Friday, December 22, 2017

Lawmen Ride Alone by Cole Shelton

NOTE: ClevelandWesterns (Follow this Link) are published out of Australia. The many authors use a pseudonym and I have little information on their true identities. I respect the fact that some writers prefer to use an alias. I am also in the dark as to the names of the cover artists. Should any author or artist or their fans wish to share any relevant information, feel free to contact this blog and I’ll be happy to tip my Stetson to them. Thank you!

This Cleveland Western digest was originally published in 1966. The current printing features perhaps the best Western cover any trail weary cowboy could look at. A voluptuous woman wearing a Stetson and cowboy boots and not much else while firing a Winchester is sure to get your spurs jingling. Lawmen Ride Alone is typical and entertaining. It has been confirmed that the author is Roger Green, born 1937 in Brighton, East Sussex, England, who also wrote under the pseudonym Sundown McCabe. Lawmen Ride Alone has a solid hero, Dane Brand, who finds trouble on page one when Joshua Rettle gets into a poker dispute. After an obligatory saloon brawl, Brand is recruited to help a fellow named McLure get to the town of Tuolumne near Yosemite. A family of religious green horn immigrants are intent on getting themselves and all of their belongings to Tuolumne, and Brand needs the money. Off they go, and the preacher’s daughter Averill McLuire, who takes a romantic fancy to Brand, has a lot more on her mind than religion. In fact, the McLure family has a rich history and some scores to settle. By the end of chapter two readers will be delighted to learn that Averill is anything but a straight-laced hymn-singing hen. Tough writing and great characters populate this tightly plotted action-oater. Cleveland Westerns differ somewhat from the Hale/Crowood Black Horse Westerns in that they offer a little more spice in the recipe. A scene that resembles the saucy cover occurs on page 27, and Brand soon learns that Averill’s father can handle a gun, too. Once in Tuolumne, the plot spirals into a vengeance themed action story, with Averill offering the teasing delights a lonely man on the trail needs. There’s a badass named Lukas Kruger, and Brand officially becomes a lawman. But do all lawmen need to ride alone, especially with the wanton Averill waiting to be conquered? Why shucks, pards, you’ll just have to order this one and find out. I recommend this one complemented by the occasional snort of whiskey.

NOTE: This is my third post for a Cleveland Western. I have accumulated a stack of them with more on the way, so check back in 2018 for more rambunctious action!

Saturday, December 16, 2017

War Cloud’s Bride by Sundown McCabe

UPDATE: Author Keith Chapman aka Chap O'Keefe has been kind enough to verify that he also believes the author is Roger Green. I sent Mr. Green a message via FaceBook and I will update here if I get a  response. Meanwhile Keith kindly shared the original Cleveland cover (as by Ben Taggart) which is posted now below my review. Thank you Keith Chapman!

I’ve been ordering quite a lot from Cleveland Westerns out of Australia lately, and I’ve decided to post thumbnail reviews now and again.

NOTE: The many authors published by Cleveland westerns use a pseudonym and I have little information on their true identities. I respect the fact that some writers prefer to use an alias. I am also in the dark as to the names of the cover artists. Should any author or artist or their fans wish to share any relevant information, feel free to contact this blog and I’ll be happy to tip my Stetson to them. Thank you!

Among the stable of writers over at Cleveland Westerns, Sundown McCabe always turns in solid stories. Of course, that’s a pseudonym, and I have no idea as to the writer’s true identity. However, the University of Queensland on line resource offers a listing for Roger Green, AKA Roger-Norris Green and Roger A. Callen, born 1937 in Brighton, East Sussex, England, writing under the pseudonym Sundown McCabe and Cole Shelton, Cord Brecker, Brad Houston, Lesley Rogers, and Ben Taggart. War Cloud’s Bride opens with a great line – “It was as cold as a mother-in-law’s kiss as the five riders drifted along the ridge and reined in their mounts under the spreading branches of a giant oak tree.” First published in 1991, War Cloud’s Bride includes all of the elements that make the Cleveland Western digests great fun to read. A colorful pulp fiction cover, lively characters, blazing action and galloping steads all guarantee Western fans a good time. War Cloud’s Bride is a traditional Western in every sense, but professionally created and packaged. There are no extraordinary moments, but the steady gait and requisite suspense and gunplay are handled well. I rather enjoyed this one a little more than some others, with acknowledgment to the author for taking cliché’s and making it seem fresh.  There’s a little romance here too, with a fade-out at the appropriate moment before her buckskin laces are completely untied, but that’s okay, because you get the idea. The prose is strictly hard-boiled, tough as old saddle-leather and punctuated by clouds of gunsmoke. Men are men, and women are lovely and curvy. The Indians are stereotypical redmen, and no apologies need to be made for that. Cleveland Westerns are not all politically correct, and nor should they be, although the Indians here are not villainous. War Cloud’s Bride is a Horse Opera, with a desperate pursuit, the white man’s deceptive ways, and a stalwart hero with Steve Brand. The plot charges along with spurs jingling and men drawling and chewing tobacco and shooting. An Indian chief exacts revenge on a rancher named Thomas Martin and takes Martin’s daughter as his bride. Cleveland Westerns are published out of Australia. I recommend you follow the link and check out their catalogue if you have a hankerin’ for horse-apples and gunpowder like I do.

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.