Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Graphic Novels - On the Ropes

On the Ropes by writer James Vance and artist Dan Burr is a sequel to their classic '80s book Kings in Disguise, one of my all-time favorite comics. Taking place in the '30s during the worst of the depression, young Fred Bloch is now apprenticed to escape artist Gordon Corey, a star attraction in a traveling government-sponsored circus. He has joined the communist party and is delivering secret messages for the unions. Union breakers have hired two murderous thugs to find and kill people like Fred. This is a true novel, with characters who grow and change, real human beings with emotions and secrets and a fast moving, thrill-packed plot. As the thugs create a swath of destruction (and bodies) looking for Fred, he doesn't even know they're after him. I have no sympathy for communism and I'm not much on unions, but Vance makes those choices an organic part of the story and the character. He doesn't hit readers over the head with their "correctness," as most modern comics writers do. This is an incredible story about human experiences, and not everyone has a happy ending. On the Ropes leaves readers pondering its events and themes long after the last page is turned.
Rating: ****1/2 stars out of 5

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Comics Capsule Reviews

Recent Comics
Doc Savage #7
Doc Savage #7: Writer Chris Roberson and artist Bilquis Evely continue to impress with their tightly plotted chronicle about the Man of Bronze through the decades. Now in the present day, Doc is doing better than ever. Due to this youth formula, his aging has slowed down, but not stopped. His foundation and staff is bigger than he ever dreamed, and his cell phone technology is helping save lives all over the world. Then tragedy strikes on two fronts; his enemies reveal the existence of his “crime college” (where criminals are reprogrammed to do good) and his cell tech is used to cause users to go violently nuts. Immune to the cell tech, Doc closes what’s left of his staff in his fortress and calculates a strategy to strike back and stop the violence. But has too much damage been done?

Roberson treats readers to a grand ride, done as well or better than the original pulps. Eight issues gives the story room to breathe and grow organically into what Doc Savage’s 1930s ideas might result in today. The only drawback is there are so many new and interesting characters we don’t get to know any of them very well. And I do miss Monk and Ham. But you can’t have everything. An excellent comic, I look forward to the end of the story next month. Hopefully this won’t be the end of the series.

Rating: ****½ out of 5 stars

Ghosted #11
Ghosted #11: Original artist Goran Sudzuka is back and I didn’t realize how much I missed him. With writer Joshua Williamson, they tell the backstory of the female assassin (and total witch) Anderson. Turns out she was never that nice. Raised in a rich family as a spoiled debutante, she turns to killing for fun and profit. But it looks like she’s having just as much fun as profit. When one of her hits goes bad, she is “sold” to Occultist Markus Schrecken, a match made in the seventh circle of Hell. Presumably she works for Schrecken until she gets involved in the caper with Jackson Winters that gets her killed earlier in the series. And today her ghost happily (that’s sarcasm) haunts Ghosted protagonist Winters until his dying day. Don’t despair, Anderson! That day may not be too far off. Outstanding story and art make Ghosted one of the top reads of the month.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars

Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain #1
Hack/Slash: Son of Samhain #1: Cassie Hack is the sole survivor of a serial killer called the Lunch Lady, who turned out to be her own mother. Since then she, her fishnet stockings, nail-embedded baseball bat and monstrous sidekick Vlad have brought fire and hell to countless demons, killers and tailgating rednecks. Now that Vlad is gone, Cassie has given up the life and found a semblance of happiness. But folks like her can never stay happy, and at the earliest provocation she drops her bounty-hunting job and goes back on the trail of the supernatural. If new partner Delroy is as tough as he looks, at least she has someone to watch her back. Delroy approaches her to go after cave god Attan-Soolu, a nasty piece of work. Of course she can’t resist, monster hunting is in her blood now. They invade Attan-Soolu’s subterranean lair, crunch up a bunch of his minions, and save a creepy young man that may or may not have minded being sacrificed.

Although previous partner Vlad was the heart and soul of Hack/Slash, new writers Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley do a good job with Delroy and making us temporarily forget Vlad’s absence. Emilio Laiso does some of the best art to appear in the book in a while. More like this, please.

Rating: **** out of 5 stars


Legendary Star*Lord #1
Legendary Star*Lord #1: The Guardians of the Galaxy movie is out August 1st, and Marvel is trying to have plenty of GOTG product out for the millions of moviegoers that will flock to comic stores looking for comics featuring those heroes (that’s sarcasm). Really, who can blame them for capitalizing on the hoped popularity of the movie? Despite being “product,” Legendary Star*Lord is good. Here, Star*Lord Peter Quill is stretching his wings a bit away from the rest of the Guardians. We join him in medias res in a battle with the nasty alien Badoon (with “bad” in your species name, how could you be anything else? Oh, Marvel writers of the 1970s, how I love thee ... ). Star*Lord steals a valuable artifact from under their noses and sells it for a lot of moola. Then he delivers the cash to an orphanage on Earth that could certainly use it. He’s such a nice thief and grifter! Leaving Earth, he is accosted by the Royal Guard of his father’s home planet Spartax, who apparently want to take him home for a visit. In chains. Oh, and the leader of the group is Captain Victoria, apparently the sister Quill never knew he had.

Legendary Star*Lord is quick moving, fun adventure storytelling whose quality was a pleasant surprise. I’ll be back next issue to see where this goes.

Rating: ***½ out of 5 stars

Weird Love #2
BOOK OF THE WEEK: Weird Love #2: Craig Yoe is a demon who invades my mind to find out exactly the kind of comics I love to read, even if I don’t know myself. How else do you explain books like Haunted Horror and Weird Love? Presented here are more twisted, insane and just plain wrong stories from old Romance comics. From the sublime cover to the t-shirt ads in the back (have to get me one), issue #2 is even better than #1, which I totally loved. Let’s look at this newest set of gems:

- Yes, I Was An Escort Girl (True Life Secrets #12, 1953): Yup, just like it sounds. Of course there was no on-camera hanky-panky, but you can easily read between the panels, if you know what I mean. Vivian is a nice girl who just wanted to be a model. Unfortunately, she’s just not hot enough. So she gets involved with an Escort Service as a “companion” to older, horny uh, business men. She “dates” lots of guys, but rich guy Jerry has a special place in her heart. I’m sure she loves him for his personality. When Jerry proposes, her jealous boss Mike convinces him she’s a gold digger (duh) and queers the deal. Fortunately, Mike’s jealous wife shoots him and Jerry turns out to be... oh, just read it for yourself. They published this in 1953? In a romance book? This is the story of the month, if not the year.

- Too Fat for Love (Darling Love #7, 1950): Mona is a fat pig. Lots of kids in high school make fun of her for being a fat pig. Tony Cleaver likes pork, but she rebuffs his advances, because ... why exactly? I guess she thinks no one could really like fat pigs. Mona is so fat that her dad sets up someone from his office as a partner if he will marry her. When she finds out, her heart is broken, and she softens the blow with french fries dipped in chocolate. Okay, I made that up, but it could have happened! She really uses Snickers bars dipped in ice cream. Kidding again! She really goes on a broken heart starvation diet and loses just enough weight to believe Tony is still attracted to her. As they ride off on their honeymoon, the taxi dips a little to one side. I’m sure they lived happily ever after. Until her stroke.

- Mini Must Go! (Love and Romance #6, 1972) Mr. Childers has a stick so far up his rear they couldn’t find it with an electron microscope. He is so offended by miniskirts that he bans them from the office. Since all of the office girls are smokin’ hot and wear miniskirts, the men in the office first just hate him a lot, then start transferring to other offices where they can get their miniskirt fix. Then the women get angry that some uptight jerkwad is telling them how to dress. Tell ‘em, ladies! Turns out Mr. Childers is so attracted to microskirt wearing Miss Tait that he doesn’t want anyone else to gawk at her. Once she awakens him to this fact, all anti-miniskirt memos are collected, reversed and shredded. Yay for Women’s Lib! Today Mr. Childers is married to his high school gym teacher, Mr. Percy.

- Finally, Beautiful One! (Radiant Love #6, 1954): Navy man Lt. Jon Spears is stationed on a South Pacific island where he meets and falls in love with local island girl Lanu. Lanu is afraid it’s just the South Pacific sun making him loopy. She tells him to go home for a year, date other girls, and if he is still interested, come back and they can work out a dowry or something. Jon spends the next year at the Playboy mansion, dating Hugh’s castoffs. Blondes, brunettes, redheads, each one more ready and willing than the last. He rebuffs them all with constant thoughts of Lanu in his head. 365 days later, he’s back on the island, pledging his undying love. I guess he works things out with her dad, because the last panel reveals why Lanu wanted to test his devotion. In this Twilight Zone-worthy twist, her shadowed face is revealed. She looks like a cross between Alfred E. Newman, Ernest Borgnine and a Decepticon. The artist really knocked himself out on this one. Ugh, that panel will give me nightmares!

Hats off to you, Craig Yoe, Clizia Gussoni and the rest of the Yoe Books! crew. Thanks for making my week with Weird Love #2! Bring on #3!

Rating: ***** out of 5 stars

James Garner, R.I.P.

James Garner: Actor, War Hero, Real Man
 Big Hollywood’s John Nolte pays tribute to my hero James Garner better than I ever could:

 "Amiable, broad-shouldered, and handsome, Garner spent a half-century easily moving back and forth between television and film roles, a feat very few lead actors have successfully pulled off. Garner was the rare leading man who could spend countless hours in our living rooms without losing the quality that made him a movie star.”

Check it out here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Books - The Lone Ranger Chronicles

Anthology books are always a mixed bag, especially when the subject is a superhero western mash up. But I have to say if you’re a fan of the masked lawman (as I am), The Lone Ranger Chronicles presents some outstanding stories. The book starts with an Introduction by Clayton Moore’s daughter Dawn (turns out Mr. Moore was just as cool a father as we all imagined him to be), continues with Ranger creator Fran Striker’s Lone Ranger Creed, and contains sixteen short stories of the Lone Ranger, Tonto, Silver, Scout and lots of silver bullets and two-fisted action. And sometimes those fists are full of Colt Peacemakers.

The best story in the book is The Blue Roan by Chuck Dixon. Dixon’s POV character is a young boy who follows a group of horse thieves to get back his prized blue roan. He soon gets in over his head and the Ranger and Tonto have to pull him out and protect him while fighting some very dangerous individuals. The Lone Ranger serves as a father figure in the story while the boy is lost, scared and in desperate danger. As usual, Dixon presents a tight, well-told story with great characters and a firm handle on exactly who the Lone Ranger is.
Kemosabe by Matthew Baugh puts a fresh spin on the origin of the relationship between the Lone Ranger and Tonto, and delves into Tonto saving the Ranger from the deadly ambush that killed his brother and four other Texas Rangers. An excellent account that illustrates the loyal friendship between the two heroes.

The Legend of Silver by Johnny D. Boggs is told from the Ranger’s horse Silver’s point of view. It sounds silly, but is actually a fun story of the famous stallion deciding the man is worthy of him and why.

The Lone Ranger and Tonto meet Doc Holliday in The Masque by Richard Dean Starr and E. R. Bower. The writers actually handle Holliday in a historically accurate yet entertaining manner. Of course the Ranger tries to convince Doc to slow down and live a healthier lifestyle. The results are not as effective as he hoped. I pictured Val Kilmer’s Doc from the movie Tombstone during every line of Holliday’s dialog in the story.

Howard Hopkins writes Denial, a decent read but the only story that seems out of place in the book. The antagonist is a cursing, wife-beating murderer to whom the Ranger shows mercy (of a kind). The grittiness sets it apart from most of the other stories.

There must have been an editorial fiat for these tales that Tonto has to be specifically pointed out as a Potawatomi Indian, a fact of which I was not aware. It is mentioned at least once (if not many, many more times) in each story, usually within the first two pages. It was good fun to read new stories of one of my favorite childhood heroes. Within these pages, the Lone Ranger is portrayed as an old-fashioned do-gooder who always does the right thing. I loved it.

Rating: **** starts out of 5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Books - Sharp Objects and Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

Since Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl was the best novel I read last year, I thought I would try her two previous books, Sharp Objects and Dark Places.

Talk about dark, DARK mysteries/thrillers. Sharp Objects is about a depressed, mentally ill reporter who is forced to go back to her small Missouri hometown to cover a recent murder. She interacts with her family, one of the world’s most dysfunctional, and uncovers secrets that no one wants to see the light of day. The story is incredibly downbeat, with child murder and other sick stuff. When the story wraps up with some sense of optimism, the author can’t stand it and throws in one final gut-punch twist that makes the reader want to slit their wrists. While a well-written debut novel, it is not for the faint of heart and some passages are tough to read, even for my iron stomach.

Dark Places goes some rather ... dark places, if you will. A (again) depressed woman’s family was slaughtered in her Kansas farmhouse when she was eight. She managed to escape into the woods. She testified against her brother for the crime and he is in jail for life. Now in her 30s, a pack of murder groupies has convinced her to look into the crime and see if he really did it. More than her other novels (and that’s saying something), Dark Places is populated by some of the most damaged people I’ve ever encountered. All characters suffer empty, awful lives of murder, depression and drudgery, with their only hope being a bitter and unfulfilled future. Although the mystery is resolved in a satisfying manner (relying on unlikely coincidences that stretch credibility to the breaking point), the reader is left with an acid feeling in the back of their throat. This book is well-written with a great sense of thrills and pacing, but I wanted to take a shower at the end. Time to read about Middle East politics to get a sense of positive optimism.

Friday, July 4, 2014

4th of July Treat - My Superman Comic

In 2009, DC Comics did a comic book story that was so anti-American, so insulting to folks who loved their country and so anti-patriotic, it was the beginning of giving up the company for me. In the story, Superman (a fictional character) renounced his American citizenship. The author was David Goyer, who is now in charge of DC’s movie and TV properties. Although commercialism forced him to make Superman admit he was an American in his recent Man of Steel movie script, Goyer regularly defends this story and denounces and insults comic book fans. He doesn’t like America or us, for some reason.

When this story was published, I (and much of the world) was shocked and appalled. Above is a one-page comic response I wrote, drawn by my friend and comic book artist Austin Beach. At the time I sent it to most of the comic book press, and even conservative outlets like the Glenn Beck show. No one printed or referred to it; maybe it just wasn’t that good. At least I managed to put my own spin on the controversy. I still have and treasure the original art.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Movies - Maleficent

Maleficent was a pleasurable surprise. Solid entertainment with a fun story, great SFX and a talented cast. Angelina Jolie has quite a screen presence as the title character, a vengeful fairy rejected and betrayed by her first love, a human boy. Jolie is the whole package, a bona fide movie star as well as an actress. That’s rare these days—she can put butts in seats, but can still chew the scenery and infuse the character with life. Sharto Copely plays Stefan, the boy who betrays Maleficent for a chance to become king, in an odd but effective performance. Elle Fanning is Aurora, the sleeping beauty that is destined to doom the kingdom to endless snoozing. There are no surprises as the story unfolds, just everyone doing what they do to the height of their considerable abilities. Jolie dominates the screen with her malevolence and then slightly less malevolence. There is a nice twist to the story dealing with the proverbial “true love’s kiss” to awaken the beautiful princess. In the end, Maleficent is an engaging diversion I really enjoyed.

Rating: ***1/2 stars out of 5

Super Dud(s)

In my, er ... humble opinion, DC Comics' "New 52" relaunch has been a dismal failure. I gave it a fair chance, but the stories, artwork and tone failed miserably, book after book. The above graphic shows so well one of their major failures, Superman. Nothing about the new, poser character works, including his awful costume.

Source: Facebook