Sunday, April 21, 2019

Comics: Q-Ball #1

Man I have missed reading comics by Mike Baron. Sure, I could raid the long boxes and dig out out everything from Nexus to The Grackle—but new Baron is always welcome in this house. Imagine when the great one offered to send me a review copy of his newest effort, Q-Ball. Signed, yet! Of course I jumped at the chance.

Q-Ball is another outstanding and quirky puzzle piece in the Baron oeuvre. Seems that our title character is a Detroit native named Curtis Ball, a Merchant Marine who wanted to see the world and learn the visually cool arts of Kung Fu and stick fighting, or Escrima. Curtis’s current day job is managing a warehouse in Manila. After an altercation with a potential client without the correct paperwork, Curtis discovers a dead body in the warehouse and is forced to battle some vile gangsters interested in illegal withdrawals from the warehouse stock. This is not something of which Curtis approves, and he is forced to confront the miscreants with staggering violence. Digging further into the situation, Curtis meets, and ends up protecting, Donna Wing, a Chinese national busy exposing human rights abuses by people who don’t want their rocks turned over. 

It’s an enticing first issue, setting up an intriguing plot and introducing our players in dramatic ways. The art by Barry McClain Jr. is excellent storytelling, with clear action and gorgeous, flowing martial arts sequences. The last page left me wanting more and I desperately want to find out what happens next, something every good comic should do. No decompressed storytelling here, only the beginning of another epic Bloody Red Baron production. Bring on #2! 

Grade: A 
Worth the cover price: Unequivocal yes. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

My BACK ISSUE Hulk Article is Published Wednesday!

Just a note that my article on the comic story "Future Imperfect" starring the Incredible Hulk is published tomorrow in BACK ISSUE #111! I'm really excited about it because I was privileged to interview writer Peter David and one of the greatest artists of all time, George Perez! Also, Future Imperfect, about the Hulk going to a dystopic future to fight an evil version of himself, the Maestro, is probably my favorite Hulk story. This one was really a blast. As editor Michael Eury says, don't ask, just BI it! 

Friday, February 15, 2019

Dr. Smith Anecdote

From ace writer Mark Evanier's website, a funny story from Jonathan Harris, Dr. Zachary Smith from Lost in Space. It's weird to hear Dr. Smith say the f-word. Here's the link

Friday, February 1, 2019

Television: Punisher Season 2 (Netflix)

Unbelievable. It really is. I hated the first season of The Punisher, the show was truly awful. Slowly paced, very little punishing, story all over the place. However, someone learned from their mistakes and in the process discovered who the Punisher was. Season Two was the best Marvel show so far and its last episode was the best single Marvel TV show to date. I’m not sure what happened, but more like this please.

Recovered from the events of Season 1, Frank Castle is wandering through the American Midwest, reveling in his freedom. When mercenaries invade a bar and go after a teenage girl, Frank steps in to rescue her and gets sucked in to a major situation. Meanwhile back in New York, Billy Russo, who Frank defeated and disfigured last season, escapes a mental hospital with help from his smitten female therapist and goes on a crime rampage. Eventually the two storylines come together (at least in the same place) and Frank does some major punishing.

What’s so good is that the producers have finally let Frank Castle just be who he is meant to be. No evil person is safe. He punishes women, devout religious types, deranged psychotics and politicians.

The pacing is a lot better this season, and the story concentrates much more on Castle and his immediate supporting cast. The girl he saves in the bar, Amy, becomes a surrogate daughter whom he protects at any cost. And the cost is high. The story does screech to a halt for a while when all the characters get to New York, but picks up the pace again quickly. I think in a Punisher show it’s reasonable that Frank should kill one person in every episode—at least! He does this in most episodes, a welcome relief from sitting on the sidelines for most of Season 1. The fights are expertly choreographed, especially Franks’s hand-to-hand combat with a gym full of Russian gangsters. That was fun, if brutal, to watch.

There are very few negatives to this season. Billy, who becomes the villain Jigsaw, is far too pretty. In the comics, Jigsaw’s face looks like a 1000-piece puzzle. Billy only has a few scars. They should have gone with a lot more damage. The pacing was still slow in a few of the episodes, and Frank doesn’t wear his skull near enough—but those are minor nitpicks. He does wear his chest skull at all the right times, and the last scene of the show is a triumph right out of the comics. Thank you Marvel, for finally making an action-filled show that pulls no punches—literally. The show has already been renewed for Season 3—let’s hope it is half this good.

Grade: A
Worth your valuable time?: Oh, yes. 

Update ... And now for something somewhat different ...

Time to do some blogging again! For the six or seven of my regular readers, hopefully I’ll have a bit more time this year to share some obsessions and point out various oddities. First off, a change in the review system. In order to give more accurate opinions of different media, we’re trying a few new things. First, the 5-Star review system will change to a grade system, A thru F. Don’t worry, I don’t think I’m a teacher, doling out the final say to media professionals from my ivory tower. It’s just a handy way to share an opinion. For the record, I realize that even the worst media is usually created by people trying their best to entertain—and sometimes failing miserably. No one sets out to make bad entertainment, but sometimes things go spectacularly wrong. The only exceptions are when story quality or entertainment value is booted in favor of an agenda. Doesn’t matter what the agenda is, SJW or white nationalism, progressive or alt right. If someone is more interested in pounding me over  the head with their political or cultural message than telling a story, it usually means a bad story and a low grade will be forthcoming. Given that this is every Marvel comic book published since 2010, I don’t have hopes for good reviews for Marvel comics. However, I won’t be reviewing (or reading) many Marvel books, so that shouldn’t be a problem. I want to like and enjoy pop culture, so I tend to avoid things that have proven to be toxic. I don’t “hate-watch/read” anything. I like being happy. 

The other change is just to ask, and answer, a simple question at the end of each review: Is this movie/comic/TV show worth your valuable ticket price, money or time? I’ve read mediocre reviews that are not positive or negative that leave me confused not only whether the writer actually liked the subject; but also was it worth the time/price? That’s what is important to me when reading reviews, and I will endeavor to provide it in my own. 

Just remember, this is one man’s view. You are free to differ or see/read/watch stuff I disliked. It’s all just my Humble Opinion. 

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Books: Monster Hunter Memoirs: Saints by John Ringo and Larry Correia

I look at this book with mixed feelings. On one hand, it’s a fantastic read, full of nonstop excitement, crazy ideas and page-turning action. On the other hand, it’s probably the last book in the Monster Hunter International Universe by John Ringo—and that is a sad thing.

As the story goes, MHI author Larry Correia picked up the phone one day and established writer John Ringo was on the line. He’d written a bunch of books in Correia’s MHI Universe and wanted to know if Correia was interested in having them published. Not being dumb, Correia happily accepted the offer and now we have Monster Hunter Memoirs: Grunge (See my review here), Monster Hunter Memoirs: Sinners (ditto here), and now the final book in the trilogy, MHM: Saints. Correia is very clear that he does some editing and streamlining to make sure the books fit smoothly with the MHI Universe mythology, but this is mainly Ringo’s rodeo. To me, that is a very gracious author.

I can see why Correia was so open to the Memoir series; they’re great. The protagonist, Chad Gardenier, is a working-class genius, ladies man, sword/gun nut and all-around tough guy. Someone you would definitely want on your side in a fight. Ringo perfectly chooses the elements of the MHI Universe he wants to work with; fighting monsters of course, as well as MHI’s ongoing battles with their main nemesis, the U.S. government’s Monster Control Bureau. Here, after a harrowing experience, Gardenier actually brings a personal lawsuit against the MCB—and the results are spectacular!

Taking place in the 1980s, this last book in the spinoff series (for now), brings a definitive close to Chad’s story. Forshadowed in the first book, it's an ending we dreaded but all knew was coming. How it happens is the important thing, and Ringo provides an epic ending. Chad is his usual lovable self (unless you piss him off, which can be deadly), killing monsters in New Orleans and trying to avoid the MCB. When he ends up on their **** list, he decides to leave town and investigate a nefarious plot they claim he is part of. He finds evidence of a Lovecraft-level threat existing under New Orleans, one that will take an army of MHI team members to fight—and even that won’t be enough if he can’t figure out how to dispatch it! Along the way, Chad meets and romances many beautiful ladies, finds new monster species (both friendly and not so much), obtains a doctorate from Oxford and kills a lot of evil creatures. Then he writes it all down, which is the basis for this memoir. The final pages are written by another, filling in readers on Chad’s (possibly) last mission. The final sentence in the book is a triumph and gives readers hope for a bright future for the Gardenier family.

Are these books better than the mothership series, Monster Hunter International? Who cares, both series are the best modern fantasy has to offer. Let’s just say I can’t wait to read every new MHI book by Larry Correia and they are extremely satisfying. And I couldn’t wait to read every new MHI Memoir book, and each one in the series was extremely satisfying. All MHI books are highly recommended. Now I go in search of everything John Ringo has ever written.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars. 

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Books: John Wayne: A Life by Scott Eyman

John Wayne is hands down my favorite movie star of all time. The swagger, the walk, the voice, the presence ... all combine into a mish-mash of screen glory. An odd result for someone who never set out to be a movie star. Born Marion Morrison, Wayne wanted to be a football star, but those dreams were sidelined by an injury early on. He found stunts fun in the movie business, and slowly graduated to bit parts and eventually starring roles in B-movies. Then B+ movies. Then he met director John Ford and his star took off like a rocket. It was only then he became John Wayne.

Author Eyman is in love with his subject, as so many biographers are, but it doesn’t prevent an honest look at Wayne’s life and career. Readers are taken through Wayne’s slow burn to superstardom; his several marriages (including his second to a Mexican prostitute), his affairs with many of his leading ladies, the facts of his failure to serve in WWII and a good look at his generous and larger than life personality. His years-long dalliance with Marlene Dietrich was a surprise. She saw him in a studio cafeteria one day and said to her agent, “Daddy, I want that!” She got it, and they did several movies together.

As with Elvis Presley, Wayne had so many financial commitments and kept so many people working, he was forced to take one job after the next to keep the enterprise rolling. Both celebrities were so busy chasing cheap, easy projects, they missed prospective gems. Especially galling was the failed project featuring Wayne as an aging rancher and Clint Eastwood as a young cowboy, fighting against an evil land baron. That would have been fun, but Wayne thought it too violent and the project faded away.

I saw The Spoilers recently, a 1942 gold rush story with Wayne, Randolph Scott and Dietrich as the love interest. The film was good and Wayne did a good job. However, he wasn’t yet John Wayne. Movie star Wayne was totally comfortable in his skin. This was an actor learning his craft. Although it was good to see Wayne throw back his head for a loud belly laugh, something the actor rarely did as a movie star.

Early in his career, John Wayne’s screen persona was everyone’s best friend. Then he became everyone’s older brother. Then everyone’s dad and finally everyone’s loveable grandpa. His star never tarnished and he is still a top favorite movie star all over the world. John Wayne: A Life fills in many knowledge gaps about the star’s rise and struggle to stay on top. I could have used a lot more anecdotes and “making of” stories of individual films, especially my favorite Wayne film, Big Jake (followed closely by North to Alaska and The Quiet Man), but perhaps that will be another volume. This book is about the man, and does an outstanding job showing that man, warts and all.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5