Sunday, February 20, 2022

Airmont Paperbacks: The philosophy of Collecting

When you pick up a book you’re embracing someone else’s dream, and you are now complicit in that dream. This is an effort to make sense of the dark and endless universe which seemingly spirals out of control around us; vast, menacing and whose purpose is unknown. We strive to understand that purpose; we long for understanding and a solution to all of that which plagues our dreaming lives.

We seek to understand the fires of passion, the commonality of greed and lust, and we seek to silence the murdering beast that dwells in humankind’s wicked heart. 

We seek to cross the barriers of time and find our hearts made of gold, our emotions alight with silver trappings. We seek to push back against the darkness and cross those mysterious barriers that separate us from yesterday’s reality and tomorrow’s dream. 

The artist puts a resemblance of his own soul on the paper or on the canvas. It no longer belongs to them as it finds a path across the myriad time streams to flutter at our fingertips like some bright and magical butterfly that fills our minutes with a dazzling landscape of ideas.

We hold it close, gently. We return to it when we need comforting, or when we need inspiration. We fill our rooms with these colorful butterflies, and each one tells us a different story that resonates with our souls, just as they resonated with their creator, that artist, so long ago.

These books we collect are like those butterflies, and they speak to us from the bookshelves and the dusty corners of our rooms. They add quality to our lives; they are living, breathing things that our minds and hearts have embraced, and we won’t let them go.

Fill your rooms, my friends, with the stories these books offer; sing the praises of the colorful allegorical butterfly which some writer imagined, and don’t look back.

The path is long but the rewards are many. Indulge yourself. Reach for the moonglow among the trees or the purple shadows of a Western mountain landscape. Sail across dark seas and conquer the dragons; scale a castle’s walls and find the princess you have longed for. Seek the Knight from a thousand battles and read to him your poem. 

These adventures and more are but a step away.

Turn the page...

 

Saturday, February 19, 2022

What the Bible Says About Tattoos!

The Oxford English Dictionary offers the etymology of the word “tattoo” as originating in the 18th century, and deriving from the Samoan word “tatu.” Some sources speculate the word may have originated earlier, in the seventeenth century. The King James Bible was published approximately two hundred years earlier, in 1611, and quite naturally the word tattoo does not appear in the KJB, nor does a comparable word appear in the original Apocrypha texts. Hang onto those facts a moment, and I’ll come right back to them.

It is an unfortunate common practice of Christians of all denominations to frequently state that “The Bible doesn’t believe in tattoos.” Other variations on this statement include, “Jesus doesn’t believe in tattoos.” Or “My religion doesn’t believe in tattoos.” Occasionally, I’ll hear an intelligent Christian (presumably) get it almost right and say, “My religion doesn’t approve of tattoos.” These distinctions are vital in understanding the often heated condemnation of modern tattoo artists by various Christian sects and groups. These statements purporting that Christianity, and Jesus himself, condemned tattooing is a misrepresentation of what the Bible actually states.

I refer you to Leviticus 19:28: “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you...”That quote is from the King James Bible. Many Biblical scholars will agree this is a direct reference to Pagan beliefs and practices wherein the participants adorned their bodies during various rituals with symbols and occult markings representing the dead. Paganism involved the painting and inclusion of occult symbols on the flesh which was in opposition to Christian beliefs, then as now. The act of cutting the flesh and making ornamental scar tissue is practiced widely to this day among several African tribes and Pacific Island cultures. That is not a new practice, but only bears a superficial resemblance to modern tattooing.

Before we proceed, I am acknowledging other Bible versions specifically use the word tattoo, but these are all modern variations and the inclusion of the word tattoo has no historical credence. I reject them out of hand. As I said, the word tattoo was not in use until at least 200 years after the King James Bible was published. We can table any further discussion on the flourishing and profitable industry of rewriting the Bible to make it “easier to understand” but which ultimately is a travesty of lies, misconceptions and revisionist history. My viewpoint on this is simple: Using the Bible as a forum to support made-up facts and personal agendas is unacceptable. Modern English translations of the Bible are an abomination. I only accept The King James Bible as valid for English readers, and I own two copies.

To understand the statement found in the KJB in Leviticus, a reasonable grasp of ancient history is recommended. The proliferation of occult symbols in Paganism was upsetting to Christians, and marking one’s body in that fashion was contrary to standard Christian thinking. To drive the point home for those who haven’t connected the dots, the rejection of occult and Pagan symbols had nothing whatsoever to do with tattooing itself, but it was directly connected to the types of symbols used in Pagan rituals. To paint one’s body with images of skulls or corpses had Satanic implications. The same argument might be applied today – It may not be the act of tattooing that is offensive, but rather the choice of images.

Therein lies the problem. Rather than engage in a researched and educated discussion on the symbols one chooses for tattooing, Christians have opted for an easier way – a judgmental and often snobbish approach – that condemns freedom of choice, the artistry of tattooing, and the personal belief system of individuals with tattoos, of which I am one. This approach is the blunt, “Jesus doesn’t believe in tattoos,” statement flung from the lips of too many uneducated Christians. Ignorance breeds ignorance. 

My tattoo is the “S” symbol from Superman’s chest emblem; Superman, of course, being a fictional character created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for the comic book industry in 1938. Superman and his ‘S” emblem stand for Hope and for our cherished American ideals. It’s true, that many strange and unpleasant symbols are often chosen as tattoos, and I further agree some of these images are disturbing. This is about individual choice, and while I would never allow some of those occult images tattooed on my body, Democracy demands that freedom of choice remain sacrosanct. Frankly, most tattoo artists offer a wide-range of pleasant and unique artwork for their customers. 

The Bible does not condemn tattooing, nor is Jesus against tattooing. I recommend that any Christian so inclined to believe such nonsense might benefit from a self-determined education. The parishioners of your church may oppose tattooing, and you may not personally like tattooing, and that’s fine, but that idea never originated with Jesus. I don’t recall reading in the King James Bible that Jesus supported the condemnation of an individual or advanced the idea of hatred as a lifestyle.

Thomas McNulty

 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

The Death of DC Comics

Cover of Superman: Son of Kal-El # 1 with it’s now infamous “stretchy leg” artwork, 

a candidate for “All-Time Worst Cover.” (click on image to enlarge)

 

The Death of DC Comics:

A Post Mortem Report

 

Imagine the corporate entity known as DC Comics shattered to a million pieces and splattered across the highway like an accident victim. Let us further imagine a recovery effort where all the bloody pieces, parts and fragments have been assembled on the autopsy table in preparation for a post mortem examination. Such an examination will sadly reveal a deep and abiding cancer that had been afflicting DC Comics for over thirty decades.

 

DC’s long and tortuous demise began in 1986 when longtime editor Julius Schwartz retired. Not long afterward, a series of business mergers and subsidiary developments began to markedly plague DC’s creative independence. Today, DC’s parent company is Warner Brothers under the banner of DC Entertainment which is a subsidiary of WarnerMedia and AT&T. DC is pending a fusion into a company called Discovery, Inc., a television conglomerate based in New York. These mergers and business arrangements have not consistently produced memorable storylines in any DC title since the early 1990’s.

 

DC has rebooted and re-imagined its entire copyrighted cast of characters so often that it’s become a running joke among longtime readers. In 2011, DC rebooted (yet again) all of its titles (after cancelling them) with 52 new number # 1 issues in an effort to monopolize their market stance. The fan base correctly and mercilessly criticized DC for this move, citing the lack of quality among the “New 52” titles (with a few exceptions), and the “New 52” initiative sputtered to a halt.

 

In 2016, DC offered up its latest re-imagining with a companywide “DC Rebirth” and promising a return to creative and entertaining titles and characters. From the position of a lifelong reader and collector of Superman, Action Comics, Batman and Detective Comics, I thought the stories were much better. I was entertained, and some of the perspectives and inclusions into the DC mythological universe were refreshing. 

 

Chief among the delights were Dan Abnett’s Aquaman stories; and the implementation of the “Super-Sons” featuring Jon Kent (son of Clark and Lois) and Damien Wayne (son of Bruce Wayne and Talia al Ghul). These stories were fun, resulting in a series of their own. However, it didn’t take me long to begin dropping titles from my monthly purchase list. Keep in mind, I bought every “Rebirth” title during its first twelve months. Before the year was out I was down to a select few.

 

I was seeing the same tiresome marketing tricks, poorly plotted and written stories, and alternate mini-series associated titles that bored me silly. The lack of creativity, originality and sense of wonder forced me to revaluate my purchasing options. The occasional sparks and flashes failed to impress me.

 

DC Comics has been intent on creating marketing ploys in order to sell comics. Revising character origins, changing costumes, killing characters and creating multiple cross-over titles to stretch out storylines in order to sell more copies has become the standard operating procedure. Comic book tales are a muddled mess of incoherent narratives, sloppy writing and often truly horrendous artwork.

 

In 2018, DC Comics announced that former Marvel writer Brian Michael Bendis would begin writing both the monthly Superman title and Action Comics. His debut was applauded and I gave him a positive review. CLICK HERE to read my initial comments.

 

Sadly, Bendis’ tenure on the Superman titles not only nose-dived, but swiftly transformed into a series of ill-conceived, amateurish and hackneyed storylines that made little sense. Bendis became a laughing-stock, sales plummeted, and his plot choices were mind bogglingly foolish, both conceptually and in their implementation. Among his poor decisions was the aging of Jon Kent into a teenager, hence emasculating the fan-favorite “Super-Son” series. He moved Superman’s Fortress of Solitude from the arctic to the bottom of the sea, created a supporting cast of characters that showed promise but were never developed. His storylines crossed over into multiple titles making it nearly impossible to keep track of details. This, incidentally, is a habit widely used by both DC and Marvel, and is despised by longtime readers. We shouldn’t have to buy 15 or 20 different comics every six months in order to get the full story.

 

Additionally, the moronic film series directed by Zack Snyder contributed to DC’s now tarnished and rusty image. You can read my review of Justice League by CLICKING HERE.  Or CLICK HERE to read my review of Batman Vs. Superman.

 

I finally and begrudgingly cut my purchasing down to the core titles of Superman, Action Comics, Batman and Detective Comics, and waited for an infusion of imaginative and creative talent. Then Bendis was gone, and Superman was cancelled as yet another new team took over, resulting in Superman: Son of Kal-El. Here, the teenage Jon Kent is playing at being a grown-up while his father is out in space on a series of adventures. 

 

The first cover was meant to be a homage to 1938’s Superman # 1 but the stylistic choice of elongating Superboy’s legs is laughable. I referred to this as a stylistic choice as an effort to be diplomatic. The truth is, many artists working in the comic book industry today routinely demonstrate a lack of anatomical skill in their drawings. Their level of professional education is unknown to me, but it appears obvious that Leonardo da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man (sometimes referred to as the Universal Man) is a concept beyond their ken. Stylistic flourishes are fine, but Superboy’s legs are three times the length of his body. 

 

Then, after much ballyhoo and click bait headlines, DC announced that Jon Kent, Superman’s son, would “come out” as bisexual. This money-making event happened in Superman: Son of Kal-El # 5. It was the usual poorly conceived sales-jump initiative that DC has mastered, guaranteed to catch the attention of their target special interest group. 

 

Obviously, transforming Jon Kent into a bisexual does nothing for the LGBTQ community. There is no rationale for this transformative characterization except that it was meant to generate publicity which translates into dollars by exploiting a minority population. And because DC did this strictly to make money, their actions are all the more deplorableJim Lee, DC’s Publisher and Chief Creative Officer, should be ashamed of himself. 

 

Let me make this clear. I have LGBTQ family and friends and I am certainly not biased against them. The truth is this: DC Comics converted a straight character into a bisexual for no other reason than c’est très en vogue; it’s fashionable at the moment. They did this to make money. They did this to experience a brief but profitable sales jump. 

 

If DC was interested in truly being creative, then Jim Lee or others in that administrative office would have requested their writers to create a wholly original LGBTQ super-hero character for inclusion in the DC universe. Instead, they opted for a cheap side-show revision of Joe Shuster’s and Jerry Siegel’s concept, thereby proving to the public that the DC staff are entirely lacking in creativity. 

 

Additionally, not content in revising other people’s iconic characters rather than create new characters of their own, the “minds” at DC have chosen to alter Superman’s iconic motto of “Truth, Justice and the American Way” to the politically correct “Truth, Justice and a Better Tomorrow.” That’s just plain stupid.

 

Compounding their already proven inability to tell good stories, Jim Lee and his pack of drooling delinquents are intent on flooding the market with an avalanche of unreadable Batman comics: Batgirls, Batman: Urban Legends, Gotham, I Am Batman, Pennyworth, Batman & Robin, Robins, Batman and Scooby-Doo Mysteries, and The Joker – all went on sale on January 11th. All of this following such lame efforts as The Batman Chronicles, Dark Nights Metal, Batman Arkham Unhinged, Batman Beyond Unlimited, Batman Curse of the White Knight and God knows how many other one-shots and mini-series in the last decade, none of which are memorable.

 

That seems to be the key in understanding the DC Comics business model – flood the market with anything because quality doesn’t matter. It’s the name “Batman” that sells titles. 

 

I have been collecting DC Comics since the 1960s, but now I have stopped. DC is not publishing anything that I am interested in paying for. DC Comics is DOA - Dead on Arrival. The corpse is mangled, unrecognizable and stinks to High Heaven. 

 

DC Comics sales have reportedly plummeted in recent months. Anyone surprised? It’s time for the funeral. Let us bury this misshapen creature, please. And may Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster, Bob Kane and Bill Finger and all of the original creators rest in peace. Amen.

 


**

 

 

 

Saturday, December 11, 2021

12 Randolph Scott Films on Blu-ray – Boxed Set!

Just in time for Christmas! Twelve classic Randolph Scott westerns in Blu-ray. These have all been released before but this is the first time all twelve have been included in a box set. The key is to watch for a good price on Amazon.

 

The twelve films included are:

 

The Desperadoes (1943)

The Nevadan (1950)

Santa Fe (1951)

Man In the Saddle (1951)

Hangman’s Knot (1951)

The Stranger Wore A Gun (1953)

A Lawless Street (1955)

The Tall T (1957) Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy

Decision At Sundown (1957) Budd Boetticher

Buchanan Rides Alone (1958) Budd Boetticher

Ride Lonesome (1959) Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy

Comanche Station (1959) Budd Boetticher/Burt Kennedy

 

As you can see, this includes three Boetticher/Kennedy collaborations and five Boetticher directed films. This is great material! The quality is generally good although I noticed a frame or two blurred in the corner here and there. These films have not been restored, but rather have been simply transferred to Blu Ray from high-quality existing prints. The boxed set comes with an illustrated Movie Guide to help put the collection in perspective. I enjoyed each and every one of these. Treat yourself to some classic Randy Scott oaters and get this boxed set for yourself at Christmas.


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Audie Murphy, The Gun Runners – Blu-ray

This 1958 black and white noir crime thriller starring Audie Murphy looks great in Blu-ray which is loosely – and I mean loosely – based upon Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not. This is the third film version, the first being the classic 1944 version with Bogart and Bacall. The second was The Breaking Point (1950) starring John Garfield. This version was directed by Don Siegel who previously directed Murphy in Duel at Silver Creek in 1952. Siegel would go on to direct such great films as Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956), Flaming Star (1960), Dirty Harry (1971) and The Shootist (1976), to name a few. Murphy is solid in his role as a reluctant gun runner during the Cuban revolution. The supporting cast includes Eddie Albert and Jack Elam who are at their sinister best. The female enticements were played by Patricia Owens and Gita Hall. I think Murphy only made about nine non-Westerns, and about 39 or 40 feature length Westerns, many of which have yet to be released on either DVD or Blu-ray. In other posts I’ve mentioned my desire to see his acclaimed Westerns for Universal Studios restored and re-released. The Gun Runners is but a modest yet still entertaining entry in Murphy’s filmography, and it proved yet again that he could act in a modern feature, not that any proof was needed. I recommend picking this up if you’re a Murphy DVD/Blu-ray collector like I am. The Gun Runnersmakes for a good Saturday morning matinee, and be sure to include some Irish coffee. Easy on the coffee, heavy on the Irish.

Friday, September 3, 2021

Alias Jesse James Blu-ray Review

Alias Jesse James is neither a great film, nor an exciting Western. This movie is a cultural oddity, and I can’t imagine what young viewers today would think if they bothered watching it. Bob Hope is far removed from today’s entertainment hot spots, and I can’t imagine a cultural revival such as we’ve seen with Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and others from the same period. Yet he was internationally known, was revered by millions, was the best host ever on the Academy Awards and produced dazzling and fun-to-watch television specials. He’s a figure of nostalgia who hasn’t really had a retro-discovery…yet. Alias Jesse James was released in 1959, the same year as Rio Bravo with John Wayne and Dean Martin, Ride Lonesome with Randolph Scott, The Last Train from Gun Hill with Kirk Douglas, The Gunfight at Dodge City with Joel McCrea, King of the Wild Stallions with George Montgomery and Yellowstone Kelly with Clint Walker. Those are all good or great films. I think my fascination with Alias Jesse James lies in its nostalgia factor. Bob Hope had long ago mastered the nebbish character which works well enough here, although the film has some serious shortcomings. The casting of Wendell Corey as Jesse James is unfortunate. The script is pedestrian and relies on Hope’s mugging and wide-eyed ineptness to carry the film, and it almost does. Hope was good at what he did, and his “Road” pictures with Bing Crosby are often delightful to watch. The plot here has Hope being mistaken for Jesse James which sets up the obligatory gags and showdowns. My favorite one-liner here happens when an Indian maiden is admiring Hope’s eyes and says, “Your eyes belong on a woman,” and Hope quips, “They usually are.” The stunning Rhonda Fleming is perfect and plays off Hope well. They must have had a grand time filming this one. Fleming never looked bad in a film and the Blu ray clarity highlights her figure and her beauty. This was, of course, from an era when women enjoyed looking beautiful and men openly admired their beauty. The pay-off in Alias Jesse James are the cameo appearances in the concluding showdown. The way to approach this now is from the standpoint of cultural anthropology. Play this film for a room full of twenty-year-olds today and how many will be able to name these stars? Several popular actors show up to partake in the gunfight, all dressed as the character for which they are best known. I think it’s incredible, and watching it again was still thrilling after so many years. Fess Parker, Roy Rogers, Gary Cooper, Hugh O’Brian, Gail Davis, James Arness, Jay Silverheels, Ward Bond, and Bing Crosby all have a few lines or quips at the end. These cameos alone surely helped pack the movie houses. Alias Jesse James works as a parody of Westerns, but who remembers Gail Davis today? It has a certain charm, but I think Hope’s better solo films were The Ghost Breakers (1940), The Lemon Drop Kid (1951), My Favorite Spy (1951) and Son of Paleface (1952, with Roy Rogers). I saw Bob Hope in a stand-up live comedy performance at the Poplar Creek Music Theater in 1978. Barbara Eden was the opening act and she took the stage in a skin tight sequined gown that showed off her ample charms, and she sang her heart out. Hope was great, telling blue but not dirty stories about Dean Martin and Jackie Gleason. Somewhere in my files I have notes on the jokes he told that night. Barbara Eden joined him at the conclusion and they sang and bantered about. It was great fun.


Saturday, July 31, 2021

Roy Rogers, “Mackintosh and T. J.” Blu-ray Restoration

 


In his final film, Roy Rogers played a down-on-his luck ranch hand looking for work who gives a wayward teen (Clay O’Brien) a ride which begins their odd friendship. Originally released in November 1975, the film wasn’t a blockbuster hit and Rogers was on record saying “There's no leading lady, no shooting, some fights, but no blood spurting, and that's the way I wanted it.” Moving at a leisurely pace, the story’s centerpiece is the relationship between Mackintosh and T. J. while also providing an unblemished look at 1970’s era ranch life. Filmed on location in Texas, the landscape is brightly lit but rugged and unrelenting. The film’s realism adds texture to the story. This is a fine film that I hope will find a wider audience with this stunning 4k restoration from the original 35mm camera negative which restores the color composition and puts viewers right into the scene. Young Clay O’Brien had previously starred with John Wayne (The Cowboys and Cahill, U.S. Marshal) and retired from acting after this film to become a professional rodeo performer. He was inducted into the Pro Rodeo Hall of Fame in 1997. The supporting cast includes Joan Hackett, Billy Green Bush, Andrew Robison, Luke Askew, James Hampton, Dennis Fimple and Walter Barnes. All well-known and capable character actors. Mackintosh and T. J. works as an Ode to the Old West while serving as an affectionate and heartwarming coda for Rogers, the King of the Cowboys. Critics were hard on the film, but I have always enjoyed it. It’s not complicated. It’s down-to-earth, tells a simple story cleanly, and it’s Roy Rogers’ swan song. The Bonus material is worth watching, too. I recall watching this film upon its release, all by my lonesome self in the near-empty theatre, and loving it. I was acutely aware at the mark Time leaves on us all, just as I am now watching this splendid Blu-ray presentation. Adios, Roy. It’s always good seeing you again.