New Domain Review

April 12, 2018

Format: Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Mike Baron, award-winning creator of legendary independent comics Nexus and The Badger, is on a streak with novels furiously entertaining for any readers and no doubt the author himself. Anyone familiar with Nexus might have expected Baron to eventually write science fiction novels on the scale of Frank Herbert’s DUNE series. But throughout his career Baron has excelled not only at the sociopolitical future complexities that immediately made Nexus a cult hit in the early 1980s, but at depicting modern American life with jaw-dropping, sometimes side-splitting, typically non-judgmental accuracy. Baron shows, doesn’t preach, and at this point he’s one of the only fiction writers I can think of who’s not screaming out political sermons in tales dealing with our kaleidoscopic zeitgeist. His initial novels, Helmet Head and Whack Job, beggar description. Mashups of just about everything weird, but with Baron’s experience and intellect keeping things in check enough that he brings order to all the compulsively readable chaos. Currently, Mr. Baron is concentrating on the Bad Road Rising series of novels featuring biker P.I. Josh Pratt, an ex-thug who’s found God and goes through the wringer making a buck and holding onto his morality in a world that would give Caligula stage fright. Every Baron novel is unique, and longtime fans will catch subtle and wonderful in-jokes (my favorite: the name Stan Merkle) that are the only evidence of the writerly ghost in the machine.

And ghosts are Baron’s underlying theme in DOMAIN, the story of comic book artist Kendall Coffin (signature a “K” inside a coffin) and his unwise decision to buy a mansion designed by a reputedly mad architect (I kept imagining late ALIEN designer H.R. Giger!) after coming into some bucks. Coffin had made a name working on Doctor Strange, but was given the heave-ho when a new editor came on board (I am amazed at Baron’s lack of venom as he hints at how the sausage gets made at places like the old House of Ideas…but he has always put story before his own feelings). Now, Coffin lands a ridiculous but lucrative job storyboarding an “erotic thriller” that cannot conceivably be turned into even a hard-R movie. Coffin wrestles with disgust and embarrassment, finding every way possible not to share details of the project. Later, he trades it for one almost as heinous: designing a “cop-killer” game called Off the Pigs. These are the least of his worries. He dreams of his troubled ex-wife, wakes to hear screams, and soon enlists friends like neighbor Torrance (a heavy metal star who’s found God but is still working on a new album by his band, Gearhead) and his whiz-kid son Tommy to help figure out what is going on in the old house. Coffin is forced to hide secrets throughout the story, and a reader can feel his tension and wonder how it could not turn into utter resignation: an intruder is killed in the merciless home protection system the architect had designed for the perverse movie mogul who has left behind horrific videos that had been lovingly viewed in his elaborate home cinema; Coffin has unwittingly bought a Corvette that drives itself; and a “Kardashian Killer” (dubbed by media) is on the loose, looking for raven-headed beauties–Coffin had recently met the latest victim at a party. Coffin adopts a great dog and falls in love with an equally great, beautiful magician who fits the description of exactly what the K. Killer is looking for. The man’s life is one worry after another, and Baron throws us off just where his slow-burn mystery is going. A death at a seance brings the survivors closer, and as Coffin listens to the medium speak in the voice of the dead intruder, he knows something otherworldly really is going on. The story continues with the hidden-science-effected return of a man thought long dead, who knows much of the sick secrets of the producer and what has become House Coffin. With the polite wit of one who’s seen it all, Baron succinctly describes the What Can Ya Say? atmosphere of a Comic Con, and things rev up as we learn just what has been going on at this reanimated house of horrors. I wondered if the architect or another figure in the story was pulling an elaborate ruse on Coffin. All I can say is, here, Baron has his black velvet cake and eats it too. If you are a sucker for horror stories, you know that most of them telegraph endings to readers. Not so here. I highly doubt anyone reading DOMAIN will guess the identity of the Killer. And the past is ghost enough for any of us. DOMAIN is the ultimate horror story about the objectification and mistreatment of women throughout history. But Baron, as I said, doesn’t preach. He takes us through our present day and great memories of the last century while subjecting our everyhero to inner explorations of the conscience, or lack thereof, of the human species. And Baron fires his last shot straight into the bullseye, with an uplifting surprise that shows there are always new houses waiting to be built.

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