Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Favorite Books - Gone Girl

Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl was the best thing I read last year. It’s an almost perfect novel, with a unique setup, thrilling mystery and beautiful payoff. Nick and Amy Dunn have been married for five years. The marriage isn’t perfect and Nick is getting a little restless. One morning, Nick goes out for a walk to review his options. When he returns, Amy is gone and there are signs of a struggle. Of course the police zero in on Nick as the prime suspect, even if he swears his innocence on a stack of Bibles. As the days and weeks go by, the cops discover Nick’s girlfriend, his massive debt load and his suspicious actions, and Amy looks more and more dead. Then they find her diary ...

I hesitate to say any more about this book, I don’t want to ruin the delicious unspooling of the characters and their actions. I will say that the novel goes along about a hundred miles an hour until the middle ... then a mind-blowing plot twist throws everything into even bigger chaos. There is a huge revelation that threw me for a loop and ratcheted up the tension level another zillion notches. The only other thing I will say is I love stories written with the “unreliable narrator” device. If done well, it slowly dawns on the reader that things may not be what they seem.

I know the movie version of Gone Girl is coming out later this year, with one of my favorite directors, David Fincher, at the helm. I was cautiously looking forward to it until I read about the cast. I don’t know much about Rosamund Pike, who plays Amy. Unfortunately, it has one of the worst actors in Hollywood playing Nick; Ben Affleck. Affleck is the perfect example of what being talentless but tall and good looking will get you in show business. If a role requires an open mouth and blank stare, Affleck is your man. But I think the part of Nick requires actual acting. If any director can bring out something resembling a performance, Fincher can. There are limits to reality ... But Gone Girl, the novel? Read it.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Linkapalooza

Interesting links from around the Web:

- Politics and Science Ficton: Awesome fantasy/sci-fi writer Larry Correia is a right-leaning libertarian who thinks politics don’t belong in fiction. At least not as a bludgeon to hurt writers that don’t follow the current groupthink. He speaks iron words on his blog about the subject regularly. He makes his points so well that USA Today did a column about his views--check it out here.
 
- Suicide Most Foul: A wife kills herself and the husband is charged with the crime. Is there a better example of how marriage works?

- Attack of the Octo: For natural history lovers—a short film called True Facts about the Octopus. Funny and educational!

- Mental Floss: Author John Green runs a great site called Mental Floss. In this vignette, Green presents “30 Life Hacks Debunked,” testing urban and Internet legends to see if they really work.  I’ve tried the “forks in the Oreo” one and it works like a charm. Can’t wait to try the “fast chilling bottles.” Different and watchable.

- UFO Rampage: Finally, Skeptoid looks at the Tehran 1976 UFO incident. Out of all the encounters I’ve heard of or read about, there may actually be something to this one. Doesn’t mean the object was an alien spacecraft—just that there are some things about it that are tough to explain.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews


4/9/14 Books
Savage Dragon #194: I admire Erik Larson for what he has achieved on this long-running superhero book. One of the few original Image books still running, the numbering on Savage Dragon is now ten times most Marvel and DC books, because of their endless and frustrating relaunches. Larsen says he’ll do the book until he dies if economically possible, and I believe him. The book has always been entertaining, with explosive action and characters aging in real time. So much so that the original Dragon, the alien with no memory who woke up in a burning field on Earth and ended up fighting super-villains, has retired. He has handed the reins of do-gooding over to his teenaged super-powered son Malcolm.

From what little I remember of my teenage years, Larson writes a convincing teen. Malcolm is trying to balance fame, girlfriends, groupies (he has no secret identity) and his dad’s old enemies who are trying to kill him. Not to mention the new villains who are trying to kill him. In issue 194, Torment, a villain who has his good and bad consciences on his head, each convincing him to do good/evil, goes a few rounds with Malcolm and causes some major property damage before running away. And then coming back, forcing Malcolm to dispatch him, possibly permanently. I’m sure next issue he will deal with his own conscience.

Savage Dragon #200 is up in six issues, and, like me, Larson loves to celebrate anniversary issues. I can’t wait to see what tale he cooks up for this one.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Iron Fist: The Living Weapon #1: I can’t believe it!!!! A new #1 issue from Marvel!!! Such a rare and unusual occurrence. Let’s see if it is warranted. Writer/artist Kaare Andrews takes the character in a new direction. And that direction is awful.
First, Andrews repeats Iron Fist’s origin for the nth time, putting his own spin on it. He changes it just enough to be annoying and destroy what made it work originally. Then he turns Danny Rand into a depressed, amoral jerk who picks up superhero groupies for one-night stands. In this first issue, Iron Fist is attacked by some group resembling military ninjas and fights them. That is about all that happens. Talk about decompressed storytelling. The art and coloring are confusing, murky and too cartoony. And in a long line of Marvel martial arts writers, Andrews knows nothing about martial arts or hand-to-hand combat. Just once it would be nice to see Iron Fist or Shang Chi do some real Kung Fu, instead of whatever goofy shorthand the artists decide to use. Really, guys, Karate magazines are not that expensive. Buy one. In the end, Andrews gives readers no reason to care or buy issue #2.

In an editorial at the end of the book, Andrews seems to have true enthusiasm about working on Iron Fist. I appreciate that. I just wish the book was better.

Rating: * out of 5 stars

 
Shotgun Wedding #2: More vengeance-based fun by writer William Harms and artist Edward Pun. Chloe is getting closer to tracking down her erstwhile fiancé Mike and his new bride-to-be, with a planned wedding gift of bullets rather than a new toaster. Flashbacks show Mike and Chloe’s relationship before he left her at the altar. She turns out to be crazier than we thought, but very good at hiding it from Mike. Harms presents an engaging story that slowly and deliberately tells how everyone got to this point, and Pun’s art and layouts show a unique understanding of visual storytelling. The man would be a great cinematographer. I love where this book is going. Highly recommended.


Rating: **** out of 5 stars
  
Flash Gordon #1: Dynamite takes another shot at updating comic strip and movie serial hero Flash Gordon. This is how a first issue should be handled. Parker includes the familiar main characters: Flash, here a bored daredevil spending his family’s money for thrills, Dale Arden, a no-nonsense television reporter, and Dr. Zarkov, an arrogant rocket scientist. After brief introductions of each character, the action flashes to the planet Mongo, with the three in a rocketship, fleeing from Mongo’s authorities. Writer Jeff Parker makes me want to know how they got there and why—I’m sure he’ll explain as the story progresses, but my interested is piqued. Going from one misadventure to another, the three end up crashing in the jungle, surrounded by a hostile tribe of blue aliens. This book was a perfect set up for issue #2, I look forward to see what trouble our heroes get into—and get out of—next.  

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

4/16/14 Books


The Six Million Dollar Man: Season Six #2: Licensed books are tough to do, and the more obscure the property, the harder to make fans care and the stories matter. The Six Million Dollar Man was a hit when I was a kid in the ‘70s—the audience must be middle-aged fans like me who remember the series fondly. Is anyone else interested? Dynamite must think so, licensed properties aren’t free. 

While the reruns of the show don’t hold up well—the microbudget was just too small to make a sci fi show—the comic is not bad. Writer Jim Kuhoric obviously knows the show and does well portraying specific character personalities and speech patterns. The plot deals with the attack of the Maskatron, a robot version of hero Steve Austin that was featured in the 1970s toy line but never on the show (see microbudget). The espionage plot moves quickly and is more action packed than the show ever was. Steve ends up in a Russian research facility trying to steal some bionic technology, while Maskatron is hunting him down for some hot robot action. Fights, I’m assuming. A welcome addition to the television show’s mythology.

Rating *** out of 5 stars

Haunted Horror #10: This is such a fun book. Comics auteur and historian Craig Yoe has put together all kinds of collections of pre-Comics Code stories, including horror, romance and other genres. Haunted Horror is a gathering of the some of the best and most unusual non-EC horror comics. These stories are first-rate. “The Cult of 13 Ghosts” (from This Magazine is Haunted #3, 1952) tells the story of Semple Ridgedon, a Scrooge-like slumlord without the eventual redemption. When Semple finds a murder cult having unauthorized meetings on one of his properties, he tells them to skedaddle or he’ll whip them with his cane. The murdering ghost-Thuggees don’t respond as well as he had anticipated.

In “The Monster’s Ghost,” (from Dark Mysteries #2, 1951) despite a stranger’s warning, tough guy Bruce Gibson buys a house so haunted even that spikey-haired guy from Ghost Adventures couldn’t clear it out. Bruce is upset when he then finds the stranger living in his basement, summoning demons with his minions. Who wouldn’t be? A total skeptic, Bruce gives the stranger some of his blood to prove the villain can’t summon a demon. Um, sorry Bruce, turns out he can. Bruce isn’t actually killed by said demon, but he does have a magic sword stuck through his heart for the rest of his life. It’s funny, that happened to my cousin too.

In “Epitaph” (from Weird Mysteries #9, 1954), Edgar has recently lost his new bride Mariam. He can’t stop grieving because their relationship was so perfect. He wanders into the graveyard to visit her grave, which just happens to be the night that corpses rise from their graves to write their most horrible secrets on their tombstones (unknown fact: this happens all the time, just not around where you live). When he gets to Mariam’s grave, Edgar faints with shock as he finds out Mariam may not have been as perfect—or as faithful—as he thought.

There are several more stories in this issue, and they are all utterly charming. The presentation is fantastic, as they are printed on crisp, white paper and each issue has a thick page count and numerous stories. An amusing look at a bygone age of comics.
 
Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Upcoming Books

Just in time for Christmas this year--The 75th Anniversary Marvel Masterworks Slipcase Set. From the 1960s, eleven high-quality hardcovers with the first ten or so issues of:

- Captain America
- Daredevil
- Amazing Spider-Man
- The Avengers
- Fantastic Four
- Incredible Hulk
- Iron Man
- Thor
- X-Men
- Not Brand Echh (Marvel's humor title, never reprinted before)

All in a beautiful slipcase designed like the Avenger's mansion. A collector's dream, with the accompanying price tag--$500. If I win the lottery ...

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Books: W is for Wasted

Sue Grafton continues to pull off an extremely difficult writing task. Grafton is the mastermind behind the “Alphabet” mystery series of detective novels (and a fellow Kentuckian, part-time at least). A is for Alibi debuted in 1982, starring that plucky P.I. Kinsey Millhone everyone loves to love. Since then, Grafton, and Kinsey, have worked their way through roughly 10,000 murders, 7000 shootings, 4000 knifings, several car accidents, one chair over the head and one large explosion. Through it all, Kinsey remains an attractive loner with no real family and a practical view of life. That is, leave people alone and they’ll leave you alone. It’s okay to be nosey and pushy as long as it’s in a good cause. And sometimes when it isn’t.

In W, Kinsey finds some new family and investigates the murder of a sleazy fellow P.I. in her California town of Santa Theresa. Raised by her single aunt after the wreck that killed her parents, Kinsey found that her mom and dad were estranged from her mother’s family. She has slowly been reuniting with them over the course of the series and it has been painful to watch—Kinsey is extremely insecure and doesn’t tend to play well with others. She doesn’t know her father’s family at all, which changes in this book when a homeless man’s body is found on the beach and turns out to be her paternal great-uncle. When she travels to a nearby town to let his family know he is dead, she meets several cousins she didn’t know she had. The sparks fly when she finds out they are a not a pleasant group, and she discovers yet another reason to avoid family reunions. As the novel progresses, the two cases overlap into one shattering mystery. Grafton does an outstanding job of balancing plot and character development, resulting in a fine story with characters that advance and grow. A tremendous read. All of the Alphabet novels are well worth your time, a truly enjoyable series.

A word about aging characters in a series. In any novel series that has been published for decades; Robert Parker’s Spencer series, Robert Crais’ Elvis Cole books, even the James Bond novels, writers usually just don’t mention the age of their characters. It’s sort of like comics, where Superman has been 34 for seventy years. They’re ageless. Grafton deals with this another way. There are only a few months at most between each of the Alphabet novels. Even though there have been 23 novels in the series since 1982, the latest book takes place around 1988. So no cell phones, no flat screen TVs, there are barely fax machines. Grafton believably keeps Kinsey in her 30s. It’s a unique way to deal with character aging and I find it a good choice for the stories she is telling.

Now that Grafton has only three letters of the alphabet left, I have to say if she stops with Z I’ll be majorly disappointed. After all, “AA” is for ... something, and she can just continue from there.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Television – Fargo

 
I enjoyed the movie Fargo, but wasn’t necessarily excited about a TV show based on the property. However, FX has done a terrific job with most of its series so far, so I gave it a try. I really enjoyed it, much more than I thought I would. While Billy Bob Thornton is just plain weird, I think he is a massive talent. From Sling Blade to Monster’s Ball, he has built up a diverse body of work and is not afraid to take chances.

In Fargo the TV series, Thornton plays a nihilistic hitman, cool as an icy stream as he takes human lives. In town for a hit, he meets up with Martin Freeman’s character in the hospital, then for kicks, murders the bully who put him there. Thornton’s character exudes attitude and a keen sense of danger. When he is pulled over by a local cop (Colin Hanks), he intimidates the cop into letting him just drive off in a stolen car by attitude alone, without uttering a single specific threat. Martin Freeman (Sherlock, The Hobbit) is great as usual in the role of depressed, henpecked husband Lester Nygarrd, who snaps and pays back his wife for years of abuse.

Taking the Frances McDormand role is Allison Tolman, who does a wonderful job as Molly Solverson, a small town cop with maybe pretensions of something bigger. Her casting goes somewhat positively against the grain of most television, as she is a normal woman and not a supermodel. This would never fly on CBS!

While great drama, Fargo is a dark tale of murder and, well, more murder. It may not put viewers in a happy place, but TV this good is a joy to watch.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Monday, April 21, 2014

Movies – Captain America: The Winter Soldier

*Slight Spoilers*
Marvel Comics, patriotism and love of America are things that do not necessarily go together. For years, Marvel has struggled with how to portray the hero that embodies the United States, Captain America. They seem not to understand why or how people love this country, and thus cannot imbue patriotism in a character who wears a flag. I was worried about how Cap would be portrayed in his new flick, The Winter Soldier. Cap was treated respectfully in his first movie (although the producers seemed to forget America fought Nazis in WWII) and very well in the Avengers. But now that Cap was in the modern day, it would be easy for Marvel to make him a conservative-hating secular humanist like the rest of their modern heroes. I’m happy to say I had nothing to worry about in The Winter Soldier. It was incredible.

I have read that Marvel executives told the movie’s producers that they wanted a political thriller. They certainly delivered. The storyline is loosely based on comic writer Ed Brubaker’s story of the same name, with Cap’s WWII sidekick Bucky returning as the titular character. The movie has some of the most dynamic and realistic action sequences I have ever seen on the big screen. Whoever the stunt coordinator was for the film should do the stunts for every movie ever made from now on, forever. At least all Marvel movies. The plot kept the action going, was understandable, and never slowed things down. And Cap’s patented comfort in using his shield as the all-around perfect weapon was fully on display. The shield becomes a beautiful ballet of balance and action; an ideal extension of his fighting flair.

Chris Evans and Anthony Mackie
Chris Evans was born to play Captain America. Anthony Mackie was wonderful as Sam Wilson, the Falcon. I’ve never cared much for Scarlett Johanssen as the Black Widow or Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, but both characters are finally given something to do, along with some back-story (finally) and are starting to grow on me. Black-hearted Robert Redford is perfect as the black-hearted villain pulling the strings from behind the scenes. The Stan Lee cameo was perfect, one of the best so far. The only criticism I would have of the movie are the costumes. Cap is not really Captain America without the 3D wings on his head, as he has had in the comics for over 70 years. Otherwise it’s just a guy in a vaguely Cap-inspired uniform. I’ve lost this battle, as Marvel has done away with them. That is a mistake, they’re an iconic feature. Falcon has too much black in his uniform, just like EVERY SUPERHERO MOVIE EVER. I know yellow spandex doesn’t translate well to the screen, but can someone wear something other than black ninja crap for a change? Hopefully the Falcon will be back in future films and have a bit of red in his wings and costume.

Those are minor nitpicks. Captain America: The Winter Soldier is pure entertainment and probably the best Marvel movie since Avengers. I loved it.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Friday, April 18, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

4/2/14 Books
 
 
Rachel Rising #24Rachel Rising is one of my favorite books currently being published. The comic is by writer/author Terry Moore, creator of Strangers in Paradise, probably my favorite non-genre comic of all time. Moore is one of the most bright and talented storytellers working in any medium, period.
When Rachel wakes up in a shallow grave in the woods, she finds she has no memory of her brutal murder. She somehow stumbles back to the small New England town of Manson. As the series progresses, she finds herself under attack from some powerful and nasty witches out for revenge for their murders in Manson hundreds of years ago. Originally part of the coven, Rachel is now working against them and trying to save her friends and the town.

In this issue, Rachel, the evil little brat Zoe and Rachel’s old friend James (currently in the body of her present friend Jet—don’t ask) confront Lilith, one of the most powerful witches of the old coven. A raging snowstorm has been burying the town and beautifully adds to the art and mood of the story. The team vanquishes Lilith (for now), Jet returns to her body and James returns to the ether. This is a high-stakes battle, with Lilith commanding feral wolves and poisonous snakes to do her bidding, and Rachel and James fighting for their lives. Zoe doesn’t really care.

Moore has written about the small audience and low sales of this book. He has used several guerilla marketing tactics to gain a bigger audience and I hope they work. This title features typical Moore characters, who look like real human beings and have distinct and realistic personalities. Thrilling and insightful, Rachel Rising deserves better sales and comes with my highest recommendation. Comics don’t get better than this.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Angel & Faith Season 10 #1 – A companion book to Dark Horse’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Season 10 comic, Angel & Faith are working together to fight evil and pay for Joss Whedon’s fourth or fifth summer house. This is a sequel series to Christos Gage and Rebecca Isaac’s Angel & Faith book, which was very good. New writer Victor Gischler and artist Will Conrad get off to a promising start, as Faith helps Buffy with a case and Angel unsuccessfully tries to protect a young man from a group of foot-high winged demons. I admit I would follow Gischler about anywhere, his crime novel The Deputy was one of the best books I read last year. I avoid the main Buffy comic like the plague since it became a showcase for politically correct storylines—it very well may be worse now since Gage has taken it over and he is a militant political agenda writer. Angel & Faith are far removed from that up 'til now—it’s just death to monsters everywhere. Let’s hope they stay with that theme.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Shotgun Wedding #1 – I didn’t know anything about this book, but bought it due to a friend’s recommendation. I’m glad I did! Mike and Chloe are not a normal engaged couple. They are both spies and assassins for the U.S. Government. Mike is a patriotic true believer; Chloe is a stone-cold psycho who hides it well. When Mike leaves Chloe a "Dear John" letter on their wedding day, she’s not the type to have a good cry, play “I Will Survive” and move on. She’s more the “wait several years and chop Mike and his new fiancée to pieces” type. Now on a blazing path of vengeance, she tracks down Mike’s father and gets the scoop on where they plan to tie the knot, then does some terrible things to him. As the book ends, she is buying an airplane ticket to go greet Mike and his bride-to-be. And I don’t think it’s to give them the good china on their gift register.

This book was a fun surprise, with a unique premise and some engaging character work. Chloe really is a nut case. Add to that she is a scorned woman, and to that her fiancée has found happiness with someone else. I expect snarky quips, gunfire and multiple explosions in the next few issues.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Grindhouse: Doors Open at Midnight #7 – Even at my advanced age, I’m too young to have caught the most exploitive grindhouse flicks from the ‘70s at the theater. This comic helps make up for that educational gap. Writer Alex De Campi has done a series of two-issue grindhouse stories in this title, with subjects like alien killer bees and medieval princess revenge stories. In the first part of this last two-issue tale, “Flesh Feast of the Devil Doll,” Renae is an unpopular teenager sent to an upscale summer sports camp. Of course the camp’s land butts up against a cult compound where the members spend their days calling bad things from beyond to this world. The two camps end up overlapping, and Renae must team with the popular girls to fight bikini-clad, multi-fanged she-monsters to the death.

This book is violent, bloody and exploitive. And a great deal of fun. It also contains fake movie posters for ridiculous grindhouse films I’d love to see, such as “Shaolin Romeo-Wutang Juliet (Only one thing stood in the way of their love affair ... Vengeance!!!), and “Dirty Sanchez (He’s a stinker!). Not for the faint of heart, but it does live up to the grindhouse claim. Can’t say they didn’t warn you!

Rating: **** out of 5 stars.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Movies - Martha Marcy May Marlene and The Awakening

Some movies to avoid/watch:
 
 
 
 
Martha Marcy May Marlene with Elizabeth Olsen, the Olsen twins' younger sister. A talented performer, Olsen can't save this pretentious snoozer. A mixed up twenty-something escapes from a Manson-type cult and moves in with her estranged sister and her husband. No plot, no ending and nothing to say. How this drivel was reviewed positively, or even made, eludes me.

 

On the other hand, The Awakening was a fun adult horror movie. This is a complex story about family, repressed memory and creepy ghosts. In 1921, supernatural debunker Florence Cathcart visits a boys boarding school to explain sightings of a child ghost. Working with the always dependable Dominic West, they quickly solve the mystery, only to have another one come along that's bigger and spookier. Multiple twists and turns with some good jumpy scares, this is a great gore-less horror flick for grownups. It doesn't hurt that star Rebecca Hall is a very beautiful woman.


 

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Comics Capusle Reviews

3/26/14 Books

Alex + Ada #5 - Alex + Ada is the book of the week. The book of the week, the month, and the year so far. Jonathan Luna has done some excellent work with his brother Joshua on books like Ultra and The Sword (I didn’t care for Girls). Here he serves as artist and co-writer with Sarah Vaughn. They knock it out of the park. In the near future, Alex is a successful Yuppie who has recently ended a relationship. His rich grandmother cures his loneliness by sending him one of the new android “companions,” since she enjoys hers so much (Ewwww). At first Alex is appalled and makes plans to send her back. But at the last minute, he changes his mind. As he tries to get to know her, he becomes frustrated with her Stepford Wives obedience and personality. After doing some online research, he finds out that Ada’s particular models have sentience programmed into them, it’s just illegal to activate after the recent sentient Android riots and killings. However, one of the underground Android rights activists will turn her sentience on ... if Alex vows to accept any and all consequences. She will develop her own personality. She may not like him and leave. If the authorities find out, she will be destroyed and Alex will be arrested.

In issue #5, Alex makes the decision and Ada’s sentience is activated. The results are instant and unexpected. After she takes a few shaky moments to acclimate, Alex and Ada walk into the morning sun together to face their new life.

This book does what all speculative fiction should do; present new ideas and look at humanity through the lens of science fiction. And it does so extremely well. Alex is a decent everyman who tries to do the right thing as he sees it. Ada is a machine who so far is just a shadow of human mimicry; now she has free will. Will she stay? Go? Start a Jamba Juice franchise? The future is open and I can’t wait to see what happens next. Especially since Ada must now go to great lengths to hide her newfound will and personality.

The authors have asked some deep questions here and are following them up with strong ideas, dialog and visuals. If you don’t read comics and want to dip your toes in the water, you couldn’t do better than Alex + Ada. If you do read comics, pick this up immediately.

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

Silver Surfer #1 - Wow, a new #1 issue from Marvel! What a ... er, marvel? I think the #1 on the cover is bigger than the Surfer himself. I kid, I kid. The Surfer hasn’t had a title to himself for a few years, so I think we can excuse it this time. Aside from a ridiculous $3.99 price tag, this is a promising new beginning for the Surfer.

The Silver Surfer has always been a tough sell. Despite being Stan Lee’s favorite Lee/Kirby creation to write, it is basically a silver guy flying around the universe on a surfboard. But the concept has been flexible enough to be serious space opera, straight man in a comedy book and pure science fiction. This version, by Dan Slott with wonderful pop art by Michael Allred, seems to be rather whimsical. Twin earth girls Dawn and Eve are introduced as new characters to the saga. Dawn wants nothing more than to stay in the small town of Anchor Bay for life, Eve wants to travel and experience the world. Twelve years later, Eve is a world traveler and Dawn has never left Anchor Bay, caring for their aged father. While roaming through space, the Surfer is drawn to a crazy world he never knew existed, where the natives blackmail him into becoming their champion. Exactly what he is supposed to champion is a bit fuzzy. But if he doesn’t agree, they will kill the queen of the universe; the recently kidnapped Dawn. Whom the Surfer has never laid eyes on.

That’s a fun high concept, and I will stick around for the second issue.

Rating: *** out of 5 stars

Fatale #21 - The Ed Brubaker/Sean Phillips team will go down in history as one of the greatest creative teams in the history of comics. They deliver one hit after another; Sleeper, Criminal, Incognito and now Fatale. Fatale is noir and occult and fantasy and very dark gangster fiction. The protagonist is just what you’d think; Josephine is death to most if not all the men who cross her path. Every man she meets falls in love with her and mostly ends up dead. She is unsure of her own age, at least several centuries. She has been killed many times but always manages to get better. The current storyline deals with Nick, her latest admirer, working with Otto, the one man not affected by Josephine’s charms, to reclaim some merchandise recently stolen from her. And the demon she stole it from originally is working towards the same goal, mostly because the merchandise is that demon’s eyes.

Fatale is the perfect blend of tough guy detective/tawdry dames/demon gangster and occult fiction. Phillips, as always, draws the heck out of it, with believable tired and desperate men chasing drop-dead gorgeous babes. Brubaker is such an astounding writer I had no idea I was interested in reading such a mash-up until I read Fatale.
 
Rating: **** out of 5 stars


Fables #139 - Fables is that rarest of all rare books; a long-running series by the same writer that is always entertaining and has never taken a wrong step. When every fairy-tale character you’ve ever heard of has their land overtaken by the armies of “the Adversary,” they all head to—where else—New York City. Living under the radar, they all try to get along and keep a low profile. Guess how that works?
This issue, part one of the two-part “The Boys in the Band” storyline, features a few of the Fables musicians gathering to go on a quest. New character Danny Boy approaches his friend Seamus McGuire to return to his Celtic homeland of Hybernia to free it from the Adversary’s forces. Seamus happens to be the Harpist in a band, and his fellow bandmates Peter Piper, Baby Joe Shepherd, Briar Rose and Puss in Boots all agree to come along as well. They fight their way through several hostile dimensions to Hybernia, only to lose (literally) Puss in Boots in a fight with the bad guys. Continued next issue (betcha a fiver Puss is alive).

Writer Bill Willingham is ending this classic series with #150. Again, it is a rare writer that goes out on top after 150 issues without wringing all the fun out of the title. I will miss this dose of fairy tales and fantasy every month. The final storyline will be Snow White vs. her sister Rose Red, and it is shaping up to be a doozy.

**** out of 5 stars

Doc Savage: Man of Bronze #4 - I do loves me some pulp heroes. I grew up with the Doc Savage novels; I also loved the Doc Savage comics, of which there have been several incarnations. The latest is from the company Dynamite, which understands pulp heroes like no other company. Well, except IDW, anyway. Chris Roberson, who loves the pulp heroes as much as I do, is spinning tales about how Doc makes it from the 1930s to the present. In this issue Doc is in the late ‘70s, trying to stop some oil well fires in the Middle East. The daughter of one of the workers is a punk rocker with a bad wardrobe and worse attitude. Doc wins her over through the course of the story and offers her membership on his team. Roberson is the master of the simple, effective adventure story. The script further develops the characters, tells a great tale and gets off the stage. Well worth your valuable time, especially if you like seeing Clark Savage, Jr. back in action. And check out that Alex Ross cover. Wow.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Friday, April 11, 2014

Movie Trailer - Iron Baby


Who just created the Ultimate Weapon? Yes, you did! I so want to see this.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Convention Report – Gem City Comic Con 2014

Peek-a-Boo! It's R2-D2
I spent Sunday at the 2014 Gem City Comic Con, held yearly at the Nutter Center on the campus of Miami University in Dayton, Ohio. Attendees take a chance going on a Sunday—some of the good stuff may be gone. The upside is the deal making—vendors don’t want to take home loaded trucks, they'd rather sell everything and go home with loaded wallets. So they tend to make some great deals.

I attended the con last year, and this year, with my friend Matt Tauber. This year he brought along his sons, 6 year-old Noah and 4 year-old Jonah. They were amazingly well behaved for being dragged around the convention center all day.

Matt & Noah

In this photo, Matt's son Jonah is hiding behind Matt in his Captain America costume. Sometimes you just don’t feel like getting your picture taken.

One of the most beguiling aspects of con-going is the cosplay. If you’re not familiar with it, cosplay is when folks—mostly in homemade costumes—dress up as their favorite characters from fiction, comics, video games, movies and history. Anything goes, and people have worn some amazingly complex costumes to these things. Here are some of the more interesting folks I captured.

Red She-Hulk
 
Stormtrooper, Ghostbuster and ... Boba Fett/Cousin It, Maybe?
 
Not sure, but they looked cool
A cute Zombie girl
Do I love that Dr. Strange Costume? Yes I do.
 
Some Bat-Ladies and an amazingly authentic Wehrmacht Officer. Why? No idea.
 
Great cape, Batman!
 
Green ... Tu Tu?
 
See? Heroes and Villains can get along!
 

Mark Waid

Mark Waid is a talented and prolific comic book writer. His knowledge of comics is encyclopedic. Years ago at a con he helped me find the first comic I ever read (Superman #238) by my just describing the story to him. This time I asked him about a Batman story I couldn’t find from the 1970s, where Batman fought the Penguin on a snowy mountaintop. Waid said that was probably Batman #258. I went to look in the dealer boxes and found the story--it was Batman #257. Closer than I would have gotten. I picked it up for a reasonable price, too. Waid had asked me to let him know if I found the book, so I headed back to his table and thanked him for the help. He held out his knuckles for a fist bump and said “All Riiiiight!” As I rammed my knuckles into his in a most manly way, it occurred to me—I think that was the first time I’ve ever fist-bumped someone. Huh. I guess my friends just prefer handshakes and punches in the face. I love that Waid is a total fanboy geek and still a thoughtful, intelligent writer and all-around nice guy.


Mike W. Barr

It was also a pleasure to meet Mike W. Barr. Mike has written a ton of great comic stories for titles like Batman, The Outsiders, Star Trek and Camelot 3000. He is now a novelist as well as comic writer.
 

Original Art by Noah Tauber
I don’t own much original art, but I will treasure this piece I picked up Sunday. At lunch, Noah was doodling on his scratch pad and drew this picture for me. It’s going to a place of honor on the fridge! 



The hall was crowded all day, and the dealers seemed to be selling. I picked up some great deals, including several Marvel Giant-Size books from the ‘70s and an Avengers #13 for a steal. I love con Sundays!

Avengers #13
All in all, a fantastic day! Can't wait until next year.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Movies - Sabotage

Sabotage is yet another Arnold Schwarzenegger comeback vehicle. Arnie plays the grizzled head of a DEA strike team. He is a father figure to a stable of tough-guy actors (including Lost’s Josh Hollway and True Blood’s Joe Manganiello) and one woman, Mireille Enos (The Killing, World War Z).  

Suffering from the loss of his family murdered by a drug cartel, Arnold’s character John “Breacher” Wharton decides to lead the team in a $10 million rip-off of cartel cash. They hide the money during a raid and when the team goes back to collect, it’s gone. Team members turn on each other and also manage to alienate the local police detective (Olivia Williams) investigating their nefarious activities.  

Gritty, dirty and violent, Sabotage doesn’t pull any punches or offer redemption to any of its damaged characters. Especially enjoyable was the fact that Hollywood finally made Mireille Enos sexy. She tends to play a drab, sexless, emotionless stone in frumpy clothes, with her hair severely pulled back and no makeup. In Sabotage, her character is a sensual, danger-loving thrill junkie who is borderline psychotic (possibly without the “borderline”). A nice stretch for her acting muscles and makeup team, I’m sure. While not perfect, Arnie’s charisma and world-weariness helps make Sabotage an enjoyable, action-filled diversion. I enjoyed it, but with a $5 million opening weekend, the rest of America apparently wasn’t interested. Adjusted for inflation, that’s the worst Schwarzenegger movie opening in history. I know Arnie still has it—he just needs the right vehicle. He’ll find it.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Books - Practice to Deceive

My friend Steve Wellington was born to write. He and I have both threatened to write the Great American Novel for years, but Steve finally sat down and took the time to create something. And what a thing! Steve’s first novel Practice to Deceive—hopefully the first in a series—was published recently by Post Mortem Press. It is an engaging thriller that well deserves your time and attention. I asked Steve about the book and his writing process and he was kind enough to share some thoughts. Because, like me, he’s a publicity whore.

Jerry Smith: Tell me about Practice to Deceive.
Steve Wellington: Practice to Deceive is the first novel in my mystery/thriller series starring Jim Greyson. The book has plenty of action with real characters. None of them have to take time to empty the dishwasher like I do, but they hate and love and want more out of life like everyone else. And most of them are willing to shoot someone in the eye to get it. 

A lot of writers ask which is more important – plot or character? That’s like asking which is a better pizza topping: green peppers or onions? Readers have to care about the characters while not being able to wait for what happens next in an amazing plot. So the true answer is: plot and character have to work with each other for a story to succeed. Which is why I always order green pepper and onion pizzas. Trust me, it’s good.

Back to the book, Practice to Deceive is set in Harts Bay, Maryland. A city I made up so I can take the best and worst parts of a lot of cities and put them all in one place. The novel starts with Jim Greyson in jail in Georgia. He is blackmailed by an FBI agent into going undercover and spying on an old family friend, who happens to launder money for a Russian mobster. Happens all the time. Of course none of this would be legal and used in court. So it doesn’t end well for a lot of people.

JS: What makes Greyson an interesting character to write about?
SW: I’m a big fan of real characters that make real mistakes which result in real consequences. I always tell people to think of Travis McGee or Matt Scudder when thinking of Jim Greyson. These are the guys you would want to close a bar with. Then you want them at your side when the night unexpectedly takes a turn for the worse. (Yes, Scudder in his later days would stick with Diet Coke, but someone has to drive everybody home.)

Jim Greyson doesn’t look for trouble. He just knows what to do when trouble presents itself. But he doesn’t know everything. He asks a lot of questions. Then he listens. I’ve always felt there was a trustworthiness to a guy that isn’t a know-it-all. He’s not the best at what he does. That gets redundant. So Jim is trying to get along in life and get home in time for a beer before he has to get up and face the world again. Like most of us.

JS: How do you feel about explicit sex and violence in your writing? Do you have limits, or does the story dictate the content?
SW: I have limits because the genre I’m writing for has limits. Without going too post-graduate literati on you, there are sub-genres and sub-sub-genres. But the main mystery/thriller genre stays with a PG-13 rating for sex and violence. Okay, maybe an R these days.

The gratuitous stuff is best left for the sub-sub-sub-genres. That’s not me. I’m not old-fashioned, just old. It’s the implication of violence and raunchy sex that lets the reader fill in the holes, so to speak, using his or her own twisted mind. And we know some of you are rather twisted, right?

Thank goodness there are plenty of web sites for folks that want to explore those sub-sub-sub genres in the privacy of their own basement.

JS: What does the future look like for Jim Greyson?
SW: Other parents check their e-mail during their kids’ basketball games. I think about ways to mess with people’s lives so a sarcastic thug-for-hire has to come save them. I’ve outlined the second Jim Greyson thriller and if I can maintain a good daily BIC ratio (Butt-In-Chair), I hope to finish the novel by the end of 2014.

All Jim wants to do at the end of this first book is get used to not looking over his shoulder every ten minutes. But like I said, I’ve already outlined Jim’s next adventure and there are two more taking shape in my head. A good thriller series has to have a reason for the hero to get into the action in book after book. Jim is not a cop or even a licensed anything, but he has a reason to see more action in upcoming books. He has to pay his lawyer.

JS: How about a peek into your writing process?
SW: You know that rush you feel after going full force on the treadmill for 30 minutes? That’s the feeling I get after a good writing session. (Full Disclosure: It’s been too long since my last true treadmill-induced euphoric feeling, but I am working on my weekly BIG ratio. That’s Butt-In-Gym for those keeping score.)

Maybe my heart isn’t pumping like mad at the end, but I’m feeling the endorphins course through my system. I love to write. I write a lot in my real world job and writing is just a wonderful way to waste away long, silent, incredibly isolated hours every day. Sounds just wonderful. I know some writers that just start a book without any sort of outline. Sorry, that’s not me. Maybe other genres can work that way, but a real mystery/thriller needs a plot that is believable and builds suspense. That means it needs to be outlined. However, I’m guilty of throwing in a scene or a location because I think it’s cool. Hey, it’s my make-believe world and where else am I going to be so self-indulgent?

My outlines tend to get filled up with lines of dialogue as I type up the scenes. The characters just naturally start talking to each other. I fought that a lot and then just gave into it. So now my outlines make no sense to anyone but me, but it’s the way that works for me now.

I’m also one of those writers with the first chapter re-written hundreds of times and honed to perfection with almost nothing completed for the rest of the book. That is a terrible trap to run into with any sort of project. “Look at those perfect stairs to the tree house!” “What tree house?” So I stopped doing that quite a few stories ago. Now I read what I’ve written in the last few days, correct any typos, and get started typing away.

And the outline does change at the novel progresses. Want to make God laugh? Make plans. Sorry, old joke. But you can see where I’m going.

Finally, here’s a secret I discovered about myself that all you writers should use if you want. You don’t even have to give me credit for it. I was on a car trip with a friend and we had hours to kill. So I told him the outline for my next Greyson novel. A lot of plot holes and complications and “how could that happen(s)?” came to mind as I was relating the plot aloud. Which is what I do now. Even without the captive audience, I speak the plot out loud to see if it works. It’s best if you can find a friend or a stranger you can tie down to listen. That way you have a sounding board. But if you can’t verbally describe what happens in the story, there ain’t no story.

JS: Makes sense. What are you reading now, or what would you like to recommend?
SW: There’s what I read at home and what I listen to in the car. I’ve always been a big audio book fan. But I find that many books don’t work well for me in the car. Right now, I’m working through C.J. Box’s series of Joe Pickett novels in my car. This series is a great example of what works for me in an audio book. The story moves at a good clip and the dialogue is engaging and distinct – especially when it is performed well by the narrator.

Box’s style of writing just works for me in the car. Is that a compliment? I hope so. He paints a picture of each setting with a few quick words. And while the books are set in the Wyoming wilderness, his characters are the real driving force of each story.

When I’m actually reading, it’s usually a collection of short stories. My daily BIC quota means that I can only read a few stories in that time between when I just can’t see straight anymore and I’m off to Sleepytown (yes, the tough mystery writer just used the word Sleepytown). Right now I’m reading a collection of stories by Russell Banks that is showing me how deep a story can go with just dialogue. I also have a collection of stories from Lawrence Block and some sci-fi stuff.

But to experience a great mystery series with characters that age physically and otherwise, pick up the first Matt Scudder book (The Sins of the Fathers, there – looked it up for you) by Lawrence Block and find a comfy chair in good light.

Wait, go read Practice to Deceive first. Then work your way through the rest of my fellow authors at Post Mortem Press. My publisher will kill me if I didn’t say that – and he hangs with a despicable, desperate group of people. Horror writers. 
 
Steve Wellington lives in Cincinnati, Ohio with his family. He loves to write about bad things happening to good people in spite of a very happy childhood.

You can purchase Practice to Deceive here. Available in paperback or for your Kindle.