Thursday, May 9, 2019

Detective Comics 80th Anniversary Giant

DC Comics released this book exclusively to Wal-Mart without fanfare or advertisement, and it disappeared. The 80th anniversary coincided with the carefully planned release of Detective Comics # 1000 and all of its variant covers, but the book was lame. In fact, other than the covers, I didn’t much care enough about Detective Comics # 1000 to review it. It cost ten bucks and nothing was exciting about it, although I enjoyed the artwork on many of those variant covers. By comparison, this $4.99 priced tribute was much better. Detective Comics 80th Anniversary Giant opens with a fun little stand-alone tale by Robert Venditti and Stephen Segovia and followed by five reprints spanning 1939 to 1996. These are fun stories (remember when comic books were fun to read?) and feature work by Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Gardner Fox, Carmine Infantino, Denny O’Neil, Dick Giordano, Alan Brennert, Jan Strand and Kevin Nowlan. Robin, Batgirl and various super-villains make an appearance. The book can serve as an introduction to Batman for new readers, and it didn’t cost much. I wish this book had a wider release. It’s not rare, because Wal-Mart received plenty of copies, but they were snagged up quickly and dropped off the radar. I’m in favor of putting comic books in the hands of kids, and this would have been a perfect book to market in a wider field. All the same, DC gets credit for putting this one out. Nicely done.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Big Smear: Sexton Blake # 511 by W. Howard Baker

UPDATED 4-27-19!
Keith Chapman has kindly e-mailed a brief remembrance of this title which I’m sharing. It’s important to remember that many of the Sexton Blake novels during this period were collaborative efforts. Here’s what Keith had to say:

"My own recollection of “The Big Smear” is that, like most of the "W. A. Ballinger" and "Peter Saxon" bylined stories of the later Fleetway period, this "W. Howard Baker" title was actually a collaboration at the very least. I recall seeing in Baker's office early versions of such stories by Wilfred McNeilly and others heavily corrected and annotated for the guidance of external  rewrite man George Paul Mann (aka "Arthur Maclean"). Mann would re-submit clean copies for processing by the sub-editor and typesetters. Wilfred McNeilly typescripts were especially distinctive -- he always used a blue typewriter ribbon on a lighter weight of paper. Anyway, whatever the origins of “The Big Smear”, it's pleasing to hear those old SBLs are still giving pleasure to readers!" – Keith Chapman

Thank you Keith!

From November, 1962 comes another digest novel featuring Sexton Blake and written by W. Howard Baker who was also the editor for Fleetway Publications and was instrumental in updating Blake for modern readers. Sexton Blake stories are always fun to read, but I have a soft spot for the material that came out between 1956 thru 1967 or so. The cover on this one was credited to Fratini, and the story is solid W. Howard Baker material all the way. Sexton Blake is virtually unknown here in the USA but he’s a literary folk hero in the UK. Sexton Blake started out as a pastiche of Sherlock Holmes and under W. Howard Baker’s tutelage became a James Bond style hip action hero. These early 1960s adventures were well-written, exciting, and The Big Smear is notable for Baker’s tight plotting, strong sense of time and place, action, and a real nasty villain. When Nicky Deutsch breaks out of jail, he vows to kill Sexton Blake for putting him behind bars. Blake is warned by authorities, but he’s been busy lately handling other cases, and he doesn’t take Deutsch seriously. Big mistake. Deutsch puts in motion a smear campaign and wicked vengeance that nearly destroys Blake’s reputation. Added to the mix is an Irish doll named Delia Murphy and the plot thickens. The suspense is constant and Blake  doesn’t take the threat seriously at first, and he comes to regret that decision quickly. Fairly typical of the period, The Big Smear is tight and breezy. Nicky Deutsch is a nasty psychopath, and Blake has to work extra hard to extricate himself from the mess and stay alive. I’ve read several Sexton Blake novels more than once because I find the prose refreshing. There are multiple websites devoted to the character. Elsewhere on this blog you can find an interview with Keith Chapman who worked at Fleetway. CLICK here to Read theINTERVIEW.

Monday, April 15, 2019

DCs Jack Kirby Double Whammo!

The DC Comics full color trade paperback collections offer some of Jack Kirby’s best work for DC, specifically New Gods. The recently released Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen is also a welcome addition. New Gods collects all eleven of Kirby’s groundbreaking series along with his two later stories which completed the sequence. New Gods is Jack Kirby at his best. His imagination is in full bloom, his panels jump off the page, and the traditional coloring is vibrant. Kirby’s concept of the Fourth World was under-appreciated at the time, but has grown in stature among fans and critics since.  DC is wise in releasing this material, although I see little advertising for these books. They retail at $29.99 and can be found discounted at Amazon. Orion of New Genesis and Darkseid of Apokolips are brilliantly realized, and while Kirby wasn’t the best scriptwriter, he makes up for it with explosive artwork. Kirby’s New Gods is stunning to look at. In retrospect, one wonders how his previous employer, Marvel Comics, could have bungled the relationship thus encouraging Kirby to work for DC. Indeed, DC didn’t exactly nurture a great relationship, as is evident in the Jimmy Olsen issues. DC acknowledges in this edition that Neal Adams redrew Superman for Jimmy Olson # 142 and that Murphy Anderson had a hand in some of the cover artwork. In fact, it is public knowledge that Murphy Anderson redrew both Superman and Olson’s faces for all of Kirby’s issues, and that Al Plastino did some touch up work as well. Inking chores were handled by Vince Colletta and Mike Royer. This creates a visual anomaly among the Jimmy Olson stories. Kirby and Anderson had two distinctive styles, and the morphing is evident. This edition includes some of Kirby’s pencil sketches which clearly show that DC overreacted because Superman’s features are fine. Kirby did struggle with the S-emblem. No matter, Kirby’s stint on Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen was memorable, but brief. All fifteen of Kirby’s Olson stories are reprinted. My personal favorite is # 142 which introduced the vampire Count Dragorin. I consider the Olson sequences a minor contribution, while New Gods remains a modern classic. DC has also reprinted Kirby’s Mister Miracle and The Demon. Recommended.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Writers of the Future 35

Graced with a beautiful cover by Bob Eggleton, WOTF 35 continues the landmark tradition of stunning artwork complementing the year’s winning entries in this highly-acclaimed contest. I read this anthology every year and I have never been disappointed. Commencing with an introduction by David Farland and another by Echo Chernik, the first story is Untrained Luck by Elise Stephens and illustrated by Aliya Chen; a riveting tale that sets the creative bar very high. The First Warden by Kai Wolden and illustrated by Alexander Gustafson is up next, and this excellent story had me glued to the book. The Damned Voyage by John Haas and illustrated by Allen Morris reaffirmed my faith in this anthology. At this point we are treated to an essay and a story by L. Ron Hubbard. The story, The Idealist, is illustrated by Brian C. Hailes. Hubbard’s fast-paced prose is always a delight to read.

The next sequence of stories are all vivid and exciting. Thanatos Drive by Andrew Dykstal and illustrated by Qianjiao Ma; A Harvest of Astronauts by Kyle Kirrin and illustrated by Sam Kemp; and Super-Duper Moongirl and the Amazing Moon Dawdler by Wulf Moon and illustrated by Alice Wang. This section is rounded out by Tips for Embryonic Pros by Mike Resnick.

This brings us to Dean Wesley Smith’s Lost Robot which was inspired by Bob Eggleton’s One of Our Robots Is Missing cover artwork. Smith’s tale is great and this combination sums up the quality and the creative inspiration evident in every annual edition of the Writers and Illustrators of the Future anthology. The next three stories are equally as exciting and refreshing as everything that came before: Are You the Life of the Party? by Mica Scotti Kole and illustrated by Josh Pemberton; Release from Service by Rustin Lovewell illustrated by Emerson Rabbitt; and Dark Equations of the Heart by David Cleden illustrated by Vytautas Vasiliauskas.

The final section offers Advice for Artists by Rob Prior, and a wonderful tale called Yellow Submarine by Rebecca Moesta and illustrated by David Furnal. The final stories are An Itch by Christopher Baker illustrated by Jennifer Ober; Dirt Road Magic by Carrie Callahan and illustrated by Yingying Jiang; A Certain Slant of Light by Preston Dennett and illustrated by Christine Rhee. I really enjoy the diversity of these stories, and each corresponding piece of artwork was a perfect match. Overall, this is the primary Science-Fiction and Fantasy anthology I purchase.
Also, Looking for some new, relevant science fiction and fantasy? Here’s a link to an article on the newest releases from the past winners and some current judges of the prestigious Writers of the Future contest. Many of the winners go on to publish professionally. I read this anthology every year. This is great material. Lots of choices here. CLICK ON THE LINK.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

The Phantom Blonde

THE PHANTOM BLONDE – A Chet Falcon “Weeping Detective” Mystery

When Chet Falcon returns to Los Angeles in the summer of 1945, his intention is to jump start his private investigator business, but his first big case begins to spiral out of control almost at once. Haunted by the deaths of his friends on Guadalcanal, and drinking heavily, Falcon is asked to investigate the disappearance of silent film actor Curtis Sterling twelve years earlier, but there are people who don’t want to talk about Sterling. Soon Falcon is up against a complex mystery that involves sex, greed and family ties. Chet Falcon had survived the war, but surviving the mean streets of Hollywood will push him beyond the limits of endurance in this hard-boiled fast-action thriller.

WOUNDED OUTLAW BOOKS publishes fast action fiction at a low price for budget-minded readers in paperback only. No eBooks.

Titles include re-releases (and revised) editions of Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, Showdown at Snakebite Creek, Death Rides a Palomino and Gunfight at Crippled Horse. New titles commenced with The Phantom Blonde (1940s Detective) and Spirits of Tomahawk Canyon (Traditional Western). Forthcoming genres will include Science Fiction and Horror.

Reviews are sincerely appreciated!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Violent Saturday by W. L. Heath

1955 Hardcover First Edition

- Spoiler Alerts!

Although the 1955 film starring Victor Mature is better known, W. L. Heath’s novel is a hard-boiled, neglected masterpiece. The advance word on this novel was strong and caught Hollywood’s attention from the start. Darryl Zanuck purchased the film rights before the book was published. There are notable differences between the film and the book. The novel is tighter, blunt and unrelenting. Set in the Alabama town of Morgan, a little place seething with atavistic racism, lust and greed. The book is a series of character studies, broken into sub-chapters as the story develops. It is a slice of reality, and the dialogue includes frank discussions on alcoholism and sex. None of the characters are particularly appealing, but they are all linked to the bank robbery that occurs after three men arrive in town on Friday. Of these, Shelley Martin is the nicest, although his views on Asians and Negroes are not unusual for the period and location. His goal for that weekend is harmless (he wants to go fishing) whereas everyone else in town has an ulterior motive. These are people who are controlled by their selfish interests in sex and money. Heath outlines each character’s weakness in detail. Emily and Boyd Fairbanks are alcoholics and Emily is consistently unfaithful to Boyd. And Boyd is a drunken wimp. He loves his wife and tolerates her infidelity because he doesn’t know what to do about it. The banker, Harry Reeves, is a voyeur. He gets worked up when he sees the new nurse in town, Miss Benson. He begins the habit of stalking her, and he lurks in the alley at night so that he can watch her undress through a window. Sexual desire is a reoccurring motif in the book, and it affects all of the charters both directly and indirectly. In the novel, Reeves is unredeemable. When he spies Miss Benson coming out of a five-and-dime “He fed his eyes on the motion of her hips straining the white poplin skirt as she walked, and the deft switching back and forth of the hem of her skirt above the seams of her stockings. It filled him with desire, and he had to look away from time to time, drawing deep breaths of the hot summer air.” (p. 98) By the conclusion, after being shot up in the bank, his fate is to lay in the hospital bed as Miss Benson administers his care, and the sound of the “efficient swishing of her uniform” is maddening. His fate is to suffer an existential hell of unrequited desire. Other characters include Sugarfoot, the bellhop in the Commerce Hotel where the robbers are staying. Sugarfoot is a stereotype. He drinks too much, is nosy, and discovers the men have a shotgun with them which makes him suspicious. His failure to act, and to only drink and snoop about, turns his character into something of a Greek Chorus character. He exists to explain what he sees, but he has no outward redeeming qualities himself. Shelley Martin is drawn into the plot when the robbers hijack him for his car. They leave him tied up in a barn, but he manages to get free. Martin is forced to kill, and the violence of that Saturday is quick and unblemished. The Robbers also kill in the bank. I found the conclusion touching, made up almost entirely by dialogue between Martin and his wife. They had both survived something terrible, and Martin is grateful for his wife and children. W. L. Heath was a journalist for many years, and his prose follows the same clipped, journalistic approach that Hemingway used and made popular. There are no poetic embellishments. 

The film takes a different approach. Violent Saturday is often described as film noir but that statement is incorrect. The film is a Cinemascope DeLuxe color movie made in Bisbee, Arizona. It might best be described as a crime drama, but because of the location and certain plot elements introduced by screenwriter Sydney Boehm, Violent Saturday plays like a modern Western. Where the book’s robbery takes place on a rainy day, the film is bright and sunny and filled with breathtaking scenery. This is a study in contrasts; both the film and the novel effectively use identical material but turn it into something fresh and exciting. Victor Mature plays Martin, and his character is a veteran of WWII, but his son is upset that his father never won any medals for heroism like the fathers of other kids. This embellishment saddles Mature with the notion of proving himself, which he obviously does. The three robbers are played with appropriate menace by Stephen McNally, Lee Marvin and J. Carrol Naish. Miss Benson is played with compact sexiness by Virginia Leath, and Reeves is played superbly by Tommy Noonan. Richard Egan and Margaret Hayes are excellent as the tortured Fairbanks.’ Hayes has one of the film’s best bits of dialogue: “You’re an alcoholic and I’m a tramp” which does not appear in the novel. The script introduces Ernest Borgnine as an Amish farmer. Borgnine and his family are held captive in the barn with Mature/Martin. This adds a quality to the film not found in the novel. Martin and the Amish farmer are the two unblemished, honest characters in the film. By comparison, all of the other characters are tainted in some way; they are fractured, greedy and sexually immoral at all levels. Martin and the Amish farmer get their hands dirty by killing, but their motivation stems from survival rather than greed. Too much is made of the fact that Victor Mature never gave himself much credit for his acting ability, yet, in truth, he was always quite good; sincere and capable. He reminds me here of a beefier version of Sylvester Stallone’s Rambo in First Blood. Mature is good, but his role is secondary. He provides the necessary violent conclusion that everyone is waiting for. None of the acting is overstated. In fact, Richard Egan avoids slapstick in those scenes where his character is intoxicated. He plays it straight and the film is made better by the even keel maintained by the excellent cast. The location is changed from Morgan, Alabama to Bradenville, a fictional copper mining town, and while the location is never mentioned, the location scenes make it clear this is the southwest. Directed by Richard Fleischer, son of Max Fleischer of the famed Superman animation films, he is also known for directing the flashy 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea for Disney.

I recommend both the book and film for those of you that haven’t encountered this story. Violent Saturday is quintessentially American; at once ugly and disturbing, but occasionally infused with a higher sense of purpose, like an intoxicating perfume.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

The Wilderness-Stone by Robert Nathan

In this 1961 fantasy novel, Robert Nathan once again tackles the nature of time. Edward, a Los Angeles screenwriter, is living in an apartment next to Miranda, and during their friendship he begins telling her about his past, and of his many friends who have passed on. Edward’s good friend, Benjamin, known as Bee to all, is of special interest to Miranda and Edward both. Bee had died at Matterhorn thirty years earlier, with a mysterious woman that he loved but whom Edward had not met. During their friendship, Edward comes to realize that Miranda is displaced in time, and that in fact, her odd memories and dreams, often coinciding with Edward’s recollections, are of Bee, and her longings for him are real. This must have been a very personal novel for Nathan to write. He sprinkles the narrative with brief literary remembrances of actual contemporaries with whom he was associated, including Stephen Vincent Benet, John Dos Passos, Alexander Woollcott, Robert Benchley, Dorothy Parker, Edna Ferber and others. In fact, Nathan dedicated the novel “To all my friends herein remembered...” The novel’s basic structure follows that of Nathan’s classic Portrait of Jennie (1940), however, the narrator here has hopes of Miranda marrying his nephew, thus keeping her near him. In Portrait of Jennie the narrator Eben Adams is in love with Jennie who is also slipping in and out of time. Nathan takes his title from a line of Stephen Vincent Benet’s John Brown’s Body (1928): “...I know her heart touched with that wilderness-stone that turns good money into heaps of leaves...” Benet and Nathan were friends, and Nathan openly acknowledge Benet’s influence in several of his novels, in fact, the identical line is quoted in Nathan’s Winter in April (1938). The wilderness stone is akin to the philosopher’s stone, which Nathan specifically states represents freedom. Nathan is once again touching on the idea that time is fluid, that God is love, and such intangibles, as they are perceived, are the best aspects of life. In the mythology (or history) of the philosopher’s stone, its alchemical substance is vital as the “elixir of life” which is necessary for rejuvenation and immortality. For Nathan, such characters as Miranda in The Wilderness-Stone, Jennie in Portrait of Jennie, and Anne in The Elixir, are immortal, part of the past, but the past is intricately linked to the future. There are other examples of this in Nathan’s other novels as well. For Nathan, love is the driving force of nature. As a writer of fiction, he employs modern references in the narrative, such as the visit to Disneyland in chapter 9, and he sometimes offers an opinionated passage about other writers. Here we learn that Nathan, at least disguised somewhat as Edward, appreciates Mark Twain, and his view of Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees is positive, which was (and is) the opposite of most critical assessments. Robert Nathan remains one of my favorite authors, and interested readers are encouraged to seek his books on Amazon where many of them are available as digital downloads.
Robert Nathan's signature