Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Comic Strips – The Complete Little Orphan Annie and Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning

Both of these volumes are from IDW’s Library of American Comics imprint, hands-down the best reprints ever done of American comic strips. 

- The Complete Little Orphan Annie Vol. 1: This book is a wonderful way to discover the plucky little red-headed orphan who leads one of the most adventure-filled lives in history. Reprinting strips from 1924 through 1927, readers discover Annie in her orphanage, being abused and longing for a real life and loving parents. She is introduced to, and ultimately adopted by “Daddy” Warbucks and his snooty, uptight wife—who has no love for Annie. Loveable mutt Sandy is also introduced and becomes Annie’s instant companion and protector. Several tumultuous storylines are presented; Annie meets and falls in love with a farming couple named the Silos, she joins the circus and becomes an elephant tamer; and circumstances force her several times to wander the country broke and alone, facing real danger. Through it all she adopts a stoic, can-do demeanor that thrilled readers of all ages for decades. 

This volume also includes informative background material by comics historian Jeet Heer, and over 1,000 daily comics with nine complete stories. This is truly one of the great American strips. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 

- Tarzan: The Complete Russ Manning Newspaper Strips, Vol. 1 (1967-1969): I devoured the Edgar Rice Burroughs Tarzan novels when I was a teenager, and the Ape Man is one of my all time favorite adventure characters. It is always a treat finding high-quality depictions of Tarzan in other media. Russ Manning is a writer/artist who seriously “gets” Tarzan. He takes the Lord of the Jungle all over the world in this volume, from Africa to Opar, to Pal-ul-don and other time-lost lands. He also makes room for a few storylines with Korak, the son of Tarzan and Jane. Sometimes those storylines converge into one grand adventure. And Manning can draw it all perfectly, from beastly half-men to dinosaurs and fantasy monsters. If you’re a Tarzan fan, I don’t see how you can not have these books in your library. 

This first of four volumes (three of which have been published) includes more than 650 daily and Sunday strips from December 1967 through October 1969. Everything about it is top-notch, from the storytelling and art to the beautiful reproduction. A flawless volume. 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Around the 'Net

Burt Reynolds as Iron Man?
Some fun links:

- What if the Avengers movie had been made in 1985? Burt Reynolds as Iron Man? Tom Cruise as Hawkeye? Clint Eastwood as Nick Fury? Speculation here.

- Former David Letterman writer Tom Ruprecht contributes a short article on some of his favorite stories of Letterman guests. Click here.

- Ace TV writer Javier Grillo-Marxuach worked on the TV series Lost for its first two seasons. Here are his memories of that time.

- Speaking of Lost, Pop Culture Safari provides a list of the things we still don't know about the series' mysteries. Great show, but this still sticks in my craw. For a full list click here.  

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Hugo Controversy Heats Up

Vader Reads Correia
For those not following the Hugo controversy, here is my boiled down version:

- The Hugos are genre awards for literature and other media (generally sci fi/fantasy) given out at Worldcon. They are known as the most prestigious awards in the world for sci fi/fantasy literature.

- Liberal/progressive themes have been nominated and won the lion’s share of awards for years, with literature of any other political—or neutral—persuasion excluded.

- Some authors, tired of the lopsided and overly political atmosphere of the most prestigious awards in the world, decided to urge readers to look at a larger slate of novels to nominate, free of any political prejudice. This was mostly spearheaded by ace writer Larry Correia, in a campaign hilariously named “Sad Puppies.”  

- This worked, and many novels with not-necessarily-progressive themes were nominated this year. Mr. Correia himself won a nomination, but recused himself due to the campaign. Now many liberal Worldcon members and voters are angry (I mean going off the rails angry) with Mr. Correia and his friends who worked to make sure the Hugo nomination process was more diverse.  

I absolutely, unequivocally love both of these writers. And unlike most of the general debate, Martin’s and Correia’s comments are (mostly) polite and well reasoned. For the record, Correia is right and, with all due respect, Martin is wrong. Not in his personal opinions, but that this is a bad thing. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Comics Capsule Reviews

Joe Frankenstein #1
Joe Frankenstein #1 & 2: Four-dollar comics just kill me. While I love comics, with all of the entertainment choices available, four bucks for a 5-10 minute reading experience continues to have diminishing returns. Welcome to that rare comic book worth the cover price. 

Master adventure writer Chuck Dixon and extraordinary artist Graham Nolan have crafted a thrilling tale of monsters and slackers. Joe Pratt is a kind-hearted foster kid, currently delivering pizzas to make a buck. When he is trapped by a coven of nasty vampires on a routine delivery, he is rescued by a large, hulking presence in a hoodie. A presence that tells him of his true legacy as ... Joe Frankenstein. 
Joe Frankenstein #2

The story speeds up from there, introducing several unsavory, supernatural business types that are after Joe. The monster sits back and deals death to any and all murderous stalkers. Joe has a hard time adjusting to all this, but sobers up to the truth quickly enough when his foster family is threatened and is forced to leave town in a bit of a hurry. The monster is a mystery man, introducing Joe to a lair more suited to a rich librarian than a village fiend. 

Joe Frankenstein is filled with action, brilliant characters and an intriguing plot that Dixon keeps fresh and moving. The remarkable storytelling of the much-missed Graham Nolan doesn’t hurt. Nolan’s layouts tell the story in a clear, flowing narrative that leads the reader’s eye smoothly from one scene to the next. I can’t wait to see where this goes. Why can’t all comics be this good? 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars
Alex + Ada #13
Alex & Ada #13: Sadly, I just found out this series is only running 15 issues. As one of the best comics of the last year, I’m incredibly disappointed to hear that. Especially with the events of this issue. The government is beginning to close the net on suspected androids who have their sentience activated. The secret 3D forums Alex and Ada frequent are shut down, with users tracked back to their home addresses. Alerts are all over the news. Black helicopters fill the air. Most of their friends who have violated the laws are in custody or in the process of being tracked down. Alex and Ada see no choice but to run. And not a moment too soon. 

With only two months to go, I expect some major explosions in the next two issues. Will Alex & Ada actually escape? Or will she be caught and destroyed, with Alex receiving a lengthy prison sentence? Or will they make it to some as yet unknown sanctuary? I suppose we’ll find out.  

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars 
Southern Bastards #8

Southern Bastards #8: The last part of the origin of football coach Euless Boss. I’ve never read a more stark, violent past of a character. Commentary on the letters page suggest some people are so stricken by Boss’s past that they have some sympathy for him as a character. Not me. Shedding light on the character’s backstory is interesting (and at points terrifying), but he’s still a monster. He could have taken all that hate and pain and used it to do something good, or make the world better. He didn’t. We also learn that Alberta Tubbs is leaving the army and coming home from Afghanistan. Hopefully that will be the beginning of the end for Coach Boss. 

Southern Bastards lives up to its name as few other titles do. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars 

We Can Never Go Home #1
We Can Never Go Home #1: This sleeper from Blackmask Comics caught me by surprise. I read a positive online review the day it hit the stands and thought I would take a chance. I’m glad I did. 
Duncan is a nerdy underclassman, while Madison is a popular and pretty senior at their local high school. Passing by while Madison throws her gropey boyfriend into a wall, Duncan and Madison make a pact that he will keep quiet about her super strength. On the walk home, Duncan confesses he has a secret too—a deadly one. Madison is sure he’s nuts. Smitten, Duncan makes a mix tape for Madison and her friends do not let her hear the end of it. When Maddie visits Duncan’s house to try and cool his ardor, she ends up saving his life but committing a terrible act with her strength. Duncan says he will protect her, but they have to leave now. And they can never go home. 

This book was such a pleasant surprise. Writer Matthew Rosenberg has a great ear for dialog, and the excellent art by Josh Hood contains some creative layouts and characters who tell the story through their body language as well as the dialog. The characters have distinct personalities and surprise readers with their actions. An outstanding first issue, I look forward to more. 

Rating: ****½ out of 5 
Weird Love #6

Weird Love #6: Ahh, the cream of the reprint comic crop. Who knew people were insane in the 1950s? Some of this month’s treasures: 

- Love Slaves (First Love Illustrated #36, 1954). This is an especially weird one. Jan and Julia are lovers of some undetermined ethnicity. Their country is attacked by some undetermined Communist power and they are taken to the same work camp in an undetermined area. The nameless thug in charge develops a crush on Julia and decides to have his way with her in front of Jan. They escape, but the thug and his cronies track them for miles over an undetermined landscape. They reach the border and escape. Love ... triumphs, I guess? Was that vague enough for you? 

- I Was a Waterfront Girl (Love Letters #3, 1950). Sal Benson used to be big time. A hot dancer with the world famous Dick Ryan and His Chicago Cuties, she was on top of the world. Until they came to the island of Tralu and the act fell apart. Now she’s a torch singer at Beachcomber Bill’s (not part of an existing franchise). Feisty and bitter, Sal sings at Bill’s her way. In her time. In a really slinky dress. When she meets millionaire Bart Carroll, it’s love lust gold digging at first sight. She makes Bob forget all about his current, fiancée, uh, whatshername, but as soon as said fiancée gets a whiff of home wrecking, Sal is thrown back into the trash heap. On his yacht when Bart dumps her, Sal knocks him overboard to the sharks (literally). Luckily, said fiancée is a trained sharkfighter, so she jumps in with a knife in her teeth, kills several sharks, and drags Bart back onto the boat. This really happens. Who said romance is dead? 

- Heart Clinic (Confessions of the Lovelorn #114, 1960). Here’s one for the feminists. A somewhat clinical looking fellow who refers to himself as the “Mender of Broken Hearts” explains to Kate why women are so unreasonable and hysterical. He takes her through the Phases of Female Romance, A thru F. Phase A is Puppy Love, all the way through Phase F, which I can’t reveal on a family blog. Turns out women are just looking for a strong, square-jawed man to make all their decisions and order for them at restaurants. Gee, wish I’d read that in high school. Would have saved me a lot of heartache in life! 

- I Married A Monster (Just Married #81, 1971). Darn that Howard! Actors are so sensitive. He won’t tell his new wife Millie about the role he just procured on a new TV show. Is he replacing James Arness on Gunsmoke? Becoming the new Tarzan? Partnering with William Shatner in a buddy Western that will be cancelled after three episodes? No. Turns out he is the monster on a ... gasp ... children’s show. Yes, Howard is the lead in Wally the Wolf. With his polka dot pants, wolf makeup and propeller beanie, Howard is howling his way to the love of millions! Of small children. What’s worse, he’s a success! He is mobbed by kids everywhere he goes. Friends ask him to howl at dinner parties. And chicks want to see if he’s leader of the pack, if you know what I mean. Millie is scandalized! How dare Howard lower their social status by making millions on a, a kiddie show! Then comes the day when little Johnny crosses the street to see Wally the Wolf (on the sidewalk in full makeup). When Johnny is hit by a car, he screams for Wally instead of his negligent mommy. When Millie sees how much Wally the Wolf means to Johnny, Howard drops the kid’s head on the concrete so he can embrace Millie and live happily ever after! Or until the residuals run out. Howard is now doing summer stock in Poughkeepsie and Millie is dating Bruce Jenner. 

Other stories in this issue include Stay Away from Married Men and I Was a Child Bride! Why is no one serving time for creating this comic? The authorities must be alerted! 

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Graphic Novels – The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Writer/artist Scott McCloud, of Understanding Comics fame, turns in an ambitious and thoughtful new work. 

David Smith is a twenty-something sculptor already abused and washed out of a cruel system, the modern art world. He lives by his own code; one of whose tenets is never accept charity. That’s tough to do in New York City, as his free apartment's lease is expiring and he’s down to his last dollar. When he meets Death on the street (in a familiar guise), he gets an offer: he can live for only 200 more days but be able to sculpt anything he can imagine. Depressed and half-suicidal anyway, David takes the deal. Of course that’s when he meets Meg, who turns out to be the love of his life. Now that David has this amazing ability, how does he use it? Sculpting up a storm of new pieces, he tries his former art outlet with less than desired results. Then he hits on a brilliant new canvas for his work; the city of New York. 

The ideas and concepts of The Sculptor are universal. Although David himself is not a likable character, the supporting cast has their moments. Most of them are portrayed as real and relatable human beings. Meg has issues with depression, his best friend is a selfish and lonely gay man who does not have his best interests at heart. Death stays in touch throughout the book, reminding David how many days he has left and urging him to accomplish great things. There are some curves in the end leading to a bittersweet but satisfying conclusion. And McCloud’s renditions of David’s sculptures are brilliant and wondrous to behold. 

While well paced and plotted, some of the relationships in the book, especially David and Meg, fail to connect emotionally to the reader. But that is a somewhat minor quibble overall. Clocking in at 500 pages, The Sculptor features some weighty themes resulting in a substantial, rewarding read. 

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Monday, March 16, 2015

Prison Tales: My Friend Sam, Part 5

This is the fifth in a series of stories about my friend Sam, former owner of the Premium Fireworks Company. He is currently in minimum-security prison (unjustly) for selling fireworks for which he did not have a valid license to sell. If you want to start from the beginning:

Over the weekend I made one of my last visits to see my friend Sam in prison. Sam is in for approximately 100 more days. In the end he will have served around 13 months of an 18-month sentence. He will then serve two months in home incarceration (or a halfway house) and spend three years on probation. His debt to society will then be paid in full.

Sam is not one to be down, even in his present circumstances. Still, he was more of his old self during our visit than I’d ever seen him. There was a palpable change to his demeanor—mentally he is on the other side of this experience. Only a little over three months to go! Our conversation veered much more toward his plans after getting out than what an unpleasant experience prison is. Still, prison is no picnic. There aren’t as many episodes of violence in minimum-security prison as there are in maximum security. Still, there are some. Sam told me two stories. The first was about an unhappy convict who wanted to read the New York Times. In the prison library, convicts put their names down for periodicals and when one person is finished, he passes it along to the next in line. One man didn’t want to wait for the NYT. He demanded his “mother******* NYT now!” When the librarian wouldn’t produce it, he left, found a piece of pipe, and was on his way back to the library to pound someone when the guards caught up with him. He was quickly shipped off to maximum security. 

The other story happened to Sam himself. He has had trouble for months with his next-door cubicle neighbor, we’ll call him Mr. Young. Mr. Young is a bit anti-social, and has tried to pick fights with several other prisoners. Recently, as Sam sat on his bed and read a magazine, Mr. Young marched into his cubicle and slapped him in the face with no provocation. Sam stood up to defend himself and other nearby convicts broke them up. Guards descended on them, and for once other convicts were happy to report Sam did nothing and Mr. Young attacked him for no reason. Put in segregation with another prisoner, Mr. Young then tore the other man’s bed apart and threw all of his belongings on the floor. Mr. Young was then removed to another facility, presumably for mental evaluation and assistance. 

As we were in the visitation area talking, Sam pointed out a nearby convict in his 20s visiting with his mother. Sam said he was a drug dealer from London. “How thick is his accent?” I asked. Sam said it was thick and did an imitation of what was the worst British accent I’ve ever heard. Worse than Kevin Costner in that Robin Hood movie. Later we struck up a conversation with the man and he had a thick US Southern accent. “I thought you said he was from London?” I asked. “Yeah,” Sam said. “London KENTUCKY, moron!” Oh. In my defense, I have been reading a lot of British history lately. Explains why his mother was there though. 

Sam did point out a few of the acquaintances he had made who were currently in the visiting area; a well educated inside trader, some friendly drug dealers, and the marijuana-growing farmer he had mentioned before. He talked about the long sentences for some minor, non-violent felons, and the unfairness of some harassing prosecutions. We reflected on his own case; a lying prosecutor and an unjust system that has destroyed a business that had 99% legitimate merchandise. There is no reason a fine wouldn’t have been just punishment. It’s not as if he had military grade explosives; most of the “illegal” merchandise is perfectly legal in most countries. The federal government did not want Premium Fireworks to be in business anymore, so they destroyed it. Sad. 

As I said, Sam’s attitude was better than it had been since he was sentenced to prison. He went over his options of what to do next; he still hasn’t fully decided. We went over the first restaurant where he wants to eat when he gets out (steak, natch) and how he’ll spend time during his home incarceration. At least we hope it is home incarceration—he could be forced to go to a government halfway house. I’m not sure how they decide such things, and apparently neither is anyone else in the prison system. He’s close to getting out and can’t get a straight answer about where he will go. We’ll see. 

Sam usually puts away a few pounds of food from the prison vending machines during our visits, but he had just had lunch. Today he had only a honey bun, two cinnamon rolls and three coffees. Yet he’s still thin as a rail. 

As usual, the guards kicked everyone out promptly at 3:00pm. As I headed to the door, I told Sam the last 100 days will fly by. I hope it’s true. It will be good to have my friend back home and on to the next phase of his life. 

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Supergirl Costume Revealed

Melissa Benoist as Supergirl
So there’s going to be a new Supergirl show on CBS. I am withholding any opinion, but I have to say the costume is a pleasant surprise—it is actually recognizable as Supergirl. I don’t much care for it being another CBS crime procedural—I find them boring as all get out--or the politically correct casting. It’s rare that anything on Network TV is worth watching—but the costume is great!

Here's how CBS describes the show:

Supergirl stars Melissa Benoist as Kara Danvers née Zor-El, who since arriving on Earth years ago in the wake of planet Krypton’s destruction has been hiding the powers she shares with her famous cousin (Kal-El aka Superman). At age 24, Kara decides to embrace her super abilities and become the hero she was destined to be.

Also recently added to the cast are former Supergirl Helen Slater and former Superman Dean Cain, two actors I enjoy. I’ll definitely catch the pilot.