Thor: The Dark World. Easily the weakest Marvel film, in part due to its bland and forgettable plot, driven by a bland and forgettable villain. Still, he helped our heroes find the Reality Stone.

Yellow Jacket, Ant-Man. Marvel loves to introduce heroes by having them fight a bad guy who has the exact same powers, and it’s a lousy mechanism. By 2015, seven years into the MCU, even the writers seemed tired of it when they put Darren Cross into the story. He did nothing but die.

Whiplash, Iron Man 2. Cool visuals? Sure. Absolutely nonsensical? Even more so. At least he had history with Iron Man, even if it was one-sided. His motivation centered purely on fighting Tony Stark because their dads disagreed once.

Abomination, The Incredible Hulk. What started out as an intriguing story devolved quickly into a smasher, with the main villain getting dumber as he got stronger. Two-dimensional, but not as bad as some others.


Mandarin, Iron Man 3. As HISHE points out, this movie is basically The Incredibles, and the Mandarin is Syndrome. Plus there was some sleight of hand that was funny, but still sorta meh in the end. Nevertheless, this advanced Tony and Pepper’s relationship, and showed that Tony is more than just his suits.

Queen Alia. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Lost in a pileup of villains, she only really merits a spot because she has extensive wealth, great tech, and will soon give us Adam Warlock.

Captain Taserface, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2. He overthrew Yondu and eventually led Queen Alia’s forces to the planet Ego, nearly killing all of the Guardians as they literally were saving the Galaxy again.

Crossbones, Captain America: Civil War. Not unlike Batroc the Leaper, Crossbones was a throwaway villain in Civil War. However, he rates higher because he has a history with Cap, and his actions directly trigger the central conflict of the film, throwing the entire MCU into chaos.


Kaecilius, Doctor Strange. Another case of first-movie-villain, with similar powers. I give Kaecilius points because he had an interesting monologue with Strange, presenting him with information that would test his loyalties and make him question his own priorities.

Ronin, Guardians of the Galaxy. He was ruthless and stone cold, though his motivation was somewhat one-dimensional. Still, he introduced the Power Stone, and gave the Guardians a taste of success in saving an entire world from an Infinity Stone. They wouldn’t be so lucky next time.


Ghost, Ant-Man and The Wasp. She ranks higher because of her unique motivation, and what her condition revealed about Hank Pym’s history.


Red Skull, Captain America: The First Avenger. While Red Skull is another case of First Villain, Hugo Weaving’s performance really enlivened the character, and was a strong counterpart to Cap in his movie. He also gave us the Space Stone.


Killmonger, Black Panther. Another case of First Villain, elevated by Michael B. Jordan, who made this otherwise two-dimensional (and jerkish) bad guy pop off the screen. Didn’t agree with his motivation much, but he showed major tactical prowess.

Hela, Thor: Ragnarok. Okay, so Thor has a sister. She takes over Asgard, and is…grumpy. That’s about it. She’s almost a repeat of Loki from Thor, but with more power. During her time in Asgard, she reveals that the Infinity Gauntley in Odin’s treasure room is a fake, which solves some things.

Ego, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2. Dude. Kurt Russell. Peter’s dad. A homicidal maniac trying to spawn a child so he could consume the entire universe. Do the math, that is twice as bad as Thanos. Still, he failed.


Alexander Pierce, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Dude. The head of S.H.I.E.LD. was the head of Hydra.


Iron Monger, Iron Man. Jeff Bridges is a beast, and his role here solidified just how uniquely smart Tony Stark is, and just how close to home were the people who wanted to kill him. Plus, the first MCU villain! However, sadly, another case of First Villain.


Loki, Thor, Avengers. Speaking of First Villain, here’s another Norse god, with a penchant for mischief. Even though his plan made little to no sense, he managed to pull the Avengers apart while inside a prison, and nearly succeeded at conquering both Asgard and Earth. Bonus points, he introduced the Mind Stone.


Ultron, Avengers: Age of Ultron. The best villains are the ones you accidentally build yourself. From James Spader’s perfect swagger and rage and quippiness, to his willingness to just kill the whole world, to the “there are no strings on me” jingle…yeah. Ultron’s movie may have been a mess, but it was a fun mess, and he was a great villain.


The Winter Soldier, Captain America: The Winter Soldier. For all intents, he was the true antagonist of this film, presenting a completely unique challenge to Cap: you have to beat this man, and you can’t do it by killing him. You have to remind him who he is. Winter Soldier’s very existence has huge repercussions for the MCU.


Helmut Zemo, Captain America: Civil War. He took down the Avengers without superpowers, with limited resources, and with sheer determination and brainpower. Even though he was caught and imprisoned, he still got away with it.

Vulture, Spider-Man: Homecoming. Finally! A blue-collar villain, a working man who had had enough, and Michael Keaton did a heck of a job playing him the whole way through. Especially when that third act reveal popped up. A superb villain.


Thanos, Avengers: Infinity War. Underwhelming, right? I mean, he kind of has to be number one. Strongest, biggest impact, and the first villain to actually pull off his plan. Ego tried to kill everyone. Thanos was more dangerous and only had half the goal.

And since I know you will ask: I am not officially including any of the TV shows, for 3 reasons:

1) They are, unfortunately, not part of the continuity of the movies.

2) Most of the shows suck.

3) These villains have at least 13 hours to establish themselves, which gives them more weight.

Nevertheless, two honorable mentions:

Kingpin, Daredevil. I can’t sum it up, you just have to watch the show. What a magnificently crafted character.


Kilgrave, Jessica Jones. Give someone Jedi mind powers. Remove all their morals. Dial up the evil to 11. Yeah. Kilgrave was the one redeemable factor from one of Netflix-Marvel’s worst shows.

Did I forget anyone?

Characters First: Why “Incredibles 2” was a worthy addition to the first one.

It’s always scary when they make a sequel to a really great movie. If the first one was 100% great, the second one would only need to hit 90% for you to feel like it didn’t live up.

Fortunately, Pixar has enough cultural capital for people to give them credit in the sequel department.

DreamWorks, for example, sequeled the hell out of the Shrek franchise, and none of them were all that great. The How To Train Your Dragon series started strong, but the sequel wasn’t able to recapture all the magic, and the 500 spinoff shows have watered down the product. Still, the third looks promising.

Incredibles, though, knows what it’s about. Yes, there are superheroes, and societal issues, and Big Questions, but those are just dressing on the plate. At its core, it’s a family story.

Bob is the husband/father who hates his job and longs for the glory days when he felt more valuable to the world. Now he tries to fill that void by figuring out how to be the dad his kids need him to be.

Helen struggles with the opposite problem–trusting her husband to run a tight ship like she does at home, while also accepting the responsibility of being The Main Superhero who will usher in a new era.

Violet isn’t just the girl with invisibility powers; she wants more adult responsibilities, and a relationship with a boy. The fact that she has powers and has to hide them makes that really hard to manage.

Dash is trying to keep up with a changing curriculum at school, and idolizes his dad, hoping to live up to his standard of heroism someday.

And Jack-Jack…oh man. That baby. Anyone who has had a baby boy in their house knows what’s up. Even without any dialogue, and limited cognition, he imposes his will on the world around him. Jack-Jack steals the show.

I could go on and on about the brilliant angles and aspects of this, but really, you just need to see it and you probably will. The 14-year wait, while unconventional, was worth it, and your patience is rewarded.

I would rather have to wait a decade and a half and have them get it right anyway.