Saturday, January 30, 2021

Review of "Golden Age Western Comics," edited by Steven Brower

 Review of

Golden Age Western Comics, edited by Steven Brower ISBN 9781576875940

Five out of five stars

A look back to when westerns ruled entertainment

 From the middle fifties to the middle sixties, the western genre was extremely popular. There is a list of the 30 best westerns from this time frame, and any internet search of all the westerns that appeared during this time interval is extensive. That popularity extended into the comic books, many of which had western themes. This book has examples of many of the most popular comics, which just like the television western, declined rapidly in popularity.

It was a time when the publishers of comics paid their artists and writers very poorly, so much of the work was not of the highest quality. The dialog is generally boilerplate western simplistic, phrases such as “vamoose,” “them two are worse’n a barrel o’ wildcats,” and “keep chuckin’ lead long enough yuh polecats” are the norm.

 The Native Americans are sometimes presented in a favorable manner, yet most often they speak a pidgin English similar to what the Lone Ranger’s sidekick Tonto spoke. Other times they are depicted as murderous, ruthless savages hungry for white scalps to take away in victory. With the exception of the heroes, most of the characters are depicted as mentally simplistic.

 What makes this book interesting is that it is a lesson in the history of what can be called the pulp entertainment of the fifties. Often poorly drawn and authored, it has none of the slick characteristics of the comics that came later. Yet, they remain a fun read where not a lot of thought needs to be expended.

Review of "The Official Superman Quiz Book: Test Your Superman Savvy," by Bruce Nash

 Review of

The Official Superman Quiz Book: Test Your Superman Savvy, by Bruce Nash ISBN 0446897949

Five out of five stars

A set of excellent Superman trivia questions

 The questions in this book run from the commonly known to the outright extreme trivia. For example, in the section titled “From Comic Books to TV,” there are the two questions:

“According to the series’ introductory segment, what is Superman faster than, more powerful than and able to leap in a single bound?”

“What was the color of Lois’ hair in the series’ early episodes?”

The first is easy, the second really hard. For most of the early episodes you see are in black-and-white.

 This is a fun book to look through, no matter what your level of knowledge about the Superman character, there will be questions that will stump you. The book was published in 1978, so the content of most of the movies was not used.

Review of "The Galoshes of Fortune," a Hans Christian Andersen animated classic

 Review of

The Galoshes of Fortune, a Hans Christian Andersen animated classic

Five out of five stars

A classic tale with a universal moral

 I have always preferred the fairy tales of Hans Christian Andersen over those of the Brothers Grimm because they are so much more upbeat and suitable for children. There is always a happy ending with few hints or explicit mention of brutality.

  In this story, an old matron and a young, inexperienced fairy are practicing their craft when the young fairy creates a pair of magic galoshes that will grant any wish that the wearer will make. Wherever the wisher ends up, if the boots are removed, the wearer is returned to his pre-wish condition.

 A series of men dissatisfied with their current condition put the boots on and are granted a wish. In the first case, the man wishes he were back in the time of the Vikings. Once there, he realizes that fighting a brutal battle in support of his clan is not what he wants to do. Once he is returned to his normal life, he is grateful for what he has.

 Other men that are police officers don the boots in turn and experience the same general result; they discover that the life that they wish for is not as good as what they have. The video ends with a man telling two children the moral of the tale, “Be careful what you wish for, for it may come true.” A great lesson for us all, while what we have can always be made better, a significant change of life will generally have unanticipated and different difficulties.

Review of "Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage 2 of 2," comic written by Howard Chaykin

 Review of

Guy Gardner: Collateral Damage 2 of 2, comic written by Howard Chaykin

Five out of five stars

 Guy Gardner is a superhero, one of the galactic police known as the Green Lanterns. Commissioned by the blue-skinned and immortal Guardians, the Green Lanterns are given powers that are to be used for good works and not for personal gain or vendettas.

 While Guy Gardner is a Green Lantern, he is a player that always stretches the boundaries of acceptable behavior for a Green Lantern. The Guardians are often on the edge of stripping him of his powers, for he is rude, crude, emotionally nude, obnoxious and not very good at following orders.

 In this story, there is a war to the death of the species between two space traveling species. Neither one will give any ground to the other, death of the other is really their only goal in life. Despite his orders, Gardner intervenes in the war. He has a Green Lantern sidekick that is shaped much like a dog and Gardner often treats him disparagingly. Yet, in the end, the war has been ended and there is a little more peace in the universe.

 I have found the Guy Gardner Green Lantern character to be an acquired taste. The first comic that I read where he was featured turned me off. He is so unlike the Hal Jordan Green Lantern that I was familiar with that I did not read any other adventure of Gardner for some time. However, over time I have grown to enjoy his escapades, for he is so emotionally human. That characteristic makes the stories much more unpredictable.

Friday, January 29, 2021

Review of "Secret Empire Omega #1," comic written by Nick Spencer

 Review of

Secret Empire Omega #1, comic written by Nick Spencer

Five out of five stars

A dark tale drawn in dark format

 The premise is that there was a second Captain America and in the tradition of entertainment and mythology, it is an evil twin. Posing as Captain America and utilizing the reverence that people had for the real hero, the evil twin became Hydra Supreme. As the leader of a powerful Hydra, he took power and ruled as a brutal fascist. This story begins as the world is starting the process of rebuilding from the chaos and restoring a civil society.

 However, the rebuilding effort is not the focus of this story. Imprisoned in a ultra maximum security prison, the evil Steve Rogers is visited by the hero Steve Rogers. It is a conversation with deep psychological tones, the evil Steve Rogers holds his own, pointing out that he could not have accomplished what he did alone. In one of the last captions, the evil one says, “I offered them power and they took it. What do YOU offer them?”

 In the history of the twentieth century, there were many people that willingly joined with the dictators and that trend is repeating in the twenty-first century. With that as a background, while this comic has almost no superhero style action, it nevertheless is a superb read. It is also drawn in a minimalist form, where few colors are used, and the faces are not well defined. That serves to emphasize the dialog.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

Review of "The Lone Ranger Snake of Iron, Volume 1, issue 2" comic

 Review of

The Lone Ranger Snake of Iron, Volume 1, issue 2 comic

Five out of five stars

The faith Tonto has in his horse

 The story opens with Miss Lily Travers, reporter for the Chicago Examiner, being accosted by a gang of outlaws while she is by her evening campfire. They tie her up and have nefarious plans for her before they make a ransom demand. Tonto is on a derailed train that is under attack by a Native American war party. Knowing that their situation is hopeless, Tonto releases his horse and gives it instructions to find the Lone Ranger and bring him back as a rescue party.

 The two storyline threads run separately throughout the comic, the Lone Ranger rescues Miss Travers and meets with a U. S. Army patrol. Tonto speaks to a Native American boy on the train and discovers that he his not who his white male handler claims he is. The ending cliffhanger is that the Kiowa war party is about to launch a major assault on the train.

 While the reader understands why the Lone Ranger is out and about at all times, without reading the previous issue, the reader will not know why Tonto is on the train. That is significant, because he appears to have no connection to the Native American boy or any of the other white people on the train. However, the context had been established for what certainly has the potential for a great story.

Review of "Bleeding Cool Issue #0," magazine publisher William Christensen

 Review of

Bleeding Cool Issue #0, magazine publisher William Christensen

Five out of five stars

A daring experiment, hope it succeeds

 In the introduction by Rich Johnston, he says that this is an experiment, going from the digital to print form. This is clearly bucking the current trend towards digital,  but it may work. After all, there has been a dramatic insurgence in the popularity of music on vinyl. On the second page, Johnston describes himself as a gossip columnist in the comic field, including several tidbits about the industry. Another rather unique aspect of this magazine.

 The remaining content is a series of articles and reviews about some of the recent and proposed lines of comic stories as well as statements about the trends being followed by comic publishers. Since the material is dated 2012, it is easy to determine how accurate the information is. It is generally on target; it is easy to see how interesting it would be if you were reading it as foresight only.

 I enjoyed this magazine about the comic industry. There are times when looks into the creative background of comic development are more interesting than the comics. Reading any book about Stan Lee will prove this to you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

Review of "Animosity #10," comic created and written by Marguerite Bennett

 Review of

Animosity #10, comic created and written by Marguerite Bennett

Five out of five stars

Jesse is deservedly the leader

There has been a major event referred to as “the wake.” Before it, life was as we know it, but after the event, animals are now sentient, intelligent and capable of speaking directly and understanding English. For reasons that are unexplained, after the event a girl named Jesse has encountered people on their farm. While they appear friendly, she does not trust them, even though one of their cats recognizes her.

 Jesse’s group is looking for their stolen queen bee and there is reason to believe that she is on this farm. They seem normal, the residents tell Jesse and her companion Kyle that their excess produce is put out for trade with other human groups so that they are left alone. It all appears to be a stable situation, although there is a reference to “The Walled City,” that is a much more tempting target.  Jesse proves to be extremely bright; she immediately spots what is wrong at the farm and is determined to investigate the anomaly.  

 Apocalyptic premises have been widely used in literature and comics. They can provide an immediate and effective focal point for the story. If it is done right, there is no need to completely explain the cause, only what is left in the aftermath. That is the case for this story, there are hints, but one thing is clear. The main character is Jesse, she is a natural leader with the skills to guarantee that her group will be one that will overcome whatever the difficulties are as a consequence of “the wake.”

Monday, January 25, 2021

Review of "The New Teen Titans, Number 33," comic written by Marv Wolfman

 Review of

The New Teen Titans, Number 33, comic written by Marv Wolfman

Three out of five stars

Starts out with the death of a villain and goes downhill

 This story leads with the classic opening of a whodunit, the first caption has the corpus delicti of a super villain called Trident being fished out of the ocean. By a squid and Aqualad no less. The Teen Titans then reconvene at a swimming pool where all who can are clad in skimpy pool attire.

 After a foolish skirmish, the topic then turns to different pairs of Titans recalling their encounter with Trident. In each case, Trident manages to get the best of the Titans and escape. It is only when all of them are joined in the fight that they emerge victorious. Yet, there is no resolution of the initial question in the first caption, “Who killed Trident?”

 There is also an unresolved subplot involving Robin and an officer named Chase, where they are on the trail of a criminal that was recently released through a legal technicality. The actions of these two provide the last caption cliffhanger.

 This story is disjointed and uncertain, with no satisfactory resolution of the primary question. It is a murder mystery that ends without a real ending in the classic whodunit sense.

Review of "Big A: The Story of Lew Alcindor," by Joel Cohen

 Review of

Big A: The Story of Lew Alcindor, by Joel Cohen

Four out of five stars

Before he was Kareem he was Lewis

 Kareem Abdul Jabbar was one of the greatest basketball players of all time. His sky hook remains the most undefendable play in basketball. While it has been blocked a few times, if Kareem went up properly it took a tall defender with great leaping ability having perfect timing to ever have a chance against it.

 Before he converted to the Muslim faith and took the name Kareem Abdul Jabbar, his name was Lewis (Lew) Alcindor. His agility and ability to move laterally were extraordinary for a man so tall. The ease with which he moved led many to  believe that he did not put out enough effort. The only real difficulty he had in going from college to the pro game was getting acclimated to the increased amount of physical contact. Many defensive actions that were fouls in college were no-calls in the NBA.

 Alcindor/Jabbar is also very much a scholarly man, he is widely read in philosophy and has no trouble writing a column of intelligent commentary for a national publications. He grew up in New York and was a star in high school there.

 Given his talents, this is not a story of triumph over adversity, for given his physical skills, Alcindor/Jabbar was destined for basketball stardom. This is the story of a man with obvious talents learning how to channel them properly. If there is a weakness in this book it is that not enough ink is used describing his college coach John Wooden. It was Wooden that put the teams together and kept his players focused through their many opportunities to let down and have an inferior team defeat them. Other than that, this is a good biography of a man that made the most of his enormous talent, on the court and as a writer.

Review of "The Good Guys Volume 1," comic created by Jim Shooter

 Review of

The Good Guys Volume 1, comic created by Jim Shooter

Four out of five stars

Comic heroes created by unidentified magic

 Matthew and Zack are teenage brothers that live and breath comic books. Their interests go beyond the characters in the books, they are also into the people that create the images and dialog. Zack is the youngest and he takes the potential non-fiction aspects of comics more seriously than Matthew does.

 When Matthew goes to collect from his paper route customers, their mother forces him to take Zack with him. Matthew’s goal is to collect enough money so that he can buy something at the local comic store. One of the customers turns out to be a very strange woman that gives him a small box and asks him to bury it under concrete.

 While he is creeped out, Matthew accepts the box and tells Zack what he was told. The visit the comic store takes place and when others try to steal the bag containing the box, Zack tries to get it back. The box falls out and then open and there is a big flash and virtual bang and suddenly the young people in the immediate vicinity have powers that allow them to enter other planes of existence that are similar to a video game. Together they battle an evil young person bent on taking over the world and while they do that they are learning the extent of their powers, complete with the requisite costumes.

 As the first volume in a series devoted to this set of costumed super beings, this issue sets down the basic parameters of what are to be the main characters. The background context is provided and those that acquire the powers are quite properly shocked and confused regarding what they can now do. The story is not riveting, but good enough to generate an interest in what comes next.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Review of "Titans Sell-Out #1," comic written by Marv Wolfman

 Review of

Titans Sell-Out #1, comic written by Marv Wolfman

Three out of five stars

Teeny Titans are a weak joke.

 This story opens with the Teen Titans in serious difficulties. Not from the villains, but from government officials. Villains have attacked and destroyed the headquarters of the Teen Titans, destroying a large section of New York City as collateral damage. They are being sued for damages and have now been served with a court document banning them from using their powers in New York City. Much of the human population of the city also wants them out.

 Anxious to get out of town while they can, they travel to Hollywood where they lounge on a private beach. While there, they are offered a movie contract and after some haggling, they agree to appear in an animated video. At this time, the Titans really need an influx of cash, and this is the only opportunity they have. The bright spot in the cartoon is the villain, called the Toymanator, which is a pretty good pun.

 In that video, they are called the Teeny Titans and the story is extremely stupid, even for a kiddie cartoon. Once they see it, the Teen Titans are livid, and threaten to kill the project. Yet they are told that the cartoon will be a big hit and there are plans to have each Titan star in their own cartoon series.

 Although the story starts out as a standard tale about superheroes, it degenerates into a bad comic of humor. It does not push any of the right humor buttons in the reader.

Review of "Marvel Monsters Group: Fin Fang 4 Number 1," comic edited by John Barber

 Review of

Marvel Monsters Group: Fin Fang 4 Number 1, comic edited by John Barber

Five out of five stars

Parody piled on parody

 People familiar with the early issues of the Fantastic Four comic will quickly spot the cover of this one as being very similar to the cover of the initial Fantastic Four issue. The issue is packed with puns and other wordplay. For example, on the cover there is a reference to J. Edgar Goober and a female Asian attorney refers to the dragon Fin Fang Foom as anthropically challenged.

 There are four monsters in the first story, Elektro with his mighty(?) 32K brain, Gorgilla the gigantic ape-man, the dragon Fin Fang Foom and Googam, son of Goom. On the cover, each replaces one of the Fantastic Four in the now iconic image. In keeping with that theme, the four “monsters” take off in the Fantasti-car to go fight it out with the evil Tim Boo Ba. In a brilliant tactical move, the four use an amusing fundamental weakness Tim Boo Ba has to defeat him. The four are hailed as heroes for their actions.

 The second story has Fin Fang Foom featured in a story that is focused on the military standoff between the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. A lone man from Taiwan makes the trek to the mainland to unleash Fin Fang Foom on the accursed reds so they will not be able to attack Taiwan. He succeeds in a story that is right out of the evil Red scare menace of the 1950’s and early 1960’s.

These stories are humorous to the reader experienced in the Marvel universe and that understands the American propaganda machine of the fifties and early sixties. There is even a love story subplot that has Ben Grimm as the Thing shedding tears. As long as you do not take it very seriously, this is a fun comic.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Review of "The 1955 Mutual Baseball Almanac," by Roger Kahn & Harry Wismer

 Review of

The 1955 Mutual Baseball Almanac, by Roger Kahn & Harry Wismer

Five out of five stars

 There are two distinct sections to this book. The first is textual and has nine sections written by a player at each position and one written by a manager. Each author provides insight into the features of the game as viewed from their perspective. Other sections give the reader information about how baseball functions. They are:

*) What the scout looks for

*) How a typical big-leaguer made the grade

*) How the big leagues are run

*) How a big-league club operates

*) How the little league is run

*) The rules of scoring

*) How to score and read a score card

*) How to read a box score

*) How to figure averages

*) A concise history of baseball

*) The hall of fame

*) The major league schedule for 1955

 The second section is a compilation of all the personal and team statistics for the year 1954. This is followed by the lifetime records for the veteran and rookie players. The last part features a map of all the major league parks, including dimensions to all fields.

 Obviously dated, this is still a book that provides insights into the 1955 season. The contents of the first section is generally timeless, for success in playing any position is still based on how well you field, throw and hit.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Review of "Little League to Big League," by Jim Brosnan

 Review of

Little League to Big League, by Jim Brosnan

Four out of five stars

 While not all of the people featured in this book rose to the level of major league baseball, they all starred in a professional sport and played little league baseball. Most of their stories about little league are the same, they enjoyed the competition and learned teamwork and being a gracious loser when playing little league baseball.

 Fourteen players are featured, eight of which played major league baseball. The others are Mike Ditka, Fran Tarkenton, and Steve Spurrier from football, Bill Bradley from basketball, Don Schollander from swimming and Jim Ryun the runner. Only one of the featured people do not speak highly of the concept of little league. That is baseball pitcher Joey Jay, who laments the pressure that parents put on their boys on the diamond. From the tone of his statements, it appears that he is speaking from personal experience.

 Little league baseball gives children the opportunity to engage in competition at an early age with others of the same age. By enforcing rules regarding the age distribution, safety features and how often one player can pitch, the game is made as equal and as safe as possible. While challenging, for nearly all players, it is a fun and educational experience.

Review of "Black Comanche Boy," by Alex Bontemps

 Review of

Black Comanche Boy, by Alex Bontemps ISBN 0394020154

Five out of five stars

Accurate historical fiction

 It is the fifth and last year of the American Civil War and Union troops have marched into Louisiana and are destroying plantations and taking all food that they can find. When the Union troops entered the plantation where Jamie and his grandfather lived as slaves, they took all the food and chased them away. Not willing to trust the Union soldiers and terrified that the Confederates will return and consider them runaway slaves, they are hiding in the swamp with no shelter, little clothing and no food. The only thing they have is a fire to warm them and keep the night away.

 They manage to survive and encounter a large group of blacks on the move. From them, they learn that the Civil War is over, and the Union was victorious, making them free. Jamie and his Grandpa join this group on the move to what they have heard is forty acres of choice land and a mule to work it. When the night riders attack, Jamie and his Grandpa are separated. Lost and afraid, Jamie flees blindly, losing all contact with his Grandpa and fellow blacks.

In his terror-filled flight, Jamie runs all the way into Texas where he encounters a small party of Comanches. He is taken into their tribe and undergoes the tests that Comanche boys undertake. At the end, there is a tragedy that solidifies Jamie as a member of the Comanche tribe.

 The last days of the American Civil War were tumultuous, and especially dangerous for the newly freed blacks. Most of the white Southern men hated them and could not accept that former slaves were now free to move about. When Union soldiers were not present, the Southern men did not hesitate to act on their hatreds in the most vicious of ways. While this book may not describe the life of a specific person, it remains a true story.

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Review of "Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies," created by Erik Larsen

 Review of

Twisted Savage Dragon Funnies, created by Erik Larsen ISBN 9781607064022

Three out of five stars

More and more weird and bizarre piled high

 Twisted is an understatement and funnies is an overstatement as descriptions of the content of this book. Savage Dragon is a green “man” with a rigid fin in the center of his head. He is strong and resilient, very helpful traits when you are a cop and battling the forces of evil or just have to go through a wall.

 Nothing is really taboo here; the worst is the short where Savage Dragon is in a fistfight with a woman and they apparently kiss and make up. There is a wedding, pregnancy and a child. The last caption has the woman walking out the door carrying suitcases and the infant is in a pool of blood on the floor. All she says is, “I win.”

 While this book has a few moments, most of it is sick and twisted with no real theme or unifying direction. I found it difficult to read through with any significant interest, it is definitely not for everyone.

Review of "Dark Engine #5," comic written by Ryan Burton

 Review of

Dark Engine #5, comic written by Ryan Burton

Three out of five stars

A very dark and dangerous apocalypse

 The main premise of this story begins deep in the sea in what is called the world of Shaitan. Somehow, a being called Xurh-Rahab’n has been created and it is powerful, having no difficulty in defeating a very large shark. It feeds and grows very large before it emerges from the sea and proceeds to nearly wipe out everything on land. What was there before is replaced by the slime and spawn exuded by Xurh-Rahab’n, very few humans remain.

 Yet, there appears to be some hope for humanity. A small group of wise men are meeting in some structure with their purpose being the selection of what they are calling “the Inkface.” It is a momentous decision, for the chosen one will leave the safety of the mountains and hunt the Ivory Wolf. The man selected will wear red ink on his face as a symbol of the blood that has been shed.

 There is a lot of ambiguity in this story, while the evil creature is a big ugly, there is no mention of its origin or purpose. In all ecological systems, each living creature occupies a niche. There is also no hint as to the level of intelligence of Xurh-Rahab’n, an important point if there is to be an attempt to defeat it. No actual reference to the Ivory Wolf is given or indications of the skills possessed by the Inkface. While some context as to the creature and the human response is given, there is not enough to embed a strong desire to read more in your brain.

Review of "Suicide Squad: Phoenix Gambit Part 1," comic written by John Ostrander & Kim Yale

 Review of

Suicide Squad: Phoenix Gambit Part 1, comic written by John Ostrander & Kim Yale

Five out of five stars

The context is well set, reader primed for more

 The story opens with Waller in a dingy prison cell being visited by Steele. Steele is there to offer Waller a deal where she performs an as yet unstated task in exchange for the possibility of freedom. When Waller does not immediately agree and wants to state her terms of the deal, Steele stomps out.

The focus immediately shifts to a costumed super being of some kind that is being given an assignment. From this the story goes to Batman and Commissioner Gordon at the scene of a murder on the ship docks. Batman quickly concludes that the crime was committed by a “meta human with superhuman strength and invulnerability.”

 Vlatava is a country in eastern Europe and that is the background of the story, which includes a connection to Russia. Batman investigates and tracks down an enhanced human, only to be drawn into the interplay between Waller and Steele. At the end, an unlikely and uneasy alliance between Batman and Waller begins.

 As the first episode of a multi-part story involving previously introduced characters, this story provides the extensive context needed to prime the reader with no knowledge of their roles. It is clear that Waller and Steele have a dubious and challenging history and that Waller is a formidable opponent. At the end, the reader is left with a significant desire to read the subsequent issues.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Review of "Five Days Which Transformed Russia," by Sergei Mstislavskii

 Review of

Five Days Which Transformed Russia, by Sergei Mstislavskii ISBN 0253211174

Five out of five stars

 A lot of history packed into a week.

 Strong arguments can be made for the position that the single greatest short-term event of the twentieth century was the revolution in the Russian Empire that led to the downfall of Tsar Nicholas II and the establishment of the first communist state. The massive country that was once an empire splintered off four new countries and eventually led to a superpower standoff that lasted for almost fifty years. The fear of what was then called Bolshevism terrified conservative elements in Europe, helping fuel the rise of fascism and the Second World War. Which was fundamentally a battle between fascism and communism.

Mstislavskii was an anthropologist and writer and a member of the Left Socialist-Revolutionaries  party and played a significant role in the steps of the Russian revolution that took place in February. In this book he recounts his being sent to arrest the already captive former Czar Nicholas II. As his recollection of the five main days demonstrates, there was fundamentally little planning to the revolution. It rose spontaneously, in reality it started as an old-fashioned bread riot. Once the revolution started, there was little to no organization at the top.

 The parties of the left tried to unite as did the parties on the right. The only group that was organized with the courage to act forcefully were the Bolsheviks, who later took advantage of the disorganization of their opposition to seize power. From what appears in this book, the other parties never ever seemed to understand that their old society had essentially disappeared.

 This is a book that explains much about the inner workings of the governmental organization in the immediate aftermath of the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II. As Mstislavskii puts it very well, it was just a muddle mess. As a final note, Mstislavskii lived until 1943 and apparently died of natural causes. This demonstrates that he was a political survivor, for very few of the revolutionaries survived Stalin’s purges of the 1930’s.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Review of "Herotica 2," edited by Susie Bright and Joani Blank

 Review of

Herotica 2, edited by Susie Bright and Joani Blank ISBN 04532267870

Four out of five stars

Short stories of erotica written by females.

 I am the author of over 20 books in math and computers, yet I have always wanted to write erotica. I consider it a challenge to tackle what is such a wildly different genre. Erotica is a field where there is a wide variety of quality, from the bump and moan to the more soft and subtle. Written by females, the stories in this collection have a great deal of the bump and moan, but there is also a lot of tongue and lip contact combined with head games as foreplay.

 Most of the action is explicit and there is everything from threesomes to the heterosexual to female same gender. Pretty much all forms of sex appear in this collection, from the top of the fingers to the end of the toes. Some people will find a few of the actions unappealing to gross. Yet, the writing is smooth, and the reader can easily discern the female touch in the stories.

 Erotica is like most forms of human entertainment; it is not for everyone and even the different forms appeal to different tastes. If you enjoy the softer approach to the beginning of the ultimate action in erotica, then there will be some stories that you like. I did get some ideas on how to improve my writing in the area.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Review of "Partisans & Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution," by Walter Edgar

 Review of

Partisans & Redcoats: The Southern Conflict That Turned the Tide of the American Revolution, by Walter Edgar ISBN 0380806436

Five out of five stars

History of the American revolution in South Carolina

 When the history of the American revolution against Great Britain is taught in schools, the emphasis is on Lexington, Concord, Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Yorktown. Very rarely is there any mention of anything south of Virginia. That is unfortunate, for some of the greatest battles of the war took place in South Carolina.

 One fact that is rarely mentioned in the history books is that the American Revolutionary War was more than a battle with British troops. It was very much a civil war and like all civil wars, it was bitterly fought. For when such a war breaks out, many people simply use it to settle old scores and grievances. Some just use it to rob and destroy their neighbor’s possessions.

 At the time of the American Revolutionary War, South Carolina was fundamentally two different cultures. There was the wealthier coastal region and the backcountry made up of settlers that broke the land and worked hard trying to make a living. Neither side really had much time for the other. When the war took place, the British sent an army to the coastal region and tried to recruit armies from the citizens that proclaimed their continued loyalty to the British crown.

 As is described in detail, this was a brutal war where both sides pillaged and engaged in scorched Earth policies, carrying off the livestock and burning the homes of people suspected of being sympathetic to the other side. The number of battles that took place in South Carolina is surprising. Thousands of men were engaged on both sides as the American forces wore down the British and their Loyalist allies. Many of the Loyalists are portrayed as scheming thugs rather than honorable men fighting for what they thought was their legitimate leader.

 This is a book that should be read by everyone interested in how the American Revolutionary War was fought and won. It can be strongly argued that the American victory was won in South Carolina rather than the more well-known fighting in the northern states.

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Review of "Avengers Spotlight Starring Hawkeye 32," comic written by Steve Gerber.

 Review of

Avengers Spotlight Starring Hawkeye 32, comic written by Steve Gerber.

Three out of five stars

The deadly vigilante Terminizer is killing bad people.

Someone is killing the criminals in the city and leaving a symbol that is a T in a circle. There is also a professional assassin that tried to kill Hawkeye and failed. Included in the plot is a deadly villainess that is unscrupulous behind the attempt to waste Hawkeye. The Terminizer and Hawkeye are both prowling the streets fighting the criminals. Hawkeye stops them and leaves, Terminizer follows him and guns them down. This continues with Hawkeye seemingly oblivious to his deadly follower. In many ways Hawkeye is depicted as clueless about the drug trade and its’ consequences.   

 There is a second story starring the super soldier U. S. Agent, a character very similar to Captain America, right down to his shield. A mass murderer is killing illegal immigrants as they cross the border from Mexico to the U. S. After an initial misunderstanding with a group called Sanctuary, he learns that there is something rotten within the U. S. Border Patrol. Not one to stand down, U. S. Agent challenges the local leader of the Border Patrol, only to learn that there is a cancer within the agency.

 The second story is much better than the first, nothing worse than a superhero that stops the bad guys and leaves them unconscious so that one that is worse can kill them. This plot line is mediocre at best. Such an event should only happen once.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Review of "Nomad 20: The Art of the Steal," comic written by Fabian Nicieza

 Review of

Nomad 20: The Art of the Steal, comic written by Fabian Nicieza

Five out of five stars

Rivals in theft battle for the prize

 The story opens with the powerful group of three known as Kane, Grizzly and Domino, members of a mercenary group known as the Six Pack, in the process of breaking and entering with their goal being the theft of an advanced experimental prototype. Their entry of the building is successful, but they quickly learn that someone is ahead of them, both in distance and access to the prototype. Their adversary is Jack Monroe, someone else hired him to steal the prototype.

 Jack is quick to fire off a distractor that causes his opponents to set off the fire alarm and sprinkler system. With police and fire vehicles on the way and Jack gone, the members of the Six Pack have no choice but to hastily depart. Not ones to give up easily, the members of the Six Pack identify Jack Monroe as their single adversary and set out to even the score.

 There is an inevitable second confrontation with something of a meeting of the minds. Questions are raised as to the motivations of the employers, all of which ends with the appearance of another surprising player.

  The hardened mercenaries have a bit of goodness in them, with an ending that satisfies the reader while leaving all players with nothing but some sound advice from the cynical Jack Monroe.

Review of "Custer in Photographs: A Visual Portrait of one of America’s most intriguing Civil War heroes," by D. Mark Katz

 Review of

Custer in Photographs: A Visual Portrait of one of America’s most intriguing Civil War heroes, by D. Mark Katz ISBN 0517027453

Five out of five stars

History via the photograph

 Few people of the nineteenth century are more legendary that George Armstrong Custer. To most people, he is known as the military commander defeated and killed at the Little Big Horn river. There are some that believe his defeat was due to arrogance and incompetence. Yet that is a difficult argument to make, Custer was deservedly cited for bravery during the American Civil War, rising to the rank of general when he was only 23. He died in battle when he was only 36.

 One fact that I did not know is that Custer was one of the most photographed people of the nineteenth century. Even though his military career lasted only a quarter-century, he appears in 158 known photographs, contrasted with the 122 known images featuring Abraham Lincoln.

 This book is strictly a photographic history of Custer, the only text beyond the introduction and the ending chronology are detailed descriptions of the contents of the photos. Although he is often depicted as a serious military man, there are a few that present him as a bit of a comic. If you have an interest in Custer, fifty of the photos in this collection are published for the first time. Therefore, there are things here that you likely have not seen before.

Review of "Little Sioux Girl," by Lois Lenski, a book in the Roundabout America Series

 Review of

Little Sioux Girl, by Lois Lenski, a book in the Roundabout America Series

Five out of five stars

A book based on a real place and people.

Published in 1958, this short book for young adults is about Eva White Bird, a girl living in the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. She lives in a small village where there is a church, school, a house for the schoolteacher and a dozen log cabins. While the residents raise and gather a great deal of their food, there are times when they must travel to the nearest town in order to acquire necessary supplies. That is not always possible, for the road is often impassible. There are few amenities, so their living condition can be described as “primitive.”

 The people in the small village winter in their cabins but travel to other cabins along the edge of the river for the summer. It is cooler there and there is plenty of wild berries and other things to gather. The Native Americans are very familiar with what is edible and how to store it for the winter.

 Although the people would be described as poor and living in primitive conditions, they generally are happy. While they have to work, the children are often free to roam and have the whole outdoors to swim, run and otherwise burn off their youthful energy.

 The location described in this book was an actual place in the Standing Rock Reservation visited by the author in 1950. By the time this book was published, the village was abandoned. She describes the life of the people in the village, what they do, how they live and some of the difficulties they faced. In the middle to late fifties, the local small school buildings were lost to consolidation. While that made economic sense, when great distances are involved, it also meant the death of the small villages.  

Monday, January 11, 2021

Review of "Adventures of Robin Hood: Food For Thought," starring Richard Greene

 Review of

Adventures of Robin Hood: Food For Thought, starring Richard Greene

Four out of five stars

 Exciting and realistic adventure for the late fifties

 The legend of Robin Hood is one of the best tales of Medieval life. At a time where the common people were often taxed into poverty and literal death by their rulers, the heroic character of Robin Hood was developed. He and his band were known for robbing from the rich to give to the poor and the first known reference dates from 1370. However, given what he is known for, it is possible that the legend is even older.

 This story is an episode from the British television series that ran from 1955 to 1959. In this one the plot is a standard one, Count Oliver has levied yet another tax, one that will take all the food from the people of Upper Minton. Faced with certain starvation, they turn to Robin Hood and his band to take back their food and prevent the Count’s soldiers from engaging in retribution.

 There is a comedic element to this story, for it is based on the arrival of a very eccentric French chef. His purpose is to create a gourmet meal for Count Oliver and his fellow nobles that he is desperate to impress. When the chef proves to be even more eccentric than thought, Count Oliver is unwilling to intervene for fear of losing face with his fellow nobles. This gives Robin the opportunity to recover nearly all of the food with no danger to the villagers.

 Many of the television action shows of the 1950’s were stiff with a touch of the absurd regarding how the action was depicted. They were cheaply and rapidly made. That is not the case here, the action is plausible. However, it helps to have some knowledge of history in order to understand some of the references.

Review of "The Flash, Flash War Part 1," comic written by Joshua Williamson

 Review of

The Flash, Flash War Part 1, comic written by Joshua Williamson

Five out of five stars

Great start to a story with multiple parts.

 The timeframe is after the Barry and Wally Flashes defeated Grodd. It opens with Wallace (Kid Flash) and Iris in a garage where Iris is working on a motorcycle. There is a radio report of an earthquake causing a tidal wave and there are two Flashes on the scene taking down the tidal wave. Shortly after that, the two Flashes literally zoom into the garage.

 Wally is suffering from memory loss with headaches and it is in the middle of one of the attacks that the 25th Century Reverse Flash Task Force (A. K. A. The Renegades) arrive and announce that they are there to arrest Iris West for murder and take her away. There are five super beings in the group, so they are a formidable opponent.  While Barry Flash wants to discuss the matter with the Renegade leader, Wally grabs Iris and whisks her away.

 Even when the three Flashes are fighting the Renegades, Barry and Wally Flash are bickering over their actions. When a modicum of peace is restored, there is an agreement regarding how to proceed, yet Wally is not totally on board.

 This is a superb part 1 episode of a serialized story. The complete context is established along with the points of conflict with multiple possible threads for the story to follow. Once you complete this issue, you are ready for the next installment.  

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Review of "Tales and Wails For the John"

 Review of

Tales and Wails For the John

Five out of five stars

 The title of this book is a bit misleading; it is meant to be hung on the wall next to the toilet. It’s purpose is to provide light, amusing reading to relax you as you perform the necessary tasks. It contains jokes and cartoons of a sexual nature, what was considered dirty in the sixties. There are few if any swear word, and if there are any, they are light.

Nearly all of the jokes are one or two paragraphs in length, making it easy to complete a few of them before rising up upon completion. As is always the case in a collection of jokes, there is a wide range of quality. Yet there are no stinkers for you to read while you are making a stink.

Review of "Doc Savage: The Heritage of Doc Savage: Part One," comic by Dennis O’Neil

 Review of

Doc Savage: The Heritage of Doc Savage: Part One, comic by Dennis O’Neil

Five out of five stars

Doc is a bit more human in this adventure.

 It is August of 1945 and the Japanese have just surrendered, ending World War II. There is joyous mayhem in the streets of the city and the five close associates of Doc Savage are walking to a restaurant where they have been instructed to meet Doc. They take their seats,  but Doc is extremely late.

 Agents of an enemy have followed them there for the express purpose of killing them and Doc. When they make a move, they are defeated, but not before the building suffers irreparable damage. When Doc performs a chemical analysis of the clothing of the enemy agents, he learns that they were recently in “the valley,” the isolated location in Central America from which Doc gets the gold that funds his operations.

 While the analysis is being done, we are introduced to Doc’s wife F’teena and along with the associates, we learn that she is pregnant. Doc also learns that the person behind the attack is a German officer and scientist that refuses to surrender the cause. There is an immediate departure to the valley so that the group can investigate the situation. This episode ends with a cliffhanger where it appears that Doc has been killed by a sophisticated scientific apparatus.

 The fact that he is married and about to be a father makes Doc much more human. He is also planning for his retirement so that he can spend more time with his wife and child. Yet, along with his associates, there is the lure of the dangerous adventure, something that none of them can give up at this time. The context for this multi-issue story has been well set and the strong desire to read the subsequent segments established.

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Review of "Critter Origin," comic by Tom Hutchison et. al.

 Review of

Critter Origin, comic by Tom Hutchison et. al.

Five out of five stars

The story opens with a red-headed young woman wearing a cowboy hat and boots shopping at the local thrift store in Greenville, Michigan. Like all women that are on limited income, she complains about the prices and how her salary does not allow for many such purchases. She is trying to find some outfits more suitable for her upcoming time she will be spending in California.

 After her shopping adventure is over, she is walking on a dirt road through a cornfield when she is almost run over by a pickup truck. When a young girl screams help out the window, she suddenly turns into a super being clad in a skintight spandex outfit that shows every curve and groove. In a short time, she is able to stop the truck and rescue the girl from her kidnapper.

 When she arrives at a farm, we learn that the super girl’s name is Cassia Crawford where she is greeted by her friend Brenda and learns about her heritage as a super being. She acquires a costume having a belt with a buckle containing an artificial intelligence (AI) that controls the equivalent of a prehensile tail.

 Cassia is then introduced to a group of four other superbeings, quite properly composed of two male and two female members. When Cassia says that she looks like some kind of critter with that tale, the buckle changes condition, leading Brenda to believe that the buckle has selected the name “Critter” for the super powered Cassia.

 While this is not an origin in the usual term of explaining how a superhero gains their powers, it does give enough background information to get the story going. Most importantly, it generates enough interest in the reader that they want to read the next issue and tell people about the existence of this one.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Review of "Combat Photographer: The Vietnam Experience," by Nick Mills

  Review of

Combat Photographer: The Vietnam Experience, by Nick Mills ISBN 0939526085

Five out of five stars

A photographic record of the American war in Vietnam

 Photos of combat scenes were done for the first time in the Crimean War in 1853 to 1856. The images were primitive, for the exposure times were quite long. Technical progress was made, but it was not until the Spanish-American war of 1898 and the Boer War of 1899-1902 that action photos of war were made.

 Additional changes were due to modifications in the attitudes of those in charge of making war, both civilian and military leaders. As wars got larger and now had to be justified to the populations, the leaders were more willing to allow people with cameras into the actual war action. For this reason, the American involvement in Vietnam was called the “first television war. “

 This book contains a collection of images from the war in Vietnam, from happy times to combat to images of the dead lying in the dirt. There is text explaining the context of the shot, which is very helpful. What is missing is of course the reality of what was happening inside the people of Vietnam. Despite all the talk of “winning the hearts and minds” of the Vietnamese people, that never took place to the extent needed for an American victory.

 People in front and behind the cameras died in order to make these images. Yet, despite the power of the pictures to denote the action in Vietnam, they do not include the reality that would forever prevent the United States and the South Vietnamese from winning the war.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Review of "Graduate #004," comic by Jon Hughes and Celia Calle

 Review of

Graduate #004, comic by Jon Hughes and Celia Calle

Four out of five stars

Appeals to most skinny teen girls

 This comic opens with a caption where a very thin girl is lying down struggling to get into her jeans. In the next caption she is padding her bustline with tissues. From there she puts on platform shoes and stands up exposing a lot of skin between her navel and the top of her jeans. After a proclamation that she is Invincible Girl, she looks in the mirror and then backs the whole thing off, changing to normal teen clothes.

 Her name is Natalie and while she clearly has some kind of superpowers, she is a very reluctant hero. When walking down the street, she is approached by a boy that is a kindred spirit possessing powers. Natalie gives him the major brush off. She goes into a supermarket and when she realizes that it is about to be robbed at gunpoint, she goes to the attendant and asks to use the restroom. Her goal is to change into her superhero costume, but the attendant disallows her request. She ends up telling the gunman and the male clerk to turn their backs while she strip changes.

 All of this is amusing to an older male, but I doubt that girls beyond the skinny girl body type will find it funny. Natalie is very much a skinny teen girl with issues about belonging, she just happens to have powers that are largely undefined in this issue. I do have to admit that the modest approach in turning from normal to powerful is a plot device that I had never seen before.

Monday, January 4, 2021

Review of "Attack Force Z," DVD version

 Review of

Attack Force Z, DVD version

Four out of five stars

Fiction based on history

 When the Japanese invaded the area of the Western Pacific in 1941-42, their occupation was a harsh one. The people native to the areas were brutally treated and often killed for minor transgressions. Due to the wide area occupied by the Japanese and the difficulty of mounting large scale amphibious operations, the Allied forces formed a set of small commando teams that would engage in quick strikes against high value targets.

  This overall unit was called Z Special Unit and was primarily made up from Australian and New Zealand volunteers. During the war, small teams from this unit engaged in some very successful raids, particularly against Japanese shipping docked at Singapore harbor. The rate of survivability of the members of a mission was very low, it was not unreasonable to consider them suicide missions.

 This movie features a team of five members of the Z Special Unit going ashore from a submarine in order to find what may be survivors of the crash of an Allied airplane. Only the commander knows all of what they are there for and there is a significant Japanese presence on the land. After some fighting and with assistance from the non-Japanese locals, the team discovers that there were survivors of the crash and the viewer learns why they are considered so valuable.

 While there are some incredulous moments in the action, it is generally realistic. By this, the end results are a questionable outcome with deaths among the members of the Z Special Unit. The Japanese are depicted as being brutal in pursuit of their goals. There are no super soldier moments, they are all depicted as no more than well trained soldiers. It is a good movie and while a work of fiction, it could and likely did happen.

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Review of "Prophet #1," by Rob Liefeld & Dan Panosian

 Review of

Prophet #1, by Rob Liefeld & Dan Panosian

Five out of five stars

The context of a hero and his companion is established

 As the first issue of a comic dedicated to a new super(soldier/hero), this comic must establish enough background so that the reader can understand the basic premises. It opens with Johnny having a dream where he is battling a small army of metal robots. He slices and dices them very well until he is stunned by what he encounters. At this point, his partner Kirby wakes him up so that they can proceed on their mission. At this point they are in a plane en route to engaging in a two-man assault on a snowy mountain research facility.

 In a manner similar to the diminutive Steve Rogers being transformed into the powerful Captain America, Johnny was transformed by a Dr. Wells into a large and powerful being. This was done in Germany during the period around the Second World War and the goal of the research was to make a super soldier powerful enough to turn the tide of the war. Kirby, who bears a striking resemblance to Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., was a lab assistant to Dr. Wells and befriended Johnny. Once the required background is established, Johnny and Kirby parachute into the mountain research facility and immediately experience the ending cliffhanger.

 The first few pages have several quotations from the Christian Bible, hinting at some link between the title and the Bible. A prophet tends to sway and convince minds by emotions and preaching, there is nothing in that area concerning this powerful being. At least so far. The background has been set to generate interest in the reader concerning subsequent issues.