As I opened with in my review of Chuck Regan’s short story collection six months ago, I have known him and his work for a long time. Thirty-three years. And, in that time, I have witnessed his growth from a talented sketch artist and budding graphic novel writer and graphic artist to a novelist, graphic novelist, and short story writer whose immense world-building and attention to detail conspire to create expansive, immersive story-scapes that combine science fiction, fantasy, pop culture, and a deft mix of comedy and darkness.
For Blood or Justice represents the next level in Regan’s world-building and his in progress and planned meta-verse. The book opens with a Prologue taking us back to 1890, when a meteor brought vast changes to Earth. So many changes, in fact, that historical timelines were shifted from what we know them to be. Rather than bogging down the narrative, Regan uses footnotes to define, contextualize, and, in some cases, point the reader to other works and facts about his alternative history timeline (such as a longer life for Tesla and a much worse ending for Nixon than resigning).
Although I like very little about the twenty-first century and where it’s taken technology, as a writer of meta-verse stories, I appreciate what our capabilities are to package and distribute parts and pieces of our large stories in this way. I especially liked the alt-origin of the Philly Phanatic.
The Prologue then jumps to 1910, as the effects of the meteor begin to reveal themselves. The Prologue also cues the reader that this is a story that pulses at the nexus of Science and Spirit, with detailed doses of each. Never does the story get bound in ideas from either side of the same virtual coin, but the detail grounds the fantastic.
The Prologue jumps its time-scale several more times, bringing us to 1982.
As the story proper starts, we are situated in 1981, 15 months earlier. Regan and I were born only months apart and share an—I think quite proper and deserved—nostalgia for the Eighties. We were still innocent enough to unabashedly use our imaginations, while film, TV, fashion, music, and even the United States itself were all operating at a very high-energy, high-quality level.
So, if it’s happening in the 1980s, all the better for me, especially when it pays homage to the dominant tropes. And For Blood or Justice pays them aplenty. One of the characters, Scott, dresses in a “hoodie with the sleeves ripped off, bleach-distressed jeans, fingerless gloves, [and] scuffed high top sneakers”—as we did. And Regan is never coy about his homages, which I like. He says that Scott “did his best to try to look the part.” Later in the novel, a character cobbles together his superhero suit from a black sweat suit, goggles, balaclava mask, and skateboarding elbow and knee protectors, finishing off the ensemble with black parkour high tops.
And one situation provokes a character to say, “Kinda tropey.” If you like things like “space robot spider things,” this story-world’s for you.
From early on and throughout the novel, I was thinking of Mystery Men and X-Men. For Blood or Justice falls somewhere tonally between the two, although it navigates a much wider swath of tropes and landscapes than either. This is a world where “microdrone camera[s]” and “styrofoam coffee cups” seamlessly co-exist.
And the laughs generated by names like Silver Scythe/Silver Dildo are too good to miss.
The different cultural worlds that Regan brings together all but leap off the page in a hologram of sight, taste, sound, and smell, such as his passages about a group called the Chaos Punks. This has the kind of Dystopian feel that brings to mind the films of Joel Schumacher and Ridley Scott. And, again, the detail of the world is value-added. The description of Post-Non-Enhancement Syndrome and the side-effects of the treatment made me smile, because that would definitely be a thing.
Like recent films, especially in the MU, the book is packed with Easter Eggs. Here’s just one: “So, what’ve we got? Aliens? Is it aliens? It’s always aliens if it glows like that.” Giorgio T to the max.
Cross-pollinating with the popular genres of “forensics investigation drama” and Reality TV (which is anything but), For Blood or Justice explores the TV-land deals some of the special-power people have landed, including the story’s protagonist, Dan. Like Mystery Men, it is all about the “brand.” Help abounds, from algorithms, questionnaires, sponsors, and image consultants—human and android.
Complexities abound as well, in the form of ratings, possibility of cancellation, and potential for lawsuits. Again, if a meteor were to hit Earth and create special powers in some of the population, this would definitely be a thing.
Dan tries his best to keep up with the Criminal and the Corporate (which, as we know, are each of a piece), and his failure—trying a gravelly voice and having a coughing fit—brings us closer to his arc. He also has to deal with upticks in his Wrack—his set of special powers—that he does not understand and cannot thoroughly manage.
Joining the Criminal and the Corporate are the Coppers, and as the tension and the plot ramp up, we get a lot of noir-speak and other tropey deliciousness, including D & D–like point systems for traits like Strength. I particularly liked the pair of detectives in the last third of the story.
There’s also plenty of darkness in For Blood and Justice. Tasting a living person’s blood gives the protagonist the ability to check in on them telepathically and access their memories and there are entities out on the psychic planes that “even ghosts are scared of.” As a professional paranormal researcher, lecturer and author, I can attest to the truth of that. The descriptions of some specific ones are as eerie as they are accurate. There is also something called the Red Web that’s every bit as terrible as our own Dark one.
Something tells me—and I speak from decades of experience as a teacher, reviewer, and writer—that Regan is just getting started.
Book Two is going to be published in October, so get reading. You’ll be very glad you did.
TITLE: FOR BLOOD OR JUSTICE, Stormkind: Episode 1
AUTHOR: Chuck Regan
PUBLISHER: Rayguns and Mayhem/Kindle Direct Publishing