Saturday, August 18, 2018

The Hound of the Baskervilles by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes has never lost his popularity. I read the complete Sherlock Holmes tales by the time I was twelve. I re-read them in my teens and I re-read them still today. Holmes is Arthur Conan Doyle’s greatest creation. He lives forever in the original stories, movies, television shows and comic books. There is currently an active cottage market of “new” Holmes tales by a wide-variety of authors and publishers. Of the novels, I think The Hound of the Baskervilles is my favorite, although it’s not the best. A Study in Scarlet is probably the best, judged strictly by academic and literary guidelines, but they’re all good, often great. There are four novels and fifty-six original stories. I like The Hound of the Baskervilles because of its gothic elements, and the energy as the story unfolds. It’s a short, brisk novel, actually written and published after Doyle had killed Holmes off in one of the stories. The Hound of the Baskervilles filled the demand for additional Holmes stories, and in fact, after the success of The Hound of the Baskervilles, Doyle resurrected Holmes with additional tales. Interestingly enough, Holmes himself is not physically present during the middle-section as Dr. Watson takes center stage and the suspense is heightened. When Holmes does make an appearance the plot thickens, as they say, and together Holmes and Watson unravel the mystery of the hound on the moors, and the deceptions and motives therein. It’s a grand tale, with Holmes at his best and using his deductive faculties to full effect. The Hound of the Baskervilles was first published in 1901. Shown here is the 1964 Scholastic paperback edition with moody cover art by the great Mort Kunstler.

Monday, August 13, 2018

The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Published in 1912, and presumably influenced by Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne, The Lost World introduces Professor Challenger, Doyle’s best known creation next to Sherlock Holmes. I was unaware of Doyle’s novel until I saw a screening of the 1960 Irwin Allen film as a child. The book is one of Doyle’s best, and widely considered a science fiction classic. The pace is leisurely at the onset, but once Challenger and his team are in the jungles of South America, Doyle effectively exploits the suspense with some action and descriptions that bring to life not only the dinosaurs, but a lost race of ape-men and a tribe of isolated humans. Doyle has created a dizzying adventure, presented without pomp, but exciting nonetheless. Doyle followed with a sequel, The Poison Belt (1913) and the seldom discussed The Land of Mist (1926). He also wrote two shorter Professor Challenger stories, When the World Screamed (1928) and The Disintegration Machine (1929). The Lost World’s influence is profound. Edgar Rice Burroughs was duly influenced to write The Land that Time Forgot (1916) and the “Lost World” sub-genre of science fiction is a staple today, most notably with Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park (1990) and its sequel, cleverly titled The Lost World (1995). Perhaps best of all is the modern classic, Cryptozoica (2010) by Mark Ellis. Shown here is the 1960 pyramid paperback for the Doyle novel with the front and back cover exploiting the Irwin Allen film.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz

As soon as I heard this was available, I ordered my copy from Amazon UK. I had no intention of waiting for the New York publishing industry to wake up. The book won’t be released here in the US until November. Amazon shipping has eliminated the need for involvement by US publishers for titles by British authors. The book arrived within a week and I read it nearly on the spot. Horowitz previously published Trigger Mortis, his first James Bond novel, and I loved that, and I loved his Sherlock Holmes novel, The House of Silk. That’s right, for those of you unfamiliar with this author, Anthony Horowitz has written a modern classic Sherlock Holmes novel and a James Bond novel. And now he turns in another James Bond novel that is among the best of all Bond tales. Forever and a Day is the equal of any James Bond novel by any author, including Ian Fleming, Bond’s creator. This is a great book. However, if you’re not already a fan of Ian Fleming’s Bond novels, then skip it. This is the true literary James Bond, and not the film character. Once again using unpublished material by Ian Fleming, Forever and a Day is a well-crafted, tight thriller. A prequel to Casino Royale, the first Bond novel, we learn how Bond acquired his 007 designation. No spoilers here, but the various ingredients, including the title’s importance, an over-the-top villain named Scipio, an alluring femme fatale named Sixtine, all move toward the inexorable and brutal conclusion. There have been many, many Bond novels by various authors since Fleming’s death, especially by John Gardner and Raymond Benson, and while I have enjoyed them, Anthony Horowitz has turned in a game changer with Trigger Mortis and Forever and a Day. There is consistency here, and above all else an abiding respect and understanding of the character. My fingers are crossed that Horowitz will write another one.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

The Case of the Missing Message by Charles Spain Verral

Author Charles Spain Verral and his creation, Brains Benton, are legendary among us literati who came of age in the 1960s. Verral was a pulp writer who published under the pseudonym George L. Eaton and wrote most of the Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer stories. He also wrote scripts for the 1940s Mandrake the Magician radio program, and he was employed as an editor for Reader’s Digest for several decades. He wrote several titles for young readers, including books about The Lone Ranger and Lassie. The Bill Barnes, Air Adventurer pulp magazines command high prices today, especially those with covers by artist Frank Tinsley; and the Brains Benton novels are coveted by those of us that read them in our childhood. The Case of the Missing Message was the first Brains Benton novel and was published in 1959. Whitman Publishing reprinted all six Brains Benton novels in the 1960s and I read them in order. The illustrations are by Hamilton Greene and evoke a nostalgia for a bygone era. Brains Benton himself is like a youthful Sherlock Holmes. He’s the brainy kid in the neighborhood who excels in Science Class and knows a little bit about everything. Hamilton Greene draws Benton with his fingers making a triangle just like Sherlock Holmes. In fact, Verral describes Brains Benton as if her were a kid turned scientist and half-brother to Sherlock Holmes himself: “He had on a long white coat, the kind scientists wear, and his fingers were pressed tightly together to make a church steeple.” Benton’s deductions are usually based on his observations and practical knowledge, just like Holmes. The novels are told in the first person by Jimmy Carson, an average kid who wears his jeans cuffed, gym shoes, and short-sleeved shirts. The Case of the Missing Message is a classic youthful adventure, long out of print, and deserving of a reprint with the original covers and illustrations. In this premier tale, Carson explains that Brains and himself run the Benton and Carson International Detective Agency and Carson is Operative Three. The allure is the direct connection to young American boys, and Jimmy Carson exemplifies the average kid who loves baseball and bicycles. The images and scenes in The Case of the Missing Message are incredible – A spooky place called the Madden House, a man wearing a blue and white striped bathing suit and goggles, a charging elephant, a fortune teller named Cleopatra and her screaming parrot, and various daring ventures. This first Brains Benton novel is undoubtedly the best, followed by five more, all credited to author “George Wyatt.” According to several Internet sites, the books were commissioned to another author but Verral was dissatisfied with the quality and rewrote all five books from a submitted outline. The five subsequent titles are all quite good, with my other favorite being The Case of the Stolen Dummy. The Brains Benton series retains a loyal following, and new Brains Benton adventures have been published by several authors.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

I Watched Them Eat Me Alive edited by Robert Deis & Wyatt Doyle

Compiling cover art and a handful of hard-boiled stories, editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle take us back to the age of men’s adventure magazines. Once widely available on newsstands and spinner racks, men’s adventure magazines (or MAMs) were a common and profitable part of the magazine industry from the early 50s through the 70s. There is nothing like these magazines on the racks today, much to my dismay. With story titles like “Trapped in Mexico’s Cave of Giant Rats,” “I Battled a Giant Otter,” “The Hot-House Hussies Who Teased a King,” “The Big Blonde and the Black Beast Ripper,” and “Sex Rites of the Inca Priests,” such magazines as Man’s Conquest, Hunting Adventures, For Men Only, Peril, Champ and Impact were consumed by an eager readership. The cover paintings often depicted nude or semi-nude women in dangerous situations, and the men were always knee deep in snakes or being attacked by some other wild beast. The stories were flaunted as being “true” sometimes but that didn’t matter. This is kitsch all the way, and what fun it was! Deis and Doyle offer an informative text with full-color reproductions that will raise your blood pressure. Best of all, five stories are reproduced, and you’ll love “I Watched Them Eat Me Alive” by Stan Smith, “Flying Rodents Ripped My Flesh” by Lloyd Parker, “Terror Safari” by Lester Hutton, “Strange Revenge of Wyoming’s Most Hunted Giant Puma” by Robert F. Dorr, and “Trapped in the Bayou’s Pit of a Million Snakes” by Walter Kaylin. With Deis and Doyle including biographical info on the writers who often used a pseudonym, I Watched Them Eat Me Alive is a delight for both the pulp fiction collector and fans of men’s adventure magazines. Other volumes in their series include Weasels Ripped My Flesh, He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos, Cryptozoology, Barbarians on Bikes, and A Handful of Hell. Highly recommended!

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Brian Michael Bendis on Superman - Review

Brian Michael Bendis on Superman - Review
Action Comics # 1000

Brian Michael Bendis made his debut as Superman’s writer in Action Comics # 1000, in a 12- page opener that introduced Rogol Zaar, an alien who brags that he was the one who destroyed Krypton, and now he wants Superman dead, too. I posted at the time that I felt that Rogol Zaar was too much of a Doomsday pastiche, and I still feel that way. I also stated that I was reserving my judgment because we all needed to see more of what Bendis has planned. So the Action Comics debut was a solid action-packed opener, with more to come.

DC Nation # 0

Bendis followed up with a story in DC Nation # 0, a comic shop 25 cent “giveaway.” The story focused on events at The Daily Planet, and Bendis introduces Ms. Robinson Goode, who we soon learn has a secret agenda. She has her eye on Kent, and tells a mysterious stranger she plans on owning The Daily Planet. What this all means is anyone’s guess.

The Man of Steel 1 – 6

Bendis switches to full-power mode with this six-issue mini-series and to his credit the plot thickens along with the action fairly quickly. Bendis sets in motion major plot elements that will impact Superman’s life in the coming months, and some of this is riveting. We are introduced to Melody Moore, the new deputy Fire Chief of Metropolis, and right at the start a series of arsons have caught her attention. We also see more of a lonely Clark Kent. His wife Lois Lane and their son Jon (Superboy) are missing, and Bendis has been giving us snippets of that, but still leaves us wondering what happened to them. We are treated to a dash more of Robinson Goode who maintains an interest in Kent, and this subplot will undoubtedly develop over many months. The big shocker comes in The Man of Steel # 3 when Rogol Zaar finds the Fortress of Solitude and destroys both the fortress and the bottled city of Kandor. Destroying Kandor is big deal, and I thought the emotional impact this would have on Superman and Supergirl was downplayed for the sake of inserting some action. Bendis might have done better by giving us more of their extreme grief. We eventually learn that Los and Jon are traveling across the galaxy with Jor-El, who was revealed to have survived Krypton’s explosion in issues prior to Bendis taking the reins. I’m on the fence about Jor-El’s return, and I’m sort of hoping there’s a plot twist and this isn’t really Jor-El. Anyway, Jor-El wants to teach Jon about life, the Kryptonian way, and Lois has gone along to support and watch over her son. This is yet another subplot that will play out over a longer period of time. The key elements of the story arc are now evident, with Superman worried about his wife and son. With the solitary communication device between Supes and Lois now destroyed by his battle with Rogol Zaar, the Big Blue finds himself lonely, with strange arsons plaguing Metropolis, and some new players on the board who may not have his best interests in mind. Before the mini-series ends, we do see more of his emotional reaction to Kandor’s destruction. Interestingly enough, it’s the portrayal of Supergirl that is the strongest here. With Rogol Zaar banished to the Phantom Zone by Supergirl, she takes the initiative and announces she’s flying into space to investigate Rogol Zaar’s claims about destroying Krypton, and also to connect with Lois and Jon. Supergirl is angry, unrelenting in fact, and this tough as nails characterization is the best we’ve seen in years. Supergirl’s venture into deep space (carrying Rogol Zaar’s axe) will continue when her solo title resumes publication soon. Another element is the return to Clark Kent’s life at The Daily Planet, which will include established characters like Perry White and Jimmy Olson, but now includes Robinson Goode. Bendis is essentially playing with an established field and inserting his own dramatic sequences which thus far is refreshing. Bendis is also picking away at Superman, and forcing him to suffer. I suspect we’ll find out soon enough how the Big Blue will respond. Obviously the plot and subplots will thicken. Bendis didn’t waste any time, and his first eight Superman stories have set the stage for what is shaping up to be a memorable tenure. The artists for the mini-series are Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, Jay Fabok, Doc Shaner, Steve Rude, Ryan Sook, Wade Von Grawbadger, Kevin Maguire, Adam Hughes and colors by Alex Sinclair.
Superman # 1

It’s vital that you read the eight stories that precede the publication of Superman # 1; which is the fifth number # 1 incarnation of this title since Superman’s debut. This may be the single most important re-boot in Superman’s long career. Bendis wisely begins the series with a recap tier of paragraphs on the opening splash page that brings readers up to date. The story follows immediately all of the action from The Man of Steel, and Brian Michael Bendis put the action into play immediately. With the Fortress of Solitude destroyed, Superman is in need of a new man-cave. Bendis has him choose The Bermuda Triangle, a brilliant choice that will clearly lend itself to plot twists in the future. As most readers and critics have already pointed out, Superman’s conversation with J’onn J’onzz, The Martian Manhunter who asks Superman to take a “leadership” role in global affairs. This doesn’t sit right with Supes, and the word “take” is a nagging point of contention. On the surface, the Martian Manhunter’s request might simply be a logical discussion about his role in handling conflict, much in the same way that Superman’s role was questioned in the classic “Must There be a Superman” by Elliot Maggin and Curt Swan from Superman # 247, in 1972. Except, no, none of us really believe that. Bendis is planting seeds for future stories, and frankly they’re compelling. The artwork by Ivan Reis is superb with colors by Alex Sinclair. DC Comics also switched to a new paper stock, and rather than the usual “slick” the paper is high-quality but still with the Old School pulp feel. Bendis understands that Superman remains an iconic representation of Truth, Justice and the American Way, and is a symbol of optimism in a dark world. The stories feel energized and fresh.

Action Comics # 1001

The storyline in Action Comics will run concurrent with Superman, but in a slightly different sequence. Keeping the storylines separate but concurrent might be a little tricky, and I’m not sure yet how Bendis will manage to avoid continuity gaffes. That’s okay, because I have no doubt he’ll pull it off. So far so good. Action Comics # 1001 is a solid issue. The arsons plaguing Metropolis are very much on Superman’s mind, and he quickly questions the boy that told Melody Moore, the new deputy Fire Chief of Metropolis, that Superman was the guilty party. That fact is swiftly debunked, and readers then learn about a new criminal organization in Metropolis, but Bendis doesn’t stop there. Superman’s activities are being monitored, but is it by this mysterious crime organization, or does it have something to do with Robinson Goode, the new Daily Planet staffer? Bendis concludes the issue with two heart-stopping inclusions – first, the appearance of a new super-villain named Red Cloud. Readers have waited a long, long time for some new worthy villains, and Bendis delivers. Red Clouds origin won’t be revealed until Action Comics # 1005, and plenty of thrills are in the making until then. Finally, the seeming re-appearance of Lois Lane is quite a shocker. Why isn’t she out in space with Jon and Jor-El? Why is she hiding in The Drake Hotel? The artwork by Patrick Gleason is great, with colors by Alejandro Sanchez.

Brian Michael Bendis has done a fine job so far, and the series is exciting again. He is clearly respectful of the character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster. Superman represents hope for everyone, and in his Clark Kent guise he’s a bit awkward, but no coward, and considerate of others. Bendis is exploring Superman’s family life, which is unique and challenging. Bringing The Daily Planet cast back into the fold is a welcome move. We can hope that Jimmy Olson and Perry White will once again receive the occasional spotlight. The plots and subplots are all apparent thus far, and we can expect a rollicking first year for Bendis and Superman. Interestingly enough, Supergirl’s future is intriguing, although Bendis won’t be handling her series. DC executives are certainly aware at the public's disdain for constant reboots, and that awareness is reflected in the Bendis storyline. There is no re-imagining of Superman’s origin, and Bendis wisely inserts a recap paragraph on page one.  The artwork by all parties has been fantastic, and in fact, the cover for Action Comics # 1001 by Patrick Gleason and Brad Anderson evoked memories of the highly revered artwork from the 60s and 70s. We come away from all of this with more questions than answers, but I’m game. Let’s see where Bendis takes us.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Daniel Boone: Wilderness Scout by Stewart Edward White

This 1922 hardcover with illustrations by James Daugherty is quite entertaining. I am not a historian, however, so I cannot verify the factual authenticity. Either way, author Stewart Edward White was a capable novelist, and this “biography” reads like an adventure story. There are obviously many suppositions and assumptions included in the narrative, much in the same manner of John Mason Brown’s later biography. Any Daniel Boone fans or historians encountering this book are reminded that author Stewart Edward White was a best-selling fiction writer, and several of his novels are sought after by bibliophiles today. I am specifically referring to Conjurer’s House (1903), The Leopard Woman (1916) and Simba (1917). His non-fiction travel books are similarly coveted, including African Campfires (1913), The Cabin (1910), and The Rediscovered Country (1915). And there’s more. White’s own biography is fascinating, and his interest in the paranormal resulted in several influential books. There is enough interest in White today among bookhounds to keep things interesting, although the hardcore interest we see with later pulp writers hasn’t included him yet. White was born in 1873 and died in 1946. I’ll cover some of the titles mentioned here at a later date. Daniel Boone: Wilderness Scout offers a conversational style, eschewing the chronology occasionally to discuss the value of a good axe or the historical importance of a flintlock rifle. The book should be considered his interpretation of Boone’s life, compiling the basic facts and re-affirming the legend that has followed Boone even before his own death. The illustrations by James Daugherty, including color plates, are fantastic. White sums up Boone’s life succinctly: “The picture that persists at the last is not the smoke and dust of battle and combat, but the figure of a serene, unworldly, kindly soul, fronting what fate brought him, whether of peace or of turmoil, with spirit unruffled and unafraid.” That, at least appears truthful, by all accounts, and Daniel Boone continues to hold our attention.