Friday, April 19, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #18: MONSTER BLOOD II

It's a first that I'm exploring this month for Goosebumps. No, no, I'm not doing this sober, don't get too excited. No, I mean that this book represents the first actual sequel that the series has thrown up. As we go, this will happen more and more, as popular individual books become series. In fact, Monster Blood has four different books in the original run of Goosebumps, which makes it one of the most popular ideas to explore. Luckily for me, I've got a growler full of Chocolate Shake Porter from Boulder Beer, so that might make this experience a little easier to handle. Ready? Let's go!

So, not only is this a return to the idea of monster blood—a substance that Evan and his friend Andy found in a weird old toy store and while grew out of control and nearly killed two bullies—it's a return to Evan himself. Which is...unfortunate, because where he was kind of annoying in MONSTER BLOOD, in the sequel is he nearly unbearable. He's in Atlanta now, and has not gotten off to a good start at school because he's told everyone about almost being killed by an evil cat. Except...there have been some changes made to the story of "what really happened to Evan." Namely, all mention of the evil cat and witch great aunt have been completely removed. Instead of almost being murdered because a cat didn't want to share their favorite human, we get only that monster blood grows and grows and, if ingested, makes people become huge. I'll get to this in the conspiracy theory, but just fyi, this is weird.

And it's weird because this series is only 18 books long at the moment, and this is the first sequel. I can understand wanting to make things simple so that maybe a kid could read MONSTER BLOOD II without having first read MONSTER BLOOD, but it's like the series itself has admitted that the whole plot line with the witch and the cat was...a little weird and that they should just keep things simple. Green slime that grows. Simple. Okay. And go figure that once Evan starts telling everyone about this, he's not exactly popular. It seems like Evan is never popular, tbh, but here we see that he's being harassed in particular by Conan Barber (of course aka Conan the Barbarian). Now, a few things. I appreciate here that Stine doesn't make Conan either especially stupid or ugly. Even totally straight Evan has to admit that he cuts a good figure, and his cruelty is careful and intricate, if juvenile.

But then, it's a nice commentary in some ways on how it doesn't have to be anything other than juvenile, because the adults surrounding the kids (and especially the science teacher Mr. Murphy) are just awful. It shows very nicely that teachers a lot of the time have serious tunnel vision with regards to students. Those who they have determined are Good Kids can basically get away with anything, while those who are Bad really have no way of making up for it. Conan is (because Mr. Murphy is coach of the basketball team and Conan is the star) a Good Kid. Evan (because he is new, disruptive, and falls asleep in class because of PTSD-induced insomnia) is a Bad Kid. So despite Conan routinely physically harming Evan, Evan is the one punished for it. Now, Evan's not exactly the brightest bulb in this story, but to be fair he dealing with constant nightmares and is probably sleep deprived. So yeah. That.

Okay, so things get interesting when Andy shows up in Atlanta. Andy, everyone's super queer best friend. She shows up with a surprise, even! The container that the monster blood came in! Now Evan can prove at least part of his story. Except that upon opening the jar, they see that there's more monster blood! And it's growing. Ahh! Only wait, wasn't the only reason the monster blood grew out of control in the first place because of the evil cat? Wasn't it otherwise just some boring GAK or whatever? The answer to that question is WHO ASKED YOU?! The book has decided that all monster blood is now magic and evil so be quiet and hold onto something, because things get even weirder!

I've neglected to mention to now that most of the book revolves around Evan's Love/Hate relationship with the science room's mascot, a hamster named Cuddles. Evan hates cuddles, apparently because he has to clean the cage most days as punishment for things he does in Mr. Murphy's class. Cuddles doesn't like Evan, either, and tends to make his life as hard as possible. We can all sympathize, Cuddles. Anyway, Cuddles in central to a lot of the story because the hamster represents Evan's growing alienation from his peers. As Evan digs himself deeper and deeper into being a social pariah, he is pushed closer and closer to Cuddles, who becomes all the things standing between Evan and some sort of social acceptance. It's deeply psychological.

But first, everything needs to go wrong. So it turns out that Conan wants the monster blood. I'm not sure why (and it's never explained), but let's just guess that he's the type who never gets told he can't have something that so he just wants it. He even manages to steal an overflowing can of it from where Andy and Evan bury it. How Conan could safely transport or store the container, which is described as overflowing, to his house across town is beyond me, but I guess it's only kinda overflowing, so we're all good. In any event, comedy and tragedy demand that Evan react to this news by breaking into Conan's house with Andy in order to steal the monster blood back. See how the cycle of Bad Kid to actual crime is reinforced here? If Evan wasn't white this would be when things got really bad, instead of ridiculous.

Anyway, their heist is actually successful and Andy agrees to bury the monster blood because I guess that gets rid of it now? Except, well, Andy is Andy and totally doesn't. Oops. Instead, she feeds some to Cuddles in order to make the metaphor literal and suddenly Evan's social death is complete, as Cuddles grows and continues to grow and everyone basically hates Evan because he can't really do anything right. Frustrations come to a head when Cuddles grows to the size of a bus and Evan decides he needs to act. Not before Conan is grabbed and looks like he might be devoured by the enormous rodent. But, you know, some time! Evan races off to put his plan into action. His plan of...eating the monster blood himself to grow tall enough to discipline Cuddles properly.

Oh you know this goes well. I actually love how Evan decides to do all of this and then still fails miserably. Evan really is no good at really anything. Instead of being able to put the smack down on MegaCuddles, Evan ends up being subdued himself and about to be ended by those creepy front teeth. Welp, oh well, by Evan. Andy will probably save us all, at least. EXCEPT WAIT! With a pop, Evan and Cuddles are back to normal size! What?! How?! Oh, well, Andy points out, it just so happens that the expiration date was RIGHT NOW. Yes, I know that expiration date implies it's a day and yes, I know that it's still the middle of the day, but NEVER MIND THAT. The day is saved! Evan gets a bit of street cred for fighting MegaCuddles, and everything goes back to normal.

Or maybe not. Turns out Andy got a package from her parents (who are touring Europe) and it's...more monster blood! That (I guess) isn't expired. Gasp! And okay, okay, that's pretty sigh as far as endings go, but hang with me a while, because it's CONSPIRACY TIME!!!

Andy's a witch now. There is literally no other explanation to any of this. First, Evan has no memory of the whole witch thing, which means that his great aunt must have wiped his memory of that, but as a semi-cruel joke (because she was cool that way), she left him with the memories of the monster blood. Not only that, but the side effects of the mind wipe are that he's now plagued by nightmares, which are his brain's way of trying to remember but being unable to put all the pieces together. Meanwhile, Andy's been taking lessons. Unlike Evan, Andy lives right next to a real life practicing witch, and if this series has taught me anything it's that witches are vengeful and enjoy punishing children for being children. But witches have to come from somewhere, so enter Andy.

Now everything makes sense! Was the monster blood neutralized before when the cat was defeated? Yes. But Andy, being mischievous, devised a way to have some fun at Evan's expense. So she magicked up some more. Then she conveniently shows up with it and conveniently loses it and conveniently feeds some to Cuddles. Er, I mean, at that point it's pretty obvious that she's just messed with things, right? And then, just when everything is about to go so, so wrong, poof. Andy is standing right there when it happens. And it's Andy who discovers that hey, it must have expired! Meanwhile while one cruel door closes, a new one opens, when Andy produces the new monster blood at the end. I mean, think about it. It's always Andy who introduces the stuff in this book, and she seems to have it completely under control, at least so she can enjoy the chaos.

It makes for a rather fun but completely bonkers story. Taken with the first book, it just doesn't make any sense unless you follow along on my fan theory. But let's break it down by the numbers.

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 4/5 (I'm actually liking what the series is doing wrt to witches. They're just such agents of chaos that it's delightful. I suppose that, like monsters, Goosebumps has it's own mythology about witches. They are cruel and unpredictable but mostly make sure things work out. At the same time, they kind of hate people who don't act and act decisively. So it makes sense that they'd let Andy into the club, who is very decisive and probably queer af. I'm all for the further adventures of Andy and Great Aunt Kathryn as they wreck havoc on the world. Yes)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 1/5 (okay no, this is a hot pile right here. I'd hate to knock a Goosebumps book for something as silly as consistency, but come on. It's obvious that the thing people liked was the goo, so the goo has become something in its own right instead of being caused by witch magic. Further, the bullying plot was largely recycled from the first book and the "solution" to the problem was a completely random chance. Boo)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 2/5 (there are worse Goosebumps. That said, it's well below the average and despite the admittedly-cool giant hamster battle, the book didn't really stand up. As the first of the sequel books, it sets a rather sad precedent for what to expect going forward. It's just, sad to say, not nearly as good as the first MONSTER BLOOD, which I feel shouldn't be case because Stine should be hitting his stride now, confident about what he's doing and in command of his craft. Not that it doesn't have its moments, but it's a missed opportunity to really expand the mythology of the setting and its magic)

So there you go! Next month (I kid you not) we join Billy Deep in DEEP TROUBLE. If anything ever sounded like a porn title, this one's it. Anyway, thanks for stopping in. Cheers!

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