Sunday, July 29, 2018

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

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

Saturday, July 28, 2018

Brian Michael Bendis on Superman - Review

Brian Michael Bendis on Superman - Review
Action Comics # 1000

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

DC Nation # 0

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

The Man of Steel 1 – 6

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

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

Action Comics # 1001

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

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

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Daniel Boone: Wilderness Scout by Stewart Edward White

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

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Daniel Boone: The Opening of the Wilderness by John Mason Brown

This delightful book for young readers was published in 1951 by Random House on their Landmark Books history series, and was the 21st book in that series. These books were reprinted numerous times and available into the early 1970s. I encountered my copy of this title in the mid-1960s when Fess Parker was playing Boone on television. Fess Parker’s impact on American children, first as Davy Crocket in the Disney film and then as Boone, is a topic that could fill a book itself. I own several of these Landmark titles, and this one is my favorite. The cover and interior illustrations are by Lee J. Ames. Author John Mason Brown (1900-1969) is fascinating fellow all by himself. His first-hand accounts of action during World War II are respected by historians: To All Hands (1943) and Many a Watchful Night (1944). Brown was a Kentuckian and graduate of Harvard, and wrote for The Saturday Review. He was a respected drama critic. He was one of several notable figures who openly attacked the comic book industry as being an unhealthy influence on young Americans. Brown’s grandfather was a member of the 45th Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Mounted Infantry during the Civil War. His son, Meredith Mason Brown, won the Spur Award in 2008 for his biography on Boone, Frontiersman: Daniel Boone and the Making of America, which I also recommend. Daniel Boone: The Opening of the Wilderness is an informed albeit fictionalized interpretation of Boone’s life. It presents the basic facts without embellishment although Brown clearly interprets various motivations and actions. A solid, readable book. For some years Brown sent out a lithographed letter he signed and addressed to “Dear Young Reader” (see photo). Brown wrote: “Few have ever mastered, as he did, the language of the forest. He was brave, tough, adventurous, a superb shot and a hunter without equal.” That statement is true, although one might argue Boone was one of many frontiersmen who possessed such laudatory skills. Brown wisely chose a few lines from Rosemary and Stephen Vincent Benet’s A Book of American’s as the epigram to open his book: “When Daniel Boone goes by, at night/The Phantom deer arise/And all lost, wild America/Is burning in their eyes...” To Brown’s credit, he never directly embellishes the heroic qualities Boone obviously possessed, and attempts to keep it factual. For example, he makes it clear that Boone could not spell very well, and even includes an unedited version of one of Boone’s final letters to his sister, with all of the spelling and grammatical errors intact. Brown succeeds in enlightening – and even exciting – readers to explore the early days of American history, and his own interest and love for history is made clear. The McNulty library includes two copies of the book and one of Brown’s letters.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Alone In A Boat

Thomas McNulty

You bring everything with you. Nothing gets left behind.
The physical presence of what you bring with you is a tacit reminder of everything riding on your shoulders or crouched low in your belly like a slumbering demon. A thermos of coffee laced with whiskey, a rod and reel and lure kit, or maybe even a cell phone. The fishing pole and choice of lures is pre-eminent in your thinking as you push the aluminum boat across the lake, the Minn Kota trolling motor humming along like a faithful pet.

Society will intrude on you later, and you know it.
The fisherman is also a philosopher. You can’t escape yourself, and so the weary angler can benefit from self-awareness. A man’s nature is defined by his ability to handle problems. We cannot escape conflict, which is part of human nature. I have pondered the intricacies of the far galaxies while in a boat; and I have seen the satellites drifting across the midnight sky, and the falling meteors cutting a burning path toward earth. I have seen strange craft in the sky I cannot identify, and that was before dipping into the whiskey laced coffee.

Sitting in a boat on a lake at midnight, with the anchor resting in a musky den, can become cathartic for the man carrying a heavy weight. Our goal is generally to find serenity in a world that demonstrates absolute madness on a daily basis. Watching Internet news feeds can lead to insanity. Facebook is a bulletin board for dysfunctional egos set adrift on a digital sea of hatred and prejudice.

Surrounded by darkness, I recall a line from Homer’s The Odyssey: “No more lamentations now Odysseus! I know myself how many hardships you have suffered on the seas, and how many cruel enemies have attacked you on land!” The nearby call of a Loon; the soft splash of a bass breaking the surface and snatching an insect. The meteors fall and the Milky Way appears to spin ever so slowly.

I have friends who tell me they experience a sense of Deja vu when looking up at the stars. Why this feeling that we are being watched? The immediacy of modern life takes precedence over such lofty considerations. Your problems may be crouched in the shadows of your mind, but all you see is water and a shoreline thick with pines. Memories crowd us, like a spectacle in Technicolor; all the summer days of a long lost youth fishing in a boat like this one come rushing back. I can recall with astonishing clarity the voices of my parents, and of my uncles, too; their voices linger out there on the northern wind.

At twilight the water lilies appear to glow; their soft presence a cause for celebration. A child I knew once asked, “What do the water lilies dream about at night?” I responded that they dream about other water lilies, a family of water lilies, all living on the lake and helping the lake be itself.

Drifting into a sunlit cove early in the morning, just before the sun breaks free of the treeline, offers a bounty of revelations. A civilization of wandering sunfish and small bass shake loose from their own cold, submerged slumbers and begin their atavistic circuit; a methodical flapping of gills and the instinctive push toward the shallows where the night’s drowned insects make a feast in order to fatten the sunfish for the cannibal pike.

A day fishing is often a day drifting, and the number of bass I catch is nominal. I have tracked the eagle’s flight as it circles the lake; and I have watched the eagle sit on a tall pine branch and tear a fish apart with its beak. I know a special tree that is a regular home to the eagle on a promontory of land we call Indian Point. At the base of this tall pine lie the shattered bones of bass and perch, a daily reminder of the eagle’s hunger, and the visceral need to survive. It is the same with men as it is with the eagle.

From my solitary perspective in the boat, the act of fishing is a way to touch that elusive part of our soul where all of the mysteries and conundrums of humanity dwell, and all too often as unreachable as the canny musky forty-feet down.

When the fishing and philosophizing is done, I turn the boat toward shore. If the wind picks up a little I can smell the pine, and then I’m ready to stop being alone and take to land again to plunder and live, a wanderer tending to his wounds.

NOTE: The quote from The Odyssey by Homer is from the Signet Classics Edition paperback, page 130, Book Ten, Island of the Winds.