Friday, December 2, 2016

Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years

DC Comics has published several additional hardcover “celebrations” marking the 75th anniversary of several characters, and this Batman volume is essential for any collection. From the first Batman story by Bob Kane and Bill Finger, through each wild decade, readers are treated to the diverse interpretations of Gotham City’s Dark Knight. Many of these early stories have been reprinted before, but it’s nice having them in a deluxe hardcover full-color presentation. This anthology series also reproduces most of the covers. Notable here is “The Jungle Cat-Queen” from Detective Comics # 211 in 1954, Catwoman’s last Golden Age appearance by writer Edmond Hamilton and artists Dick Sprang and Charles Paris. “The Batman of Tomorrow” from Detective # 216 from 1955 by the same team is a delight. Naturally, we are treated to “The Origin of the Superman-Batman Team” from World’s Finest # 94. The entries from the swinging 1960s showcase stories by writers John Broome, Robert Kanigher and Gardner Fox with artwork by Carmine Infantino, Sheldon Moldoff and Joe Giella. The key story here is “The Million Dollar Debut of Batgirl” from Detective Comics # 359 from 1967. Then we get a classic Neal Adams tale, “The Secret of the Waiting Graves” written by Denny O’Neil. Here is where I nitpick the collection; I could a have used a few more of the Denny O’Neil stories from the early 1970s. The long-lasting influence of writer Denny O’Neil with artists Neal Adams and Dick Giordano is underappreciated. Writers Steve Englehart and Mike W. Barr and Doug Moench are well represented with artwork by Marshall Rogers, Terry Austin, Michael Golden, Alan Davis, Paul Neary and more. My problem with the later entries being that the stories are often incomplete. The era of stand-alone stories is gone, which is an ongoing mistake by comic book publisher’s today. Today’s comics are created like soap operas with cliffhanger endings and story arcs that don’t conclude for months and months (or years). On the plus side, the writing and artwork is strong. Still, there’s great material here and Batman: A Celebration of 75 Years is recommended for Batfans of all ages.

Friday, November 25, 2016

Aquaman: A Celebration of 75 Years

This hardcover anthology is a must-have for comic book collectors.  Collecting 22 stories that range from 1941 to 2015, with the first seven from the 40s and 50s, this is the best Aquaman collection yet published. The book is beautiful, from its endpaper images through each reprinted story (including covers), the scope of Aquaman’s history is covered. The dust jacket reprints a recent image by Jim Lee, while the embossed case-cover sports a vintage Aquaman image. The choices are generally good, although I could easily name multiple stories from the 60s and 70s that should have been included here. Aquaman’s first appearance from More Fun Comics # 73 from 1941 leads off the collection. Created by Paul Norris with writer Mort Weisinger, Aquaman endures all of these decades later. The seven vintage tales are a treat because vintage Aquaman stories rarely find themselves reprinted. These are, by the way, full color reprints. The book’s retail price is $39.99, but it’s worth it. ‘The Invasion of the Fire Trolls” from Aquaman # 1 (1962) leads off a short stint of Silver Age tales, and the remainder are of recent history. I won’t say which stories shouldn’t have been included, because in general terms the collection works. The best writers and artists are featured: Nick Cardy, Jim Aparo, Peter David, Geoff Johns, Gerry Conway, Paul Levitz, and Chuck Patton, to name a few. This a great collection for not only comic book fans, but for any young reader. Parents looking for something unique for a Christmas present might do well to pick this up. Getting comic books in the hands of young readers is all the more challenging since the days we plucked them off the spinner rack. Put this book in the hands of kids and let them discover the amazing world of sequential comic art combined with some wildly imaginative stories. This is the way comics books were meant to be. Kudos!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Dan Abnett’s Aquaman

Aquaman has always been underrated. Although he has persisted as an ongoing comic book series since his first appearance in 1941, Aquaman was generally a third-string player. That changed somewhat in the 1960s when DC revamped their titles, added the Justice League and ushered in the new standard of super-hero team-ups. But Aquaman was still a third stringer. None of that really mattered for fans like me. We fans saw the potential in the character. Tales of the sea are hard to resist, and Aquaman’s life is the ultimate sea story. At times, the series has been great, at other times poor editorial choices resulted in mundane story arcs. When DC Comics rebooted their line-up (yet again) it was author Dan Abnett’s Aquaman that stood out as exceptional. This series is distinguished not only by Abnett’s solid storytelling, but by a rotating production crew that includes artists Brad Walker, Andrew Hennessey, Scot Eaton, Philippe Briones, Oscar Jimenez, Mark Morales, and Wayne Faucher. Utilizing multiple artists for an ongoing series often hurts the series because the stylistic differences lend a disjointed feel to the narrative, but that’s not the case here. 
Remarkably, even with the obvious differences, the narrative flows almost seamlessly. Aquaman also benefits from Gabe Eltaeb, the colorist, whose pages are lush and infused with brightness. This combination of artwork suitable for framing and a bright palette have served Aquaman and Abnett well. Aquaman is the best of the DC Comics “Rebirth” titles. The action is hard-core slugfest style, and the characterizations are consistent. Long-time fans of Aquaman comics and new readers alike will find themselves captivated by Aquaman’s new adventures. Abnett keeps the core history generally intact without lingering on the “Rebirth” subplot running through all of the DC titles. Abnett is telling an adventure story, and that’s all we really want. Revisionist continuity is overdone and frankly unwanted in the comic book industry, and Dan Abnett has wisely skated around that by offering up some traditional action. At the onset, Aquaman is up against an Atlantean terror group known as The Deluge, and his primary goal is preventing an Atlantean war with the surface world. Meanwhile, Aquaman has Black Manta to deal with, and his fiancé, Mera, has been asked to prove she is worthy of becoming Queen by undergoing a series of “tests” at The Tower of Widowhood. 
The first eleven issues have set the stage for perhaps the best Aquaman series yet. Let’s not forget that comic books are a predominately visual medium, and the artistic crew have done a fantastic job. The series letterer is Pat Brosseau and the series editors are Brian Cunningham and Amedeo Turturro. For those of you unfamiliar with DCs “Rebirth” all titles are published with two number # 1 issues, and some issues are published with “variant” covers. Yeah, that’s how Warner Brothers (the parent company) executives nickel and dime the public. Aquaman is worth checking out.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

The Obsidian Chamber by Preston & Child

Readers of the famed Pendergast series by Preston & Child won’t be surprised by the events depicted in The Obsidian Chamber, especially if they read the previous volume, Crimson Shore. There are still plenty of plot twists and heavy action to keep fans of this series turning the pages, although The Obsidian Chamber clearly marks a shift in the series. As usual, we readers are left with unanswered questions. No spoilers here, but “what happens next?” has become the ongoing motif in this exciting and original series of suspense novels. How will FBI agent A.X.L. Pendergast cope with the events described on the final pages? Frankly, I’m wondering if authors Preston & Child haven’t painted themselves into a corner with this one. On the other hand, I admire their willingness to take this series in a wholly unique direction. They have never been shy about their willingness to allow their characters to change, often dramatically, and a great deal of Constance’s actions in this book were unexpected. Again, no spoilers from me, but fans of this series are going to be tested here. Do you agree with the manner in which Preston & Child handled these events? In my discussion with other fans, I learned that many of them enjoyed the book, but with reservations, and they’re on the fence about actually stating that they “liked” it. I believe this is because Preston & Child did such a good job of setting up a profound change in the series direction, and only time will tell how it all plays out. The Obsidian Chamber is not the best book in the Pendergast series, but it’s potentially a key book that will help define future narratives. I’m a fan and so I’m on board all the way. Preston & Child have never let their readers down. Paint me as a clichéd blogger, but I can’t wait for the next one!

Friday, November 4, 2016

Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever by Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent

I’m not much of a gamer, but I have played all of the Tomb Raider games. I’m a Tomb Raider fan. Loved the films starring Angelina Jolie, bought the comics, and so on. I bought this novel because Dan Abnett wrote it with his wife, Nik Vincent. I’m also a Dan Abnett fan. He is currently writing DC’s Aquaman series, which is among the best of the “DC Rebirth” titles. Abnett has also published numerous outstanding novels in the acclaimed Warhammer gaming series, and even if you’re not a gamer, his novels are great entertainment. His first Tomb Raider novel was titled The Ten Thousand Immortals. Anyway, check out his books. Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever manages to capture the adventuresome spirit of the games while telling a unique story. It gets a little talky in the middle section, but Abnett and Vincent keep the pacing even. Croft delves into a mystery involving an archeological dig in England that amazingly links the UK to ancient Egypt. There are double-crosses, exotic locales and some hefty action to drive the narrative. The basic elements of the Tomb Raider mythos are present, and Abnett and Vincent add the right flourishes in the right places. Lara Croft is brainy and tough as nails, a core element in the gaming experience, and realized fully in this story. Lara Croft and the Blade of Gwynnever is a solid adventure and highly recommended for Tomb Raider fans.

Monday, October 31, 2016

Happy Halloween and Welcome to My Graveyard

Thank you for visiting my digital home. I hope you don’t mind a little blood on your hands. We’ll get back to our regularly scheduled addictions after Halloween. Yes, this is where I live. Rather quaint don’t you agree? But you don’t have to worry that much because everything here is dead. Sorry about the smell. I guarantee that over time you’ll come to love the smell of pulp paper, dying willow trees, autumn mist and the cool unyielding surface of a marble headstone. Would you like to begin with the books? Naturally Lovecraft is pre-eminent amongst the authors whose shadows pace back and forth so restlessly in a room lit only by candles. That little fellow in the corner is Poe. He casts a long, withering shadow that often strangles other shadows. It’s one of his many unpleasant habits, but I can’t fault him for it. I rather enjoy the sound of bickering spirits. Clark Ashton Smith, Joseph Payne Brennan, August Derleth and Robert E. Howard have come to stay. If you don’t enjoy their company, then you’re not welcome here. What’s that you say? Yes, that’s blood on the floor. Why should I bother mopping up the blood when it adds such intricate Rorschach speculation to your consideration of the tiled floor? I knew a fellow once who insisted that I mop up the blood. That’s his shrunken head nestled between Norman Partridge and Joe R. Lansdale. I stitched his lips together using fishing tackle. I think Hemingway would have approved. All of the world’s dark places are collected here along with a few dark places of my own creation. I don’t expect you to approve. After all, bloody popcorn is the diet of vampires and ghouls. The dead feed on dreams of the living. You can count on that. When you entered this room you forfeited your right to sunny days and grandmother’s delicious apple pie. I serve platters of blazing six-shooters, galloping horses, strange winged creatures and memories of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu. Forry Ackerman and Chaney and Karloff and Lugosi all visit every year at this time. They’re quite a pleasant bunch. But I’m not sure who or what that is living in the corner. Its eyes change color every hour and it smells like offal thrown into the brine. Sometimes when I’m sleeping I can sense that it’s watching me. Meanwhile I have some experiments to conduct. Ygor has just brought me a fresh corpse. It’s a young and tender thing who died of apoplexy. I have plans for its spleen and liver. Its retinas will read stanzas from the Book of the Dead; its fingers will seek a fresh throat to crush. Something inhabits the darkness. It’s ancient and cold and thrives on fear. It knows what you’re thinking. It whispers arcane secrets using the books as a conduit. It’s funny, you see, because you thought Halloween was all about the candy and the plastic masks. How very naive of you. Now you’re about to click off this webpage when a shadow falls across your shoulder. You smell the fathomless sea and images swirl in your mind like bloody milk. You’re about to laugh self-righteously, smugly, when a paralysis grips your body. Then you see what it is that pursues you and you can’t move. Membranous wings beat slowly against your flesh and tendrils wrap themselves about you. Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!

Friday, October 21, 2016

Chamber of Darkness # 1, October 1969

Marvel Comics were still making history with their groundbreaking super-hero stories when Chamber of Darkness was published. This was a better series than most people thought it would be, although it never achieved the acclaim that its creators had hoped for. I suppose the main criticism then as now being that the tales fell short of the stark terror and often gruesome images that made comics like Tales from the Crypt and The Vault of Horror such collector’s items. The stories lack that horrific punch and come across as watered down ghost stories for general audiences. I agree with that criticism, but I still found merit in the series. The first story, “It’s Only Magic,” is credited to Stan Lee and John Buscema, with Buscema’s artwork being the highlight. Lee’s story falls flat. It’s about a teenager who taps into some arcane literature and awakens a Djinn, but there’s nothing scary here. Buscema’s artwork captures a nice October mood. I enjoyed the next story, “Mr. Craven Buys His Scream House!” by Dennis O’Neil with artwork by Tom Sutton. This seven-page tale is about a bitter old man who wants to destroy a house, but can’t. This is the best story in the issue, made palpable by Sutton’s artwork. O’Neil’s story is good, but might have been better if it had been longer. The final story is fair. “Always Leave ‘Em Laughing” is credited to Gary Friedrich with artwork by Don Heck. A scientist, tired of being ridiculed, travels to the past where he hopes to gain respect, but instead he finds himself yet again an object of ridicule. All of the stories are introduced by Headstone B. Gravely (H.P. Headstone), a pale imitation of so many better sepulchral horror hosts. I enjoyed the autumnal feel to Chamber of Darkness, and I still love that first issue’s cover. Marvel was also publishing Tower of Shadows and soon, Chamber of Chills, in their effort to capture the horror comics market. The days of the truly great horror comics had passed, but as most of you know, Marvel Comics struck gold with Tomb of Dracula in 1972, a series that lasted only a few years but left a lasting impression. Chamber of Darkness lasted eight issues.