Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Review of "You’ve Come a Long Way, Snoopy," by Charles M. Schulz

 Review of

You’ve Come a Long Way, Snoopy, by Charles M. Schulz ISBN 0449203581

Five out of five stars

Philosophy and truth from the mouths of cartoons

 Much of the content of this book of cartoons can be summed up in the dialog of the last image of the first page. It is, “No book on psychology can be any good if one can understand it!” This thought can be applied to a great deal of professional writing. The usual cast of characters of the Peanuts comic strip are present and their problems are their normal ones.

 Charlie Brown’s baseball team is still losing all their games, sometimes for odd reasons. The relationships are all what they have been, yet the consistency is not boring. There is always enough variation to keep the strip interesting.

 In the Peanuts strip, the problems of youth that we all had are paramount. For most of us, the same issues, such as approaching a person of the opposite gender, remains throughout our entire life. Even though the characters have problems, reading a book like this always lifts your spirits.

Review of "The Adventures of Superman: Life After Death!"

 Review of

The Adventures of Superman: Life After Death!

Five out of five stars

More than a simple rebirth

 In a previous story, Superman went head to head against the powerful villain Doomsday with the result being that they beat each other to death. This caused the entire world to mourn and led to Superman’s (Clark Kent) father, Jonathan Kent having a severe heart attack. There was a major funeral for Superman and his body was placed in a tomb.

 Much of this story has Jonathan and Superman being in some sort of limbo with angelic/demonic creatures and Jonathan experiencing flashbacks to his time in the Korean War. Superman is supposedly back on Krypton and is being transported in a sedan chair. While on Earth, there appears to be little hope that Jonathan will survive.

 Several other storylines are briefly presented, including a budding gang war where extremely powerful weapons are being used by one side led by a strong villainess. Crime continues to rise when suddenly a creature invulnerable to bullets bearing a resemblance to Superman appears. However, unlike Superman, he does not hesitate to kill humans. No explanation of his origin is given.

 There is a lab where a clone has been created and has escaped confinement. He has the appearance of a teenager, the costume of a Superman and at least some of the powers. The last panel features what appears to be a combination of Superman and machine.

 With all of this context supplied and only partially described/explained there are many paths that could be followed in the continued development of this storyline. It is one of the most imaginative potential rebirth stories ever created.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

Review of "Silver Sable & The Wild Pack, Number 1" Tom DeFalco, editor-in-chief

 Review of

Silver Sable & The Wild Pack, Number 1 Tom DeFalco, editor-in-chief

Five out of five stars

BA female willing to take on Hydra all alone

 Silver Sable is the head of an organization of extremely talented mercenaries, none better than her. While her organization is for hire, they specialize in higher level action, for example they do not simply murder for money. Many of their clients are governments that want something done without leaving any virtual fingerprints.

 The story opens with Silver Sable battling a gang of men that includes the classic criminal Sandman. While the action is realistic, it is in reality an audition. None of her opponents pass this most rigorous of tests, yet they do remain at the facility. As a result of previous successes, Silver Sable has some very state of the art aircraft.

 When Hydra takes the girls at a school hostage for ransom and Silver Sable’s niece is one of the hostages, Silver Sable is informed. At first, she declines mounting a rescue mission, but she then takes off on a solo mission. Peter Parker happens to be in that location, so when she moves against Hydra, Spider-Man is there to assist. Not that she wants him there, in her opinion he is a hindrance. There is a quick battle that is not as stealthy as Silver Sable would like it to be, yet her side is victorious. Although her reaction to the assistance is not one of gratitude.

 This is a great introduction to a forceful female hero that has the moxie to tell Spider-Man to get lost, stating that she needs no help from the likes of him. Silver Sable is tough, physical and very smart. She is a true BA that is also full of nasty quips aimed at everyone else, even her niece.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Review of "Fantastic Four Unlimited, #9: The Gods Above, the Bugs Below"

 Review of

Fantastic Four Unlimited, #9: The Gods Above, the Bugs Below

Five out of five stars

Wild mutations lead to great danger for the FF and humanity

 With Reed Richards missing and possibly dead, Ant-Man has joined Ben Grimm, Sue Richards and Johnny Storm to keep the number of the group at 4. When a criminal group attacks a subway train that Johnny is riding on, Ben, Sue and Ant-Man answer Johnny’s call for help. The criminals were clever in that when Johnny is mashed into a pack of humanity, he cannot use even a fingerful of his flame power.

When one of the criminals flees down a tunnel, he is pursued by Ant-Man. Breaking into a strange chamber with unusual devices, the criminal shoots up some vats of chemicals that morphs Ant-Man into a powerful creature capable of transforming ants into large creatures while still controlling them. He is so powerful that even Grimm is bounced around.

 Some computer research is done, and the three members of the FF conclude that a former foe called the High Evolutionary may be involved. They follow the trail and inadvertently encounter the super-powered group called Godpack. After an initial misunderstanding, they join forces. Ant-man has been active in transforming ants into large creatures in pursuit of his goal of conquering the world. The battle is joined, and it is a hard and brutal one.

 This is a good story, the emotional background involving Johnny and Sue with some of their super-powered allies makes it better, not weaker. Having Sue Richards as the leader of the group is an improvement over the way she was portrayed in the early years of the FF.

Review of "Kill or Be Killed, number 6" comic by Ed Brubaker et. al.

 Review of

Kill or Be Killed, number 6 comic by Ed Brubaker et. al.

Five out of five stars

 The basic premise of a college student (Dylan) that is also a superb killer as well as a user of mild drugs is an intriguing one. His signature killing weapon is a .38, but in the opening scene he has a shortened shotgun and is fending off two police officers. Rather than killing them, he blasts the door and claims to have a bomb. This buys him the time to escape out the back window, quickly drop the red bandana from his face and hail a taxi. Yet, the hint is dropped that his mode of escape will create a problem in the future.

 Focus then shifts to a female police officer that is obsessing over the string of murders where really bad men are being killed. She brings her beliefs to the men above her in the hierarchy, but they tell her to get over herself and to stick to the cases to which she had been assigned. Not to be denied, she drops a leak to a reporter to generate publicity and possibly a break.

 After his most recent murder, Dylan does what male college students often do when stressed, they call a lady friend that will hopefully be accommodating. After his lengthy tryst, he reads the story about the murders and possible vigilante killer in the New York Daily News. The segue into the next issue is the captions where others are reading the same story.

 The story is great, the two threads of the killer and the police officer stalking him are both well developed. A complex cliffhanger involving many different people with different agendas is set up, creating an anticipatory set for the next issue.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Review of "Twilight Run," by Tom Miller

 Review of

Twilight Run, by Tom Miller ISBN 9780970156655

Four out of five stars

Simple plot involving sports and not-too-bright criminals

 The girls’ cross-country team of Indian Bluffs, Iowa is a powerhouse that is expected to challenge for the state title. Jane Hardy is one of the stars of the team and considered perfect by her younger sister Beth. Another star is Lea Pahoa, a girl of Hawaiian descent. The state meet is just days away when Lea and her family fly to Hawaii in order to bury her grandfather. In normal circumstances, Lea would be back in time for the meet, but while they are there a volcano erupts. There are concerns that Lea will not get back in time for the meet.

 Enter the gang of simple-minded criminals. Jane and Beth’s mother teaches English at the high school and is the author of a YA novel. A local Children’s Festival is going to feature a very popular female author. Beth has been selected to be her aide during the festival. The criminals get the idea that they are going to kidnap the author and demand a ransom of a half-million.

 Unfortunately, from their perspective, they mistake Beth’s mother for the author and snatch both Beth and her mother. Not being too talented in the crime department, they make many mistakes. All of the problems are solved, and the entire Indian Bluffs team runs in the state finals with predictable results.

 Neither thread of the plot has any real depth and most of the action is easily predicted. It is a nice, easy read that will not keep you on the edge of your seat.

Thursday, December 24, 2020

Review of "Kiss Exposed," DVD

 Review of

Kiss Exposed, DVD

Five out of five stars

They pioneered shock rock and elaborate stage shows

 Alice Cooper was in many ways the original shock rocker, but the rock band Kiss took the genre far beyond what Cooper ever did. Their makeup was more bizarre, costumes more elaborate and original and their stage shows were mammoth productions. They were loud, proud and drew young people to what could be described as mini-raves.

 As always seems the case when the musician’s on-stage behavior is wild, the quality of the Kiss lyrics and music is significantly underappreciated. The two continuous members of the band, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, are interviewed in this video. Like honest musicians everywhere, they credit those that have come before. Simmons has said. “ "I've ripped off so many English riffs, if the British influence wasn't there, we wouldn't be here.”

 This video is composed of videos of some of their live performances intermixed with interview footage at what is stated as the home of Paul Stanley. While the questions are clearly mostly scripted and there are many scantily clad women, there is a lot of honesty, with little hype or hyperbole in their answers.  The original copyright date is 1987 with the final one 2002. The two principals are still fairly young, so they come across as being in their prime rather than aging rockers in their final years of performing.

 While I listened to their music on the radio, I was never a fan of the group. After watching this video, I appreciate their work in defining not only a type of music, but also the wild and elaborate stage show. It is very interesting to see two talented musicians clowning a bit, yet with an underlying seriousness.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Review of "The Official Marvel Index to the Avengers, #6"

 Review of

The Official Marvel Index to the Avengers, #6

Five out of five stars

Key data on issues #109 to #126, including giant-size Avengers #1

 As the title indicates, this issue contains information on several issues of the Avengers comic, specifically numbers 109 through 126. For most issues, there is the following information:

1) An image of the front cover.

2) Name(s) of the story or stories.

3) Credits

4) Feature characters.

5) Guest stars.

6) Villains.

7) Other characters.

8) Cameo appearances.

9) Special weapons and devices.

10) Origins and flashbacks.

11) Comments.

12) Synopsis.

Some of these categories do not apply to all stories.

 This comic is a swift and effective way to learn the basics about an issue of the Avengers series. While they vary a great deal in length, the synopsis’s always give a thorough explanation of the story. In all cases they will generate a desire in the reader to read the actual comic.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Review of "Sky Wolf No. 1," comic

 Review of

Sky Wolf No. 1, comic

Five out of five stars

 The story opens with Wolfman in a bar fight with a brawny sailor in a bar in Tijuana, Mexico in 1954. He wins the fight but does not seem happy or gratified. After a page of this, the context shifts to Hollywood, California where Jack Gatling has just crashed a plane as a movie stunt. Unfortunately, he crashed it on the wrong airstrip. After these opening introductions, the two men meet in a small bar and compare failures.

 They meet up with an archeologist that has unearthed evidence of the location of twelve golden horses that were to be tribute from the people of the Red Valley to the Ming Dynasty of China in 1412. He recruits Wolfman and Gatling to accompany him to what is then French Indochina, where the French forces are battling with the Viet Minh for control of what is known as Vietnam.

 At first, the French military officials there are uncooperative, but eventually they agree to send a group of the French Foreign Legion to escort them to where the archeologist thinks the horses are. When the team of three meet the legionnaires, they discover that one of them is a former member of the German SS that was captured by the French and given the choice to join the Legion or be hanged.

 The team moves out in trucks but are ambushed by the Viet Minh where some are killed, and the trucks are destroyed. This forces the former enemies to join forces in order to stay alive and they move to the cave where the golden horses are located.

 The stage is very well set for the continuation of the tale. It is pleasing to see the setting is French Indochina of 1954, where the French are fighting and losing a colonial war to retain control. Including the fact that some ex-German SS soldiers did fight in the Legion is a great addition. The reader can learn a bit of history while reading this exaggerated adventure.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Review of "Doc Savage Sunlight Rising," Four part comic series

 Review of

Doc Savage Sunlight Rising, Four part comic series

Five out of five stars

Doc and group against a ruthless foe

This review covers all four issues in the story.

 No Doc Savage tale is solid without there being a powerful and extremely dangerous adversary. For without that, no strong hero will be challenged enough to make the story interesting. In this case, the villain is John Sunlight, a man that was so skilled that he was able to penetrate into Doc’s Fortress of Solitude and steal some of the most powerful weapons that Doc ever created. Sunlight hid the weapons so well that Doc was never able to find them and Sunlight died before Doc could capture him.

 It is decades later, and Sunlight’s wrapped body is being worshipped by an isolated group on the border between Afghanistan and Tibet. A ruthless criminal discovers Sunlight’s body and kills everyone in the village in order to acquire it. Doc has perfected a technique to reanimate the dead and his plan is to resuscitate his recently deceased wife Monja.

 A criminal cabal is determined to acquire the means to reanimate the dead and use it to bring Sunlight back to life. They are successful in this and in the last caption of the first issue, Sunlight is once again alive. This is the first step in an ongoing battle for what is nothing less than control of the Earth. Doc brings his old band back together and Sunlight is aided by a powerful criminal gang, the son of the head of a major corporation and the brutal dictator of a country.

 The battle takes place in many places on Earth as well as in space. By deploying a weapon in space, Sunlight is able to lock most of the sunlight in an attempt to blackmail Earth into making him absolute ruler of humanity. The battle is joined and when things look both literally and figuratively the darkest, Doc and his band manage to destroy the weapon and save the Earth.

 This is a great story, while it keeps with the traditions of the early Doc Savage stories, it is modernized to reflect new technologies such as space travel. It would make a great book.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Review of "Doc Savage The Discord Makers Part 3," by Denny O’Neil, Rod Whigham and Steve Montano

 Review of

Doc Savage The Discord Makers Part 3, by Denny O’Neil, Rod Whigham and Steve Montano

Five out of five stars

The original action hero, aged,  but still formidable

 The great one Stan Lee once said that Clark (Doc) Savage Jr. was the forerunner of all the superheroes. Unlike most that have extraordinary powers, while Doc was powerful, incredibly knowledgeable and adept at righting the wrongs of the world, he was human. His skills were acquired and maintained by very hard work. The paperback books describing his adventures often feature his daily regimen of activities designed to maintain his skills.

 In this comic, Doc is a grandfather, flying in a helicopter over mountains with his grandson Chip and a woman named Shoshanna and have an encounter with a mysterious flying vessel. Chip falls out of the helicopter and instead of being a red spot in the snow, he falls to a soft landing. Doc and Shoshanna follow him down and the mysterious ship crashes. Puzzled by the structure of the mysterious ship, Doc calls his old gang back into action, all but Long Tom answer the call.

 Right before the call, Monk is in a bar getting thoroughly soused and he has to be pulled out by Ham. Monk is now a bald old man with doubts about the man that used to be his hero, a godlike figure. Shoshanna has some form of mysterious powers and she dreams that the ship was on the moon.

 There is a parallel thread taking place in Russia where there is an investigation of a submarine disaster. It appears that a high level Russian officer deliberately sabotaged the sub. At the end, those threads come together to create the ending cliffhanger.

 As someone that has read most of the Doc Savage paperbacks, it was good to see the original hero back in action. The best scenes are with Monk and Ham where they reassess their roles in the original Doc Savage gang of crime fighters. Ham sums it all up in putting Doc Savage where he belongs, as a human with the ability to succeed and make mistakes. Very much a modern hero.

Review of "Marvel: House of M, 2 of 8"

 Review of

Marvel: House of M, 2 of 8

Five out of five stars

Reality is an unstable concept

 This is the second in an eight issue series that features Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch in the throes of mental instability. Her powers are so great that she is capable of altering reality. Professor Xavier has been using his mental powers to try to keep her in check, but that hold is slipping away. In the first episode, Professor X called together the X-Men and Avengers to discuss whether or not she should be killed before the damage to reality becomes too great.

 In this episode, there is sometimes very little text, but the reader familiar with the Marvel universe will recognize how altered reality is. Steven Rogers (Captain America) is an old man that children refer to as “the old dude.” Scott Summers’ girlfriend says she is going to meet with the little Richards boy today, his parents were astronauts killed in an accident. Stephen Strange has a Ph. D. in psychology, and Henry Pym and Hank McCoy work in a Tony Stark lab and McCoy is no longer covered in blue fur. Wolverine is experiencing wild bouts of mental instability, seeming to bounce in and out of what is the new reality.

 This issue ends with what appears to be a mighty armada about to do something. Given all that is “wrong” with the world now, there is great room for disaster and destruction. When you are done, you crave a look at issue three.

Review of "Wigwam Evenings," by Charles A. Eastman and Elaine Goodale Eastman

 Review of

Wigwam Evenings, by Charles A. Eastman and Elaine Goodale Eastman

Five out of five stars

Aesop’s fables of the Native Americans of the plains

 It is possible to learn a great deal about a culture from reading their folk and fairy tales. This book contains a series of condensed folk stories of the Sioux tribes of the northern plains. They are told by Smoky Day, the school-master of the woods. They feature many animals of the plains and Rocky Mountains, as well as what is called the Great Mystery.

 In the opening, Smoky Day explains how in earlier times the people and animals spoke a common language, since the Great Mystery put a barrier up so they can no longer converse together. In other words, the Sioux version of the Tower of Babel. They are also listed by evenings in the wigwam of  Smoky Day, in a manner similar to the classic 1001 nights. \

 The stories are all short, much like the fables of Aesop. These stories generally also end with a moral, sometimes explicit and other times implicit. For example, the second evening story is called “The Frog and the Crane.” The moral of that story is, “It is not a wise thing to boast too loudly.”

  These are stories that deal with origins of the world and humans, problems that humans have in dealing with the world and human interactions with nature and animals. All told from the perspective of the Sioux, which makes this an excellent book for multicultural studies.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Review of "The Seminole Wars," by Henrietta Buckmaster

 Review of

The Seminole Wars, by Henrietta Buckmaster

Five out of five stars

Some points of history not often stated

 The history of Florida relative to the United States is not a pleasant one and some of the darker aspects are emphasized in this book. When the territory known as Florida was under Spanish control after the American War of Independence, that governance was tenuous at best. Many in the southern United States considered the border to be at most a minor inconvenience.

 What was considered the most annoying from the perspective of the slave owners was that many escaped slaves crossed into Florida and formed communities with the native Seminoles. In the early years of the nineteenth century, slavery was a booming business in the United States, the largest domestic slave market was in fact in Washington D. C. within sight of the Capitol building.

 This put great pressure on the U. S. Government, and it was considered a major diplomatic coup when Spain ceded control of Florida to the United States. This removed the last impediment to the slave catchers going into Florida and claiming any black person that they encountered as a runaway slave. The native Seminoles coexisted very well with the black communities and they formed a common armed front against the encroaching whites.

 As is made clear in this book, that common front was solid, the Seminoles were one of the few Native American tribes that supported the “free” blacks in their struggles. That is a historical fact that is rarely mentioned. They fought together against the inevitable takeover of their land  by whites.

 A second point made in this book is that large numbers of the Creek tribes eagerly joined the efforts of the U. S. Army in conquering Florida. They were offered booty in the form of captured blacks to be taken as slaves. From that perspective, much of the fighting could be considered a civil war between the Native Americans. This was after many of the Creeks had been transported to land out west. Large numbers of Native Americans fighting other Native Americans is a fact not often mentioned in the study of history.

 The war to subjugate Florida was a nasty, brutal one. There were several occasions when U. S. commanders violated a stated truce when Seminole leaders met them under an agreed upon sign of peace. At times, the U. S. Army was reduced to being a gang of slave catchers, so much so that there were significant tensions up the chain of command all the way to Washington. In classic scorched Earth warfare, the Army destroyed crops in the fields, confiscated grain and cattle so the blacks and Seminoles had to either surrender or starve.

 The war against the Native Americans was always a brutal and unprincipled one. However, unlike in the west, the war in Florida was intertwined with slavery. One of the few good things that came from it was that it triggered the beginning of the anti-slavery movement in the United States.

Review of "House of M, #1 of 8"

 Review of

House of M, #1 of 8

Five out of five stars

 In many ways, the first issue of a limited series largely determines whether the overall story will be a success. It must establish a significant and understandable context for the story as well as develop an interest in the reader to read subsequent issues. All of that is done here.

 The premise is a strong one. Wanda Maximoff, known as the character Scarlet Witch, is descending into a form of mental illness. Her powers are so great that she is capable of altering the reality around her. To this point in time, Professor Xavier has been able to use his mental powers to keep her in check, but there is the real danger that he will lose that ability and she will spin out of control with extremely dangerous consequences.

 The Professor calls a meeting of the X-Men and the old Avengers to discuss a horrific action, namely should they consider killing Wanda before she does massive damage to the world. Quite naturally, there is some major difference of opinion, with strong statements being made by the heroes.

 It is a great story and in the best traditions of the serial comic story, it ends with an incongruous ending that may be explainable, but that explanation may be a bad one.

Review of "Magnus at the Fire," by Jennifer Armstrong

 Review of

Magnus at the Fire, by Jennifer Armstrong, ISBN 0689839227

Five out of five stars

One of the best animal books ever

  Magnus is a powerful horse, one of a team of three that live at the firehouse and when the fire alarm sounds, are quickly hitched to pull the steam pumper to the fire. They are fleet and fearless, standing steady amid the chaos around the fire. Once the fire is out, they calmly pull the pumper back to the station.

 One day, a mechanical fire engine arrives at the station and the team of three are literally put out to pasture. Still believing in his usefulness, when Magnus hears the fire alarm go off, he jumps the fence and races after the fire engine until it arrives at the fire. The firefighters do all they can to discourage Magnus, but he persists.

 One day the alarm sounds and while it is on the way to the fire, the motor on the fire truck quits. The firefighters and many men nearby try to push it the rest of the way, but they can’t move it. Thinking quickly, one of the firefighters runs to Magnus and brings him to the engine. Creating a makeshift harness out of a hose, Magnus is hooked to the fire truck. Despite the heavy weight, with the assistance of the human pushers, Magnus is able to pull the truck close enough to the fire.

 This is a great story about animals and their sense of loyalty to the tasks they know. While Magnus has been replaced by advancing technology, he still wants to do what he has been trained for. At the end, he is retired to a happy life of eating well and pulling children in a wagon.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Review of "No Easy Game," Terry Bradshaw with Charles Paul Conn

 Review of

No Easy Game, Terry Bradshaw with Charles Paul Conn ISBN 04250446611  

Three out of five stars

Absurd opening with outlandish religious references

 I was turned off when I read the second paragraph of the first chapter. The reference is to the catch that Franco Harris made against the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs. That paragraph is:

“It was a miracle, as surely  as David killed Goliath and Jehovah delivered the Hebrew children from the fiery furnace!”

Anyone that has watched sports for years is aware of odd and lucky bounces leading to last second victories. Yet, you do not hear Doug Flutie or Aaron Rodgers describing some of their more unusual touchdown throws as miracles on the order of those found in the Christian Bible. I understand that Bradshaw is a Christian, but one of the virtues of being a Christian is humility.

 The rest of the book does not rise to this level of exclamation, and it does not contain much exciting and interesting prose. Like Bradshaw when he is not playing or discussing football, it is rather dull. He is not a great conversationalist on topics other than football. That trait appears in this book, and at times Bradshaw engages in bouts of what is close to self-pity. It is one of the least interesting sports autobiographies that I have read.

Review of "Where The Wild Things Are," by Maurice Sendak

 Review of

Where The Wild Things Are, by Maurice Sendak ISBN 0064431789

Five out of five stars

Short on text, long on imagination

 While there is not a lot of text in this book, it is more than made up for with a lot of imagination. Max is a boy wearing a wolf suit and that evening he has been particularly difficult. So bad that he is sent to bed without his supper. His reaction is to “leave” his bed and travel over the ocean to a place where there are many wild creatures.

 They have horns, sharp claws and fierce expressions. Yet, they enjoy playing so they join Max in howling at the moon, hanging from trees and generally doing playful monster things. However, despite the fun they have with monsters, little boys enjoy being with other people. Therefore, when Max smells something good, he says goodbye to his monster friends, and sails back to his home. When he arrives, he discovers his supper in his room. Furthermore, despite the extent of his adventures, it is still hot.

 The charm of this book is the dilemma that a naughty, yet imaginative child has to cope with. For no matter where he can go in the virtual sense, there is no place like home with a hot meal.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Review of "The Little Match Girl," by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Rachel Isadora

 Review of

The Little Match Girl, by Hans Christian Andersen, illustrated by Rachel Isadora ISBN 0399213368

Five out of five stars

One of the saddest fairy tales

 If you closely read the fairy tales of northern Europe, many of them have very dark tones that are often downplayed or even excised from the original. This story is one of the saddest. The title character is a very poor young girl forced by her father to go out into the cold streets and sell matches.

 It is snowing heavily, and she loses her shoes early in the day. She is cold and hungry and did not sell a single match that day. She was afraid to go home because her father would beat her for not bringing home so much as a single penny. Therefore, she huddles tight into a corner.

 To get some warmth, she lights one of her matches and for a moment she experiences heat and light. Of course, being but a mere match, it soon burns out. She strikes a new one and experiences a vision of plentiful, warm food in front of her. This continues with her striking her matches and having visions where good things are happening to her.

 The next morning, she is found huddled into a corner and frozen to death. There is an attempt to make that process appear to be a positive thing, but nothing can change the reality that she was a poor, neglected little girl that died because there was no one on Earth to care about her. That should be what the reader derives from this story. It is a tale that was all too real a few centuries ago.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Review of "Die! Die! Die! #4," written by Robert Kirkman

 Review of

Die! Die! Die! #4, written by Robert Kirkman

Four out of five stars

 This is one of the most violent comics you will ever see. From the contents of the letters column, it is clear that this is a willful tactic on the part of the creators. The opening of the letters page is: “Is this our most violent issue yet? I count three pages where some mayhem or blood isn’t shed - - “ Blood flows and flies all over the place, even the interpersonal relationships involve bloodletting.

 The dialog in the first two images of the third page is: female character with a sword “It’s insulting you ever thought this would work. Which brother are you?” Followed by male character being threatened with a sword, “The one who’s going to kill you.” Followed by one of the bloodiest non-lethal fights you will ever see.

 One darkly amusing feature of this story is the special phrase that when spoken will cause people to suffer instantaneous explosive diarrhea to the point of death. Which would be a very effective in a fight to the death. The story bounces around a ruthless female senator, a two-man commando death squad, and an old man with owl glasses being tended by a group of beautiful, naked women.

 Action with red liquid splattering everywhere is the trademark of this story. If you enjoy this type of action, then you will love this comic. However, if you have limits to how much of this you are willing to tolerate, then those limits have likely been exceeded. There is very little in the way of positive expressions or emotions in these pages.

Review of "Gulliver Mickey, Disney’s Wonderful World of Reading"

 Review of

Gulliver Mickey, Disney’s Wonderful World of Reading, ISBN 0394825616

Five out of five stars

A primer on a classic tale

 Jonathan Swift’s “Gulliver’s Travels” is one of the best works of fiction, and perhaps the best social satire ever written. By placing the main character, Lemuel Gulliver, in several societies with exaggerated characteristics, he softly and effectively ridicules many aspects of European societies of the early eighteenth century.

 The first adventure is to the nation of Lilliput, where the inhabitants are roughly six inches tall. This story, featuring Mickey Mouse in the role of Gulliver, duplicates that tale to some extent. While overpowering in relative strength, Mickey is very gentle, and the Lilliputians learn to enjoy his presence.  When the enemies of Lilliput attack, Mickey easily fends them off and is hailed as a hero. Yet, he misses his own kind and so after a raft is built, he sails away.

 While this book is for children and takes some poetic license with the Swift story, it is a primer on the original. It is clear that this book will pique the interest of the readers and hopefully some of them will be prompted to read the book about the adventures of Gulliver.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Review of "Youngblood #0," written by Rob Liefeld

 Review of

Youngblood #0, written by Rob Liefeld

Four out of five stars

 The premise of this comic series has been used before. A small band of genetically enhanced super warriors under the control of the U. S. government are dispatched to a location where a conventional war is being fought. Their role is to deter aggression by defeating the army of a hostile Middle Eastern nation. Given their powers, it is easy for them to wipe out the enemy forces.

However, their internal dynamics are such that the commander has little control over some of the team members, leading to unnecessary deaths and brutal fighting between the others. The original team is disbanded, and a new Youngblood team is constituted. The leader’s name is Shaft, and six other semi-humans make up the team, one of which is female.

 This issue basically covers little more than the breakdown of the old Youngblood team and the formation of the new. The reader is given only a rudimentary explanation of their skills, it is left to speculation and further issues to determine the level of unit cohesion. None of the team members have worked together before.

 There is the almost obligatory mention of the politicians and their wiles versus the action centric members of the Youngblood team. Yet, the reader is given enough to pique their interest so that they want to read future issues.

Review of "G. I. Joe: A New Beginning, #0," written by Joe Casey

 Review of

G. I. Joe: A New Beginning, #0, written by Joe Casey

Four out of five stars

 While the super soldiers known collectively as the G. I. Joe team have largely been put on standby, Cobra is still active and there are cells to be hunted down and destroyed. That happens here, but as usual the G. I. Joe members wipe the Cobra operatives out with no damage to their forces. Typical of the genre, the Cobra forces are largely hapless in the face of the super soldiers.

 However, the real action takes place in Chicago, where a human made metallic object from space crashes into the city. The devastation is tremendous, causing the full G. I. Joe team to be activated and travel immediately from their base in Wyoming to the site of the crash. While some are quick to leap to the conclusion of foul play, others hold out the possibility that it was an accident. Although how such a large object could survive reentry into the atmosphere intact remains one of the scientifically questionable aspects.

 Yet, the storyline proceeds rather well and given that this is the first issue in the story, the background is well developed. At the end, the reader knows what has happened and there are hints as to the responsible party. If you can suspend the usual disbelief regarding some of the science and the super soldier invincibility, you will enjoy this comic.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Review of "Elephantmen! #79," comic by Richard Starkings

 Review of

Elephantmen! #79, comic by Richard Starkings

Dark sf premise, science at its most brutish

 The premise of this comic is very dark. Biological science has developed to the point where it is possible to create transgenic mammalian organisms. However, once the embryos are created, human females are impregnated with them. The story opens with what appears to be a hippopotamus/human sitting down in front of a human male scientist. The name of the transgenic is Seven-A and he was the first transgenic that survived to be born. His mother died during the procedure and the scientist is one of the most cynical characters ever to appear in an sf setting. He states, “Thousands of women gave birth to my creations. None of those women survived. They were no longer necessary.”

 The transgenics were carefully controlled and programmed to do what was expected of them. Elephantmen is the generic term used to refer to them. A tiny machine was injected into them that suppressed and exaggerated their emotions to make them more effective and controllable. They were designed to be super soldiers, possessing the power of their animal side. Along with the hippo, there is the elephant, rhinoceros, giraffe and crocodile, among others.

 The story is very philosophical in tone, the scientist offers not even the slightest apologies for the death and destruction that his creations needed to be born and what they did in their “careers.” Seven-A is seeking answers of some form, for he is now more human than animal. He closes by saying, “It must have been a dark time that allowed a man like you to come into being.”  

Review of "Explorers Reunion Volume 1 Number 1," written by Terry Collins

 Review of

Explorers Reunion Volume 1 Number 1, written by Terry Collins

Five out of five stars

Adventures on the Jonny Quest model

 This is the first issue of a storyline with new characters. Fundamentally, it is a group of five, the brilliant male scientist, his super soldier sidekick, his extremely intelligent son, a boy his age from another culture and their dynamic pet. In this case the super soldier is the wife of the scientist, the pet is a Stenonychosaurus,  and the other boy is Hispanic. They are the Hunt family. Father Doctor Alexander Hunt, Mother Anita Hunt, Stan the dinosaur, Trex the son and Chico the Hispanic boy.

 There is an appendix at the end that gives short descriptions of the main characters, including what is likely the main nemesis, a brilliant woman named Kimberly Wolcott that was Doctor Hunt’s former partner. This checks one of the main boxes that first issues need to do, give backgrounds on the main characters.

 The story moves quickly and involves an invasion by a powerful robot controlled  by Wolcott. When both parents are unable to mount an effective defense, it is the quick thinking by Trex that allows them to defeat the menace. It is a good story, after reading it you find yourself pulling for the small press that publishes it to succeed.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Review of "Team Zero #4," written by Chuck Dixon

 Review of

Team Zero #4, written by Chuck Dixon

Five out of five stars

Based on a deadly race for technical spoils

The time is very late in World War II and the location is northern Germany. Since the Germans had demonstrated their significant superiority in rocket technology with their V2 bombs, the Allies are racing from the west while the Soviet Red Army is moving with all possible speed from the east. Their shared goal is to capture all the technical expertise they can, whether it be in structural parts, blueprints or in human form.

Team Zero is an elite unit that has moved into a village ahead of the Red Army and taken control over some of the rocket technicians. The advance units of the Soviet Army arrive shortly after and Team Zero leader Deathblow goes out to meet them. At first, the Red Army soldiers are rough with Deathblow, but when their commander arrives, he understands English and a somewhat amicable situation is established.

 Deathblow and the Soviet commander get to know each other and hint at their shared objective, although both know the other is lying. There is a woman and young girl among the Germans captured by Team Zero and some of the Soviet soldiers start the tentative steps of raping them. All falls apart very quickly, with the battle for the village and the rocket secrets now between the Americans and the Soviets.

 This is a good story because it is based somewhat on actual history. There was a race among the erstwhile allies to the German rocket bases so that the technology could be exploited. As history played out, the Soviet Union was the first nation to launch a satellite, and the first nation to put a human into space. From these facts, it is easy to determine which side won the race depicted in this comic.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review of "Division 13 Week 1," comic created by Randy Stradley

 Review of

Division 13 Week 1, comic created by Randy Stradley

Four out of five stars

Could be the start of something

 One task that I enjoy doing is finding a comic that is the first issue of a series. I then evaluate it for the completeness of the introduction of the characters and the story. Therefore, when I found this at the local used bookstore, I had to purchase it.

 There is a great deal packed into this issue, not all of which is completely explained. The main premise is that some humans contracted a strange infection called the Vortex. Some died from it while others were forever changed, somehow acquiring extraordinary abilities. Those considered dangerous to society are held in the highest security facility in the United States. Most of that facility was constructed by unknown agents and the areas where the unusual humans are held and studied is called Block Thirteen.

 The story opens when three of the unusual humans are trying to enter the complex and free one of their kind from their captivity. So far, the story is understandable. However, there is the introduction of a group of silver colored bipedal creatures that talk like religious zealots and are able to teleport into the complex. Once there, they begin vaporizing the human guards and parts of the structure.

 This episode ends with a cliffhanger where the three unusual humans manage to get away, apparently avoiding the silver colored creatures. While the reader does have their interest and curiosity piqued, it would have been helpful if there had been more explanation of how many humans were afflicted by the vortex, how many died and how many were transformed. One panel with these numbers would have done a great deal in bringing the reader up to speed. It would also been helpful to learn more about the silver creatures. For example, why are they so quick to destroy.

Friday, December 4, 2020

Review of "Lazurus, Family Part Two," comic written by Rucka, Lark and Arcas

 Review of

Lazurus, Family Part Two, comic written by Rucka, Lark and Arcas

Five out of five stars

Powerful families fight each other and themselves

 The premise of this story of an apocalypse is that a few small families control the world, and they have a low opinion of the masses. When a location is stated, three categories of inhabitants are given. The numbers of family, serfs and waste. For example, in Los Angeles the respective counts are 3, 322,274 and an estimated 2,874,500 waste.

 Each family has a designated individual called their Lazarus, considered their James Bond type of agent. The focus is on the Carlyle family and there is bickering to the point of death threats between the children of the patriarch. The families engage in all manner of actions against each other, including going to war. Any hint of disloyalty within the workers of a family is considered treason and punishable by death. Yet, the family members plot and counter plot against each other.

 We are given a look inside Los Angeles and the majority of it is the most horrific of slums. Family members travel only in military style convoys amidst the despair and hopelessness. The storyline indicates that like the warring princes of feudal times, the families will do little to aid the suffering.

 This is a great story, for if you replace the families by corporations, this is a trend we see in the world. A consolidation of power among a few extremely wealthy and influential corporations and by extension a billionaire class whose wealth continues to expand at incredible rates.

Thursday, December 3, 2020

Review of "Fantastic Four 511," written by Mark Waid

 Review of

Fantastic Four 511, written by Mark Waid

Five out of five stars

Superb and oddly self-referential ending

 This is part three (of three) of one of the most unusual stories featuring the Fantastic Four or any other comic book characters. Ben Grimm has been “killed,” his body is being kept alive by Reed Richards’ machines. The story opens with the Fantastic Four, with Grimm as a human, at what are supposed to be the gates to heaven. Yet, they bear the unmistakable signs of having been designed by Reed Richards.

 After a bit of quizzing and some internal fighting, they manage to pass the test and the doors are opened for the admittance of all four. They pass through a bizarre space of geometric objects until they arrive at the residence of the Supreme Being. In what is one of the greatest twists ever to appear in comics, they find that the mighty one is not what they thought, but still from their perspective all-powerful.

 I loved this comic so much that when I finished it, I went back to the beginning and read it again. It starts slowly but has one imaginative ending.