Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Movies – Guardians of the Galaxy 2

The first Guardians of the Galaxy is one of my favorite Marvel movies. It was funny, irreverent and totally unexpected that this band of misfits would fit together so well. I was hoping the sequel would find more of that ground to cover, but in an original way. I’m happy to say that for the most part, it does.

The original team is back; Starlord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and even Groot, who is regrowing himself and is at a baby stage. He’s cute. The film is not at all crowded and gives itself room to breathe and develop its very likable ensemble cast. The two main plotlines deal with Peter Quill, Starlord, finding his father Ego (another brilliant performance by Kurt Russell), and the wrath of the Sovereign race as they pursue our heroes to recover some stolen property. Both storylines come to a crashing conclusion at the end, as a good explosive superhero film should.

Along the way, director James Gunn treats us to laughs, action and some unanticipated twists. Also, the design work on Ego’s planet is some of the most stunning art, color and overall design work since Dr. Strange. Those awe-inspiring visuals are worth the admission price alone.

Gunn also treats us to some new characters, including Ayesha, leader of the Sovereigns, Mantis, Ego’s ... assistant, and even a cameo by Sylvester Stallone, leader of pirate group the Ravagers. Michael Rooker is great as always as Ravager Yondu, and he has a glorious story arc. Mantis is right out of the comics, which I loved. 

GOTG 2 is not quite as good as the original, but still filled with humor, action and hilarious one-liners. The relationships are expertly written, the characters all grow and change from their experiences, and the visuals are astounding. Unlike DC movies, Marvel movies are filled with joy. And GOTG 2 is one of the most joyous. I look forward to watching it many times more.

Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars 

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Comic Capsule Reviews (*Slight Spoilers*)

Deadpool versus Punisher #1: I have some guidelines for Punisher stories, which are pretty mild. First, the Punisher isn’t crazy. Obsessed ... driven maybe. Sometimes cruel. But not crazy. Second, the Punisher doesn’t harm or kill innocent people. Period. The fantasy of an unstoppable monster with guns destroying bad guys is over the second a civilian puts an eye out. And third, the Punisher doesn’t wear white gloves and boots.

Writer Fred Van Lente sticks to these well, but still writes kind of a dumb story. You’d think this would just be a comedy piece, with the grim Punisher serving as straight man for a constantly wisecracking Deadpool. Nope, it’s a straightforward adventure story, albeit with some humor. Van Lente may follow all my rules, but I’m not sure he understands the Punisher. Here is his opening Punisher narration:

“This may be a little hard to believe. But sometimes ... I actually feel sorry for them.” He is referring to the criminals he kills. No way. No way Frank Castle ever says anything like that. He’s on a mission to rid the world of violent, vicious reprobates. He is highly motivated and does not feel sorry for the kinds of trash he removes from society.

During a raid on a bad guy’s lair, the Punisher discovers some big game, a shadowy criminal who acts as a money handler/investor for other criminals, the Bank. When he goes to kill the Bank and destroy his business, the Bank calls in his friend Deadpool, who naturally keeps all his money with the Bank.

Another incredibly stupid part of the story is when the Punisher arrives at the Bank’s estate and starts shooting. He stands out in the open with no cover, guns blazing, in a t-shirt and jeans. Now, the Punisher is a former soldier who has fought numerous battles on both foreign and domestic soil. It would be logical to assume that a criminal as rich and successful as the Bank would have armed protection around him (he does). So why would you confront him and his goons, armed to the teeth, without some type of body armor? This makes no sense. So of course, when Deadpool shoots back, Frank takes multiple bullet wounds. This is his own fault, as while a skull t-shirt is the height of fashion, they don’t really work as bullet-stoppers.

As the fight rages on, two civilians are killed fleeing the scene, indirectly due to Frank’s actions. That comes close to violating rule #2. The end is somewhat humorous as one of our heroes takes a bullet to the head, and it may not be the Punisher.

DvP #1 isn’t as bad as most Marvel books, but I wouldn’t recommend it. The story is laden with plot holes and is lazily written by someone who doesn't really grasp the Punisher and his mission. He feels sorry for them? No. Not in a million years. This comic is not worth $4.00.

Rating: *** stars out of 5

Curse Words #4: Curse Words is my favorite new book; it’s filled with mad ideas and wonderful stories and art. Wizord is a powerful wizard from Earth’s past. He has been living with a group of wizards in another dimension, serving their all powerful lord Sizzajee. When Sizzajee decides it’s time to conquer Earth, he sends Wizord to the present day to pave the way. Trouble is, Wizord gets to present day New York and decides he kind of likes it. Why should he conquer Earth and turn it into a burning cinder, when he can live like a king in a high-rise and enjoy all the pleasures of modern high society?

Abandoning Sizzajee’s plans, Wizord sets himself up as a wizard for hire and starts stuffing his mattress full of money. In this issue, Sizzajee discovers Wizord’s betrayal and dispatches his former lover, the wizard Ruby Stitch, to Earth to kill him. The book’s cliffhanger is Stitch confronting Wizord. As he displays his shock that Sizzajee chose Ruby to stop him, Ruby admits that Sizzajee didn’t pick her. She volunteered.

Curse Words is full of magic battles, strategic mistakes and waxing and waning powers. And that’s just Wizord! It’s great fun to see him take to the modern world, trying to fit in and understand human attitudes and behavior. He also makes mistakes, which he tries to cover up but just ends up making a bigger mess. The question remains, is he evil and impersonating a benevolent wizard? Or can he learn to be an actual good guy and care about humanity? If he survives Ruby Stitch, I hope we find out.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

The Greatest Adventure #1: Any cursory reader of this blog will know that I am an avid fan of a certain Mr. Edgar Rice Burroughs and his many pulp hero creations. So, thankfully, is Bill Willingham, famous for his excellent Fables comic series. Willingham, along with artist Cezar Razek, have taken upon themselves the enviable task of amalgamating several of ERB’s most famous creations into one massive adventure.

Joining together here are my favorite ERB characters the Clayton family—Tarzan, his wife Jane and their son Korak. Along for the ride are also John Carter of Mars and his wife Dejah Thoris, Jason Gridley, Billy Byrne (the Mucker), Ulysses Paxton, and more to come in future issues. Hopefully David Innes will be joining soon, from the center of the Earth.

When inventor Jason Gridley wakes up a thousand light years from Earth, his captors tell him they need one of his most prized inventions, then set him to work creating the technology. At the first opportunity he steals a small ship and heads for home. He barely makes it to crash land in Africa. He seeks out his old friend John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan, to tell him the tale and request assistance. Tarzan assembles a crew very familiar to fans of ERB. Gridley supplies an art deco spaceship, and the intrepid adventurers set off to fight Gridley’s erstwhile captors.

A fun historical note is the newspaper ad Tarzan places to find his crew. “Men of Adventure,” it begins, “sought for an expedition of high risk and low reward.” This is inspired by the ad placed by real-life explorer Ernest Shackleton in 1913 for fellow adventurers on his trip to the South Pole. I love Bill Willingham.

The art gets the job done but could be more dynamic. I’m sure once the action commences we’ll have fighting and space battles aplenty. This one is going to be fun.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Britannia: We Who Are About To Die #1: I have a deep and abiding love for all things Ancient Rome. However, I find most media to be lacking in accuracy of Roman culture or understanding of the Roman mind. As usual, writer Peter Milligan and artist Juan Jose Ryp rise easily to the task. A sequel to their first Rome miniseries, Britannia, “We Who Are About To Die” again features former legionary Antonius Axia, on his way to becoming Rome’s first private detective. This time all the action takes place in Rome, as Roman aristocrats are being murdered by an unknown force and Emperor Nero is feeling pressured to do something about it. He blames chief Vestal Virgin Rubria for not knowing what is happening or what the gods will. She in turn asks Axia for help. He immediately begins to put clues together, and his preliminary investigation leads right to one of the most famous and lethal gladiators in the arena, the female fighter Achillia.

Britannia provides a fantastic adventure in another time and place along with an intriguing (and probably supernatural) murder mystery. Milligan’s story is page turning, but the star here is the picture-perfect art from Ryp. Ryp is brilliant at action, facial expressions and body language. He also gets Rome perfectly right, from military gear to how a toga should look. The key to a good comic is that the story can be followed even if there were no captions or dialog. Ryp’s storytelling is that good. This book does everything a comic is supposed to—in spades. Highest recommendation.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Batman/Shadow #1: I’m always up for a team-up between my two favorite heroes of the night. These caped mystery men usually go together like chocolate and peanut butter. Unfortunately, this first issue had me asking if the creative team only worked on this series because Matt Wagner was busy.

The story’s plot, by Scott Snyder and Steve Orlando, is a bit inscrutable. I’m sure it will open up as the story progresses, but did not make for an interesting first issue. Investigating a murder in Gotham City, Batman crosses paths with the Shadow, who hypnotizes him and disappears. Batman then finds a clue that leads him back to an old teacher in the French Alps. There, instead of his teacher he finds ... guess who?

The art is a major drawback. Riley Rossmo is not a good artist. It doesn’t help that Batman is in his horrendous Rebirth costume, with tiny pinpricks for ears and an obnoxious yellow outline around the bat on his chest. It’s just ugly. His Shadow is better, although I’m not sure why his Shadow drapes his iconic red scarf around his entire upper body instead of just his mouth. Furthermore, in the story Batman is surrounded by tech, from several hundred TV screens in the Batcave to drones following him around and giving him information while he moves through Gotham. That’s not Batman—a few computers are fine, but this is smart-phone, selfie-taking Millennial Batman. Ugh.

I didn’t love this book, but it is Batman and the Shadow. I’ll probably stick with it, but ... Matt Wagner, please?

Rating: *** stars out of 5

Sunday, April 30, 2017

Books - The Flame Bearer, Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners and A Head Full of Ghosts

The Flame Bearer by Bernard Cornwell

Historical fiction author Bernard Cornwell is probably my favorite current writer. Cornwell’s Saxon Tales—now known collectively as “The Last Kingdom” due to the successful TV show—are among his best work. And of that work, The Flame Bearer is the finest novel so far. I think it may be destined to become one of my all-time favorite books.

The Flame Bearer is packed with a plethora of ingredients for a successful story—passion, war, subject expertise, larger than life characters and a rocking good tale well told. In this, the tenth book of the series, Uthred of Bebbanburg returns to the fortress he was robbed of as a child to retake it by force and become its lord once again. This is a culmination of nine books worth of war and toil. Uthred has served King Alfred and now serves his son King Edward in order to make a united kingdom of all of Britain’s English-speaking peoples. As the novel unfolds, three of the four English kingdoms are united under Edward, all that is left is Northumbria, the northern part of what is being called Englaland.

Edward is facing resistance on several fronts—the Danes to the north mostly, and the Scots north of them. Against this backdrop, Uthred, with his son Uthred and all the warriors he can scrape up, launch their final plan to invade the fortress of Bebbenburg, stolen from him by his uncle while he was a child and now run by his cousin, who has no intention of handing it over peacefully. Of course, Bebbenburg is impregnable, impossible to breach on land and with limited access from the sea. This is what I love about Uthred. He’s sneaky and clever. From a young man serving Alfred, he has used deception, subterfuge and his enemies’ weaknesses to win battles where he is far outgunned (outsworded?). Currently Bebbanburg is being sieged by the Scots on land and the warriors inside are getting hungry. Uthred’s cousin is casting his net for other allies in Britain, and may have to forge an alliance with the hated Danes to keep his fortress. Uthred uses all these things to his advantage to try and get through Bebbanburg’s massive sea gates and fight hundreds of tough and experienced warriors by whom he is massively outnumbered. Cornwell’s bag of tricks is seemingly endless as Uthred outwits his opponents time after time, although not without cost.

Cornwell is one of the finest battle writers living, and the battle of Bebbenburg is one of his greatest literary achievements. At one point, Uthred is standing in the middle of the chaos, with warriors fighting to the death in the shield wall, surrounded by his enemies on all sides with little hope. That is when he is filled with battle-joy and knows that he will win this day or die. It’s a brilliant scene, evoking another age, a brutal way of life and the kind of men it took to thrive in that time.

Only the cleverest of men could win a battle with such odds. My money is definitely on Uthred. Regardless of success or failure, Northumbria still needs to be absorbed to make a united Englaland and the Danes are still a force to be reckoned with. So thank goodness Uthred’s story must continue. I hope it goes on for a while—I could read these books for the rest of my life.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners by John Ringo and Larry Correia

John Ringo’s Chad Oliver Gardenier is a bit of a scoundrel. As seen in the first book in the Memoir trilogy, Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge (see a review here), Chad is a proud American and former military man now earning his living liquidating monsters for the private firm Monster Hunter International. Making a quick exit from Seattle after an altercation with the trailer park elves (he swore she told him she was 80!), he needs a quick transfer to another division of MHI. His only request? Anywhere but someplace with heat and humidity. So where does he end up? New Orleans of course!

Turns out the Big Easy needs help from someone like Chad, because something big is going down there. The monsters are getting larger and more dangerous, the werewolf population is growing exponentially and the vampires are feeling so crowded out they are rooting for MHI. Unheard of!

Sinners tells the story of Chad’s relocation to his new city. Despite the heat, he comes to love the culture, the food and the people. In a surprising development, he also begins to put down roots, buying a house and finding a place on the wall for his precious sword, Mo No Ken. The story is a quick read, not because it’s a short book, but because it moves at lightning speed. Chad goes from one emergency to the next, and things get particularly out of hand during the full moon. Especially when the combined forces of MHI, the federal government’s Monster Control Bureau and the local police can’t contain the craziness!

Through it all, Chad remains a unique character. He loves the ladies, bonds with his friends and coworkers and showers hellfire on evil monsters. In Sinners, he manages to take on groups of werewolves, magic killer frogs and giant mole rats. He gets little sleep as he hunts bad things through graveyards, city streets and on top of the local baseball stadium. Throughout the pandemonium, he retains his sense of humor and manages to grow as a character and a person. I love reading about this guy.

Sinners rewards readers with intense, non-stop action and characters to love, hate and care about. But don’t get too attached to anyone. It is Monster Hunter International, after all.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

I hate to give away one word of the plot to this edgy horror thriller. Tremblay proves he’s a writer to watch as he spins the very modern tale of a middle-class family eroding bit by bit. All I will say is that the story is told from the point of view of an eight-year old girl, all grown up in the present, working with a reporter to write a book about the time her older sister was possessed by a demon. I read this novel in two sittings, in the second I just couldn’t put it down. In turns it is fascinating, horrifying and riveting. And that ending ... that one will stick with me for a while. If you like well-written horror, read this book! But try to have someone else in the room with you, preferably saying prayers. You'll thank me when the hair on the back of your neck starts to rise. It’s terrifying, in the best way possible. Highest recommendation.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Television: Iron Fist (Netflix)

*Slight Spoilers*
In many ways, Iron Fist is a typical Netflix Marvel show. It has an ensemble cast, is very street-level and down-to-earth and contains a minimum of superpowers or the supernatural. While not bad, Iron Fist is the weakest of the four shows that make up Marvel Netflix Phase 1, which also includes Daredevil, Jessica Jones and Luke Cage.

Finn Jones plays the title character, and this is where the mediocrity begins. Jones has virtually no Kung Fu skills (he started training weeks before shooting began), but to me this is actually not a huge deal. He’ll probably play the character for years and can learn as he goes. He just has no grit, no gravitas as an actor. He is not leading man material, as Charlie Cox is in Daredevil and Mike Colter definitely is in Luke Cage. He’s a little boy who’s probably great as a supporting actor, but is not strong enough to headline his own show.

Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing
The good? Jessica Henwick as Colleen Wing. She’s beautiful, tough, terrific and a martial arts expert—everything Jones is not. Most of the choreography and action sequences are good, especially where Henwick is involved. When Jones is fighting, you can see what they were trying to do and it somewhat works. An experienced martial artist would have knocked those scenes out of the park. The plot wasn’t bad, as they took at least some inspiration from the source material—Danny Rand, thought dead for years, returns to America and attempts to regain his legacy. The writers deviated totally from Iron Fist’s origin and how he was thought to be lost, and this is a mistake. It was handled much better and more excitingly in the comics.

The sub-plot of the Meachum clan, New York’s most dysfunctional family, is also worth watching, mostly for the work of David Wenham as Harold Meachum. You never knew what the actor or character would do next, and that was enjoyable.

The bad? Everything else. First off, these shows go on too long. Writers put 8-10 episodes worth of story into 13 episodes. What is so magic about the number 13? Every Marvel show has dragged in the middle of the series because of not having enough story to propel the narrative. Jessica Jones probably had the best pacing, but Iron Fist would have been a lot tighter at eight episodes. The worst sin Iron Fist commits is (*spoiler*) not using a costume.

A brief aside—in around 1990, I attended a panel at the Chicago Comicon regarding the upcoming Flash TV show on CBS. The DC writers who consulted on the show addressed some of the challenges they had working with CBS network brass. CBS was uncomfortable with the Flash costume. They didn’t want the hero, Barry Allen, to wear one. “Does he have to wear a costume?” one exec asked directly. One of the DC panelists said, “I told him, if we don’t use a costume, we might as well call him ‘The Jogger.’” Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to “Iron Fist: Kung Fu Jogger.” For most of the series, Danny Rand dresses like a homeless man and has a fuzzy, unkempt beard. He really looks terrible. The comic book Iron Fist is clean-shaven and has a cool costume, which has gone through several iterations over the years. The ‘70s one is somewhat kitschy, I understand they probably couldn’t use it, but they must use the mask, it’s iconic. Today’s tracksuit costume would work and probably wouldn’t be too wince-inducing. It’s bad enough when Hollywood studios mess up costumes or refuse to use them—costumed superheroes are their source material! However, when Marvel Studios itself refuses to use costumes—what hope is there? They’re turning their back on their own stories and history!

This is Iron Fist
So Danny Rand, Kung Fu Jogger, goes through the entire series without showing the mystic part of his city, K’un L’un, without fighting the dragon that gave him his powers in the comic, and forgoes the classic and iconic Iron Fist costume. He’s just a homeless dude who whines a lot and knows a smattering of Kung Fu. Colleen Wing makes it watchable, but without her the entire series falls flat on its face.

Also acceptable as Iron Fist
For the second series, if there is one, I’d suggest replacing Finn Jones with an actor who knows Kung Fu and looks like they could kick someone’s ass (although that is unlikely to happen). Secondly, put him in his costume, even if it’s just the mask! Thirdly, turn up the supernatural aspects of Iron Fist! Show K’un L’un! Have the Iron Fist itself as smoking and steaming, not just glowing slightly. This show could be so much better with just a little tweaking, even if they kept Jones as the title character. Marvel, please stay truer to your source material.

This is not Iron Fist

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Monday, April 17, 2017

Convention Report: Indiana Comicon

The Warriors Three - Adam, ye author & Travis
This weekend for the first time I attended the Indiana Comicon in Indianapolis. My friends Adam and Travis and I braved the wilds of Indiana in Adam’s van—a comfortable ride with plenty of room for a change. We arrived about the time the con opened, and getting in was probably easier than any other con I’ve been to. We just showed our pre-paid passes at an empty registration stand and walked in. I rarely arrive as the con starts, but I may have to start doing that.

Neal Adams with Mrs. Adams
The exhibit hall was large, typical for a downtown convention center. One of the first things I noticed was that there were already lots and lots of lovely cosplayers, but not many comics dealers. More on that later. We walked the hall and took in the breadth of exhibits. Who should be one of the first people I run into but my favorite comics artist of all time, Neal Adams! Adams had his wonderful art spread around him for sale, along with prints, books and sketches. Neal attends a lot of cons these days, I see him just about everywhere I go. I wish he didn’t charge $30 for an autograph (free with the purchase of a print), but if that’s what the market will bear, go with God, Neal.

Ace writer Gerry Conway
Next was a conversation with one of my favorite Bronze Age (the ‘70s, basically) comic writers, Gerry Conway. Conway has had an illustrious career, co-creating everything from the Punisher and Firestorm to writing the first inter-company superhero crossover between Marvel and DC, Superman vs. Spider-Man. He later got into TV writing and wrote a ton of Law & Order scripts. He’s a busy, creative guy and very enthusiastic about his work. We chatted for a moment and he signed a few comics for me.  

I had the pleasure of meeting Dan Wells, a prose author whose books I’ve enjoyed quite a bit. His John Cleaver series is a hoot—it’s about a young serial killer who is trying to fight his programming and ends up turning his “talents” on the supernatural. Sort of a Dexter who only kills demons. Start with I Am Not a Serial Killer. You’ll like them. I picked up one of his newer books, Bluescreen, which he described as “futuristic cyberpunk.” Nice guy.

Bluescreen by Dan Wells
Cary Elwes entertains a crowd
There were a few celebrities I wanted to meet, but the lines were very long. Cary Elwes was the hit of the day, his line was always hours long—too long and boring for me to stand. I did go to Elwes’s presentation, where he shared movie anecdotes and answered questions. Most of his war stories were about The Princess Bride, a true classic. He told one story about how he broke his foot the first week of shooting, showing off on Andre the Giant’s four-wheeler. He thought he would be fired, which he obviously wasn’t. His other Bride tale, about Andre’s huge fart in the middle of a take, had everyone in stitches of laughter. He couldn’t complete the take after that, not being able to keep a straight face. He then answered questions from the audience, asking each participant’s name and interacting with them. He came off as a total mensch who loved his job and was infused with energy. He left the con with a giant bag of cash.

I was very much looking forward to meeting Millie Bobby Brown, the young actress who played Eleven in Stranger Things. She cancelled Saturday at the last minute and was only there Sunday, so I missed her. Too bad, I really loved her performance in ST.

The still beautiful Nichelle Nichols
The one actress I did get to meet was the second Star Trek Original Series cast member I’ve met, Nichelle Nichols (I’ve had the pleasure to meet Shatner, detailed here). Her line was fairly long, but I took a chance and dived in. As always, to relieve the boredom I struck up conversations with other folks in line. The young couple in front of me was from Michigan. The woman’s father was a big ST fan and she was raised with the Original Series and Next Generation. Her boyfriend was dressed like a S.H.I.E.L.D. security agent, so he was into geekdom too. The couple behind me were even more entertaining. They had a gorgeous action figure of Nichols as Lt. Uhura, her character on Star Trek. The man told me, totally seriously, that he was going to ask her to sign the figure, “F--- William Shatner.” I managed to not roll my eyes, but I wanted to point out that was rude and unprofessional, and why add that negativity to the world? But who knows, maybe she did it. My gut tells me no, though. Nichols looked way too experienced to suffer fools, regardless of her relationship with Shatner.

I chose a great (and sexy) Lt. Uhura photo from Nichols’ assistant for her to sign. Her assistant put a Post-It on the photo with my name so I could have it personalized. She greeted me warmly with a smile and hearty “Hello Jerry!” I would think actors tire of discussing the same shows or characters all day, so I said, “Hello Ms. Nichols! I’m here for Snow Dogs, were you in another show before that?” She took a beat and realized I was joking, then laughed and said sarcastically, “Very funny, Jerry.” She smiled and passed the signed photo back to me.

Quick digression, Snow Dogs was a Disney comedy out around 20 years ago, with Cuba Gooding and James Coburn. Nichols played Gooding’s mother. I think she was amused by the reference—I’m sure no one else brought up that one!

Avengers #38
Then, on to the comics! My biggest criticism of the Indy Con was there were not enough comic book dealers. There were probably around 15 or so—way too few if the event is going to call itself a comicon. Celebrities, prop weapon booths and gaming booths are fine—but comicons should have comics! That said, I managed to fill several holes in my Avengers collection, then buy some ‘70s Batman and Superman books. The selection that was there was good, there just wasn’t that much to choose from. But I did manage to pick up the much elusive Avengers #38. For some reason that book is extremely hard to find, and when I do it looks like someone drove a truck over it. This one was in great condition at a reasonable price. I bought a few other old Avengers, so I just need three more books to complete a Silver Age Avengers set. Time to take a 2nd mortgage on the house!

I was a bit concerned with Adam and Travis being entertained—I’d stood in autograph lines and searched for comics for hours and the day was getting late. Turns out I had nothing to fear; they are both into board games and had found the gaming room. Everyone was busy all day. At the end of the day we headed off to see a comedy magician performing at the con, only to find they switched the times at the last minute and we missed him! Things like that happen at cons, but it was a bit disappointing, as I love up-close magic and that was this performer’s specialty.

Overall Indy was a good, but not great, con. Some things they could control, some things they couldn’t. But for Pete’s sake, get more comic dealers!

No con report would be complete without photos:

Princess Serenity from Sailor Moon

One of many Poison Ivys

Love the Original Series uniforms

Character from Homestuck

Very nice Black Canary and Matt Murdock


A great Bane and Mr. Freeze. The silver makeup was cool. 

Thought this was Monty Python's Black Knight. Turns out it's from a video game. 

Heroes vs. Villains

A slightly constipated Logan


This Spawn must have been 8 feet tall

Savage Dragon. He got upset when someone yelled "Fish Police!"


Make mine Ms. Marvel!

On to the Cincinnati Con in the Fall!

Monday, March 27, 2017

Comics - Thor Epic Collection Volume 1

Thor has always been a fun Marvel character. He’s not quite a B-lister, but a strong mid-seller, except for certain periods when he had an inspired creator like Walt Simonson writing his stories. This thick Epic Collection (470 pages!) reprints the first round of Thor tales, mostly by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

I’ve always liked Thor, but he’s never been an absolute favorite. I’m not sure why Stan created him, some of the early stories are so generic he could be any muscle-bound hero. But when Lee and Kirby found their groove with Thor, there has never been better galactic, heroic adventure storytelling.

Thor debuted in 1962 in Journey Into Mystery #83, “The Stone Men from Saturn!” plotted by Lee, scripted by his brother Larry Leiber and drawn by the incomparable Jack Kirby. Lame Dr. Don Blake, vacationing in Norway, stumbles into an alien invasion. Running from the aliens, he discovers a cave with a secret chamber—and in the chamber, a gnarled old walking stick. When he accidently slams that stick into the ground, it turns into the magic hammer Mjolnir and he transforms into Thor, the Norse god of Thunder! After fighting off the aliens as Thor, Blake returns to America and begins his superhero lifestyle.

Thor tests his powers

Journey Intro Mystery #84 introduces on-again off-again bad guy The Executioner, who in later years shone so brightly under Simonson’s direction. This issue also introduces Nurse Jane Foster, Blake’s romantic interest. Jane loves Blake, but constantly remarks on how handsome she finds the mighty Thor! JIM #85 is the debut of Loki, Thor’s brother and main villainous opponent. Issue #83 pits Thor against the rather bland Tomorrow Man, with Kirby tweaking Thor’s costume details and his hammer’s abilities and powers. #84 has plotter Lee going to his favorite trope in the early ‘60s—commies! Thor pounds Ivan into the ground while Jane is now actively pining for Thor, much to Dr. Blake’s dismay. #88 is the return of Loki, who is really a scoundrel in these early stories. He’s jealous of Thor and wants to humiliate as well as kill him. Well, daddy did like Thor best ...

In issue #90, Al Hartley does the art as Thor takes on the Carbon Copy Man. Does anyone under 45 know what a carbon copy is? Hartley isn’t a bad artist, but he’s no Kirby. In #91, Joe Sinnot does a rare penciling job and it is wonderful. Loki gives powers to Sandu, Master of the Supernatural. Sandu tries to take on Thor’s hammer directly and totally underestimates it as well as its wielder. In #92, Loki takes a more direct hand in defeating his brother. This was when Thor’s hammer couldn’t be gone from his hand for more than 60 seconds or he would turn back into lame Dr. Don Blake. Lee gets a lot of mileage out of this detail and it bites Blake in the butt more than once.

JIM #93 introduces the Radioactive Man, a great villain who took on many Marvel heroes in the Silver Age, especially Iron Man and Thor. Scripting is credited to R. Burns (Robert Bernstein), who always does a sub-par job. Bernstein either looked at comics as sub-literate children’s throwaway garbage (as most of polite society did, to be fair), or he was just not a talented writer. His stories always stand out as dull and uninspired. Lee is still plotting, but Bernstein takes over dialog for a few issues and the results are lackluster stories.

In Journey Into Mystery #97, Lee is back to full scripting and Kirby returns on art, inked by Don Heck. Thor stories start getting good again. Lee turns up the soap opera (as he is wont to do) between Blake and Jane Foster, as both love the other but are afraid of expressing their feelings. This issue also begins Lee and Kirby’s “Tales of Asgard” backup stories, which squeeze an incredible amount of fun in a few pages. JIM numbers 98 and 99 introduce the Cobra and Mr. Hyde respectively, who go on to become a team that drops in to try and kill Thor regularly. With each new story Lee’s writing and Kirby’s art is getting more dynamic and epic. Issue #103 introduces another long-lasting villain team, the Executioner (from ish #84) this time in tandem with the lovely and deadly Enchantress. In the story, Loki dispatches Enchantress to steal the love of Thor from Jane Foster. It doesn’t work, but now Odin is made aware of Thor’s love for a mortal. He doesn’t approve. Issue #104 brings Odin to Earth to suss things out for himself. He and Thor end up kicking the tar out of Surtur the Fire Demon and some Storm Giants, but the all-knowing one is worried about little Thor.

Kirby's Enchantress - who says he can't draw women?

JIM numbers 105 and 106 bring back the Cobra/Mr. Hyde team. In this two-part tale, they kidnap Jane Foster, ending in Thor showing them that is a bad idea. Lee & Kirby are on a tear of creation here, introducing the Grey Gargoyle in issue #107. He is still around and up to old tricks today. In the last issue of this collection, issue #109, Thor makes a rare crossover with the X-Universe, as Magneto messes with New York and Thor tracks him down. In an exciting battle of muscles and wits, Thor is separated from his hammer too long and turns back into Don Blake. Seemingly at Magneto’s mercy, Blake actually outwits him and manages to reach Mjolnir and change back into Thor, who proceeds to wipe up Magneto’s hidden base with his body parts. Mags ends up fleeing in fear, living to fight another day. The story ends with Blake and Jane Foster looking over the NY skyline, pining for each other but afraid to say the words they both want to hear ... first-rate Stan Lee soap opera!

Delicious early Kirby art from Journey into Mystery

While this collection is a seminal Thor primer with some entertaining stories, the next few volumes will be even better. In the near future Stan really lets loose with the cosmic flavor in Asgard, and Kirby matches him artwise note for note. There are so many fun Thor stories ahead.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Jack "King" Kirby. No caption needed.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Movies: Logan

*Slight Spoilers* I saw Logan last night and I’m still not exactly sure what to make of it. Logan is a fine, well made tale of the famous feral mutant Wolverine and takes place in a near future of the X-Men Universe. It features spectacular action, wonderful acting and a great script. It’s an impressive film—I’m just not convinced it’s a great Wolverine film.

We join Logan as a much older man, driving a limo to help support him, an ailing Professor Xavier and the mutant Caliban. His healing factor is beginning to fail and his body is rejecting the adamantium coating his bones. He’s aging, tired, run down and in constant pain. It’s all he can do to keep going. When a young mutant girl named Laura enters his life and needs a ride to the north for safety, he wants nothing to do with her. Some nasty, violent people are pursuing her and Logan (going by his birth name of James Howlett here, an unexpected treat for comic fans) does not want to get involved. Eventually forced to flee with Xavier and the girl, Logan fights his way north through a series of obstacles to save her.

Director James Mangold has a specific and stylish story to tell in Logan. It’s serious, violent and not necessarily hopeful. The violence is constant and visceral, as the Logan we’ve always wanted to see finally surfaces and the movie earns its hard R rating. Logan cuts and slices arms, legs, heads and other extremities from countless evil hoods who are trying to stop him and his mission. Hugh Jackman, in supposedly his last Wolverine performance, does a fantastic job channeling Wolverine’s rage into lashing out at evil men and cutting them into small pieces. The ending is not upbeat, and can be taken as hopeful or not, depending on the viewer. I didn’t love it.

I’ve been reading Wolverine comic book stories for 40 years now. My version of the character is much more of a superhero than this broken, angry animal. My Wolverine wears a costume, has funky hair and while feral and violent, keeps that part of himself in check—barely, but he does it. This serious, adult film has nothing to do with that character. This is a dark, thinking man’s action adventure. There is nothing wrong with that, but it is a far cry from my Wolverine. There is definitely room for both versions of the character, but if this is the last Hugh Jackman Wolverine movie we’re ever going to get—possibly the last Wolverine movie ever—I would have liked to see the young Wolverine, maybe a costume, perhaps some traditional comic book villains—and not an overall feeling of depression and malaise throughout the entire endeavor. Again, Logan is a fine Wolverine movie—just not my Wolverine.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars