Saturday, February 27, 2016

Superman: The Golden Age by Les Daniels

This 1999 collector’s edition hardcover came in a box set with a full-color reproduction of Superman # 1 in addition to a commemorative statue based upon pencil sketches by Alex Ross and cast by Joe DeVito. This box-set is known as the Superman Masterpiece Edition and is highly sought-after by Superman collectors. Essentially, a history that acknowledges the pulp fiction era that nurtured Superman’s creation by author Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Schuster, the many full-color photographs are a treat. Author Les Daniels covers Siegel and Schuster’s formative years, and includes a section on the now highly revered Max Fleischer animated films from the early 1940s. Fleischer’s influence on Siegel and Schuster, and on the Superman mythology in general, is profound. Also included is an overview of the many Superman collectables from that era, The Supermen of America Club, and the great Kirk Alyn movie serial that is seldom seen, albeit still available on DVD. This period throughout the 1940s, and especially the Max Fleischer cartoons and the Kirk Alyn film, are given full credit for their influence on Superman. This influence would have a direct impact on the now famous 1950s television show, The Adventures of Superman, starring George Reeves. That show isn’t covered here because this book’s focus is on that period from approximately 1938 to 1948, the real Golden Age. The dust jacket is simply a color reproduction of Superman’s face and S insignia, while the hardback itself is embossed with a photograph of Kirk Alyn’s costume from the Superman serial. Kirk Alyn wrote the book’s introduction. This book is another must-have for Superman fans. 
Kirk Alyn’s costume from the Superman serial

Friday, February 19, 2016

The Chaplain’s War by Brad Torgersen

The Chaplain’s War is a great science fiction novel. I found myself pleasantly surprised at the depth of the characters, the tight plotting, and action-packed pacing. The best science fiction stories include social themes and plot devices that readers find relevant to their own worldview. Brad Torgersen tackles this idea head-on with a story about a chaplain’s assistant who is essentially without faith. How he became the chaplain’s assistant, and how that effects not only his future, but that of all humans and the insect-like mantis, is the heart of the tale. Building his story around a framework of traditional Space Opera adds to the allure. There are galactic battles and, literally, bug-eyed aliens, and the ending is protracted but necessary. In fact, this book works so well because Torgersen clearly has an emotional investment in his characters, and he takes the time to allow them their own room to develop. Harrison Barlow is intriguing, and perhaps not too unlike most of us when it comes to matters of religion. Beneath the primary plot we have a subtext involving our human inability to understand or appreciate differing religious viewpoints, and that subtext is vital to this book. Wisely, Torgersen chooses to allow these ideas to build naturally, and he never slaps his readers in the face with his themes. As I mentioned, there’s plenty of military Space Opera and action to keep you on the edge of your seat. This was an immensely enjoyable paperback that I looked forward to over the span of a few days as I flipped the pages.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Life and Death of Ferro Lad by Jim Shooter

Years ago I met Jim Shooter a few times very briefly at conventions just to say hello and tell him how fondly I recall his Legion of Super-Heroes tales from the swinging 60s. That got a smile out of him. He was fourteen when he penned his first comic book story. The Legion of Super-Heroes premiered in Adventure Comics # 247, April, 1958. It was always a fun series to read, up until it ended in 1969. The many reboots later failed to spark my interest. Jim Shooter helped redefine the characters and created some unique characters and plots that made the series memorable. The seven comic books reprinted here in full color, including covers, remain iconic points of nostalgia for comic book fans from my generation. The DC comics continuity at the time included Superboy as a major selling point, and the Superman mythology was enhanced by the Legion stories featuring Superman as a boy. I read these comic books over and over, memorizing dialogue and marveling at the imaginative worlds and galaxies they visited. In Adventure Comics # 346, July 1966, Jim Shooter introduced Karate Kid, Princes Projectra, Ferro lad and Nemesis Kid as members of the Legion. Only Karate Kid and Princes Projectra would remain members, while Ferro Lad’s short appearances concluded with his death in Adventure Comics # 353, February, 1967. The artwork in these seven stories is by the great Curt Swan and George Klein. Reading these stories today, almost fifty years later, and I still enjoy the colorful, imaginative artwork, and the idealistic heroics that were so inspiring to me as a child. Yes, these tales are decidedly juvenile in tone, hardly comparable to modern comic books which are targeted to adults rather than young readers (and therein lies one of the major problems with comic books today), but Jim Shooter and Curt Swan created some amazing worlds here, and their visions and dreams fairly jump off the pages. This hardback compilation was published in 2009 and after-market copies sell for about $25.00.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Patricia A. McNulty, November 19, 1930 – February 9, 2016

My mother, Patricia A. McNulty, 85, of Algonquin, Illinois died in her home today after a long illness. In addition to myself, she is survived by my father, Thomas C. McNulty, my sister Janet L. Albright, my wife Jan, and grandchildren Rachel (her husband Eric), Sean, Brenna; and her great grandchildren Evy, Zachary and Krillin, and many more. My mother began her career as a stage actress in the early Sixties appearing in such productions as Harvey, A Little Night Music, Seven Nuns at Las Vegas, and On Golden Pond for which she received a personal opening night letter of encouragement from famed actress Katherine Hepburn. Her other professional assignments included voice-over narrations for Montgomery Wards industrial training films. She also appeared in the Independent film “Dear Saint Anthony” (1998). She worked for many years as an Avon Lady. Per my mother’s wishes there will be no memorial service, instead an invitation only party celebrating her life will be held at Camp McNulty on a secret date. Those interested in recognizing my mother’s contribution to our lives are encouraged to promote literacy and an interest in the creative arts.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Judge Not My Sins by Stuart James

Here’s a saucy paperback from Midwood in 1961 that’s easy to like. Midwood, an imprint of Tower Publications, specialized in the same type of adult prose that made Beacon-Signal profitable. They advertised themselves as a “dynamic, virile” fiction publisher with titles that “are fast-paced, bold, lusty, and packed with excitement!” As usual, the cover artwork offered an immediate enticement to the hot-blooded male readers who bought their books. The image of a beautiful young woman falling out of her dress guaranteed a quick sale of thirty-five cents. Mere pennies in today’s inflated market. Author Stuart James uses a snippet from Norman Mailer’s Barbary Shore as an epigram to set the tone: “If it was love, it was also fear, and we might have huddled behind a rock while the night wind devoured the plain...” That was my first clue that Judge Not My Sins was a little different from the average “sex paperback.” David Markham, a writer for the men’s adventure magazine market, is estranged from his wife in Connecticut and skilled at playing the field. One night he picks up a girl in a bar for a one-night-stand, but some connection between him and the girl, Leslie, results in a continuation of their turbulent affair. Leslie is demanding and gets under Markham’s skin. Their relationship suffers and a lot of soul searching ensues. There is nothing blatant in the descriptions of their lovemaking. Markham views himself as a hack writer, and underlying this is the idea that he wants to be better than he is. When he encounters a dog-eared copy of Norman Mailer’s Advertisements for Myself, he says: “Mailer on Mailer was an outcry to all writers...he said point blank that you can’t walk through shit without getting the stink on read Mailer on the tail end of a three-day labor on a screen treatment was like pausing for a chat with Christ on the way to a whore house.” (p. 112) Judge Not My Sins is basically a character study of David Markham. It also has the feel of a book that offers a glimpse into a world that has vanished. The New York night-life and the men’s magazine market it describes are both long gone. I enjoyed Judge Not My Sins. Midwood paperbacks have a loyal following, and many authors including Robert Silverberg wrote books for Midwood under a pseudonym. I don’t know if Stuart James was an actual person, although there is a photo on the back cover of a beatnik-looking character who also wrote Bucks County Report. Books from Midwood and Beacon are the subject of numerous on-line essays and if you find this post interesting you can google it before searching for them on e-bay.