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Sonovawitch! And Other Tales of Supernatural Law. By Batton Lash. San Diego, CA: Exhibit A Press, 2000. 176pp. $14.95. ISBN 0963395467.

Humor, horror, law

Adults, teens, kids

NOTE: This book collects issues 17-22 of Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre, as well as the first issue of Mavis.

ANOTHER NOTE: According to Exhibit A Press, "The original comic book issues were nominated for a Bram Stoker Award, given by the Horror Writers of America. Lash was also nominated for a Will Eisner Comic Industry Award as Best Writer/Artist–Humor for the Sonovawitch issues."

"Beware the creatures of the night-they have LAWYERS!" So goes the tagline of this book, which is one of several that collect the series Supernatural Law (formerly "Wolff & Byrd, Counselors of the Macabre"), which deals with Alanna Wolff, Jeff Byrd, and their workmates, relatives, and friends. Their firm's clientele consists of both good ol' fashioned monsters and humans who dabble in (or have been dabbled by) the supernatural.

An introduction by Neil Gaiman and a "Cast of Characters" begin the book. The stories include:

  • "The Death and Times of 'Dr. Life'," about Kevorkian's polar opposite: Dr. Bakaleivagin, who restores the dead to life ("I'm … concerned with my patients getting past the death thing and getting on with their lives"). Unfortunately, in doing so he's violated several laws, including engaging in the mortuary sciences without a license.
  • "Nosferatu: Special Report." Is the sinister-looking Count Draculotti a mere mob boss or a real vampire? Told in the form of numerous television news accounts and interviews.
  • "A Case for Ygor." Panic ensues when a woman accuses the hunchback at the "Little Village Preschool" of teaching her child Satanism. Who is the real monster here?
  • "Sonovawitch!" (three parts) Hapless Martin Woodhull is being sued for "hexual harassment" by Susan Medford, who is madly in love with him thanks to a spell placed on her by Martin's adoptive mother, Esther. The case pits Wolff against Laura Michaels, a crusader for women's rights, who is appalled that Wolff would take the man's side. Esther merely wanted her shy son to give her a grandchild. She can't take the spell off Susan without the help of her three sisters-and they won't help because they want her to testify in court to bring public notice to the issue of Witches' Rights.
  • "Mavis, World's Greatest Secretary." Mavis is Wolff and Byrd's secretary. In "Sonovawitch," Mavis's boyfriend Toby (also a lawyer) proposed to her. She has not yet given her answer. In this story, she has to deal with her relatives, who jump to conclusions when they see the ring. There's also the small matter of the ghost of a bride in the nearby cemetery.
  • "Gormagon" concerns a magical Japanese longevity crystal, its disputed ownership, and the mysterious appearance of a giant monster and disappearance of the crystal's putative American owner. The story is told by four people in the future, who researched the issue from four different perspectives.
  • "The Human Within Me" puts a twist on demonic possession by having the soul of a good man, Barry, possess a demon, Wasistlos. Unfortunately, Barry/Wasistlos is hauled into court, charged with possessing a petty thief and forcing him to commit crimes. Wolff knows the thief is lying, but because that information was said in confidence, she and Byrd have to figure out another way to prove that the demon wasn't responsible.

The book concludes with a substantial section about the author and editor.

When confronted with a book like this, I have two questions immediately: 1) Is it as funny as it sounds like it should be? and 2) Does it sound like real law? I'm happy to report that the answer to both is an emphatic "Yes!" It also tells well-plotted stories and has terrific dialogue, all of which is a joy to find in a parody title. It's so easy to get outrageously corny and pointless in a book like this, a temptation that Lash resists for the most part. (He's never pointless, but he can be occasionally corny. Witness "Gormagon," in which one of the characters, named Dekoo Kei, crumbles to dust, prompting the line…. oh, you can figure it out.) On the other hand, "Nosferatu: Special Report" just drips with bad vampire puns, but one can easily imagine real newscasts actually throwing that sort of thing in (including the wax moustache-read the book, you'll see what I mean), so the corniness is entirely appropriate.

The characters are very strong. Mavis and Toby's relationship is quite well done; one can understand both why she can't say "Yes" immediately and why she wants to stay with the guy. Esther Woodhull steals the show in her story. Wolff and Byrd are a tad bland, but I suspect they're more lively in other books, given Byrd's abortive relationship with a supermodel and Wolff's on-again, off-again dalliance with a sexist lawyer. Anyway, in most of the stories in this book they're secondary characters, felt rather than met (rather like the Sandman in some of the stories in that series), so it's not a problem.

As I said before, the dialogue is superior. (You can tell how good it is by the almost complete lack of narrative necessary to keep things coherent. The one story with significant amounts of narrative is actually a joke involving a mind reader.) Not only do the various characters sound entirely natural, but even the "rhubarb" in the background is good. The page when Mavis's relatives and neighbors are celebrating her engagement is hysterical, as Mavis desperately tries (and fails) to break through their excited statements.

I also appreciate Lash's varied approaches to the stories. While some are fairly straightforward tales centered around the characters, others involve newspaper or television newscasts, characters talking right to the "camera," or characters building a story based on their inadequate understanding of the events. In general, the legalese sounds legitimate, as do the newscasts.

The black-and-white art is simple enough to keep the book a smooth read, yet filled with enjoyable subtle touches and homages. Look for the Spirit parody page, the manga section, and the "Three Stooges" witches. (There's quite a bit of Eisner feel to this book, actually.) My only criticism, and I'm not sure this is much of one, is that Mavis appears to have stepped off the pages of Archie. Given that Lash was the creator of the infamous Archie Meets the Punisher, this is understandable, but a bit distracting, since I keep wondering if there's a reason for the way she looks.

The back matter says that Supernatural Law is under option at Universal for development into a live-action film. Frankly, I think it would be better as a TV series, which would give the characters time to be fleshed out (or not, depending on the creatures involved) and allow various messages to be advanced. Still, I'll be first in line for the movie should it appear. An extremely entertaining and readable book. Most highly recommended, primarily for adults and teens, especially those interested in law. Although there is nothing objectionable in here (except maybe to religious fanatics who have the vapors at the mere thought of the supernatural), I suspect kids would find parts of it overly complicated.

Buy it directly from Exhibit A Press!

Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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