Friday, June 23, 2017

Comics Capsule Reviews

Harrow County #24: Writer Cullen Bunn (of The Sixth Gun fame, a book I loved) and artist Tyler Crook continue to terrify and amaze with tales of little Emmy and her attempt to protect Harrow County from supernatural harm. Taking place in the 1930s, it was revealed in the series that Emmy comes from supernatural origins herself, which causes some folks in the town to not trust her much.

In this issue, Emmy’s best friend Bernice turns out to be one of those mistrusting folks. Bernice doesn’t have faith that Emmy will side with the humans against her non-human friends, commonly called “haints.” Emmy’s latest haint friends look like giants rabbits with razor sharp teeth, and they surround her in the woods and cast dark glances at anyone who gets too close to Emmy. Bernice, learning some craft from a good witch in the woods, takes it upon herself to fight the haints surrounding Emmy and other dark denizens of the woods. She comes in direct conflict with Emmy as Emmy steps in to protect them. Emmy thinks all beings can learn to live together, Bernice isn’t taking any chances. After battling it out for a while, a surprising being made of fire appears to tell the girls to stop their foolishness. They listen, but it looks like their relationship will be changed forever. They should be looking to the other side of the woods, where a nefarious group is resurrecting the one monster that can go toe to toe with Emmy.

Another treat in Harrow County is the folksy, homespun local ghost stories people relate in the letters pages in the back of the book. I don’t believe in ghosts, but I do love a good ghost story, and a few of those have set goose bumps to rising. An excellent comic.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Normandy Gold #1: I am a loyal aficionado of Hard Case Crime’s prose novels. They have recently begun expanding into comics and the results, like their books, are fun, noirish, gritty crime thrillers.

Normandy Gold is definitely all those things. Normandy herself is the sheriff of a rural Northeastern town. Her kid sister Lila moved to Washington D.C. some years ago to take her chances within the corridors of power. Lila got involved with the wrong people, and when she is brutally murdered, Normandy vows to move heaven and earth to find the culprits. She seeks assistance from the Washington police, but finds them less than helpful. She decides to go undercover to find out what happened and who is responsible. Deep undercover.

This book is gritty, violent and not for children. However, it contains a juicy mystery and an extremely driven protagonist. Recommended.

Rating: **** stars out of 5

Kill the Minotaur #1: Ever since one of my college history professors related that archeologists found an actual maze under the ancient palace in Crete, my imagination has been obsessed with the Minotaur myth. Was there really a half-man half-bull in that maze who devoured the young and innocent tribute sent by Athens? Why would Athens agree to such a thing? What happened to those young people who were forced to leave their home and possibly be fed to a hell-beast? Kill the Minotaur attempts to creatively answer some of those questions.

The time is circa 1500 B.C. King Minos of Crete has no other choice but to admit his son the Minotaur, trapped in his maze, requires stronger sacrifices than the cattle and livestock he is being offered. He decides to do something about it.

Cut to eight years later. After waging a successful war against Athens, Minos has agreed not to destroy the city for the annual price of seven young men and seven young women. Every year, soldiers from Crete sail into Athens with a warship, walk though the city and take whomever they wish.

This is galling to Athenian prince Theseus, who finds Cretan arrogance and kidnapping too much to bear. When the soldiers arrive this year, it takes Theseus’s brother and a retinue of warriors to stop him from interfering. In the palace later that night, Theseus receives a surprise offer from Cretan Master of the Maze, Daedalus. Thinking he may have a chance to stop the tribute and see what is actually happening to those taken, Theseus accepts Daedalus’s offer and secretly returns to Crete as an anonymous tribute. His plan falls apart the instant he departs the tribute ship.

Writers Chris Pasetto and Christian Cantamessa set the stage well, with a good handle on the ancient world, a wonderful plot and strong characters. Artist Lukas Ketner captures the visuals with verve and panache, he’s an outstanding artist. The only nit-pick I have with the script is the use of the “f” word. I’m sure the ancient world had some analog, but this anachronism takes readers out of the story wondering, “Wow, did they have the f-word back then?” They didn’t, so I vote for using something else. It does give flavor to character dialog. I just like historical accuracy when possible. Still, this is a fantasy story, so not the end of the world.  

Kill the Minotaur is tremendously enjoyable and looks to be a roller coaster ride through ancient Greece. I’m looking forward to issue #2.

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Bane Conquest #2: I don’t buy many superhero comics anymore and miss them terribly. Marvel is lost to SJW madness, but DC occasionally emerges from the depths with an actual coherent comic book. Such is the case with Bane Conquest, for two reasons: Chuck Dixon and Graham Nolan. Dixon, an adventure writer and expert comic book scribe, makes writing a great comic story seem effortless. Here he catches up with Bane, one of Batman’s greatest villains (created of course, by Dixon and Nolan).

In this 12-issue miniseries, Bane has lost none of his belligerence or overhoned sense of superiority. In issue #2, he has been captured and imprisoned by his enemy Damocles. It turns out his cellmate is another former enemy and someone well known to readers. Together they conspire to escape and discover Damocles’ plan.

There is nothing like watching two masters at work. This comic performs on every level, featuring flashbacks examining Bane’s childhood in prison (through no fault of his own) and how he became the man he is today. The story ends on a humorous note and promises more action and revelations as the series progresses. It’s nice to be reading something in a superhero universe for a change!

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5

Wonder Woman ’77 Meets the Bionic Woman #4: This is a terrible comic. Of course I was in love with Lynda Carter and Lindsay Wagner in the ‘70s, who wasn’t? Perhaps no comic could hold such awesomeness between its covers and a good story featuring these two blockbuster ladies is just impossible. Or, it’s possible that Andy Mangels, despite his obvious love for the material, is not an interesting writer. It could be artist Judit Tondora, who captures likenesses fairly well, but needs major work on interesting layouts and coherent storytelling. The lukewarm plot includes Fembots and a typical villain ranting about world domination. The cliffhanger includes a dumb, unlikely coincidence that gets Wonder Woman hurt in the most contrived way possible. This story is forced, not organic. It certainly doesn’t flow the way a story with two of the ‘70s greatest heroines should. Lackluster in every way. This comic is not worth $4.00.

**½ stars out of 5

Weird Love #18: I haven’t taken a look at this title for a while, but don’t take that as a perceived lack in quality. If anything, Yoe, Gussoni and crew pick better and more insane stories every issue. Let’s examine a few gems reprinted from comics’ Golden Age this issue:

- “So This is Love!” (from Dear Lonely Heart #1, 1951): Yes, that cover actually happens! Katy is a bit high strung. She’s a hot, four-eyed nerd running her own dress shop. When a brigand arrives at close of business with a gun, she wakes up gagged and tied to a chair! Luckily, officer Patrick Murphy (wonder what his ethnic background is? A Sikh from India possibly?) is walking by and notices her front door forced open. He unties her and the romance begins. Unfortuately, Pat proves to be a toxic alpha male. On their date, he tells Katy to lose the glasses and her hat looks stupid. No one puts Katy in a corner! Reluctantly, she agrees to another date, where the Patster tells her to leave her hair down, not wear it up like a ... hrumpf ... washer woman! That’s enough for Katy! Later, when Pat brings the even hotter Peggy around, they accidently end up sharing a sundae, where Katy tells Peggy just what kind of ***hole she’s dating. If only Peggy wasn’t Pat’s sister, whom he brought around to meet Katy! D’oh! So naturally, when Pat proposes, Katy immediately accepts! Writers—what’s wrong with them?

- “Swinger” (from Teenage Love #43, 1965): Dory likes Gil, but he’s such a square! Gil doesn’t go in for all that dancing and devil music, like Dory’s other friends. When a bored Dory attends her friend’s dance party, she is taken with the Elvis-like Chuck. Chuck rides a motorcycle and says “baby” a lot. When Chuck takes her for a private ride on his bike and tries to get fresh, Dory is moderately uncomfortable! When she asks Chuck to return her to the party, he states stoically: “Sure Chickie! I don’t want to ruffle your feathers!” A true orator is our Charles! When Dory returns home and puts on her Chairman Mao pajamas, she decides a life of fun and whimsy is not for her. She chooses Gil, and a lifetime of bland curtains, boredom and the missionary position. As it should be!

- “My Secret Betrayed Me” (from True Life Stories #9, 1952): Wow, here’s one that is truly twisted. Or twisted-er. Ann lives in jealousy of her kid sister Jessica, a world famous movie star. Growing up, Jessica got the nice dresses. Jessica got the dance lessons. Jessica got the attention from daddy (and the actual talent). When she is mistaken for her famous sister, Ann decides that with the right makeup and hairstyle, she can get some of the attention and acceptance she could never get as herself. Soon she is in full masquerade mode as “Jessica,” getting gifts, limo rides and male interest while the real Jessica is out of the country on a film shoot. When she discovers how easy it is, she goes to the big city and starts to live it up, sticking Jessica with the bills! A perfect plan, until she meets Roland Storm, a square-jawed actor who is rumored to be romantically involved with Jessica. None the wiser, Roland and Ann start dating and fall in love. Or, Ann thinks so, until a drunken Roland demands some of her big movie star salary. When Ann comes clean as an imposter, Roland smacks her hard across the face! The drunken cad! That hit smacked Ann back to reality, as she immediately abandons the Jessica disguise and returns to being Ann. She’s perfectly happy ... until she reads in the newspaper (Millennials, please Google “newspaper”) that the real Jessica has married Roland! So ... everybody’s really happy now? And ... violence is good? I don’t know!

- My First Date” (from Doctor Tom Brent, Young Intern #1, 1963): Blonde Barbie can’t wait for her first date! It’s a blind date to the Spring Formal, with Jud Mills—you know, that kid from Clarksville. All week, Barbie dreams of her Prince Charming, Jud. In her mind, he’s 6’2”, speaks seven languages and was just picked as this month’s Playgirl centerfold. Imagine her distress on the night of the dance when Jud shows up with flowers and—he’s kind of short! And has a pimple! Ahhhhhh! Why is fate so cruel! WHY! In two more panels, he says something nice and everything is all right. Teenagers, ladies and gentlemen! In the ‘70s, Barbie left Jud for Mark Spitz.

As usual, Weird Love is the world's finest source of twisted, ghoulish romance. Never stop being weird!

Rating: ***** stars out of 5 

Monday, June 12, 2017

Movies – Wonder Woman

It’s about time DC Comics inspired a movie I can recommend without hesitation. Wonder Woman takes a bit of the sting out of having a series of horrible films that do a terrible disservice to the public and the heroes they represent. Indeed, WW is the finest film featuring a DC hero since the second Christopher Reeve Superman movie. And that was in 1981.

The filmmakers took such care to make the cast living 3D characters, not campy cartoons, like the recent Superman and Batman movies. She is also well established to be a hero, again, totally unlike the recent Batman and Superman movies. And finally, she is likable. Men want her and women want to be her. Again, totally unlike ... well, you get the message.

The film opens during World War I, a time period I question for the movie. Wonder Woman was created in 1940 and is a creature of World War II. Perhaps the producers thought a WWII adventure would be too reminiscent of Marvel’s Captain America: The First Avenger. The time period definitely works in the WW film though, as does most everything.

When Steve Trevor crashes a plane near Wonder Woman’s hidden island home, someone must return him to the front, and fight the War God Ares, whom the Amazons suspect is behind the world war. Diana volunteers and is soon all over Europe fighting the forces of anarchy—including Mars, who is involved and turns out to be a surprising mystery member of the cast.

With one notable exception, everything about this film works—the cast, the script, the marvelous special effects, the fight scenes, everything. Gal Godot makes a glorious Wonder Woman. She could stand a sandwich or two, and I don’t think anyone could be more perfect than Lynda Carter (who should have had at least a cameo role), but Godot is the best cast of the new Justice League actors. The only thing that didn’t work for me was, believe it or not, the music. It’s generally well composed; I just could have used something more upbeat and inspirational. Take for example the scene where Wonder Woman sees a downtrodden population and decides to let her powers loose against the Germans for the first time. This is a blockbuster, thrilling part of the movie. When she lets loose in slow motion, the music is epic, but so, so gloomy.

Think of the opening strains of John Williams’ Superman theme. When Christopher Reeve ran into an alley with that music and ripped his shirt apart to reveal that “S,” crowds wanted to rise to their feet and cheer. Not so for the big scenes in Wonder Woman. When Diana leaped onto the battlefield ready to wreak her righteous indignation, the epic and inspirational music should have been swelling and intensifying to a grand crescendo. Instead, the gloom of the battlefield pervades, and the audience is left with the feeling that she doesn’t want to do this—she has to. C’mon, Hollywood! Let our heroes inspire us with their strength and goodness! Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed by it! A minor quibble, but a quibble nonetheless. DC just can’t let their heroes or movies be 100% heroic or inspirational. We always have to be reminded the world is a dark, dismal place. This is what Marvel does so well and why the Marvel movie machine is head and shoulders above DC.

Other than that, Wonder Woman’s first outing in man’s world was a rousing success. I hope this has a positive effect on every future movie made by DC. Go see it!

Rating: ****½ stars out of 5 

Sunday, June 11, 2017

The First Time I Met Adam West

The Great Adam West
In honor of Mr. West’s passing on Friday, here is the story of our first meeting. It was at the Mid-Ohio Con in Columbus, OH, around 2011 or 2012. He and Burt Ward were the guests of honor and I wanted to make sure to meet them and get some autographed photos. I didn’t expect the Laurel & Hardy movie the meeting turned out to be.

As always, the line was long and full of people of all ages, excited to meet the famed Caped Crusader in person. As I approached Mr. West, I could see he was in excellent health for being is his early 80s. He had an assistant helping him, and while he seemed extremely sharp mentally, he did seem to have slight trouble with his hearing. That’s not a surprise, with the milling fans in his line and general attendance in the thousands, it was a wonder anyone could hear anything. Ambient noise was thunderous.

It was finally my turn and I stepped forward to get my Batman photo autographed. The following conversation, to the best of my memory, occurred:

Me: “Hi Adam, I’m Jerry.”
Adam West: Greg? I’ve been expecting you. I hear we have some business together.”
Me: No, Adam, I’m Jerry.
Adam: Can you wait a few minutes? I’ll be with you as soon as I can.”
Me: “Um ... “
Adam’s Assistant: Adam, that’s not Greg.”
Adam: Where is he? I thought he was coming!”
Adam’s Assistant: “Adam, he’ll be here in a few minutes. That’s not him.”
Adam: “Oh. I thought he said he was Greg.”
Me: “No Adam, I’m Jerry.”
Adam’s Assistant: “Adam that’s JERRY, not Greg,” he said, raising his voice so he could be heard above the cacophony.
Adam: “You’re not Greg?”
Me: “Sorry, Adam. Jerry.”
Adam takes the picture I had presented him to sign.
Adam to me: “So, who do I make this out to?”

He signed the photo. I took it, smiling at the mix-up. It was signed, “To Greg. Best Wishes, Adam West.” Kidding! It was definitely to me. Here’s proof:

A great guy and fun actor, who will be very much missed. For the story of my second and last meeting with Mr. West in 2015, click here