Tuesday, August 31, 2010

I Loves Me Some Where Monsters Dwell

If you are like me, WMD has a totally different meaning for you. Ever since I picked up issue #36 off a 10 cent rack back in 1979 (or thereabouts), I have been trying to complete a run of this title. I am far too young to have read the first Atlas monster cycle, and the reprint titles had just died off as I started my funnybook life. Luckily, these remained relatively inexpensive and the only real trick to collecting them was tracking them down. Along with other titles such as Fear and Monsters on the Prowl, Where Monsters Dwell was a terrific place for discovering what was going on at Marvel before Fantastic Four #1.

As an example, the fourth issue features fun stories with terrific artwork by Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby and even the great Reed Crandall. The real treat here, however, is a very atmospheric story about a deadly forest drawn by Paul Reinmann who shows that he can hang with the big boys as far as mood and storytelling are concerned. Another fine issue is #14, which is highlighted by a phenomenal cover by John Severin. The title story does drag a bit - at 13 pages. The other two stories are more enjoyable, possibly due to their brevity. With Kirby, Ditko and Heck, the reader is blessed with the triumvirate of Atlas monster makers. While much of the Kirby and Ditko stuff has an will be collected by Marvel, I don't think the rest of it will ever see the light of day so I'm happy to cling to my floppies, as it makes me happy to know that I'll always have some monsters dwelling in my basement.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Quick DVD Reviews

An Education
This simple, yet very effective little film deserved all of the praise it garnered last year. It is completely engaging, and all of the leads are very strong. The movie is not just a coming of age story about a young woman, but about an entire society. By the end, we’ve all lost a bit of our innocence. I could have certainly lived without the voice over in the final scene. That bit of overkill kept it from perfection. Grade: A-

Is this Clint Eastwood’s worst movie of the past decade? Past 20 years? I even found Honkytonk Man to be more entertaining. It came across like a Movie of the Week, and Morgan Freeman seemed to be sleepwalking through the role of a lifetime. The exposition about the tournament was nearly laughable, and I was left wondering why so much time was wasted on the secret service team in the first hour. I am officially shocked that it was nominated for anything during award season. Grade: C-

Odd Man Out
I had very high hopes as a finally sat down to watch this Carol Reed classic. For the most part, it didn’t disappointed as it he was able to create a Belfast just as atmospheric as Vienna in The Third Man. James Mason’s Irish brogue does come an goes, but he does most of his acting with his eyes. My only real complaint is that a good 30 minutes, including the entire artist subplot, could have been trimmed from the film. It would felt taut rather than bloated. A shame, really. Grade: B

While there are certainly come ridiculous conceits in this movie (the car crash flame out comes to mind), it is quite an intelligent vampire film in which the mixture of science and commerce take center stage. Sam Neill is wonderfully loathsome as the main bad guy, and Willem Dafoe is surprisingly subdued as the man with the plan to save humanity. There’s some very good universe building here, but the dumb action set piece in the final ten minutes lays wasted to a lot of the good groundwork. Grade: B-

Rome Armed to the Teeth
After enjoying what I’ve seen of the Giallo genre, I decided to dip my toes into the world of Euro Crime. Rome Armed to the Teeth is a fun and violent joyride through the streets of Rome. Maurizio Merli plays a frustrated cop who is up against a liberal system which seems to be doing its utmost to put criminals back on the street. Thomas Milian shines as the hunchback criminal - so wonderfully over the top during the scene in which he hijacks an ambulance. There are plenty of great car chases, and some nice action sequences. What sets this one apart from the rest I’ve seen is Franco Micalizzi’s relentless score. It is a classic. This one isn’t for everyone, but worth checking out if you are in the mood for something different. Grade: A-

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Hidden Gems: Star Spangled War Stories #137

I picked up well loved (but solid) copy of this book for $2. It was the end of an era as the War That Time Forgot handed the keys over to Enemy Ace. This one is a dandy, as we get a very nice Russ Heath cover and a story about two childhood enemies from Brooklyn stuck on Dino Island. It is 14 pages of Joe Kubert at his best. I do think his Stegosaurus is about 10X too big, but that's splitting heirs. The second tale is about a soldier dragging a Nazi prisoner through knee deep mud. It is good, not great - but it is some of the nicest Jack Sparling art I've ever seen. The real treat here is the final story "Human Booby Trap", which is a reprint of the cover story to Our Fighting Forces #1 (Oct-Nov, 1954). It is a tense little 6 pager about a soldier who has become very good at navigating some of the unseen perils of war. Jerry Grandenetti is a very underappreciated artist, and this is a very inexpensive way to read this story as I don't think DC has ever reprinted it elsewhere, and I doubt they will in the future.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Steve Ditko Cover of the Week: Konga #6

Very few comic book artists could capture a panic stricken crowd like Steve Ditko. These folks look as if they are literally running off the page. The perspective used on Konga seems to be a bit off, but it still has impact. The colour choices and lighting effects are both quite interesting, and I really love the expression of sheer glee on Konga's face. Ditko was still nearly a year away from his first Spider-Man cover at this stage, so he is deeply entrenched in the world of pre-hero monster both at Charlton and at Marvel. It must have been a wonderful time to be a young lad deciding how to spend his dimes. I really wish someone would see fit to give Konga the reprint volume he deserves. For now, I'll just cling to my copy of The Lonely One.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Quick Book Reviews

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao- Junot Diaz
I loved this one as it deftly jumped around in time and gave me my first real look into the history of the Dominican Republic. As a part-time geek, I sometimes cringe at stories too steeped in superheroes and twelve-sided die, but Diaz manages to make it work here. The main problem with a story with multiples characters and story lines is that some are ultimately more interesting than others. As such, the story does meander in spots and I found the ending to be all too predictable. That being said, it was quite enjoyable.

Mother Night - Kurt Vonnegut
As I may have mentioned previously, I’m a pretty big fan of Kurt Vonnegut. The man had a real knack for spinning gold out of straw. He can take a seemingly simple premise and use that as a building block to tell a much larger tale. There’s plenty of absurdist humour here and some keen observations about people, trust and truth. In the end, however, I don’t think I was ever fully sold on the protagonist. Maybe I was always supposed to feel slightly detached from him. With Vonnegut, you never really know.

Counterclock World - Philip K. Dick
This is a lesser work by Dick. Like so many of his books and stories, the concept is interesting, but the execution falls short. Here, time has begun moving backwards and the recent dead return to life. All of this occurs amidst great political and religious turmoil in future America. Unfortunately, the main characters are never fully fleshed out and Dick fails to truly harness the rules of the time in reverse concept. There are just too many times the ‘rules’ are broken, and that kept me from buying into the premise. A good springboard for a movie, but that’s about it.

A Study in Scarlet - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
While I had seen a lot of his work in various formats (film, comics, radio), I had never read any of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle source material. My wife has this on her book club road map, so I dove into during a train ride. I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it, and Doyle writing style holds up quite well. I did find the change in location and time to Utah to be more than a little jarring, and I wish there had been a bit more explanation behind the transition. I find it quite fascinating that a late 19th book has such a ‘modern’ twist involving religion and global revenge. I look forward to more Holmes & Watson.

Reprint This! Foxhole

Mainline was a very short-lived company started by Jack Kirby and Joe Simon in an attempt to publish their own material. Distribution issues led to its demise (ain't that always the case?), but not before they left behind a number of interesting books. One that has always intrigued me is Foxhole, as it was an attempt to bring more realism to the war genre with stories written and drawn by veterans. Kirby saw a lot of violence during his time in the service, and I'm sure he felt that comic book readers would appreciate stories with a bit more gravitas. Four issues were published by Mainline, and the title was sold to Charlton. The 5th and 6th issues features Mainline inventory but I believe that the 7th and final issue was new material assembled in Derby. Some Foxhole stories appeared in the early 80s in Charlton's Battlefield Action title, but I truly think that it is high time someone put together a nice volume reprinting this tough to find (and harder to afford) material.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Comic Book Robot of the Month: Teen-Age Robots in Revolt

Most of the time, Superboy can count on his robot duplicates to provide assistance when called upon. On this particular day, however, things are turned upside down by a HAM radio operator with delusions of grandeur. Superboy has a crisis on his hands, and needs some robo-help control seismic activity under the sea. The only problem is that, due to a malfunction in his radio's circuit, "Mousey" Malcolm gains control over the fleet of Superboy robots. At first, Mousey has fun with the robots - using them for material gain. Like so many men, a woman is at the heart of Mousey's downfall. His desire to get Superboy out of the picture so that he can pursue Lana Lang forces Superboy's hand, and he destroys his own robots in the process. In the end, it is really the 'Clark' robot who helps save the day, as his programming is somewhat unique. It is fun tale by Frank Robbins, with nice artwork by the team of Bob Brown and Wally Wood.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Single Issue Hall of Fame: Daredevil #185

Like a great number of people, I adore Frank Miller's initial Daredevil run. While many of those fans would point to the death of Elektra as being the high watermark of the era, I have to go with this issue. It fully showcases Miller's talents as a storyteller, as he breaks down the fourth wall in the framing sequence and then switches to a noirish first person narrative by Foggy 'Guts' Nelson. Daredevil helps out from the shadows, as 'Guts' hits Hell's Kitchen trying to get some information. He forms and unexpected and comical alliance with Turk. It's a terrific story, and a true collaboration between Miller and Klaus Janson. The look on Kingpin's face when Daredevil says 'Don't Mess With Guts Nelson' over a walkie talkie is priceless. It's really too bad they didn't include a better mix of action and humour for the movie. Such a missed opportunity. Still, we will always have Daredevil #185.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Gil Kane Cover of the Month: Mighty Marvel Western #44

Apparently, this cover was one of Gil Kane's personal favourites. I can't disagree with him. Marvel kept many of its western titles alive throughout the 70s, and dressed them up with flashy new covers by the likes of Kane and Gene Colan. This one is wonderfully designed, and the reflections in the water help give it a real spaghetti western vibe. The blazing sun brings to mind Berni Krigstein cover to Piracy #6. I really love the concept, but it may have been borrowed from the cover to Kid Colt, Outlaw #55 by John Severin. It's a shame that Marvel polluted these covers with so many logos and cover blurbs.