Monday, October 28, 2019

LIVER BEWARE! You're in for a Drunk Review of Goosebumps #23: RETURN OF THE MUMMY

So what actually earns a Goosebumps sequel? This book marks the second return visit in the series (the first being Monster Blood), and as with that...uh...shining example, I'm not really sure what merited a return to this particular set of characters. Mummies are classic? Or...uh... Well, what's certain is that this book is a waaaaay better sequel than Monster Blood II. Not that giant hamsters aren't awesome, but that this book at least stays consistent with itself and the world it introduced in the first book. Gabe still gets lost way too easily. Uncle Ben still shouldn't be allowed to supervise children. And Sari is still quick to make Gabe look like an ass.

But first, some booze! I'm actually drinking a strange milkshake IPA, which has lactose in it, I guess? Look, I'm not here so you can judge my drinking decisions (and besides, it's really good). Thusly fortified against the descent into madness that this is sure to be, let's get right to it!

It's a year later and Gabe is returning to Egypt. know, I appreciate that this is one of the very few Goosebumps books that actually gives a character something of a culture. Mostly the characters are all just cookie-cutter "teens." And while R.L. Stine is very up on what it's like to be a teen in the 90s (snark), it means that no one really has a complicated relationship with not just their family, but their heritage. But Gabe sort of does. A little. Kinda. I mean, a lot of the book is about how "he's just a regular American kid," but he also does have thoughts and feelings about having connections to Egypt, and to the massive buildings that his uncle excavates and that he gets hopelessly lost in. It gives him that added layer, that he feels both connected to and slightly divorced from his culture and its history. And so he holds to the things that connect him back. Which typically involves mummies. So it's not exactly...good representation, but I do appreciate that the book tries to make the best out of the ridiculous premise.

But what's the adventure this time? Well, somehow after the disaster of their last outing, someone has once more funded Uncle Ben to poke around a pyramid. And, as luck would have it, they're on the verge of uncovering a long hidden burial chamber for...the cousin of King Tut! I mean, okay. Only apparently this guy was even wealthier than Tut. So everyone is really excited because, Anyway, after some minor mishap in the airport including Gabe pulling off a stranger's veil (hey, he is a regular American!), it's to the pyramids! But maybe people have learned some after last time, because there's no swanky hotel room this go round. Instead, Gabe is sharing a(n admittedly nice) tent with his cousin and uncle. So they can stay close to the action!

Oh, and remember how the whole climax of the first mummy outing was that Gabe had bought an actual ancient Egyptian relic at a garage sale? The Summoner (the little shrunken mummy hand) makes its return in this book, and is joined by a new trinket, this one provided by Uncle Ben. It's an amber pendent, with a scarab beetle inside. What fun! Really, this will only become important a little later, but I do like that this book actually uses the Summoner, and doesn't change its powers or anything. The rules are the same, and there's actually an attempt to find new and interesting ways to use the previous elements.

Now, the book does its best to throw up some actual conflict in this book in the shape of a curse. A mummy's curse! Turns out that this relative of the Tut doesn't want to be disturbed. Which, like, I'd think would be pretty common. I can't imagine many ancient rulers would be like "Let me rest! Unless, of course, you've got a nice museum to put my corpse and stuff into. I mean, it's not like I'll be using it, am I right?" But what could have been a discussion on the ethics of even academic grave robbing instead boils down to "this particular mummy was very anti-museum." It's a wish that Uncle Ben's partner, Dr. Fielding, is keen to honor.

Readers, I really hope that Uncle Ben and Dr. Fielding are a couple. I mean, I doubt it, because the book also introduces Nila, a reporter who seems to be throwing around her wiles pretty heavily at Uncle Ben. Not that Uncle Ben can't be a bi and perhaps a little messy/slutty, and Dr. Fielding is his more uptight and long suffering partner who secretly likes all the mischief that Ben gets up to... But ahem. Anyway, so Dr. Fielding doesn't want the project to continue. He's against it! Honor the wishes of the dead! Wait, what, there's an entire chamber of treasure? Oh. Well then yeah, no, let's raid that shit.

Seriously, his hesitation lasts until all that sweet, sweet treasure is directly in front of him, and then he's all in. The camp celebrates, including Nila, who has sort of been adopted into the group. For Gabe, it's not even all that excited. Except for when he stops in the dark and gets lost for a while. FUCKING HELLS, GABE, HAVE YOU LEARNED NOTHING?!?! In the first mummy book, he got lost TWICE because he stopped to tie his shoes. Wouldn't want to trip in a pyramid, right? Well here he doesn't even get that excuse. He just. gets. left. behind. somehow. But how?!?! How do you not keep up with the group? Kid deserves to be eaten by spiders is all I'm saying. Though no, he got saved, and the treasure was found, and everyone was happy.

And then the magic words turned up. For those paying attention, Goosebumps is a big fan of there being magic words that will bring inanimate things to life. And if it's good for dummies, then certainly it's good for mummies! Which is where the rivalry between Gabe and Sari finally actually does something. Because Gabe, tired of always being shown up by Sair, does something real stupid! You know, one could make the argument that so many of these stories are actually about fragile masculinity, and the horror that is men trying to prove that they are "real men." Or, rather, boys trying to prove that they "aren't girls." Which, here again, is where the real trouble starts. Because awakening a grumpy mummy is a great idea to do to prove you're not afraid, right? It doesn't even work. Sari, same as ever, keeps her shit together way better than Gabe. Sigh.

But what's this? Dr. Fielding seems to kidnap Uncle Ben? And leave him somewhere inside the pyramid to die? Shit! The kids are on that, pushing into the pyramid to save their wayward uncle. And, because Sari is guiding, they don't even get lost! They discover Uncle a now empty sarcophagus. And then Nila shows up. Yup, you guessed it, in a classic switcheroo, it turns out that Dr. Fielding is actually a good guy, and the seductive Nila is evil! But what does she want? Is she part of some secret mummy society, too, like Ben's former assistant?

Lol no, come on, that makes too much sense. She's an ancient mummy herself, who preserves her youth by transforming into a beetle at night and living inside her own amber pendant, which is otherwise empty. I mean how could you have missed that? It was totally obvious when she knew exactly how many words were in the magic spell that brings mummies to life. The one thing she lacked was the Summoner, which she managed to steal. All because...that mummy is her brother! (note to self: That Mummy Is My Brother would make a great episode of Maury)

That's right, this all boils down to...wait, why does she want to wake her brother up? Especially if she knew him in life, she'd probably know he explicitly didn't want to be disturbed. She's doing this for...the lols? Whatever the case, she's doing it! And Gabe and Sari just have to deal with it! Or, wait, die. They have to die. Yeah, sorry. The book reaches it's climax as the mummy reaches for them, probably to crush their throats or some other brutal violence. Except that he just freakin' ignores them and attacks his sister. Bad call, Nila, your brother's a d-bag. But it does give Gabe a chance to try and get back his Summoner. Which, in turn, leads to a scuffle with Nila, and in the fight Gabe breaks Nila's amber pendant! Which...does something?

I guess Nila's pendant was what allowed her to keep human form. Without it, she reverts to a beetle and scurries off. But Gabe manages to send the mummy back to sleep, and Dr. Fielding returns with the cops and a story about how he knew all along that that hussy was up to no good, moving in on his man. And that's about it! The kids return to being their same competitive selves, having learned nothing, and oh yeah Gabe gets bitten by beetle-Nila and dies. The end.

Ah...well, that happened. I actually don't have much to say about the world building or consistency. I'm vaguely wondering if those magic words would just work on...any old dead bodies, or only ancient mummies? Because if they work on all dead people, the possibilities are endless! Good thing Nila killed Gabe, because he would have made a completely boring Lich King. But Sari...well, there's an evil powerhouse I could get behind. Headcanon is set, I'm sorry, and the third mummy book is Sari at the head of a vast undead army while Ben and Fielding try to find a way to destroy the Summoner or otherwise thwart her. It's perfect.

The book as a whole, though? Not quite perfect. But I think a solid installment, and it makes the mummy books stronger together than separate. So there's that. But let's take a look at it by the numbers:

On the "Would I write fanfiction scale of greatness": 5/5 (yes I fucking would! If you didn't notice, like half of my review is just wishing that I could get more about Ben and Fielding. Because really, they seem like much more interesting characters, and while I know Gabe is the target audience MC, I don't care. Give me the adventures of these two men going into ancient ruins and dealing with Ben flirting with everyone and Fielding SO DISAPPROVING. Like, like, really, that seems so amazing. With Sari and her undead powers, this would be the best series ever. I'm taking no arguments on this one, sorry)

On the "Is this actually good scale of more trying to be objective": 3/5 (This one holds up okay. The setting is interesting, if really cliche, and the character work actually goes down deeper than the shallowest of reads of Gabe. He's given a little bit of complexity, and it makes the whole project that much stronger. It's not, like, perfect, or even all that great, as it does rely on some clunky red herring stuff, but I'll mostly forgive it)

On the "Yeah but this is Goosebumps scale of relative wonderment": 4/5 (with the speculative element introduced in the last book, we don't have to fart around with a hundred pages of "are mummies for real?" only to learn no, they aren't, except these at the end. Instead, we get to actually have the drama that magic is real and Gabe has a piece of it and that danger does make for a more tense and thrilling read. Again, it doesn't hit the highs of some others in the series, but it's a good installment in the series. And, again, it makes the original mummy better, which is always nice)

So hey, not bad! We'll see if the goodness continues next month in Goosebumps #24: PHANTOM OF THE AUDITORIUM


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