Sunday, December 10, 2017

The Runelords by David Farland

David Wolverton writes The Runelords series under the pen-name of David Farland. The Runelords was published in 1998 and David has published numerous other novels. There are currently eight Runelords novels, and they are all exciting. This first one had me hooked on page one. I love a solid, well-written fantasy, and trust me, I’m highly selective in my purchasing choices. I like The Runelords series because Farland delivers the type of story that I enjoy the most. Namely, strong characters, nasty villains, a dash of romance, plenty of action, and perhaps more importantly, a fully realized world that I can visualize in my mind’s eye. There are several popular fantasy series on the market where the authors tell a good story but ultimately they’re lacking that imagistic quality that helps a reader see “movies in the mind.” If an author takes his character into a castle, I want to see, smell, hear and understand all of the tactile qualities that come with the location. Fortunately, setting the scene is not a lost art with David Farland. And he takes you to some great locations in this modern classic of adventure. Subtitled The Sum of All Men on the title page, The Runelords is about the re-birth of The Earth King. Prince Gaborn Val Orden is prominently featured in this first book, and the next few as well. The world of The Runelords is roughly medieval, with magical qualities known as “attributes” assigned those noblemen and women who can share such attributes with commoners. The landscape is treacherous or beautiful as the scenes dictate. Farland weaves a captivating story and puts his characters through their tribulations with expertise. The Runelords is unquestionably a work of Heroic Fantasy, and this series is justifiably popular. I have enjoyed all eight books and I’m eagerly awaiting the ninth (and last?) volume. 

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry

Marguerite Henry was the first author I met. She was making appearances at local movie theaters to help promote Brighty of the Grand Canyon starring Joseph Cotton. The film was based on her book and sparked my lifelong interest in the Grand Canyon which I visited for the first time that very year (1967). Henry, however, was best known for her books about horses. Of this I believe that Misty of Chincoteague is her best known novel. Published in 1947, Rand McNally reprinted this and all of Henry’s novels numerous times. The illustrations by Wesley Dennis are all faithfully reproduced in the current Aladdin Books edition, a division of Simon and Schuster. Misty of Chincoteague holds up well. Henry had a talent for images, suspense and setting the scene. Her prose is lively and the characters believable. Henry was also known for doing research and making an effort to get her settings portrayed as accurately as possible. The story is about two kids, Paul and Maureen Beebe, who have their hearts set on capturing a wild mare on Assateague Island which is adjacent to Chincoteague Island. Paul succeeds in capturing not only the mare, but her newborn colt which they name Misty because when he first saw her he couldn’t tell “If I was seeing white mist with the sun on it, or a live colt.” Horse stories are no longer popular, but many of Marguerite Henry’s books remain in print and are available for e-readers like Kindle and Nook. Her books are sentimental but without wallowing in it. They may appear slightly dated and colloquial at times, but the writing is clear and the stories are timeless. Misty of Chincoteague is a great book for a young reader with a love for horses. It’s also recommended for anyone that simply loves to read a good story.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Superman The War Years, 1938 – 1945

This book has two companion volumes, one for Wonder Woman and one for Batman. I previously covered the Batman volume. Reprinted here are the seldom seen war stories and war-themed covers from the pages of Action Comics and Superman. The text is by Roy Thomas who does a great job putting this all in perspective. Much of the material is rare, and even if you could find a copy of some these issues you probably can’t afford them. Reprints of vintage comics have become the rage, and I for one am quite happy about it. The original pulps have reached the age where the chemical composition is breaking apart, and soon all these once collectible magazines will be reduced to dust. A topic that is unpopular with collectors these days is the fact that Golden Age comics are less collectible today, simply because they are too fragile. Owning a rare Golden Age comic book is a status symbol and nothing else. All the money in the world won’t stop that paper from turning brown and disintegrating. Reprint collections are the new collector’s items. Superman The War Years is a patriotic, fascinating look at Superman’s involvement during World War II. Keeping in mind that these stories were written before Superman was depicted as a God-like invincible figure, these are tales of a Lost America, the one our parents and grand-parents experienced. The artwork is often stunning, colorful, and infused with breezy enthusiasm. Various artists worked on the series during this period, so you’ll be treated to representational stories from Joe Shuster, George Roussos, Wayne Boring, Fred Ray, Jack Burnley and various others. Joe Shuster and writer Jerry Siegel’s creation remains the greatest pulp fiction hero, instantly recognizable, and imminently All-American. I can’t praise this book enough. It’s become one of my favorites of the Superman compilations. 

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Justice League – It Almost Works

Readers of this blog are aware that I am not a fan of director Zack Snyder’s dismal Man of Steel and the follow-up atrocity he chose to call Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice. The latter film being an effort I consider the bottom of the barrel in filmmaking. In a previous post I referred to Snyder as “Ed Wood with a budget.” I’m standing by that statement. I wasn’t looking forward to Justice League, but as a lifelong fan and collector of Superman and Batman comics, I chose to form my own opinion by seeing the film. I never rely on others to tell me what to think, and nor should you.

Before we get to the heart of the matter, however, there are some preliminary considerations that need airing. It was widely reported that Snyder exited from Justice League because of a personal family tragedy. The family tragedy story is true, and verifiable. Snyder’s daughter Autumn died in March in what was believed to be a suicide. Snyder deserves a break here. Criticizing a film is one thing, but being callous about such a tragedy is another. My heartfelt condolences to Zack Snyder and his family.

Life is unfair in many ways, and it’s unfortunate I have to post a negative review in the wake of such a tragedy. Joss Whedon was brought in with Snyder’s blessing for re-writes and to direct some reshoots which the press reported were substantial. That makes sense given Whedon is responsible for Marvel’s success with the Avengers films which offer a marked contrast of optimism and brightness in comparison to Snyder’s bleak world-view.

Comic book super-heroes, and especially Superman, represent hope. Both Man of Steel and Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice were joyless exercises in drama, angst, and gritty realism. Even Superman’s once bright costume was reduced to a tight fitting armor-mesh looking thing with washed out colors. In other words, Zack Snyder doesn’t understand his source material.

Joss Whedon’s own creative slant went far in setting the tone and style of Marvel’s historic ongoing series of superhero films. He is not solely responsible for Marvel’s success, and he should not be thought of as a comic book guru for superhero films, but having him around helps.

Justice League was made better by Joss Whedon, but the film is a sloppy mess. The opening sequence makes no sense, and plot threads established in Batman Vs Superman: Dawn of Justice are ignored. Key here is Superman’s revitalization, which was hinted at in the Batman Vs Superman conclusion where we see dirt on the coffin vibrating. This lead fans to believe Superman was being revitalized by the sun’s rays and his Kryptonian cells were regenerating as they had in the original comic book series. Instead, Superman is brought back to life by the using the Kryptonian technology Luthor used to create Doomsday in the previous film. This makes the Batman Vs Superman scene meaningless. The other such gaffes in continuity make Snyder’s Superman trilogy a standing example of wasted money, time, talent and effort.

Superman, Batman, Aquaman and Flash are nearly unrecognizable. The costumes are dull and make them look like half-ass bikers on their way to a drag Queen’s coming out party. The posters, however, were digitally altered to brighten the colors. The actors themselves are fine. I like Ben Affleck as Batman, and Henry Cavill is okay as Clark Kent/Superman. The script turns Aquaman into a Hippie loner, and Flash is a nerdy teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. Jason Momoa and Ezra Miller do what they can with the characters, with Ezra Miller getting the better lines. Amy Adams offers nothing as Lois Lane because the script gives her nothing to do. Ditto with Jeremy Irons as Alfred. Diane Lane is also wasted as Martha Kent. Ray Fisher is Cyborg and shines here, albeit briefly. He’s the best part of the team next to Wonder Woman. In fact, Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman continues to delight most of us die-hard comic book fans. I have nothing to say about the Jack Kirby inspired threat to humanity that brings this slipshod team together, other than, well, duh. What would Jack think?

There is humor here, presumably thanks to Joss Whedon who was given a screenwriting credit. I actually enjoyed moments of the film, but like so many others I wish it had been better. So close and yet so far. Ultimately, there are no sunny days in Zack Snyder’s films, no hope, and this endless parade of ho-hum blah blah. Still, Zack Snyder is responsible for casting the beautiful Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. At least he has bragging rights on that.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Superman Collector

The Superman Collector:
A Reader’s Memoir and Critique
Thomas McNulty
Cover scans from the collection of Thomas McNulty
click on an image to enlarge

Actor George Reeves was already gone when I became aware of Superman. By 1963 I was fully conscious if not enraptured by Superman. The Adventures of Superman was rerun on television consistently, and every boy in the neighborhood knew who Superman was. When my parents bought their first Zenith color television, we witnessed miracles in “living color.” That big red “S” on Superman’s chest stood for truth, justice and the American way. So it began.

When my father was ten years old in 1938 he bought Action Comics # 1 and every subsequent issue, including Superman # 1, and he continued buying these titles through about 1945. In 1950, when he entered the Army, my grandmother threw them away. In the late 1960s we explored a storage facility my grandparents kept on Ardmore in Chicago, hoping that her memory was faulty. The comics were gone, but there on a shelf sat the Sunday newspaper comics encompassing the years 1940 through about 1945. This included the Superman strip and Will Eisner’s The Spirit, all classics. To our dismay, the newspapers were wet from a ceiling leak, moldy, brittle and chewed to pieces by mice. Nothing was salvageable.

We have all heard this story before. “My mother threw away a fortune in comics!” I heard this story again and again from the survivors of World War II and Korea, all along the suburban block where I grew up. These tales of loss are forever melded in my memory with the sound of an aluminum can of beer being cracked open, followed by the snap of a lighter and the scent of a cigarette. I can recall standing in one garage after another while one of the neighbors was working on a car, and because all of us kids had Superman comics, the topic was quick to spark memories.

My father read my Superman comics, most of which my mother purchased whenever we were out and about. Those metal spinner racks of comic books were common place, and found in nearly every retail establishment. I think I must have decided to become a collector in 1963, when President Kennedy died. Superman # 170, dated July 1964, included the story “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy,” with artwork by Al Plastino. Originally intended to appear in issue # 168, the story was pulled in the wake of Kennedy’s assassination. It was printed in # 170 as a tribute to Kennedy, with a new splash page by Curt Swan. This artwork is now held at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library in Boston. The cover, however, avoided sentiment, and featured a rendering from the imaginary back-up story, “If Luthor Were Superman’s Father!”

None of us kids knew who Curt Swan was, nor did we know about Wayne Boring. We did, however, know all about their artistic styles. Each artist was instantly recognizable by their style. Boring’s artwork was later dismissed as “borrring!” while Swan had become the fan favorite. Over time, I came to appreciate Wayne Boring’s angular Superman, his lush, futuristic backgrounds and wild imagination. But Curt Swan was the favorite in the 1960s, and his covers and interior artwork graced not only the Superman and Action Comics, but also Superboy and Adventure Comics; and he figured prominently in Jimmy Olson, Lois Lane, The Justice League of America and World’s Finest. Curt Swan’s images helped define DC Comics in the 60s.

I remember the day my mother bought me Action Comics # 325, cover dated June 1965. Money must have been a little tight that week. I had the option between Action Comics #325 and one of the Annuals or 80 Page Giants. My mother, being budget conscious but also wise, usually encouraged me to read the 80 Page Giants because I would get more stories for only a few cents more. The 80 Page Giants sold for 25 cents. I was making my choice from a wire spinner rack in the Wintergarden Pharmacy, and I asked if I could have two comics that day. I wanted an 80 Page Giant and Action Comics # 325. Sometimes my mother would relent and I would come home with several comic books. This time she said I could have only one comic book.

I chose Action Comics # 325 for several reasons. First, the cover fascinated me. There was a giant-sized Superbaby on Krypton, and that alien planet seem like Toyland. The splash page was even better. Here was Superman as a giant-sized adult next to a spacecraft featuring some villains using a magnet to draw iron items into their ship. The images were mind boggling. There was also a Supergirl story. To this day, I consider “The Skyscraper Superman” a fine example of a 1960s Superman story. I didn’t know it at the time, but the artist was Curt Swan on Superman and Jim Mooney on Supergirl. That 80 Page Giant I wanted was Superman Annual # 11 reprinting the greatest battles with Lex Luthor. Of course I have them all today. I own three copies of Action Comics #325, including my original copy which lost its cover decades ago. The imaginative world of my childhood was enhanced by these comic books, and they helped instill in me an appreciation for storytelling and artwork.

As the tumultuous 1960s rolled on, I noticed a new style of artwork on some of the covers. I was intrigued. Superman # 210 (October, 1968) depicted Superman swimming under a boat as Jimmy Olson fishes Clark Kent’s fedora from the water as Lois reads a purported suicide note from Kent. The cover for “Clark Kent’s Phoney Death” was drawn by Neal Adams. This and many other Neal Adams covers graced the pages of various DC titles. I liked what I saw. Adams offered a sleek but powerful Superman. His perspective and angles were much different than the average comic book page. Neal Adams quickly became a favorite, although I never stopped being a fan of Curt Swan.

During the 1960s Superman was subjected to imaginary tales depicting either his reported death or the death of a supporting character; time travel stories; constant plots by Lex Luthor; a Superman of the future tale; and kryptonite poisoning, all while maintaining his secret identity of Clark Kent. In fact, the importance of being Clark Kent was never more apparent than during the 1960s where his alter ego was besieged by one nefarious plot after another.

There’s no doubt that Superman has always been a symbol of hope for the repressed, with a costume that matches the colors of the American flag. His dual identity as Clark Kent and Superman represents the duality and complexity in all men. Kent is equally as important as Superman. Kent represents the erstwhile endeavors of the common man, while Superman embodies the potential in all of us. He’s been called “The Man of Tomorrow” and we collectors refer to him affectionately as “Supes” or “The Big Blue.”

Superman’s iconic 1960s adventures remain highly sought after issues. Naturally, I delved into other books. I loved Batman, and Marvel’s The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Captain America and Dare-Devil. But Superman was always my first choice. I’m no expert on Superman; I’m just a collector, but there are certain things that strike me as important. For many people, Superman represents the immigrant experience, a shining example of trying to fit in which is difficult because he’s so different. For others, he symbolizes the potential of the common man; and he’s the embodiment of American culture and all of its values and ideologies. Superman’s origin as created by Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel in 1938, is a science fiction story. Perhaps it’s the best science fiction story ever told. Siegel and Shuster created a character whose “S” symbol is globally recognized. His exploits are legendary. Over 75 years later, Superman is the best known fictional hero on earth.
The importance of being Clark Kent
In the summer of 1978, just before the premier of Superman: The Movie starring Christopher Reeve, DC commenced publishing DC Comics Presents, a monthly Superman team-up series. The first issue was written by Marty Pasko and penciled by Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez, two more personal favorite creators. The many supplemental titles came and went, and Superman survived, now forever linked to actor Christopher Reeve.

The 1980s was a solid decade for DC comic book collectors. The Crisis on Infinite Earth’s mini-series premiered cover dated April, 1985, and lead to the Superman reboot of 1986 by John Byrne. The national media coverage helped turn Byrne’s six-issue Man of Steel mini-series, and subsequent run on Superman and Action Comics into collector’s items, at least temporarily. Like so many collectors at the time, I over-indulged and bought quadruplicate copies of everything, and today the issues will bring but a nominal profit. I loved Byrne’s artwork, but unfortunately he emasculated Superman’s origin, thus diminishing his complexity. Byrne lasted two years, and I agree some of the individual tales worked fine, but in the final analysis there was never any reason to change Siegel and Shuster’s premise.

Artist Jerry Ordway was one of the highlights during this period. Ordway both wrote and penciled Superman comics, and his issues brought back the sense of fun. Along with artist Thomas Grummett (an unsung hero in the Superman canon), Ordway created numerous exciting story-lines. While John Byrne received all of the media attention, subsequently it was Ordway, Grummett and Dan Jurgens who created the individual issues that collectors prefer from that era.

In Frank Miller’s entertaining but overrated The Dark Knight Returns, Superman is depicted as a government lackey, a boy scout. This characterization detracted from the Champion of Justice that Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel envisioned. In fact, editorial changes and some revisionist writing altered the friendship between Superman and Batman. I don’t agree that these two stalwart heroes would be at odds. And Batman is too dark, too gloomy. This trend continues to this day. Their team-up was intended to inspire, and not to create a platform for bad writers to script hissy fits.
There were giants then!
1993s “Death of Superman” story arc, culminating in Superman # 75 (vol. 2) by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding, was a rollicking adventure that temporarily revitalized the series. Of course, we all knew Superman wouldn’t stay dead. In fact, my “Letter to the Editor” in Adventures of Superman # 503, accurately predicted Superman’s hibernation, rather than death, and his subsequent revitalization by the sun.
My “Letter to the Editor” in Superman # 503, predicted Superman’s return
By the end of the 1990s, my collecting became sporadic. The inconsistent quality had marred the series. By The Adventures of Superman # 600 and on, readers had been subjected to poorly conceived stories. I won’t name the issues in question. My purpose is not to embarrass the editors, writers and artists involved, but Super-fans know which issues and sequences I’m referring to. The economy was fluctuating, and the comic book industry had changed, but not for the better. The days when wire spinner racks full of comics could be found everywhere had ended. The Comic Book Shops that flourished in the 70s and 80s had disappeared.

Post Millennium issues have varied in quality.  Devoted fans enthusiastically reacted to writer Geoff Johns and artist Gary Frank’s superb storytelling. Although some of Geoff Johns stories were still revisionist, he managed to pay homage to Superman’s mythology with story arcs involving The Legion of Super-Heroes, Braniac, and, yes, even Superman’s origin. The Geoff Johns and Gary Frank issues (with inks by Jon Sibal) are favored by collectors. Gary Frank depicted Superman as a harbinger of actor Christopher Reeve, a habit that he has wisely avoided in recent work. All the same, Gary Frank’s artwork is as imaginative as any of the best from the Golden Age or Silver Age.

DC Comics has long been conflicted in its approach, choosing to retell and revise Superman’s origin again and again rather than engage Superman with new challenges, fresh villains, and classic adventure tales that made him a household name. The constant revisionism and focus on revised continuity has effectively stalled the series. The poor films coming out of Hollywood are further evidence of this mishandling, commencing with the dismal Man of Steel and continuing with the reviled, Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice. Adding to the criticism lies the fact that DC is owned by Warner Brothers, a sprawling entertainment conglomerate that has a reputation for being decidedly un-friendly to fans and creators alike.

The May 2016 “Rebirth” has been a better effort, and is generally popular. The primary positive change to the series (which occurred prior to the “Rebirth”) has been the marriage of Lois and Clark, and subsequent birth of their son, Jon. Recent issues by such talented writers as Patrick Gleason and Peter J. Tomasi are enjoyable, and I’m hoping to see this positive trend continue. Superman is the ultimate pulp fiction hero. He appeals to everyone, because he represents hope for everyone! No matter his mishandling by the slack-jawed and dim-witted bureaucrats at Warner Brothers, fans and collectors have a wealth of classic material to choose from. I’m constantly heartened by the many Superman collectors I meet at comic book conventions. Listed below is a short list for the beginning collector.
Artist Gary Frank's images are fantastic!

A Collector’s Silver Age to Present Preference List

Action Comics # 300, May, 1963, Superman Under the Red Sun
Action Comics # 340, August, 1966, “Power of the Parasite” by Jim Shooter, art by Al Plastino, cover by Curt Swan and George Klein, center-spread pin-up by Curt Swan.
Action Comics # 356, 1967, First Neal Adams Superman cover
Action Comics # 400, Neal Adams cover
Action Comics # 583, September, 1986, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow, Part Two, by Alan Moore, Curt Swan and Kurt Schaffenberger

Action Comics # 858-863, December, 2007
Action Comics # 866-870, August, 2008, Brainiac storyline by Geoff Johns and Gary Frank

Superman # 141, “Superman’s Return to Krypton,”
Superman # 146, “Superman’s Life Story,”
Superman # 149, November, 1961, “The Death of Superman,”
Superman # 156, “The Last Days of Superman,”
Superman # 170, July, 1964, “Superman’s Mission for President Kennedy.”
Superman # 181, November, 1965, “The Superman of 2965” By Edmond Hamilton, artwork by Curt Swan and George Klein, cover by Curt Swan.
Superman # 199, “The Race Between Superman and the Flash,”
Superman # 201, Iconic Curt Swan cover
Superman # 233, Neal Adams Kryptonite Nevermore cover
Superman # 243, Neal Adams, Superman kissing cover
Superman # 247, January, 1972, Must There Be a Superman? by Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson
Superman # 432, Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow by Alan Moore, Curt Swan, George Perez and Kurt Schaffenberger (continued in Action Comics # 583)

Giant Superman Annual # 1, 1960, not numbered on cover, reprints key issues featuring Lois Lane, Supergirl and Jimmy Olson.
80 page Giant Superman Annual # 1, August 1964, (reprints) often mistaken as the first annual.
Superman Annual # 11, 1985, For the Man Who Has Everything by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.

NOTE: I won’t buy CGC (Certified Guaranty Company) graded comics. Their grading is inconsistent and promotes premature price increases.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice

“To love any one person or thing truly is the beginning 
of the wisdom to love all things.”
-Lestat in Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice

I recall reading Interview with the Vampire in 1977 and thinking what an amazing talent the author possessed. Decades later and a dozen books later, that author is internationally renowned, a cultural icon, wealthy and incredibly friendly with her fans who use social media to contact her. I think she’s one of a kind. I’ve never met her. The crowds at her appearances are a bit much, so I stayed away. Among her many wonderful books I admire The Witching Hour, The Mummy, The Queen of the Damned, and Angel Time. Such a terse statement that lists only four novels is, naturally, an injustice. All of her books are treasures. Those just happen to be my favorites. Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is the twelfth novel in her “Vampire Chronicles” and a true masterpiece. I recommend reading Interview with the Vampire, The Queen of the Damned, and Prince Lestat before indulging yourself with this astonishing book. Take your time and don’t rush anything, because Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is that rare work of fiction that will affect you deeply. Defining this book with labels such as “horror fiction” or “supernatural thriller” detracts from the high literary quality of the writing, the profound themes and topics, and all of the brilliantly realized characterizations that form the heart of this novel. Anne Rice has done the unexpected and written a novel that separates itself from the preconceived expectations that comes with writing a popular series. She’s changed the game and created a new set of rules. She has done this without changing what has gone before, but the changes will affect everything that happens going forward, and this includes the perceptions of her readers. It’s not unusual for any series writer to initiate changes, and its often necessary to keep the narrative fresh, but Anne Rice is successful because her creative powers are at their peak. With Lestat now the prince and driving force behind the organized vampire culture, the enigmatic spirit Amel that possesses him becomes the focus of several non-human entities who had previously resided in Atalanaya or Atlantis. This small group was created by “the parents” on another planet, and this less than subtle infusion of a science fiction element is but one of many surprises. These children, called Replimoids, had been sent to destroy Atlantis, but the Replimoids had become enamored of Atlantis and its amazing people and and its rich culture. To destroy something so wholesome seems to them an aberration. The crux of the novel lies in understanding the Replimoids. Long after Atlantis is destroyed, they re-emerge in modern times intent on freeing Amel from what might now be considered a prison within Lestat. The key section of the novel is titled “Kapetria’s Tale” which recounts their origin and journey of self-discovery from the stars to earth. This is Rice at her best, describing a lost culture and the beauties of life; the exuberance of discovery and the very human desire for peace, love and understanding. Is she, I wonder, commenting on the demise of civilization as we know it? She never overplays her hand, but Rice incorporates a discussion on possessing a soul into the framework, which is the novel’s theme. Do all living creatures have a soul, both human and non-human alike? On a larger scale, but employed in such a subtle manner that I was thrilled by her deft touch, Rice is promoting that all life is sacred, and that we all belong and come from the same “stardust” as Lestat points out late in the novel. In her own way, Rice is condemning religious, ethnic and sexual prejudice. This metaphysical dialogue and philosophical musing is balanced against some plot elements that stem directly from the grand tradition of pulp fiction. The discovery of the Replimoid’s ability to regenerate is a scene that might have been at home in a 1940s story from Fantastic Adventures. Rice has fused seemingly disparate elements and created a compelling tale that is unique in fantasy literature. As always, her writing is lush and imagistic, measured and carefully presented. I am quite the fanboy, and Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is now my favorite of all of her books. In fact, if anything, this book’s marketing would have benefited from a cover commissioned from Brom rather than the usual photo-shopped bland stock images most New York publishers use. Prince Lestat and the Realms of Atlantis is available now in paperback. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Tales of the Wandering Collector

Tales of the Wandering Collector
Thomas McNulty

There are as many reasons to begin collecting as there are the types of people that do the collecting. There are equally as many types of collections as there are people and their divergent reasons. No matter if you collect vintage dolls, old newspapers, classic automobiles, tin gasoline signs or even chinaware, the collection has undoubtedly provided you immense satisfaction.

Often driven by both nostalgia and my abiding fascination with American history, my collecting habits began in my childhood, and continue unabashed in my sixth decade. I am predominantly a book collector, but over the years my collection has grown to include documents such as letters written by such favorites as Errol Flynn and Zane Grey; also movie posters, magazine advertisements, sheet music, and even beer steins. I also have a nice firearm collection, but these are modern guns.

Mostly I collect books, and that broad category includes over six thousand comic books, some pulp magazines from the 40s and 50s, and naturally hundreds of paperbacks and hardcovers. This includes all genres and styles. I don’t discriminate. My only rule is simple – I collect what I like.

The hunt is part of the fun. I could easily fill gaps in my collection by using e-bay, which, in fact, I have done now and again, but I prefer the simple thrill of the unexpected while traveling. In recent years I have added items found by chance in Wisconsin, Michigan, South Dakota, Wyoming, Tennessee and California. With the demise of independent used book dealers, I resort to haunting antique shops or flea markets.

I have met some fascinating people on the road, and I am consistently amazed by the depth of knowledge and passion other collectors have for whatever niche of the American Dream they covet. There was the fisherman who collected the 1960s Grosset & Dunlap Hardy Boys novels by Franklin W. Dixon; The antique dealer who was an expert on Sambo, the black character who debuted in The Story of Little Black Sambo (1899) by Helen Bannerman, and which inspired a restaurant chain – her collection included a first edition of the Bannerman book, restaurant menus, magazines advertisements and original advertising artwork; the collector of Sinclair gasoline station dinosaur signs; and the ancient woman in the straw hat with wrinkled, sun-darkened skin like a lizard’s who kept a notebook about every book she had read since childhood some eighty years past and knew all about Zane Grey and Jack London, her favorites.

Of course, collectors of pulp magazines are a breed unto themselves, and the same can be said for comic book collectors. No matter if you collect, Dell, Marvel, DC or some other company’s titles, there are certain issues or series that drive your passion. I have a fantastic collection of Superman and Batman titles, but I have supplemented the collection with much more. My pulp magazine collection is modest, but my paperback collection is out of control.

Book collectors are a special breed. I have a northwoods friend who had taken up the habit of reading later in life; and his home became cluttered with hundreds of used paperbacks. He searched flea markets for deals and rejoiced at ten for a dollar which meant that he could bag a shelf full for ten bucks. He worked his way through several bags of mysteries and eventually decided that Mickey Spillane was a favorite and then Richard S. Prather. None of the modern thrillers had the verve of a Mike Hammer or Shell Scott mystery with the exception of Preston and Child’s Agent Pendergast mysteries. Once he delved into a bag of 1950s Popular Library paperbacks. After reading Wicked We Love by Mordecai Richler and A Bullet For My Love by Octavus Ray Cohen it struck him that these writers were now forgotten. What was it about our culture that could breed such great writers only to have them forgotten within a generation? Readers can discuss such topics endlessly.

As you might expect, flea markets are part of his routine, as it is mine. This, we agreed, was Lost America. Our once powerful and vibrant nation had created a civilization that functioned at peak efficiency, and then destroyed it. Gone now was Burma Shave and wind-up toys and fishing calendars with girlie art and magazines like Argosy and Beauty Parade or Wink. Gone was the art of handmade fishing lures and S&H green stamps and sheet music with the latest love songs for piano. When he gazed upon a table of old knives he wondered at the unknown stories of families fishing the northern lakes together.

He found a bone handled Bowie knife that he paid too much for, but the blade was pure, sharp as if it were new. The firearms were generally low grade at flea markets and his own collection, which he took pride in, were all cleaned and oiled and locked in a fireproof safe. People that know anything about guns seldom sell the good ones at flea markets. What you waited for was the accidental sale, something being unloaded by a relative with no inkling of the gun’s value. In this manner my friend found a 1917 U.S. Army Colt .45 revolver with the original walnut grip intact for fifty bucks. A steal by any standard. He bought it as an investment but afterwards he placed it in his safe and never looked at it again.

Book collectors are like fishermen; we enjoy telling about the one that got away. A first edition hardcover of Jack Schaefer’s Shane with an unblemished dust jacket slips past us all. I own a second printing with the dust jacket, but not the first. We steadfastly refuse to pay a book dealer high sums of cash for Shane because one day we might find it. Finding it by chance is what it’s all about. Only when emotional nostalgia takes control does the collector resort to shopping on e-bay or negotiating with dealers. We are all guilty of this pleasure, too, and I have plundered e-bay for certain titles to fill out my comic book collection.
Shane second hardcover edition 1954
There is apparently no end to collecting, especially with books, pulps and magazines. With one series completed, I can easily embark on collecting Sexton Blake digests from the UK. The digests will then by logic come to include the Italian fumetti titles such as Sukia, Zora or Cimiteria; and that can lead to Commando comics and then the Cleveland Western pulps out of Australia. Obviously, I watch very little television. I’m too busy feeding my mind and reading.
Autographed volumes are another matter, and I have been fortunate to collect many significant signatures – Errol Flynn, Zane Grey, Jack Schaefer, Kirk Douglas, Neal Adams, Ray Bradbury, Roger Zelazny, Joseph Payne Brennan, Mickey Spillane, Elmore Leonard, Jim Harrison and many more can be found on my shelf (with a few select favorites locked in my safe with a loaded gun).
Famous "First" paperbacks
In his excellent treatise on book collecting, aptly titled A Gentle Madness, author Nicholas A. Basbanes, tackles the complexity and passion we certain individuals have for our collections. The true collector, as I understand him or her, is a part of the literati; an educated reader equally as comfortable with Shakespeare as we are with Jack Kirby. As a baccalaureate holding student of literature, I have devoured the literary classics with the same enthusiasm I give Stan Lee or Walter B. Gibson. Such writers as Albert Camus and George Orwell share space with Bradford Scott and Jack Vance. We literati don’t accept boundaries, and we don’t necessarily collect as a means of turning a profit. Although it’s true, many canny collectors have become successful book dealers, most of us, however, are content to stretch the budget to fuel our passion.

My wife collects Autumn Leaf glassware, and she is as passionate about her collection as I am of mine. Together, we zealously visit antique shops and flea markets, often delighting in our good fortune when something comes our way. There is always some dusty old shop down the road; some junk yard turned cultural repository where some battered old paperback can make my day. My “want list” is in my mind; there is no need to make a formal list. I wouldn’t follow such a list anyway. There are mysteries to uncover down the road, and dusty corners to rummage through. I’ll find a place for it all later…

Copyright ©2017 by Thomas McNulty
Cover scans from the author’s collection
Also of interest:

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Old Man’s War by John Scalzi

John Scalzi writes great science fiction novels. Not masterpieces, but great. Old Man’s War was his first, and it’s a real page-turner. John Perry joins the army after his wife’s death, and is promptly catapulted into an action-packed adventure. With his body revitalized by some top-secret military technology, he’s forced to come to grips with his mortality from a new perspective. He’s young again, green-skinned, and a real tough guy. He bonds with other recruits – old people given a new lease on life by agreeing to join the Colonial Defense Forces. Earth troops have been fighting an endless battle for survival on far distant planets, and Perry is determined to survive his two years of mandatory combat in order to claim the homestead promised him. The ensuing galactic battles are brutal and unrelenting, and Perry is transformed both emotionally and physically. The character-driven story elicits sympathy for Perry, and his trials and tales are often gut-wrenching but laced with enough humor to avoid any blatant sentimentality. The alien menace varies, and if I have any complaint it’s that Scalzi, like so many current “popular” science fiction writers, doesn’t offer much in the way of descriptions. We don’t really get a solid image of the aliens or their worlds. We get an obligatory insect-like statement here and there, and readers are left to let their imaginations to fill in the blanks. It works, but I’m a reader that likes more meat on the bone. That nitpicking criticism hasn’t stopped me from buying Scalzi’s other books, because I do like them. Old Man’s War is the first in an on-going series. All are recommended.

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

I Am Slappy’s Evil Twin by R. L. Stine

Hello, Slappy here, everyone…I’ve taken over McNulty’s blog to write my own review. Why? Well, that’s what evil dummies do, you dummy! Ha Ha! My creator, R. L. Stine, that creepy genius who lives in New York, has penned yet another Slappy story. If you haven’t read the first Slappy stories in the original Goosebumps series, then you’d better order them from Barnes & Noble on-line right now! That’s right, I said now, or something terrible will happen to you! Ha Ha! Meanwhile, I bribed Stine into starting yet another Goosebumps series, this one called Slappyworld, and I not only introduce each story, but I’m in some of them! The new one is called I Am Slappy’s Evil Twin and it’s not only a twisted tale of terror, but it’s all true! Are you dummies getting all of this? You’d better take notes, because if you don’t something really, really bad will happen to you! I’m not kidding! Anyway, it’s Halloween, and I made McNulty buy the book and read it under his bedcovers with a flashlight. The dummy got so scared he went into shock! As you can tell, he has questionable taste in literature, so my brother, Snappy, and I put McNulty in a straightjacket and locked him in the closet. He’s in there now, screaming…Ha Ha! Anyway, I Am Slappy’s Evil Twin is the third book in the Goosebumps Slappyworld series, and of course it’s the best one so far! The next one is called Please Do Not Feed the Weirdo and I’m going to make McNulty buy that one, too! You see, we have to help keep R. L. Stine fat and happy so he can tell more stories about us! And don’t you dummies forget, Scholastic Books has reprinted all of the original Goosebumps stories, and you can also collect the Goosebumps Horrorland and Goosebumps Most Wanted Series, too! Go to Barnes & Noble right now and buy some, and tell ‘em Slappy sent you! 

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Detective Comics # 455, January 1976

A retro-comic perfect for Halloween!

Every once in a great while I like to pull something out of a box and re-read it. Recently, while organizing my comic book collection, I pulled out this long forgotten beauty from our Centennial year, when many comic books were promoting a patriotic storyline. There are several reasons why I have fond memories for this issue of Batman’s flagship title. The first is that Batman encounters a real vampire, and while such encounters have occurred before (and will again), they are few and far between. Secondly, the story was written by Elliot S. Maggin, one of my favorite writers at DC Comics. Maggin is responsible for writing many underrated Superman tales. Finally, the artwork is by Mike Grell. I love Mike Grell’s artwork, and I treasure all of those fantastic Green Arrow books that he produced. The story is titled “Heart of a Vampire,” and it clocks in at just 12 pages. Maggin and Grell do more with 12 pages than you’d think was humanly possible. They give us the origin of the vampire, Gustav DeCobra, and provide Batman with a dilemma in discovering how to kill a vampire who can transplant his heart...elsewhere. Maggin concocts a reasonable story, and Grell’s artwork shines with each creepy and gothic panel. I’d enjoy seeing this one reprinted. No, it’s not a classic, it’s simply fun and creepy, and that’s what vampire stories are supposed to be. The back-up story is a Hawkman tale with artwork by Jose Luis Garcia Lopez from a script by E. Nelson Bridwell.

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Quest of Frankenstein by Frank Schildiner

The Quest of Frankenstein is a top-flight adventure, appropriately creepy, and guaranteed to satisfy your craving for a gothic-style fright-fest. Inspired by the French Frankenstein continuation novels by Jean-Claude Carrier, the story commences during World War I, and in the first chapter author Frank Schildiner swiftly establish the brooding tone that will permeate the ensuing sections. We meet Gouroull, the legendary creation of Victor Frankenstein, who engages in a bone-crunching hand-to-hand battle with a man-monster called the Creeper while a military battle rages mercilessly around them. Schildiner expertly sets the plot ingredients in place, and if you’ll pardon the analogy, lights a fire that slowly but effectively sets the pot to boiling. Schildiner writes with masculine authority and holds nothing back. Gouroull is on a quest for mate, and angry at past failures, he is hopeful when he encounters a scientist named Herbert West. With the stage set and all of the players in place, Schildiner indulges himself in a fantastic tale of desire, greed, power, egotism, madness and monsters. The Quest of Frankenstein segues into an All-Star Monster Romp, sprinkled with references and characters paying homage to not only Mary Shelley and Jean-Claude Carrier, but a slew of Hollywood personalities and story arcs. I was captivated by the story, pleased with Schildiner’s hard-boiled and unapologetic style, and delighted by every gory turn. The Quest of Frankenstein includes an introduction by Jean-Marc Lofficier who details the facts behind the original novels by Jean-Claude Carrier published in the 1950s. Frank Schildiner’s The Quest of Frankenstein is a new pulp fiction classic, and I understand a sequel is in the works. Count me in. 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Deathbringer by Bryan Smith

Deathbringer was published by Leisure Books in 2006, an imprint of Dorchester Publishing, now defunct. Deathbringer is a zombie novel, and about as entertaining as any zombie novel could hope to become. Author Bryan Smith has a knack for suspenseful pacing, which is really all that’s needed when it comes to zombies. When the Reaper comes to the town of Dandridge, the recently deceased start returning to life as zombies, and their killing spree creates yet more zombies. There is nothing original in the plot, but author Bryan Smith is skilled at creating suspense and keeping the action rolling along. In fact, Deathbringer opens with a real humdinger chapter that sets the tone and pacing, which never lets up. Deathbringer is like a pulp carnival; all noise and terror and gleeful screams and breathless excitement. I enjoyed every bloody chapter, every race against time, every scream in the dark and every gaunt-faced zombie attack and every startling or shocking piece of mayhem. Sure, we’ve seen it all before in movies and stories, but Bryan Smith delivers what we crave, in sumptuous doses of terror and carnage. Will Melinda, Erin and Avery survive? Will the Reaper be vanquished? During their heyday (which was short) Leisure Books offered the best horror fiction in the grand tradition of the classic pulps. Bryan Smith’s other Leisure Books included House of Blood, The Freakshow, and Depraved. He’s still out there with numerous e-books available. His books are great and fans of horror fiction won’t want to miss any of the blood-curdling chills, especially this time of year.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein by David Whitehead

When I heard that author David Whitehead was going to turn his attention to both Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein’s monster, I knew it would be special. David’s considerable talent and passion for writing has produced an envious bibliography that includes Westerns, horror, suspense and even romance. David Whitehead is a powerhouse of talent. Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein was just as great as I thought it would be. I love being right. Based upon the screen story for a forthcoming film by Gautier Cazenave, readers will plunge into the traditional world of Holmes and Watson, and the set-up captures the feel of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. This wasn’t surprising because David has co-authored several Sherlock Holmes tales with Steve Hayes. Traveling to the German village of Darmstadt to solve the mystery of a gravedigger’s murder, Holmes and Watson soon meet the current Baron Frankenstein. At the heart of this gothic tale lies the idea that Mary Shelley’s famous book, which Holmes discusses with Watson, may have been based on fact. Indeed, the central question being is the monster real? The plot has a clever twist involving the monster and Mary Shelley, which I won’t reveal. Readers need to discover for themselves as Holmes did, the ghoulish secret that lies in the shadow of castle Frankenstein. I guarantee you’ll be frantically flipping the pages as the mystery unfolds. I delighted in every chapter and enjoyed this book immensely. David Whitehead is a fine writer, and Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein is a real treat for his fans. Highly recommended!