Friday, December 28, 2007

Four Color Fiend: some good and bad


I’m not going to go into great detail about some of the recent comics I’ve read, but did have a few comments.

I don’t think I’ll be giving anything away, but just in case….

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The main COUNTDOWN series continues to range from two to three stars on my scale. I’m a bit upset that one character I generally like seems to be dead, which I guess I didn’t really think would happen. Of course, the ways things are in the current DCU just about any character (except sadly Joker & Lex Luthor, at least the Earth-One versions) seem to be fair game. Poor Jimmy Olsen continues to have a really hard time on Apokolips; Holly & Harley are still on Themyscira, home of the Amazons, going through training which we learn will lead to being picked as the newest Female Fury for Granny Goodness (in the guise of Athena); meanwhile, we are apparently supposed to feel some sympathy for Mary Marvel, despite her being such a b**** since gaining power from Black Adam.

In related tie-in books:

In the “Search for Ray Palmer” series the ‘Challengers’ are going from one former Elseworld Earth to another. This is my favorite of the tie-in books and hint that some of the alternate DCU characters may have an impact in the upcoming FINAL CRISIS. The “Gotham by Gaslight” Earth brings us not only an alternate Batman, but also a new Blue Beetle whom I anticipate seeing again. Jason seems oddly taken by this world and I wonder if it hints at something in the future. The ‘Red Son’ Earth, with a Communist Superman was rather grim, but I think he will also be appearing in FC, if not before. The four Challengers continue to bicker, but a reason for that is revealed in one of the books.

The series centering on Lord Havok and his team is revealing more about each of the other members. Not being that familiar with their past appearances I don’t know if it changes things revealed earlier. I did find myself beginning to feel sympathy for Gorgon that I didn’t have before. It will be interesting to see how this story develops and finally moves back into the main series.

Finally, I missed the first issue of ARENA, but picked up the second and wasn’t overly impressed. Alternate versions of DCU characters are introduced, some I believe for the first time, and then killed off within a few pages or even panels. It seems a waste, especially with a very likable Blue Beetle who I think could have had potential beyond five pages. Also, as I have said in some forum posts, I’m disturbed by the portrayal of Monarch in this book. While he isn’t likable in the main series, here he seems totally psychotic and brutal to an extreme. It doesn’t seem to me that this could possibly be the person who was once Captain Atom, unless it is eventually revealed (as was the case with Hal Jordan) that there is something/body manipulating him. I may pick up one more issue of this and then drop it, as I doubt that anything of major importance will be revealed here.

I’m not really sure where SALVATION RUN falls into DCU continuity, or into the COUNTDOWN storyline. It appears that characters that are condemned to confinement on this alien planet are also appearing simultaneously in various other books. I’m not reading any SUPERMAN titles, but I doubt if Lex has been written out for the next six months. It’s likely that this will be one of those things explained in footnotes to have occurred between one issue and another of on-going titles. We all remember the original SECRET WARS, of course!

I wasn’t really sure how I felt about the first issue of SR, but found the second issue to have really turned brutal. This was even before the appearance of The Joker, who quickly shows how scary he can be even to other villains. There are now at least two second-rate villains who we won’t be seeing in the future.

After reading VILLAINS UNITED, I was actually willing to give the character Deadshot some points by the end of that series I wasn’t so sure. He was back to being a full-time jerk in COUNTDOWN as he hunted down various villains and shooting one that I liked, as I said. Still I don’t know that I’m comfortable with the Rick Flag tricking Deadshot, and a couple of other Suicide Squad members, into a Boom Tube for transport to the SR planet. I mean Flag is supposed to be one of the good guys, isn’t he?

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Nothing to fear but FEARNET itself!


You would think that during the holiday season I would shy away from gore & bloodshed, but you’d be wrong wouldn’t you? Donna had to work on Monday morning, so what better time to get my bit of holiday horror?

Naturally, having FearNet ‘On Demand’ from Cox makes things like that pretty darn easy. I debated watching one of the longer movies, but figured that I’d catch some of the trailers and short films that they have instead. Of the half dozen I watched there are a few I wanted to mention, if not recommend.

The Deadening: What happens after a zombie has bitten you? How do you spend the next few hours waiting for the inevitable change? There are some amusing moments, but also a sense of sadness as the victim realizes what will be happening to him.

Damnation: I can only recommend this if you really want to be creeped out and shocked. A doctor becomes infected by a disease and allows his knowledge to push him into madness. As things grow worse and more depraved his son becomes witness. How will this in turn damn him? I put this up there with ERASERHEAD and HENRY: Portrait of a Serial Killer as films I could do without ever watching again.

Antebody: Seems to be a straightforward police procedural but quickly turns into something different. When a body is discovered and identified, a man and wife find their lives changed. Can you escape your fate?

The Butcher: Your typical serial killer/girl in peril short, that goes by the numbers, including the ‘shock’ ending. The gore is over the top but nothing else to recommend it. This was probably the most disappointing of the shorts I’ve seen so far.

There were a couple of others the names of which I can’t recall. One short deals with two hit men who discover the young boy they are hired to kill is more than he seems. Another about how you might not want to catch one of those cute little fairies after all. There were also a few that were felt like they were from student film makers trying to do a ‘horror’ movie as their end of term project. If you remember the show PROJECT BLUE LIGHT you’ll know what I mean.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Joe Bob Book Review: War Breaker by Jim DeFelice


There hasn't been a new review posted over on the Joe Bob Briggs site since the beginning of the year. Still they keep sending me books and I keep cranking out the reviews. I suppose there are worse ways to spend my free time.

Anyway, here's the latest.

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War Breaker by Jim DeFelice
Leisure Books
ISBN: 0-8439-4601-6

Michael O’Connell was framed and tossed from the CIA, when a mission he was on went badly. It doesn’t help to know where too many of the skeletons are hidden. Of course, when something happens half a world away, the Agency finds they need him again. While he’s not happy about it, O’Connell takes the mission and hopes that this time he’ll come out with enough money to get his flight charter business back in the air.

O’Connell knows the location of some specially modified B-50s in Pakistan. Secretly aided by the CIA, the Pakistan military can use these aircraft to deliver nuclear bombs to targets in India. When war breaks out between these two countries it’s up to O’Connell to stop them from being put to use, one way or another. With the aid of a Korean War veteran and pilot, the embittered James Greeley, the former agent quickly finds that his mission might not be as secret as he thought. Or, there could be another reason he was chosen and it might mean he and Greeley are as expendable as the aircraft.

While author DeFelice centers on the mission of O’Connell and Greeley, he also introduces us to characters on several sides of the conflict. Pakistani pilot Captain Syyid Khan, newly promoted just hopes to keep his fellow squadron members alive and be able to return to his fiancé, until he is taken out of combat and sent on another mission. Lt. General Arjun Singh, a Sikh and commander of the Indian Third Army, sees the war as a chance to regain Lahore the ancestral capital of the Sikhs, now controlled by Pakistan, for his people. Princess Nizam, the current Pakistani Interior Minister, also sees something to be gained from the war, namely regaining her family’s traditional lands. Unfortunately, O’Connell is unaware of any of this, but events occur which affect the lives and goals of all of them.

DeFelice does a good job of introducing all of these characters, some with a bit more substance than others, but all realistic enough to carry the story. If anyone comes off as the “good guy” it is Khan who does what he does out of genuine love for his family, friends and country. Still it’s O’Connell’s tale for the most part and DeFelice keeps the reader guessing until the last couple of chapters if Michael will succeed. With the CIA, you never really do know whom you can trust.

Three stars

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army


I don't know about anybody else, but I'm totally psyched for this movie. I loved the first HELLBOY film and have been waiting for the second installment.

The nice folks over at IGN will be putting up the trailer today at 3:00pm EST/Noon PST. If you click on the headline it will take you to the site where you can view it and more photos from the film.

It's great to see Ron Perlman back as everybody's favorite Nazi-hating, paranormal investigator. Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) & Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are back along with new team-mate Johann Krauss (seen there in an old fashioned diving suit, which contains his spirit essense).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Day of Vengeance


I was much happier with this purchase than I was with the ‘Seven Soldiers: Silent Knight’ series I reviewed earlier. Of course, as those four issues set me back a dollar each and this trade paperback only cost me ten cents, I really could not’t go wrong could I?

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Day of Vengeance TPB - This collects not only the title mini-series but also three issues of various SUPERMAN comics that lead into it. Considering how important they were to the story I’m really glad that DC did it this way, rather than expecting the reader picking up the TPB to already have read the earlier books. This is going to be really hard to follow so if you aren’t already deeply into the DCU you might want to look away. This is also one of the series that lead into the INFINITE CRISIS mega-crossover event.

Bill Willingham wrote Day of Vengeance with art by Justiniano and Walden Wong. I’m not familiar with either artist, but think they did a good job with a huge cast of characters some of them only for a panel or two. I also want to thank the DC editors for putting a “Who’s who” type of thing at the end of the book naming some of the characters who appear in the bar scenes. Willingham introduces us to the group of magical heroes that will eventually be called The Shadowpact (who later go on to their own series) and who doesn’t love it when artists draw talking chimps?

Even though Willingham does a good job setting things up I think that new readers would be even more confused than I was. It seems that the SPECTRE (God’s “spirit of vengeance” and please don't ask me to explain DCU theology since I have trouble with what passes for that in the 'real world') no longer has a human host (this was initially the mission of murdered police officer Jim Corrigan and later Hal Jordan, the former Green Lantern) to keep him anchored to this world and is slowly going crazy. Eclipso (another immortal being now possessing the former Jean Loring, ex-wife of Ray “The Atom” Palmer and murderer of Sue Dibny) easily manipulates the Spectre. She convinces him that evil can only be ended if all magic is destroyed. In order to do this, naturally, the Spectre goes about killing all those who practice the arts, whether for good or evil, since he sees no difference. To stop this the wizard Shazam, summons his champion Captain Marvel, which leads to a confrontation between CM and an Eclipso-possessed Superman.

DoV picks up from this point, with the Enchantress (not to be confused with the Marvel Comics THOR villainess of the same name) summoning Ragman (who dresses in bits of cloth which contain the souls of murderers and other evil doers he has absorbed) to aid her after she witnessed the Spectre killing hundreds of her fellow magicians. Together they travel to the Oblivion Bar, which may or may not exist in this dimension, but can be entered by hidden doors in many cities. In this place, the magically powered put aside their differences to trade stories and spells. Enchantress (who has gone from villain to hero and then back, depending on the needs of the writer or series) warns those of what she has witnessed and asks for them to join her in going against the Spectre. The majority ignores her, but several do step forward for various reasons.

Besides Ragman, we have the clubs proprietor Jim “The Nightmaster” Rook who carries the mystical Sword of Night; Dan “the Blue Devil” Cassidy, a former Hollywood stuntman/FX wizard/actor, who bargained away his soul for stardom only to become trapped in the form of a demon he played in films, he now works as a bouncer in the club; Eve “Nightshade” Eden (believe it or not) is the daughter of the queen of another dimension who controls darkness & shadow, causing them to take physical form and to allow her to teleport via traveling back to the home of her late mother; and last but by no means least, Bobo “the Detective Chimp”, a trained carnival animal who drank from the Fountain of Youth and became able to speak to any creature, including humans, in their own language. It is Bobo who comes up with the name Shadowpact, which according to the Phantom Stranger (transformed into a small, black mouse for this entire adventure) reveals later that other groups over eons have taken this name, but all have come to bad ends.

Willingham does a good job with all the characters, some of whom I had already been familiar with, but it is Bobo who steals every scene. This is aided of course by Justiniano & Wong doing a great job visually with the chimp in almost every panel in which he appears. Willingham sets up the dynamics of the group and gives each a personality fitting with their past appearances, but allowing growth as they begin to cooperate and form a team. By the end of the story you want to see more of all of them.

It’s Bobo who comes up with a back-up plan that saves the day when the other heroes are quickly finding themselves outclassed by the Spectre. The chimp requests the aid of a teenage girl known as ‘Black Alice’, who has the power to temporarily absorb the magical powers of another. She uses this to weaken the Spectre, and then with Nightshade sends Eclipso into orbit around the sun that inhibits her from using her powers. Later with his powers restored the Spectre travels to the Rock of Eternity (home of Shazam) to continue their battle. Shazam seems to be defeated and the Rock explodes, sending the magical objects stored there falling to Earth along with a stunned Billy Batson (unable to recall his magic word). The story then picks up in INFINITE CRISIS #1, which I’ll review at some later point.

I really enjoyed this, despite being a tad confused by whom certain characters were. In fact, I liked it enough to pick up the latest three issues of the new SHADOWPACT title. I’ll review that later as well.


P.S. In case you were wondering Hal Jordan is back to being the Green Lantern again, at least one of them, but that's a whole other thing which I don't think you care about

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Seven Soldiers - Silent Knight


I’m going to quickly cover some of the trade paperback and mini-series I picked up the other week. As usual, in case you don’t already know all of this, there are a lot of:

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SEVEN SOLDERS - Silent Knight #1-4: I generally like Grant Morrison, but I can’t say that I liked this particular series very much. I would have given him the benefit of the doubt, since I haven’t read the other SS books that apparently all tie together. However, if this title is any indication of the rest of the books I think I’ll pass. Even at 50% off this wasn’t worth it.

Anyway, we have another take on a Golden Age character who shares nothing but a name and a connection with King Arthur, although he too is a different from what we expect. This Arthur and his knights lived around 8,000 BC, his kingdom destroyed by race called the Sheeda who according to Wikipedia are not alien but some genetically engineered life from the future. I really didn’t get all that from this series, which I thought implied the Sheeda, were some kind of vampire race, since Wikipedia doesn’t mention this I’ll have to believe that it was all covered in the lead in book. The knight here is Sir Justin/Ystin who with the winged horse, Vanguard is captured by the Sheeda but escapes only to discover that they have been taken to the modern world.

Ystin is unable to speak English and is initially captured by the police for causing a disturbance, but escapes. Vanguard, through some roundabout means finds itself in the hands of Vincenzo, the Undying Don making things even more confusing for this reader. After a series of adventures Ysten, who is revealed in a later issue to actually be a female, is confronted by beings sent by the Sheeda, after which she turns herself in hoping for assistance in locating the missing Vanguard. While in custody the Queen of the Sheeda, in disguise as human, reveals herself then calling forth a troop of her warriors. Lots of people seem to be killed, but you really don’t care about any of them so it doesn’t matter. At this point everthing comes to a halt, and the story is continued in the Seven Soldier series. Given my feelings about this series I don't know that I'll go out of my way to find out what does happen.

While the art of Simone Bianchi is quite nice it is sometimes hard to follow the progress of the action. This is not helped by very dark coloring, which makes it even more difficult to figure out what is going on.

I had planned on reviewing a couple of comic titles but I’ve already gone on much too long on SK, so I’ll save the rest for next time.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Marvel Zombies 2 #2 & other stuff


There are some plot points given away in my MZ2 review, so let’s get those out of the way.

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The elderly, but still active, T’Challa (the Black Panther) has been infected with the zombie virus by The Wasp. As the story opens both of them are in self-imposed isolation in Asteroid M, the last human/mutant outpost. Malcolm, the son of Magneto, feels that in this new situation it is he that should lead the survivors. It looks like things are not going well in an attempted escape by the Panther, aided by the mutant Forge and several others. Just preparing to leave the refuge they are confronted by Malcolm.

Meanwhile, back in space, the Galactus-powered Marvel Zombies, let by Giant Man are bickering amongst themselves. This is triggered by Spider-Man’s “Are we there yet?” It looks as if the MZs are about to take each other apart, when Iron Man reminds them that they were and are friends. Writer Robert Kirkman seems to be bringing the underlying tensions to a head, with Spidey & Luke Cage considering how they might end their flesh-eating ways, while GM, Hulk and some others are just fine with how things are.

At issues end the MZs have finally made their return to Earth. There GM announces his plan to begin raising the survivors as food, some of them to reproduce and keeping the zombies supplied with ‘meat.’ When Forge tries to place a barrier around the non-zombies he unfortunately also traps the undead Shi’ar warrior, Gladiator (a one-time X-Men ally).

Regular MZ artist Sean Phillips does his usual great job making everybody living & undead easily recognizable. As Phillips says in an interview in a recent MARVEL SPOTLIGHT, he purposely does not try to make the zombies funny but allows them to be put in amusing situations, which shows the dark humor of the series. The issue, as you can see in the repro, has a cover by Arthur Suydamn (who is quickly gaining a following for his MZ cover tributes) that copies the cover that showcased the first appearance of the Golden Age Human Torch.

While at Nuclear Comics I picked up the issue of MARVEL SPOTLIGHT, I just mentioned. It focuses on the MZ series, with interviews and art from the creative teams involved in all the appearances of the zombies. There are also a few pages talking about the up-coming “Mystic Arakana” mini-series from Marvel. While not mentioned, it seems that this will do for the Marvel Universe something similar to what DC has been doing since “Days of Vengeance” and the on-going SHADOWPACT series. In other words, it will show how characters like Doctor Strange, Scarlet Witch and her fellow mutant (the aptly named) Magik do what they do.

Oddly enough, thanks to the Friends of the Library bookstore, I was able to buy the “Day of Vengeance” TPB a couple of weeks ago, along with the JLA book collecting the “Crisis of Conscience” storyline and Villains United. I liked DoV enough that I picked up the last three issues of SHADOWPACT and can’t wait to read them. Ragman has been one of my favorite characters since his original series and how can you go wrong with a talking chimp?

Nuclear Comics & Skateshop (Hey, Kenny!) was having their 13th anniversary sale so I bought entire runs of the OMAC PROJECT, SEVEN SOLDIERS: SILENT KNIGHT & INFINITE CRISIS. Trust me, there was plenty more I was tempted to pick up but decided not to go too crazy, as I really want to keep my current collection manageable.

I know I’m about 2-3 years behind the other reviewers and fanboys, but I’m trying to play catch up. I may have a few things to say about each of the series when I get a chance to finally read them.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Zombie Jamboree, Pt. III


This will wrap up my current ranting about zombies, although I have reviews of MARVEL ZOMBIES2 #2 and Marvel Spotlight: Marvel Zombies/Mystic Arcana coming up in a few days.

This whole thing started because of the MZ titles, but also because Cox Cable has begun carrying FearNet in their On Demand tier. I’ve been watching movies, interviews and trailers over there when I get the chance, as Donna really does not like horror/slasher films. I seem to marry women with dissimilar film tastes for some odd reason, but that may be a whole other post.

Anyway, before Halloween FearNet was showing the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, and some other zombie films. One was CHILDREN OF THE LIVING DEAD a low budget flick that unofficially ties itself to the original Romero film. They do this via some dialogue early on where characters explain the history of the ‘problem’ the town has had with the walking dead. Not something the Chamber of Commerce really wants to talk about, but you know how that goes. Folks who don’t know about this little bit of history always seem to decide to settle or build exactly where they shouldn’t.

In this case a used car dealer decides to put his showroom over the town’s old cemetery, but to save money he has his contractor simply dump all the coffins in a mass grave. He has sent his son along to ‘learn the business’, but of course feels that it is not necessary to tell him what Dad is secretly doing. If you have seen any more than a couple of horror movies you know pretty quickly that things are going to turn out badly for at least a few of these folks before the end credits.

This is one of those movies where, as Joe Bob Briggs would say, there is way too much plot getting in the way of the story. Not only do we have the whole zombie thing, but we also have a former serial killer and child molester, Abbot Hayes, who has returned from the dead. He has revived via the zombie bite a group of kids killed in a car crash (which he caused after they defiled the grave of his mother, whom he had killed and whose body he kept). Of course, one of them is the sister of a survivor once rescued from Hayes years before, who now works in the town’s only restaurant and has fallen for the son of the car dealer. By films end, Hayes is leading the original four kids and several dozen other zombies they have created against the contractor’s men and various town folk held up in the restaurant. Plenty of arms, faces and other body parts get chewed, while some zombies get blowed up real good.

The best part of the movie is the very beginning where Tom Savini, the well-known FX master, plays a deputy who kicks major zombie butt before being attacked by Abbot Hayes. Savini was also the stunt coordinator on the film, so the action scenes are the best parts. This is definitely one of those movies that are well served by the fast-forward option in On Demand.

I’ve been having lots of fun with FearNet, both On Demand and over at their website. Check out BURIED ALIVE and the BLOOD TRAILS webisodes that act as a prequel to 30 DAYS OF NIGHT. Hoooo boy,…scary stuff, kids!

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Still Counting Down: DC Countdown #23-22

This series is actually starting to pick up as it winds down. I am going to make this short and get right to it. As usual, here we have plenty of….

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Superman Prime (the former Superboy of Earth-Prime) has totally lost it at this point. He kills without mercy and even gets in a bit of torture when he believes it will help him achieve his aim. That is, sadly, his return to the ‘perfect’ Earth that at this point possibly only exists in his mind. In issue #23, we find that he has captured Mr. Mxyzptlk (pronounced, according the imp himself as “Mix-yez-pittle-ik”), and with the unwilling aid of an alternative world’s Zatanna/Annataz is attempting to gain some fifth-dimensional magic for himself. We also learn from Mr. M that he may actually be more than what we thought. He claims he is, in fact, the Joker God who takes on many forms in various cultures (Coyote, Loki, Anasi, etc.). Not sure, I buy it, but writer Paul Dini does toss that idea out there for us to consider. Of course, we are talking about a mischievous little guy who might not be telling the whole truth. In the end, aided by a finally defiant Annataz, Mr. M escapes as Superman Prime destroys his fortress along the Source Wall.

Tom Derenick drew the main story with inks by Wayne Faucher, as with the other artists working on the series they do a nice job with all the characters, plus keep Mary’s butt covered in her brief appearance. There’s also a cute two-page ‘origin’ of the imp by writer Scott Beatty and artist Kyle Baker, which is a light-hearted ending to a rather brutal issue. Speaking of Dark Mary Marvel we get to see her and Eclipso, plus a bunch of Dominators, get blowed up pretty good by Lord Havoc and Monarch’s space fleet.

Unfortunately, we weren’t surprised in issue #22 (since we didn’t see the bodies last issue) to find that MM and Eclipso are still alive. Here we have artists Carlos Magno & Rodney Ramos to thank for an opening page butt shot of Mary, followed by a few more panels of ‘up-the-skirt’ fan service. Mary gets to use the grown up word ‘whore’ and then finally figures out that Eclipso has been using her. An epic battle of two-panels takes place and we now have Dark Mary in possession of the black diamond. We yawn in fear at the prospects. After a nice turn the previous issue, things move along but I’m not as impressed here with the writing by Paul Dini.

We do drop back in on Jimmy Olsen back on Apokolips, where he gets slapped around and whipped before being rescued (up to a point) by Scott “Mister Miracle” Free. Jimmy gives Scott a quick recap of how he got where he is, but the hero is naturally distracted by his own search for his missing wife, Big Barda. Meanwhile, back on our Earth, Trickster and Pied Piper are still making gay jokes until Deadshot shows up and things turn very deadly. That may be in a literal sense for one character at the end of the issue. Wrapping up the issue we have a two-page origin for Deadshot, a character who I find myself going back and forth about, depending on who is writing him on any particular title. Here writer Scott Beatty and Freddie E. Williams II do a decent job giving us an overview of this hero/villain from his first appearance to his current gig with Suicide Squad.

While I've got your attention I wanted to add that, thanks to a sale at Nuclear Comics this past weekend and somebody donating a stack of graphic novels to the Library book sale, I've been able to pick up some DC titles that will help me catch up a bit on where things stand. I'll write a bit more about them in a few days, after I have a chance to read some more.

Monday, December 03, 2007

How Marbles are Made

When I was a kid I loved to play marbles. I must have had over a hundred at the point I gave them up.

I just found this fascinating.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Zombie Jamboree, pt. 2: Marvel Zombies - Dead Days


This is the second of three blog posts about Zombies. If you weren't paying attention scroll down and check out Part One.

This one-shot doesn’t completely explain everything that confused me in MARVEL ZOMBIES2, however it did clear up a few things that I had read about over on Wikipedia but could not quite grasp. If you aren’t into the MZ stuff you can skip this post.

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This book picks up towards the middle of the original MZ series and shows us some of the events which happened off-screen in that title. It also brings those unfamiliar with the original up to speed so they can get an idea of what to expect in the up-coming MZ2 and other tie-ins. I think I’m still going to have to get my hands on the original series and maybe even check out the first few MZ stories from ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR #21-23 which began the whole thing. There’s also a “Marvel Zombies vs Army of Darkness” mini-series, which I’d like to pick up, featuring the always confused but ready to kick butt Ash. However, you can read this book without picking up the earlier titles since it covers a lot of what happened up to this point.

This story begins with the Avengers already converted to zombies and Spider-Man bitten but able to temporarily hold off the change. We learn that the virus which causes the transformation was brought to Earth by Magneto. Led to believe the only non-mutants would be affected he opens a gateway allowing the contagion. Too late he finds that both mutants and non-mutants are equally vulnerable, but by then the damage has been done. As things grow worse the unchanged heroes and some villains join forces. Taken aboard the S.H.I.E.L.D. heli-carrier, scientists Reed Richards (Mr. Fantastic) and Tony Stark (Iron Man) work to discover a cure or a way for those unaffected to escape. Approached to help them, Doctor Doom turns them down, vowing to remain and protect his own homeland of Latveria from the virus with no outside aide.

It was creepy seeing Peter Parker attacking Mary Jane and begging Aunt May to hide herself. I doubt she made it, but you see Spidey in MZ2 trying to recover his senses, and it is evident from the beginning that he regrets what he does. This is unlike some other characters in the book, especially Reed Richards who totally loses it and converts his wife & friends. Even given seeing his own children killed by a zombie-fied She-Hulk, I don’t completely buy his becoming this unbalanced but as with the scene with Spider-Man’s change, watching the FF turn is disturbing to this fanboy.

I was surprised how many of the Marvel characters I recognized throughout the book, especially in a double-page panel on the heli-carrier. I haven’t been a Marvel reader for several years, but I guess my subscription to Comic Buyer’s Guide is paying off. Lots of major and very minor characters appear and it was fun trying to remember who each was, even though there were about a half-dozen I couldn’t identify. Pretty cool seeing the Warriors Three (from the original THOR series), Brother Voodoo and Jack Kirby’s Machine Man showing up. There was at least one other Kirby character (among the dozen of his co-creations I could peg) that I didn’t remember at all, but I know I’ve seen him/it before.
I've noted, and it has been pointed out, that I seldom if ever mention the art or artists in the books I review. As comics are for the most part a visual medium it really is a bad habit into which I've fallen. I'll try to do better in future.
Sean Phillips does a great job here, as I said, making a huge cast recognizable even to some one like myself. There are a few panels where colorist June Chung goes a bit too dark for my taste, but given the subject matter you can understand the editorial decision to go that way. Phillips was the artist on the original series and along with writer Robert Kirkman (his partner on that mini as well) they get a solid Three out of Four stars

Not a great book, but fun if you are into this very bizarre corner of the Marvel Universe.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Sheldon: LoTR gag


Dave Kellett is having fun with Lord of the Ring gags this week. I forgot to share an earlier one, but loved this as it was such an amazing scene (and pivotal) in the movie.
If you aren't already a fan of the strip you really should check it out. Last week he had a wonderful adventure featuring Time Travel and nano-hair. Who wouldn't love that?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Thanksgiving!

Since I won't be blogging, at least until next Monday, I wanted to take a moment before getting too busy.

Donna and I want to wish you all a very, Happy Thanksgiving and hope that you'll have a chance to share the day with loved ones. Many things have happened over the past year, but family & friends have been there to see us through. I hope that it has been that way with all of you.

Our cruise will keep me off the 'net for several days, but many of you will be in my thoughts (between dips in the pool and the buffet). Take care and be well!

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Zombie Jamboree!, pt.1


My first ‘encounter’ with zombies was probably watching either “I Walked With a Zombie” (with Tom Conway) or “White Zombie” (starring Bela Lugosi as ‘Murder’ Legendre) on CHILLER THEATER as a kid. Of course, my favorite magazine back then was FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND, so it wouldn’t have been unusual to read about other zombie movies or zombie lore there. Good ol’ Forrie Ackerman loved to toss in a bit of myth and legend along with the black & white stills from the movies he discussed. By the mid-‘60s Warren Publishing was producing CREEPY & EERIE where they could put in a zombie tale or two, something the mainstream comics couldn't due to the old Comics Code.

When “Night of the Living Dead” by George Romero appeared in theaters in 1968, it opened up the floodgates for the walking dead. Each filmmaker and each entry into the field seemed to up the stakes from that point. By the time Lucio Fulci released his ‘Zombi 2’ in 1979, there was nothing to hold things back.

Next to vampires, it seems that zombies are the most prevalent of movie monsters, if not quite as romanticized. While both are beings returned from the dead they seem to have their own rules when it comes to walking amongst us. Vampires, as they are portrayed for the most part, look like ‘normal’ folks and can easily pass for your next-door neighbor or co-worker (which they seem to do in many contemporary vampire flicks). If it wasn’t for the fact that the vampire might decide you have a tasty blood type, it probably wouldn’t be impossible to have a decent conversation with one. Of course, having a wooden stake, or crucifix on hand might not be such a bad idea.

(Aside: The vampires in ’30 Days of Night’ and the “Blood Trails” prequel, really aren’t the good looking kind of blood-suckers you’d want to hang with. While not zombie creepy, they still might get a sideways glance even in Greenwich Village. Hmm..then again, maybe not!)

On the other hand, zombies look more like the folks you run into at Denny’s at 3:00 in the morning. You really want to sit a few tables away when their order comes.

The original Romero zombies were creepy enough, with their pasty appearance and head tilt. The undead we see nowadays generally looks like they were the non-survivors of a recent head-on collision or had been dug up a few weeks after they had gone ripe. These guys make the banjo playing kid in DELIVERANCE look like Brad Pitt, if you know what I mean? You can tell these are dead folks even before they knock on the door asking to chew on your skull for a bit. Also, a wooden cross or Holy Water really aren’t going to do much to keep them at bay. You’d probably want an AK-47 or something of that order on hand when they come around. (I’m going to hold off on jokes about Jehovah’s Witnesses and Amway sales persons, as easy as that would be.)

Next time out I’ll explain the point of all this zombie stuff.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Countdowns, Running and Searching in the DCU


I’m putting Spoiler warnings here because it allows me to b**** about things that nobody but me cares about, but still warns folks that I’m giving everything away.

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COUNTDOWN #25 & 24: Sadly, Trickster and Pied Piper haven’t been killed in a horrible fashion yet, although both have easily outlived any usefulness to the plot of this series. Also, the constant moaning by Trickster that he will be identified as ‘gay’ because he is accompanying Piper is a pathetic running gag and borders on homophobic. It is no longer funny, if it ever was, and I think that certain writers (if not the overall editor of the project) should put an end to it.

Poor Jimmy Olsen is on Apokolips and not doing well. I’m sure that he’ll eventually be rescued but not before nasty things happen to our favorite cub reporter. Also, on Darkseid’s world is Mary Marvel who, after doing nasty things to normal folks and meta-humans for the past two-dozen issues tells the Lord of Apokolips that he shouldn’t do likewise. MM is hardly the person to moralize at this point. Eclipso stands around looking smug for a few panels and then cowers for another. Yeah, she’s a force to be reckoned with all right!

Karate Kid hasn’t died yet, but hope springs eternal, as apparently does Desaad, the chief torturer for Darkseid. For several pages Desaad acquires the powers and abilities of Firestorm, which he barely uses before getting taken down by the Atomic Knights of all folks. KK is still kicking people and spitting up blood, sometimes simultaneously at issues end.

Holy crap! SUPERMAN PRIME kicks serious butt, in fact, laying waste to several entire planets. This is one incredible nasty and hard to believe that he was the naïve Superboy we saw way back in the original CRISIS. Dressed in black, this Man of Steel has no mercy for anyone so mentally blinded is he in his search for ‘his’ perfect Earth. It’s fascinating to see glimpses of several alternate Earths with their heroes before SP appears and destroys them. He wipes out several alternate JLA teams in a single issue and I can’t imagine what else he’ll do before the series wraps up.

Things are getting worse in the DCU, but certainly more interesting for this reader. At this point I’m leaning towards continuing to pick up the series if only to learn where SP will turn up next.

COUNTDOWN PRESENTS The Search for Ray Palmer: Red Rain – Branching off from the main series we follow the quest of the “Challengers” as they continue to stay one step behind the Silver Age Atom. Jason, Donna, Kyle & Bob the Monitor pop up on an alternate Gotham which was used in an “Elseworld” book. In the Red Rain world there is a plague of vampires and one of them is Batman. Having turned bloodsucker he sleeps beneath his city during the day, hunted by Dick Grayson, to avenge his parents whom the Dark Knight had killed. The Challengers attempt to track him down but arrive too late (as they tend to do pretty often) to save the Dynamic Duo from their shared fate. I believe that this version of Batman is scheduled to turn up in the up-coming ‘Arena’ spin-off later this year. The Challengers will be showing up on several other Elseworld/alternate earths in this series, as well as that of the Wildstorm Universe. Personally, I’m waiting for the RR Batman vs. Marvel Zombie crossover. :-)


SALVATION RUN #1 (of 7) - Not so much a spin-off of Countdown as a series which takes place at the same time. The U.S. government, using the agents of Checkmate and the Suicide Squad, is rounding up all the costumed villains it can catch. Along with all those already in captivity, including the revolving door inmates of Arkham Asylum, the newly arrested are being sent via a captured Boom Tube (see any Kirby Fourth World book for that technology) to a supposedly non-hostile planet. They are allowed to keep their weapons and powers (always a grand idea), but given no food, survival equipment or medical supplies. They are told that they must learn to survive on their own and that they have no threats to face other than their own animosities. We can assume from the outset that things are going to go bad and see from a couple pages in that the world is not what the government promised.

The first group sent is comprised of those members of Flash’s old Rogue’s Gallery who killed Bart Allen. The last two members of that group, Trickster and Pied Piper, still being on the run over in Countdown don’t accompany their former teammates. We get the usual bickering between these folks and a bit of finger pointing as to whom really was to blame for the death of the then Flash. By issues end we get an idea of how many dangers there might be and the appearance of another dozen villains, including The Joker who is really not happy being out in the country. The final panel reveals ‘mysterious figures’ watching the situation on a screen and it’s pretty obvious to anybody paying attention the past thirty years who these two might be. In other words, if you didn’t already guess that this series would eventually tie into COUNTDOWN the last panel leaves no doubt. Not a bad issue, but I’ll wait until reading at least one more to decide whether I’ll stick it out for the next six months.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Godzilla vs Mechagodzilla 3D

It's Godzilla! If you don't love this you are reading the wrong blog!

Review: Political Suicide by Alan Russell

The latest Joe Bob Briggs review has been sent in. Here's the initial draft.

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Political Suicide by Alan Russell
Published Leisure Books
ISBN: 0-8439-5612-7

When a book starts out with the hero reciting General MacArthur’s ‘farewell’ to West Point, you really don’t know what else to expect. The book then jumps ahead more than a decade to the present day where Will Travis, having been ousted from the military academy and the career path his family had long followed, is now working as an investigator in his own small agency. Will has a gift for memory and for being very observant, which works well in his role as a sort of ‘mystery shopper/patron’ for hire. What he does is visit restaurants, bars, hotels and other establishments to observe just how well the employees are or are not doing their jobs. He then submits a report to inform upper management or the owners just what is being done in their absence.

Alan Russell does a great job bringing Will and his colleagues to life. In fact, it would be a shame if the author doesn’t use Will, Jenny, Stevie and other members of TLR Enterprises in another book. To be honest though, the end of the book may take Will into a whole other direction, so we’ll have to wait and see.

While on assignment, Will notices that a female bar patron has just been slipped something and he goes to her rescue. It quickly becomes apparent that this is far more than the ‘date rape’ he suspected and is in fact a kidnapping for other reasons. Claire Harrington, who Will rescues, is the daughter of a former Senator who may or may not have committed suicide. It’s the uncertainty of that which brought Claire to that bar and it soon involves Will in a fatal shootout. Will finds himself drawn to Claire and it’s possible that she may return his affections. Unfortunately, Claire has several secrets that put both she and Will in constant danger and on the run from law enforcement.

It seems that one of the leading Presidential candidates has a hidden agenda, part of which has already caused a number of deaths and may end up adding Will & Claire to that number. Will knows that there are people he can trust, but what is not clear is if Claire is one of them.

Along with MacArthur’s speech we also get a brief history of dueling in the U.S. and how it helped shape the early American nation. Russell also gives us several chapters of the late Senator’s autobiographical book and other tidbit along the way. In lesser hands, I think that some of this would be padding, but Russell brings it all together in the end.

I would have given the book a higher mark if the end didn’t seem a bit too pat, but given everything else I’m going to go with a better than passing grade. I’m also hoping to see Will and some of his friends again.

Three stars

Friday, November 09, 2007

Now what do we watch?


If you click on the headline above it will take you to the Los Angeles Times website. There you'll find lots of information, photos and related articles on the Writers Guild of America strike.
As you can imagine it is one of the biggest, if not THE biggest, stories out here in SoCal.

If you really want to keep up with news on the WGA strike you might also click on the links of both Mark Evanier and Mark Verheiden who are directly involved in the situation. ME especially goes out of his way to answer questions about the strike in reply to some of his readers.

It will still probably be weeks if not the beginning of the New Year before some of the shows Donna and I watch regularly are effected. Of course, I miss The Daily Show and the occasional Letterman, but we don't watch either on a regular basis, since we are usually already sleeping. Not a lot of excitement in Chez Chaput past 10:00pm during the week.

To be honest, most night we only watch maybe an hour or two of network television and some night even less. We are already among those viewers who get most of their entertainment from various cable stations, either new shows or reruns. You would think that the producers would keep this in mind but they seem to believe that millions will continue to tune in to their Prime Time programs despite declining ratings each and every year.

Just to be on the safe side though, we're finally going to break down and join Blockbuster this weekend. There's one close by and either Donna or I can stop by after work to pick up something for an evening. Heck, a long strike might give us time to catch up on all those movies we've skipped the last year!

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Peter Serafinowicz Show: Darth Vader in Love

This has to be seen to be believed!

I'm dedicating this to my step-daughter, Kristina.

YodaBum!

Monday, November 05, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Counting Down


Things are finally beginning to come together in the Countdown series. Countdown #27 brings some things to a head, if not clearing them up. Piper & The Trickster decide to make themselves scarce when they discover that a number of other villains who have been taken have seemingly disappeared. It looks like Jason Todd is going to join up with Lord Havok and Donna Troy doesn’t look so good. Jimmy Olsen joins with Forager to try and find those responsible for the “Death of the New Gods.”

With #26, Countdown picks up the new title of “Countdown to Infinite Crisis”, something already known to most of us fan boys & gals. Using the technique of having one of the Monitors (we’ll call him M-1, just to make things easy from now on) explains to all the other Monitors (who should know most of this since they are supposed to be keeping track, which is their job after all) some of what has been happening for the previous twenty plus issues. It also reminds us what we readers have seen and possibly forgotten, since some of us are reading more than this one title.

One thing I’m grateful for is that it is finally explained to we readers why the Monitors, who are supposed to be identical and appear so in some issues, look very different in others. M-1 tells the others that this is due to the tainting of the multiverse by Monarch and others breaching the Source Wall (originally TM Jack Kirby). Not only with the Monitors begin to differ physically but will also gain some individual traits, which may play out in interesting ways later on.

To be honest, it seems more and more that this entire crossover event is an attempt by DC’s Powers That Currently Be to eliminate everything remaining of Kirby’s Fourth World. I’d be surprised if they do away with Darkseid though, since there is no villain/presence anywhere in the DCU who comes close to him. Just about every writer working in the mainstream DCU seems to want to use Darkseid at some point.

Monarch seems to be bringing together quite a huge group of nasty folks and the Monitors have decided (again if memory serves me right) to unite in opposition to him. It also appears that M-1 may not be controlling things as much as he may believe, and the same holds true with Monarch. Again, I’m going to place my bets on Darkseid, who has always been a master at manipulation.

Countdown to Mystery #2 – The latest incarnation of Doctor Fate may just have begun to realize what has happened to him. Steve Gerber does a nice job with Dr. Nelson’s internal dialogue and he becomes a bit more sympathetic. Gerber also gives him a sense of humor, which will certainly be needed as Nelson must confront his own and other very real demons. Nelson is off the streets and working as a handyman/janitor in a sleazy motel run by the slovenly Mr. Swinburne. I don’t think Swinburne will be a likable character, but it should be interesting to see what Gerber does with him.

In the second story in the book we see very little of Eclipso (the less the better in my book), after Darkseid roughs her up a bit and orders her to Earth to spread discontent amongst the heroes. Most of the pages are taken up with Plastic Man acting totally out of character, and decades of characterization of Woozy Winks are tossed out the window for no good reason. I know that Eclipso is manipulating Plaz, but not Woozy so why have him act in such a manner? We then switch scenes to see TV talk show host Jack Ryder acting as much like a jerk as always, but even questioning (no pun) himself. Walking to his dressing room he is confronted by *yawwnn* Eclipso who tells him that she actually wants to see The Creeper, Ryder’s alter ego. We then switch back again to see Plaz walking into a bank, which he means to rob with a firearm. Why? Another tale like this I’m just going to cut the non-Fate pages out of CtM and keep the rest.

Countdown Presents Lord Havok and the Extremists #1 – Who knew that I’d actually find this book more interesting than some of the main Countdown story? I really didn’t know that much about this group, since I barely remember them from their JLA appearance years ago. It seems that Havok and his followers appear to see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ and Havok actually has a moment where we see a bit of sympathy. I haven’t been reading the “Civil War” stories over at Marvel, but events on Havok’s world seem to mirror some of that. There might actually be more to this character than I thought. I’m giving writer Frank Tieri props for turning what I thought was going to be a single purchase out of curiosity into something more. I’m actually going to reread some of Lord Havok’s Countdown appearances and see if I’ve been missing something. (You can read up as well via the link in the headline to Wikipedia.)

By the way, the first issue of this series gives us the back story of Havok, and brings us up to the point at which the Challengers (Jason, Donna, Kyle & Bob the Monitor) show up at his fortress in Countdown #29. Unfortunately, Havok believes these costumed folks are soldiers for the government, which he is fighting. We’ll see where things progress from this point for Lord H and his minions.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Zombies in Plain English

Hope this isn't too late to save you from those nasty Zombie attacks the other night.

Get ready for zombie relatives coming over for Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Happy Halloween!


Just a quick wish for a Happy & Safe Halloweeen, darlings!
We won't even go for a "How about those pumpkins?" remark, since we are all adults here.
Later for other things.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

The Bots Are Back!!!!!!!!!




Just got this from the MST3K mailing list. (If you don't already know, BBI stands for Best Brains, Inc.)



Beginning November 5th, BBI will be launching its very own website at MST3K.com. The site will feature brand-new animated adventures of Crow, Tom Servo and Gypsy. We're told the goal is to have one new adventure each week (though "some settling may occur with shipping," they added). The Web site will also feature work from the original series (which BBI is now calling "the legacy series"), behind-the-scenes footage and other material culled from the BBI vault.



You can bet that I'll be adding a link over on the side ASAP.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Red Sox Nation World Champs Baby!!!!

Dude! What more needs to be said??

Red Sox Nation!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Friday, October 26, 2007

Firefighter Tribute

Let's take four and a half minutes to think about the men and women who go where the rest of us will not.

If this doesn't touch you, something is wrong!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Four Color Fiend: Quick Comic Reviews



The headline doesn’t need explaining for folks who have been around for a while. I’ll only say that posts with that title will generally cover several reviews at once. They will also be filled with the usual Spoilers where I give away every plot and surprise that I can.

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DC Countdown #29-28 – I find that I’m almost agreeing with the guys over on Pulp Secret on this title. Yawwwwwwn!!! It really is beginning to grow tiresome, not to say confusing with no resolution in sight. If anything more plot threads are left dangling with each issue, as characters are introduced (sometimes identified, other times not) and then be killed or otherwise disappear from the story.

This time around The Jokester from the Crime Syndicate’s world is killed off, just after discovering that it was his daughter (known on our world as the Joker’s Daughter) had been killed previously. We also have Monarch show up with Forerunner, on the world ruled by Lord Havok and his super-powered group The Extremists. Donna Troy, Jason Todd, Kyle Raynor and Bob the Monitor, along with The Jokester, had transported to this world earlier where they had been captured and tortured. At the end of #28, Forerunner holds an unconscious Donna in her arms while Monarch offers Lord Havok the opportunity to join him or else.

Back on Earth-One Jimmy Olsen, has fled Project Cadmus, joined up with the Newsboy Legion and then been captured by Forager. If you don’t follow any of this, don’t feel bad. You either have had to been reading the DCU for years or been familiar with Jack Kirby’s classic Fourth World series of books. It remains amazing that DC continues to ring stories and plots from books that according to the then Powers That Were didn’t sell well enough to continue.

Anyway, Forager (the female one) has been sent by New Genesis to investigate the deaths of the New Gods. Since that particular story is going to be forthcoming in a mini-series by that very name we will skip any further comment. Although it should be noted that writer/artist John Byrne has all but forbidden folks over on his forum/message board from talking about that series.

In another couple of weeks Countdown will change its title to “Countdown to Final Crisis”, leaving no question that this story will not so much end as stop dead in its tracks and continue next year.

Sergio Aragones Groo 25th Anniversary Special – It’s hard to believe that Aragones & Co. have been turning out the adventures of the World’s dumbest barbarian for this long. It’s more amazing that they continue to make the book so entertaining that folks still wait eagerly for every one-shot and mini-series.

If you don’t know, Groo was created as sort of a spoof of Conan. He is an amazing swordsman who wanders his world in search of battles or at least somebody willing to feed him for doing something, usually deadly or brave. Did I mention that Groo was dumb? If it wasn’t for the fact that he was so deadly with his weapons it’s hard to imagine anything simple enough for Groo to do that would keep him fed.

Groo, besides being dumb, is also very kind hearted and even generous if it doesn’t involve giving away his current meal. Traveling with his faithful, and much smarter, dog Rufferto he constantly discovers new ways to destroy anything in his path, always seeming to do the right thing despite himself.

This particular book has two Groo adventures, one with an adult Groo and the other dealing with an event from his childhood, featuring his conniving grandmother. It also contains the Groo Alphabet, which re-introduces many of the reoccurring characters that have appeared in the series since it began. Many of these characters have discovered that Groo is dumb.

(I recommend both the Wikipedia article on Groo and heading over to Mark Evanier’s site where on his Front Page you’ll find a link to even more information on the character.)

Marvel Zombies 2 - I don’t remember the last Marvel comic I bought, but I think it may have been the last issue of THUNDERBOLTS before it switched to some silly thing about super-powered wrestlers. The last title from Marvel that I recall reading was a thin pamphlet from Free Comics Day promoting the then up-coming “House of M”, so you can figure out when that was.

Despite all the talk on fan sites about CIVIL WAR and WORLD WAR HULK, it probably comes as a surprise (or not, depending on how well you know me) that the very first Marvel comic I buy is the second part of the very dark, yet amusing to a degree MARVEL ZOMBIES. No, it’s not a story about X-Men fans at San Diego! It really is about our favorite undead creatures. Think George Romero doing SUPER-FRIENDS.

In an alternate universe a cosmic event begins to transform Marvel heroes and villains into flesh eating zombies. It is bad enough when you have regular undead folks running around trying to eat your brain, but when they can swing from webbing, grow to gigantic size and have gamma-induced strength you know it is going to get really bad.

At the end of the first series, a group of Zombies (you can spot some of them in the picture reproduced above) devour first the Silver Surfer and then Galactus. Since this transfers some of their cosmic power to each of them (Hey, I’m not Reed Richards! I can’t explain it, okay?), they decide to eat their way across the universe. As the new series begins they realize they have eaten everything there was to consume and not being able to devour each other they need to find a new food source. Fortunately for them, if not for other folks, they remember a device capable of transporting them to other universes where food is still plentiful.

This was actually fun and I’m trying to fill myself in on the whole Marvel Zombie books and tie-ins via Wikipedia and other sites. Writer Robert Kirkman brings just enough humor into the book to keep it from getting too heavy. Artist Sean Philips’ art is particularly creepy to make things scary, but not overly so. My only complaint is that the coloring in some spots does make it hard to tell what is going on. I know this is a horror story, but I'd still like to see what it going on!
I would not recommend this for readers under 16 yrs old, or people offended by guys with their intestines hanging out or having them eaten. There also seem to be zombie good guys, but I guess that’s a matter of degree.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

OTR: Sherlock Holmes from London with Carlton Hobbs & Norman Shelly



I love the way that this program begins. We have Watson and Holmes hailing a driver to take them to 221-B Baker Street at the end of an adventure. The announcer then says “From London…” and goes on to announce the up-coming Holmes tale. The program jumps right the adventures, again adapted from the original stories by Sir Arthur.

This time out British actor Carlton Hobbs (the rather Holmesian looking gentleman on the left) played the role of the Great Detective. Before and after that time he also appeared in a number of BBC television productions including I, CLAUDIUS & PENNIES FROM HEAVEN (his final appearance). He played Holmes for BBC radio in over 80 performances, from 1952-1969. Oddly, he had also played Watson earlier opposite Arthur Wontner as Holmes in 1943.

Norman Shelly (the older man who looks very much as we would picture the elder Watson), who was known primarily for his radio performances, played throughout Dr. John Watson. Shelly actually stood in for Winston Churchill in radio speeches when it was deemed too dangerous during WWII for the Prime Minister’s whereabouts to be known. In 1954, Shelly appeared in the dual roles of “Nana” and The Crocodile, opposite Mary Martin & Cyril Richard in Broadway’s PETER PAN. He repeated the performances, along with Martin & Richard in the televised versions in 1955 and 1960.

As with the earlier shows with Gielgud & Richardson, Hobbs and Shelly pull off fine performances as the famous duo. Also, as in the previous episodes (three of which are presented in the compilation) the adaptations are pretty straightforward and the characterizations spot on. The three here are all written by Michael Hardwick, who with his wife and fellow writer Mollie Hardwick (known for novelizations of the series “Upstairs Downstairs” and “Duchess of Duke Street”) wrote several Holmesian pastiches, including the novelization of the Billie Wilder film “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”.

You’ll all be happy to hear that this ends my ranting on the Holmes OTR programs for now. I’ll be picking up another audio book or OTR compilation pretty soon; so don’t get feeling too smug. Admit it, you click over to another blog as soon as you see what I’m writing about anyway, don’t you?

OTR: Sherlock Holmes w/ Sir Ralph Richardson & Sir John Gielgud

Actors can make or break a role, especially with such iconic characters as Holmes & Watson. The choice of Richardson & Gielgud (Watson and Holmes, respectively) was brilliant and their interpretations a delight. After the rather disappointing performances (at least to me) of John Stanley and Alfred Shirley having two great actors made quite a difference.

Gielgud and Richardson accurately portray the characters as Sir Arthur created them. These were two men that admired and trusted each other, though having two very different personalities and upbringings. You never get the feeling, as you did with many actors who looked to the later films by Rathbone and Bruce for inspiration, that Holmes barely tolerated Watson and actually felt he was a burden on occasion. In these performances the two men were obviously friends with a great affection for each other.

These British programs adapted the original Conan Doyle stories, rather than a mixture of old and new, as had the American programs. The Scottish born John Kier Cross wrote the adaptations. Cross started his career writing various programs for radio, including those for children, at the BBC in the late 1930s, going on to do work in American television years later (among them scripts for Alfred Hitchcock’s anthology program). His work on the Sherlock Holmes series included Doyle’s tale of when Holmes & Watson met and both “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House”. The last two dealt with the apparent death of Holmes and his miraculous ‘resurrection’ some three years later.

I was surprised to discover that in the episode based on “The Final Problem” Orson Welles guest-starred in the role of Professor Moriarty. According to the notes accompanying the Radio Spirit collection, Welles had actually been approached by the show’s producer to play Holmes, but was unable to do so because of his schedule. Gielgud was then offered the role, with Welles agreeing to appear for this one program. Fascinating that Welles would play the very villain he faced as Holmes a little more than twenty-five years earlier.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Killer Shrews movie trailer

One of my all time favorite movies. Perhaps that explains a lot!

Monday, October 22, 2007

Did you know there was a baseball game last night?


There really isn't anything I have to add is there?
We are already stocking up on snacks for the World Series and will be wearing my Sox cap everyday starting Wednesday.
If they were playing any team BUT Boston I would actually be rooting for Colorado, who have had an amazing run.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Kung Fu Jimmy Chow

I forgot to add a headline or comments to explain the video link below. It's a great anime spoof called KUNG FU JIMMY CHOW, which is most certainly not for youngsters!

Blood, profanity and other awesomefullness! Head over to CAMP CHAOS via the headline above for much more.

I think I'm losing it with all this lately.

JLA/HITMAN: On the Darkside #1-2


Back in the Other Life, I used to read dozens of comics each month. Heck, it wasn’t unusual to pick up a dozen titles any time I stopped off at the local shop each week. There were a lot of books I bought each month, some mini-series and lots of one-shots & specials. They would all be cataloged and then put in the order in which I planned to read them. I always tried to read the #1 issues as soon as I could, so I knew if I should continue to pick up that particular series. Some books ended up at the bottom of the stack and I might not get to them for a week or longer.

Then there were titles that I just had to read as soon as I had the chance. One of those was HITMAN by Garth Ennis and Joel McCrea. The hitman of the title was Tommy Monaghan, a paid assassin who only took jobs involving killing those he felt deserved to be killed. The idea of a hitman with a conscious is not original, but Ennis made the reader care about Tommy and the gang down at Noonan’s Bar. During an alien invasion in a series called BLOODLINES, if someone survived the attack of the aliens there was a slight chance that that person might develop a super-power. Tommy was one of those survivors.

Recovering from the attack Tommy discovers that he has the powers of telepathy and x-ray vision. Although both are limited to a degree, you can see how such gifts might be helpful to somebody in his line of work. Only a few people knew about his abilities, since you didn’t really want folks you might have to encounter on a job to know these sorts of things.

For sixty issues and some specials, Tommy, Sean, Natt “The Hat”, and other associates kept to the dark, streets of Gotham trying to stay one step ahead of the cops, a certain Dark Knight and others who didn’t especially care for what they were up to. In one particular issue, Tommy meets a contemplative SUPERMAN and says something to him that the Man of Steel takes to heart. This two-issue mini-series springs from that meeting to an extent and Tommy finds himself taken by BATMAN to the old JLA citadel on the Moon.

It seems that new and more deadly versions of the Bloodline aliens have taken over the astronauts of a NASA mission and members of the JLA need to deal with them. Hoping to learn something about the alien DNA from one of the few survivors of the first encounter, BATMAN brings Tommy up for some tests. The members of the JLA working on the problem are BATMAN, SUPERMAN, WONDER WOMAN, FLASH (Wally West, at that point) and the then current GREEN LANTERN (Kyle “Crab-face Guy” Rayner). Ennis wonderfully captures the personalities of the various members, actually making Kyle likable if a bit befuddled by the presence of the Big Three. Superman especially comes off wonderfully and his interaction with Tommy is delightful for all the right reasons. I’m not going to give anything away, except that this is a flashback, which ends with a very nice moment with Superman back on the Moon.

I would love to have Tommy Monaghan back and the return of the multiverse to the DCU just might make that happen. Ennis and McCrea do a great job letting some of the old gang make cameos for those of us who remember them. I have always liked McCrea's art and he captures easily the major characters making everyone instantly recognizable. You have to love his faces, especially on Tommy, Batman & Superman, letting us see what the character is thinking even without Ennis adding dialogue to a panel.

Thanks to Garth and Joel for making this fanboy very happy!

(By the way, you can learn about Tommy and Co. by clicking on the headline above.)

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

OTR: John Stanley as Sherlock Holmes

(The above headline will link to a brief obit for Edith Meiser from the New York Times.)

In the Fall of 1947, the production of the Sherlock Holmes radio program returned to New York. Conway and Bruce stayed behind so new actors were needed for the roles of Holmes and Watson. British born actor John Stanley, who began his radio career as a singer, assumed the role of the Great Detective with Alfred Shirley as his Watson.

These are not my favorite OTR performances on this Radio Spirit collection, as Holmes here seems to have almost contempt for Watson at some points. Shirley played the Doctor as Bruce did in later shows, as somewhat slow, and you again wondered why Holmes bothered to have him around. Also, Shirley sounds much older than his roommate, although in the original stories they were not that far apart in age.

Edith Meiser returns as the full-time scriptwriter with a combination of new and adapted stories. Eventually, Meiser would also go on to write the Sherlock Holmes daily newspaper strip with artist Frank Giacoia. She would sometimes adapt her own radio scripts for the strip. The more I learn of Ms. Meiser the more interesting she appears. She actually began her career as an actress, something she continued to do in television into the mid-1960s appearing in episodes of I LOVE LUCY, THE DEFENDERS and NAKED CITY.

In this season Meiser once again has some tales bringing in Professor Moriarty, who like Holmes always seems to escape certain death. Like other writers before and after, Meiser takes some of her ‘new’ stories from cases mentioned but not fully presented by Sir Arthur. Her adaptations include “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches” (which she had previously written for an earlier series of shows) and “The Adventure of the Sussex Vampire”, one of my favorite SH tales and very creepy.

The one episode of John Stanley’s second season as Holmes included here, has Ian Martin replacing Shirley in the role of Watson. This story, “The Case of the Unwelcome Ambassador” was written not by Meiser but by Howard Merrill. Merrill, like Meiser who had begun as an actor, went on to work in television, doing scripts mostly for comedy shows such as GET SMART, F TROOP, GILLIGAN’S ISLAND and THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW among others.

In the next installment a couple of British Knights assume the roles of Detective and Doctor.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Marvel "Stridex" Vintage Pack reprints (1994)

Back in the Other Life I used to hang out with lots of fine folks in the comics industry. During that time I had the opportunity to pick up at cons and through other fans some odd things. While going through the boxes of comics I still have I re-discovered some Marvel reprints which I had all but forgotten I had. I know that Debbie David worked on at least one issue as a colorist and I think that Carl Gafford may have had a hand in some as well.

The other day I was trying to catalog some of these books on Comic Collector Live. I found several were in the database listed as “Stridex 1994 reprints”, so I did some Google searching. I discovered that the books were produced by Marvel for distribution by the J.C. Penney chain as the “Marvel Vintage Pack.” One way to recognize them is the Stridex ad that appears on all the back covers.

The reprints are of Marvel titles dating from the early 1950s thru the mid-1970s. There are fifteen books in the set I have (originally sealed in a plastic bag), and I wonder if there were additional issues. I have looked in the Grand Comic Database and eBay, among other resources, and compared some of the original covers to these reprints and they appear exactly the same in every way. Even the ‘price tag’ had not been changed, reflecting the then current price of the title.

Here’s a list of the books I have:

Amazing Fantasy #13; Amazing Spider-Man Special #5 ; Avengers #88 (Harlan Ellison story, pt.1); Captain America #109; Fantastic Four #66 and #67 (Introduction of Him/Warlock); Incredible Hulk #140 (Harlan Ellison story, pt. 2); Sgt. Fury #13 (Captain America & Bucky appearance); Sub-Mariner #8; Thor Special #2; Tomb of Dracula #25; Uncanny X-Men #26 (intro of Banshee) #62 and #63 (Ka-Zar appears); Young Men #25 (on which Debbie is given credit for coloring in an addition to the indicia)

Internally, the advertisements had been changed to current ones promoting commercial products found in mainstream comics of the ‘90s. The one odd exception is YOUNG MEN, which reproduces what appear to be the original ads, but with the Stridex ad on the back cover. Otherwise, even the indicia on the splash page of the issues seem to reflect the original publication information of each book. They all have “Second printing” following the indicia, in different font and all caps.

Anybody know anything else about these books?

As I get time I may review some of these books, just for old times sake.

Friday, October 12, 2007

OTR: Sherlock Holmes with Tom Conway & Nigel Bruce


When Basil Rathbone left the role of Holmes for the New York stage, actor Tom Conway stepped in as replacement. Apparently some people didn’t even realize that Rathbone was gone as many felt that Conway’s voice was so similar. Personally, when you hear Conway as Holmes immediately after listening to the Rathbone episode you notice the difference, but after hearing several shows you see he does capture Rathbone’s style. It also helps that Nigel Bruce continued as Dr. Watson so there was a sense of continuity that might not have been there with two totally different actors.

Conway was already known to the American public as The Falcon, a role he assumed from his brother, George Sanders. Sanders had left that series to take up the part of Simon Templar (The Saint) for another series of films, and perhaps not so coincidentally later Conway played the role of Templar for radio. ( I mentioned some of this earlier when reviewing The Saint OTR collection featuring Vincent Price, Conway’s predecessor as radio’s Templar.) Both the Falcon and Templar were very similar characters, though The Saint was far better known originating in a series of novels and short stories by Leslie Charteris.

Lead writer Edith Meiser and others continued to both create new stories for the characters and do adaptations of Doyle’s original tales. Several times Meiser & Co. would even bring back Holmes’ nemesis, Professor Moriarty, but not frequently enough that he wore out his welcome. The major problem I had with the writers on the show was that they continued the habit of making Watson seem more a bumbler than the able assistant that he was in Sir Arthur’s books. This seems to have begun with how Nigel Bruce portrayed the good doctor in the films, so the radio scripters simply went with how the public seemed to perceive him.

During the season that Conway played SH, the program did several adaptations including “The Adventure of the Speckled Band”, “The Adventure of Wisteria Lodge” and one of my favorites “The Red-Headed League.” Getting the story along with the intros and commercials into a thirty-minute problem made it necessary for Meiser and her co-writers to pick and choose scenes when adapting from Doyle’s works, but I must say that most come across well enough.

At the end of the ’46-’47 season, it was decided that the cost of producing the series in Hollywood, so that Conway and Bruce could continue with their film work, was becoming prohibitive. When the show returned in the fall of that year, the production had moved back to New York studios and two different actors took up residence at 221-B Baker Street. More on that next time out.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Web Comics: take a chance




If you look over on The Right you'll find that I've added links for two sites where you can find web comics. If you aren't familiar with them, or are looking for something new these are two really good sources.

If you don't already know, Web Comics are comic strips/books/graphic novels which are posted by their creators. These could be on their personal sites or they could be 'hosted' by a group or publisher. Both Drunk Duck and Top Web Comics have links to dozens of different types of comics. They range from humor strips and single panels to graphic novel length story lines which go on for weeks, if not months. They also cover just about every genre you can find in print comics or on newspapers comics pages. There are even some which don't easily fall into a single genre, mixing several or creating something new.

Some of the artists and writers, often one person is credited with both, are barely above what we used to call 'fannish'. It can be crude and amateurish but often the artist shows promise and you can see her/his abilities improving over the course of the story. Other strips are done by people who are highly accomplished, even well known in the industry for other work. I should also be point out that I believe that some names credited with either art or writing may be pen-names for folks not wanting to be recognized.

Drunk Duck, besides the comics themselves, also has games based on some of the titles and tutorials for folks interested in trying their own hand on doing comics online. You might recognize some of the writers & artists you find here, plus several have published trade paperback editions collecting older strips.
Top Web Comics allows you to create your own list of favorite titles you can check each day, plus allows you to vote for each strip. The Top 100 comics are then posted on the main page, giving the creators even more exposure.

Click on over and check out each site, since you'll find comics original to each. You also should be aware that some of the strips have "adult" themes which goes from graphic violence to profanity to nudity & sexual content.
While you are at it you should also check out the newly designed ComicMix site, where you can find other examples of web comics by folks like John Ostrander, Tim Truman, Mark Wheatly and other. (Warning: Somebody I used to know has something to do with the ComicMix site, but I haven't figured out exactly what it is.)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Star Trek: the Manga (TokyoPop)


This is a great way to get Star Trek fans to try something different. You already have several prose series, based on each television incarnation, as well as comic books based on each. With the popularity of Japanese comics (manga) and animation (anime) it was pretty clever of the folks over at TokyoPop, a major publisher of new and translated manga, to try something like this.

This volume of stories, titled SHINSEI SHINSEI, treats us to five stories with different creative teams that show the continuing adventures of the original ST cast. Kirk, McCoy, Spock and the rest of the crew are all in character, although the manga style drawing does not present the cast as we normally picture them. Some of the artists go for a more realistic style, while others use a mixture including the highly exaggerated (with deformed facial features expressing anger, surprise, etc.).

I’m not familiar with any of the artists presented here, but most do a nice job in their interpretations of the Enterprise crew. Gregory Giovanni Johnson, in the second story “Anything But Alone” does the best when it comes to making the characters resemble the actors we are familiar with. EJ Su and Makoto Nakatsuka both have styles we immediately recognize from manga we have read, moving from Nakatsuka’s more realistic to the ‘deformed’ and big-eyed kids of Su in the last story in the book. All the artists do a good job with the action and tell the stories well.

Of the writers, I only know Mike W. Barr from his work on DC titles (like BATMAN & THE OUTSIDERS) and his own creation the MAZE AGENCY, which has been distributed by several independent publishers. All the stories are decent, with the first, SIDE EFFECTS, by Chris Dows & Nakatsuka, introducing a character who just might be the original member of a race which went on to be a major ST menace. (I won’t give it away!)

Overall, if you find this in the graphic novel section of your local library, or are a real ST fan, you might enjoy this book. I wouldn’t mind finding that this is the first in a series of such manga. The TokyoPop folks have also included a 'bonus' with a prose story by Dayton Ward & Kevin Dilmore, taken from a new anthology of ST short-stories STAR TREK: CONSTELLATIONS.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Boston Red Sox!

Into the post season with the boys from Beantown!
My fingers are crossed, boys!!!

Monday, October 08, 2007

Countdown to Mystery & Adventure: two 1st issues



As if I were not confused enough by the goings on in the main Countdown title, I have decided to check out a couple of tie-ins. These feature characters who took part in “52” and we get to see where they are now.


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Countdown to Mystery (CtM) begins by introducing the likely future DOCTOR FATE to the DCU. Grant V. Nelson is the grandnephew of the original Fate, Kent Nelson. At one time a happily married psychiatrist, an affair with a student ruined his marriage and eventually brought an end to his practice. When we first see him here he is taking part in a ‘bum fight’, eventually getting thrown into a dumpster after being beaten unconscious. Naturally, as happens in stories of this kind, this leads to his being found by the helmet, although he doesn’t fully realize it yet. As with past wearers the helmet speaks to Fate, telling him what he needs to know mystically as he confronts a demonic creature sent to kill him. This doesn’t go over well with the equally demonic rider who was the creature’s master.

Along the way we get to see not only Nelson’s past, but also some of the others who have used or tried to use the helmet since the last Doctor Fate left this mortal world. I’m really thankful to Wikipedia for filling me on what has happened to various incarnations of Fate since I last read his adventures several years ago. With seven issues left to the series I’m not sure how long the story will keep my attention, although it is great to be reading a comic by Steve Gerber again.

The second part of CtM deals with the new incarnation of ECLIPSO, most recently housed in the body of Jean Loring. Jean was the ex-wife of Ray Palmer the Silver Age ATOM. Back in IDENTITY CRISIS, the last DC books I read before picking up COUNTDOWN, Jean murdered Sue Dibney in a convoluted attempt to win Ray back. Sent to prison she discovers a shard from the black diamond in which the spirit of Eclipso was trapped. (Don’t they check these cells in maximum security for mystic devices?) Eventually, the SPECTRE separates Jean from Eclipso and exiles her to space.

I’m still not clear as to what her goals are, but we see her here manipulating Plastic Man, just she uses those same skills on Mary Marvel in the main series. However, as her encounter with Plastic Man continues we are given a flashback in which we find Eclipso still floating in space, where she was last seen, being retrieved by mysterious beings. Waking at some point later, she discovers that she is in the fortress of DARKSEID, he who had forged the original black diamond and now commands Eclipso. I can’t say that I care much for Eclipso and will be picking up this series solely on how much I continue to enjoy Gerber’s section of the book.

While CtM deals with the mystic side of the DCU, COUNTDOWN TO ADVENTURE is also split into two stories about several heroes formerly ‘lost in space’ for a year and gives us some history about FORERUNNER. Buddy Baker is ANIMAL MAN and he is having some serious problems with his powers. Buddy is able to “borrow” the abilities of any animals (from mammals to insects) he is near for a short time. Since returning to Earth at the end of 52, Buddy is having a difficult time with his powers, or using his acquired abilities for more than a few minutes.

Buddy is very happy to be back with his wife and children, but he has brought along former Titan, STARFIRE who is also having problems with her powers. In her case, she no longer seems to have any. While Buddy’s kids seem more than happy to have her as a house guest, Buddy’s wife feels that both of them would be better off going to the Titans and asking for their help. Since Starfire doesn’t want her former teammates to know she is back she and Buddy decide to keep it a secret for as long as possible. We just know that things are only going to get worse for both these heroes.

Meanwhile, the third member of the group now returned is ADAM STRANGE. Adam is now back on his adopted world of Rann. While he was off in space, following events in the Rann-Thanagar War, the good people of Rann decided they might need another hero. Going back to again to Earth they chose a former ‘ultimate fighter’ turned action-movie star as the new protector. It is obvious to Adam that they have made a poor choice, but after witnessing the borderline psychotic behavior of his replacement he decides to retire from the public spotlight. Since this new hero was also the star of the movie that had hired Buddy as a stuntman, you know that the story lines are going to come together at some point.

The back-up story in this issue gives us the origin of Forerunner, or rather the origin of her race. We find that she is actually the descendant of the survivors of eight races left on what was once Earth in an alternate reality. We won’t even try to figure out how eight totally alien races, seemingly very different physically got around certain …ahem, technical problems. We learn that all of this was actually planned millennia ago by the Monitors to create a race that would be their trained assassins. We also discover that when the race doesn’t do what they were created to do the Monitors may had a back-up plan, which involved other specially created beings to wipe out Forerunner’s entire race.
MONARCH, the former Captain Atom, who is having Forerunner train his soldiers, threw in this last part. Since he has his own plans in motion, as we witness with his recruiting of the Crime Syndicate/Society, we really don’t know if she should believe him, but of course she does.

You really should check out the essays over on Wikipedia if you are interested in any of this. I have been spending hours catching up on things that have happened over the past couple of years and am still thrown by events taking place. I’m sure that folks who have been following all these events understand things much clearer. I’m also positive that wiser folks know where all this is going while I’m still lost.

I’m going to keep picking up both these books for the next few issues at least. Try to follow along with me as I do.