Sunday, June 27, 2021

Review of "The Prisoner Book B: By Hook or By Crook," by Dean Motter, Mark Askwith and David Hornung

 Review of

The Prisoner Book B: By Hook or By Crook, by Dean Motter, Mark Askwith and David Hornung

Five out of five stars

Continuation of the cult classic TV show

 Even though only seventeen episodes were filmed, the British TV series “The Prisoner” has maintained a significant place in the history of television. It starred Patrick McGoohan as a British agent that abruptly resigns his position. In response, his former handlers drug him and put him in what is called “The Village.” He is prevented from ever leaving the village, no matter how hard he tries. Their goal is to find out why he quit and to prevent him from exposing any state secrets without having to kill him.  The series has maintained a major cult following, the best way to describe it is to call it a social science fiction/fantasy.

 This comic is a continuation of that story. In this case, the newest resident is a woman that is trying to find herself, to use a phrase common to pop psychology. She was sailing alone in the ocean when she suddenly appeared in the village, after having placed her daughter in boarding school and saying goodbye to her husband.

 She has a bearded mentor of sorts in the village, the previous main character known as number six is referenced in several ways, along with a significant amount of ambiguity. Readers need to have some familiarity with the television series in order to understand the fundamental premises of the comic.

 In the manner of the series, the circumstances are only barely explained and then only in sometimes misleading and ambiguous forms. It is a good basis for a story that keeps the reader thinking and speculating about what is really happening.

Review of "Burke’s Reconciliation With American," by Edmund Burke

 Review of

Burke’s Reconciliation With American, by Edmund Burke

Five out of five stars

A strong voice for compromise in the American struggle for independence

 The American Revolutionary War and the events that led up to the conflict are often depicted as harsh and the war itself inevitable. However, there were strong voices in England at the time that urged reconciliation and compromise. One of the most powerful was that of Edmund Burke, philosopher and member of the English Parliament. In March of 1775, Burke delivered a lengthy speech to the House of Commons where he strongly urged reconciliation with the American Colonies, warning that the current British policies towards the colonies would lead to war. This book is the text of that speech.

 From the text, it is clear that the war for American independence could have been avoided. Burke lays down clearly and precisely that there is legitimacy to the American grievances and that it was in the best interests of Britain to compromise. The factors that led to war were many and complex, yet Burke states them in a succinct and understandable manner. No deep study of that event is complete without reading this speech.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Review of "The Beatles, featuring Paul McCartney," by Personality Comics

 Review of

The Beatles, featuring Paul McCartney, by Personality Comics

Five out of five stars

Enlightening biography of Sir Paul

 With a productive music career that now exceeds six decades, Paul McCartney is arguably the most prolific musician of all time. His combination of performing and songwriting is astounding, and he is proficient on several instruments, starting with the bass. His life has been one of high achievements, it is clear in retrospect that he was likely held back by his association with the Beatles.

 This comic is an excellent, albeit brief biography of his life to the date of publication in 1991. It covers the early years where he worked at many jobs, his movement into the music, the rapid and amazing success of the Beatles, their breakup and his career after the Beatles split. There will always be debates about who caused the Beatles to break up, the causes and consequences of that split are covered, although not in great depth.

 If you have any interest in the life and career of Paul McCartney, this comic is an excellent and fairly detailed description.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Review of "Tom Swift and the Mystery Comet," by Victor Appleton II

 Review of

Tom Swift and the Mystery Comet, by Victor Appleton II

Three out of five stars

One of the weakest of the Tom Swift Jr. books

 The plot of this book is over the top, even for Tom Swift. It involves unidentified flying objects, a deadly comet on a collision course with Earth, a jealous classmate of Tom’s, the space aliens that Tom and his father are communicating with and the adversary country of Brungaria. There is too much going on and none of it is handled very well.

 For example, Tom’s classmate (among others) manages to penetrate the security of the Swift compound, something that would never happen in the real world. The Swift complex has a large security apparatus, yet it rarely seems to do the job. If this subplot had been left out, the overall story would have been improved.

 The final incredulous event is when Tom and Bud are in their spaceship and it is hijacked by a Brungarian agent. They manage to regain control of the ship just in time to change the comet trajectory enough so that it misses Earth. Since they are not that far from Earth and the mass of even the smallest comets is considerable, this is a major violation of the laws of physics. Too much, even for a Tom Swift adventure.

 The best science fiction stories are those that focus on one conflict/adversarial or new phenomenon event. Put several together and there is not enough story to tell all the stories.

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Review of "Baseball’s Most Colorful Managers," by Ray Robinson

 Review of

Baseball’s Most Colorful Managers, by Ray Robinson

Four out of five stars

Unusual definition of the term colorful

 While the managers featured here were all very good at their jobs, the inclusion of two of them makes little sense. The six managers profiled in this book are Leo Durocher, Casey Stengel, Miller Huggins, Connie Mack, Wilbert Robinson and John J. McGraw. The two that are outliers are Connie Mack and Miller Huggins.

 All followers of baseball history are familiar with the images of Connie Mack in the dugout dressed in what is almost formal attire. He did not wear a baseball uniform and he was the very definition of being strait laced. His personal life was devoid of anything approaching what is normally defined as colorful within the sports world context.

 The same can be said of Miller Huggins. He lived and breathed baseball and at only five feet six inches tall, he was forced to physically stand up to Babe Ruth. Huggins was a graduate of law school  and could have practiced law, yet he chose his love of baseball over what likely would have been a successful practice. Huggins’ personal life was beyond the dull, the only woman in his life was his sister.

 The other four are of course managers of long duration that made themselves into media characters. Robinson and Stengel often bordered on the buffoonish, yet were generally successful, even though they both experienced years of failure.

 The profiles are fairly thorough, and the writing is targeted at the young adult. They are good stories of some of the men that made baseball into more than just a sport, it was truly a pastime.

Review of "Ash Zero," comic by Event Comics

 Review of

Ash Zero, comic by Event Comics

Five out of five stars

Deep primer on the developing story

 In many ways, the first issue in a comic book series is the most interesting. For it is here that the fundamental context for the character(s) is established. This is why the origin tales for superheroes have been told so many times. This is also why I am always looking for first issues so that I can determine my level of interest in the series.

 This first issue is significantly different, for it has the form of text with minimal images. That is a very good thing, for the background is very complex. It is an apocalyptic tale of the near extermination of humans. Some continue to fight on using simple weapons such as crossbows and guns, yet most of what they do is roam and hide from the oppressors.

 The context is a combination of very high and low technology. The free humans travel on horses, yet when injured they are placed in rejuvenation pods that heal even the most horrific of wounds in a short time. There is an alien presence called Adam, a self-proclaimed savior of Earth. Mention is made of advanced computing technology, but when it is necessary to consult records, the search involves print media.

 With so much complex context to cover, it would have been impossible to do it in a typical comic. Therefore, it was a wise tactic to resort to the text form of the explanations.

Thursday, June 17, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated: Kidnapped," by Robert Louis Stevenson

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: Kidnapped, by Robert Louis Stevenson

Five out of five stars

Well done comic expression of a classic adventure story

“Kidnapped” is a story where the main character is the recently orphaned David Balfour. Upon the death of his father, David is surprised to learn that he is in fact a member of a wealthy family. When he travels to meet his relatives, he discovers that his uncle is not highly regarded by the people of the area and his uncle seems determined to kill him.

 When that fails, the uncle does the next best thing and arranges for David to be kidnapped and placed on a ship from which there is no escape. He has many adventures on the ship, including befriending another man where the crew is plotting to kill him. It is two against the rest until the ship runs aground and David makes it to an island. After many adventures, David manages to obtain the assistance of people that can help him and avoids getting involved in conflicts between the different Scottish clans.

 This comic is an excellent primer on what is a complex story. It not only involves the basic act of being taken against his will, but perseverance in the face of adversity until David achieves his rightful property. There is also the complex issues of Scottish clan rivalry, friendships of convenience and necessity and other social issues of the British Empire at the time of publication. Class consciousness is also a fundamental component of the plot. The comic is recommended as a study aid in classes on English literature.

Review of "Nancy Drew Diaries: Monkey Wrench Blues and Dress Reversal graphic novel," by Carolyn Keene

 Review of

Nancy Drew Diaries: Monkey Wrench Blues and Dress Reversal graphic novel, by Carolyn Keene, ISBN 9781629912936

Four out of five stars

Changing times have changed Nancy and her group as well

 When I was in elementary school, a boy down the street turned me on to the Hardy Boys series, a male friend introduced me to the Tom Swift books and a female classmate lent me one of her Nancy Drew books. In the years since, I have occasionally read the more modern books in all three areas, I find them interesting as barometers of how adolescent fiction has changed over time.

 In this graphic novel of two adventures of Nancy Drew and her friends, they are very modern young women. In the first, Nancy is driving a technologically advanced car in a race against other cars. The goal is to win the race using only a minuscule amount of gasoline. Bess is an ace mechanic and is riding shotgun, fixing problems while the vehicle as it is moving.

 The second involves Nancy and her friends dressing way up for a party, only to have Nancy kidnapped and stuffed in a van. The prelude involves Nancy and her friends dress shopping, where they act like all the cliches regarding women shopping for new fancy clothing. A distinct difference from their actions in the first story.

 While there is dialog and it is sometimes quite snappy, there is a heavy  reliance on the images to provide all the action and context. The artwork is very modern, faces are smooth, rounded and often expressionless. This new way of expressing Nancy Drew and her friends is much more suited to the modern reader than what came before.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated: David Copperfield," by Charles Dickens

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens

Five out of five stars

A combination of autobiography and historical fiction

 England in the time of Dickens was experiencing a booming economy as the Industrial Revolution was in full expansion mode. Great wealth was being created, yet much of it was built on the backs of the less fortunate. Some of the experiences of David Copperfield are autobiographical, gleaned from the life of Dickens. Dickens also engages in a great deal of social satire regarding the conditions in England.

 In this book Dickens covers the often rough discipline that was considered part of schooling children, how women were completely subservient to their husbands, cruel child labor at very low wages and people being thrown into debtor’s prisons when they fall too far behind. All considered normal at the time, yet there were glimmerings of the potential for change. Both historically and in this novel.

 It is a complex novel that requires some knowledge of the history of England in the time period in order to completely understand it. The essence of the novel is captured in this comic, but there are limits to the depth that can be achieved, even with the help of the images. It can serve as a primer for classes in English literature, but only at that level. I recommend the comic in the hope that it will prompt the reader to read the whole book. It is well worth the effort, for the novel is a worthy addition to classes in English literature and history.

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated: A Tale of Two Cities," by Charles Dickens

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: A Tale of Two Cities,  by Charles Dickens

Five out of five stars

Arguably the best item of historical fiction ever written

 Historical fiction is a difficult genre, for the end result is generally known to the reader. The author must either embellish what has happened, interpolate into the unknown or wander from history enough to stay close to the reality. With hindsight, it is easy to see that the French Revolution was going to happen. Over time, the French society had become the poor masses and the small, rich aristocracy that cared little for the poor. It then quickly evolved into a reign of terror, where people were denounced and killed for many real and imagined transgressions. Even the members of the aristocracy that were kind and helpful to the poor lost their lives.

 Dickens captures all of that, starting with one of the best opening lines to a novel ever written. He describes the despair of the poor, the haughtiness of the wealthy and the conflicts that raged and swallowed the innocent and guilty alike. The last line of the novel is also one of the best closing lines to a novel ever written.

 This comic captures the essence of this classic story, serving as a primer for what is a complicated tale involving people in both Britain and France. The novel is both an example of some of the best writing ever done as well as the history of a convulsive time in a country that tore itself apart. It also captures one of the best instances of self-sacrifice ever written, when Sydney Carton faces death by guillotine.

Review of "Classics Illustrated: Buffalo Bill," Comic Book Version

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: Buffalo Bill, Comic Book Version

Four out of five stars

Interesting and entertaining biography

 It is indeed a stretch to call a biography of William (Buffalo Bill) Cody a classic. Yet, he was one of the most colorful and accomplished men that “tamed” the western United States. Since he was a showman in his later years, it is often difficult to separate what is fact from what is merely hype and legend. For example, there is some debate over whether he did indeed ride for the Pony Express.

 There was no question that Cody was a brave scout for the U. S. Army, often being in the most dangerous of situations. While there was extensive debate over whether he was indeed eligible for the Medal of Honor that we was awarded, the debate was not over his bravery, but the military status of the scouts.

 Even though there is some questionable poetic license taken in this comic regarding the actual accomplishments of Buffalo Bill, it is a fun story to read about one of the largest figures of the old west. His Wild West Show played to international audiences and helped expand the legend beyond what he accomplished, which was a great deal. If you are willing to accept some myth interspersed with the facts, then this is an entertaining story of an amazing man.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Review of "The Three Stooges 01: Shemptastic Shemptacular"

 Review of

The Three Stooges 01: Shemptastic Shemptacular, American Mythology Productions

Three out of five stars

The three (four) maniacs in a modern setting

   There is no more classic slapstick comedy than what the Three Stooges put forward. Theirs was an act that was predictable, yet never ceased to be entertaining. Extreme facial expressions, unusual sound effects and overdone sight gags were their forte and nobody did the facial expressions better than the members of this comedy team.

 Although the group was led on and off camera by Moe Howard, the real star was the all-to-short lived Curly Howard. His classic running in circles while flat on the floor is one of the greatest of all routines and could be considered an early form of break dancing. My young relatives and I tried doing this when we were young, and it is not an easy thing to do.

 This comic tries to recapture the zaniness of the Stooges and falls short. Some of it is the nature of modern comedy while other issues are the weakness of the plot. Stooges situations do not translate well to the written/comic form.

 The first story has all four of the main stooges, Moe, Larry, Curly and Shemp. It is set in the modern world with cell phones and Segways. Of course, the Segway is used in a gag sequence that involves spitting out a hotdog and pulling down the pants of an evil muscleman. The second has Moe, Larry and Shemp in a more classical Stooges tale, where they are inept house painters that do more damage than good. The third has the same three in a tale where they are once again bumbling fools yet manage to emerge victorious over a greedy con man at the end.

 As a fan of the Stooges in my youth, I was interested in reading this first story in what is a reboot via comic book. Given the style of Stooges comedy, it is hard to reproduce it in comic form. While this issue does have some good points, it just doesn’t do the masters justice.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Review of "Cold Service," by Robert B. Parker

 Review of

Cold Service, by Robert B. Parker ISBN 0425204286

Five out of five stars

 Hawk is shot and plots revenge

  This story opens with Hawk in the hospital with serious gunshot wounds. While the wounds are no longer life-threatening, he is very weak and faces a long period of recovery. Hawk was hired to protect a bookie that was being squeezed and did not want to pay. The culprits are an extremely ruthless Ukrainian gang that will stop at nothing. After taking Hawk out, they killed the bookie and several members of his family as a warning to others not to defy them. The Ukrainians are trying to move in on the black-controlled organized crime elements, which means that they are acting against Tony Marcus.

 This leads to an odd pseudo-alliance where Spenser and Hawk are cooperating with Tony Marcus and Vinnie Morris is included. Marcus is not entirely truthful in stating his purpose, a ruse that Spenser and Hawk immediately identify. Quirk provides some aid as he hates what the Ukrainians are doing and would like to see them stopped.

 The most interesting character that is part of the alliance is the Gray Man, an extremely efficient and intelligent hired killer that has opposed Spenser in the past. He is a man more than the equal of Spenser, in another story Gino Fish tells Spenser that he did not believe that Vinnie Morris could take him alone. It is unusual to hear the two men state that there is no hard feelings, even though significant blood has been spilled between them.

 It is a story that delves deep into the psyche of Hawk as he makes the slow comeback from near death so that he is at the point where he can hunt the men that foiled him at his job. Hawk is patient in his work, backed by Spenser and others, he manages to take down the Ukrainian gang and achieve a form of justice for the surviving member of the bookie’s family. Susan is there to provide the analysis of Hawk’s desire to even the score.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Review of "Classics Illustrated: Mutiny on the Bounty," by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: Mutiny on the Bounty, by Charles Nordhoff and James Norman Hall

Five out of five stars

Classic based on truth

 Unlike most of the other classic works of literature, “Mutiny on the Bounty” is based on a true story. The descendants of some of the mutineers still live on Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, the area where the mutiny took place. It was a time when a common sailor on a ship led a hard life, and the captain’s word was law. Transgressions could be punished by being placed in irons and even being flogged, sometimes to the death. Therefore, being on a ship was tantamount to being a temporary slave.

 While there were many instances of desertion, situations of actual mutiny were rare. It took a great deal of courage and bad actions by the captain before members of the crew revolted. Furthermore, if the captain lived and a mutineer was found, death by hanging was a common fate.

 The most famous mutiny took place aboard the ship called “Bounty” and it had been sent to the Pacific Island of Tahiti to bring back young breadfruit plants so that they could be transplanted to other locations with a climate suitable for growing them.

 This comic captures the essence of the background circumstances of the ship, the sadistic nature of Captain Bligh and the circumstances behind the mutiny. Having spent a long time on the island paradise of Tahiti and getting to know the people, the crewmembers were reluctant to leave. It could serve as a reference book for a classroom discussion of the story as well as the social context of life on a ship as well as why the breadfruit plants were considered so valuable.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Review of "Running Tough," by Tony Dorsett and Harvey Frommer

 Review of

Running Tough, by Tony Dorsett and Harvey Frommer ISBN 9780385262484

Four out of five stars

Average autobiography of a sports star

 Tony Dorsett rose from very modest means to win the Heisman Trophy as the best college football player in the land and then star in the NFL. When he retired, he was second only to Walter Payton in terms of yards gained as a running back and had been to the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl many times.

 Even though he thrived in the Cowboy offense, Dorsett was often uncomfortable with the rigidity of the system. As he states in this book, he often believed that white players were being given preferential treatment by management. He also had personal difficulties when the Cowboys acquired running back Herschel Walker, an act that lowered the status of Dorsett in the offense.

 This book is primarily focused on Dorsett’s position as a football player and his interactions with his teammates and the Cowboy leadership. Although he does frequently mention his family and gives them high praise. He makes it clear that while he respected Tom Landry, he questioned whether he was always forthright and even right when it came to making decisions.

 Written before he suffered the knee injury in training camp that ended his career, Dorsett and his collaborator have created a book that is good, but not spectacular. There are no segments where you cannot put it down. It is a good book to read late at night in bed as you are winding down. The tone is very matter-of-fact and medium key.

Review of "The Civil War: The Story and the Artillery," History Channel DVD

 Review of

The Civil War: The Story and the Artillery, History Channel DVD

Five out of five stars

Focus on two aspects not commonly covered

 The American Civil War was an incredibly bloody conflict and is arguably the first war of the industrial age. Giant factories in the north turned out enormous quantities of weapons, and some of those weapons had been improved so that they were more efficient killing machines. One of those weapons was the cannon, which is one of the topics of this video.

 The other topic deals with the press coverage of the war. Since the first amendment guarantees freedom of the press, there was a delicate balancing act between allowing reporters to cover the war and prevent them from revealing military matters. Some, such as General Sherman, simply locked them down so that no information about what he was doing as his forces moved through the Confederacy was released.

 The information regarding the advanced role the artillery played in this war is fascinating. It is also saddening to understand that no lessons were learned by military leaders. In the Civil War, men marched in formation to attack fixed artillery positions and were slaughtered by the thousands. In the First World War, something similar was done with the same results.

 A great deal has been written about the battles of the American Civil War and the political and military leaders. This video covers two aspects of the war that are rarely mentioned. The power of massed artillery and how the press brought accounts and images of the war to the public for the first time. It was grisly and gross, in other words factually accurate.

Monday, June 7, 2021

Review of "The Whole Ten Yards," by Frank Gifford and Harry Waters

 Review of

The Whole Ten Yards, by Frank Gifford and Harry Waters ISBN 0679415432

Four out of five stars

Story of a two-way star, football and broadcasting

 Frank Gifford was a great football player at a time when pro football was just beginning to gain prominence. He was also one of the first players to make the transition to an entertainment star as well. One little known fact is that Gifford was one of the founding members of the NFL Players Association, the first effort to band together for better pay and conditions. Given the modern state of the game, the initial requests of the players as recited by Gifford are extremely modest.

 Given that Gifford’s life spanned the days from when the NFL was a minor sport until it became the monetary powerhouse it is today, his memoirs are interesting reading. A short time after Gifford retired, he joined the broadcasting team for Monday Night Football, remaining there for 27 years. It was in this role that he truly became a household name.

 Like so many athletes driven to succeed, Gifford came from deep poverty, when he was young his family sometimes resorted to eating dogfood. Therefore, his story is both a rags-to-riches story as well as a historical recapitulation of the NFL going from a minor sport to arguably the most popular one in the United States.

 As a final note, after he died, an examination of Gifford’s brain revealed that he suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE).

Saturday, June 5, 2021

Review of "Tom Swift and His Motorboat," by Victor Appleton

 Review of

Tom Swift and His Motorboat, by Victor Appleton

Four out of five stars

Tom as an ace mechanic rather than an inventor

 This is the second in the original Tom Swift series and once again Tom is portrayed as an ace mechanic rather than as an inventor. In this case, he acquires a motorboat that is beset with mechanical problems. It is his father Barton Swift that is the inventor and as was the case in the first book, a gang of thieves is after the elder Swift’s inventions. They are clever and resourceful in their methods, and it is up to Tom to foil their efforts.

 Eradicate and his mule once again play a supporting role, and there is the glimmering of a relationship between Tom and Miss Nestor. The action between Tom and the villains is rather low key and they are largely recycled from the first book in the series. The dialogue is very much that of youth adventures shortly after the turn of the century. In that respect, this is a historical retrospective of YA literature of the time. It is also a look into the genesis of the Tom Swift character and how he evolved, both in the original series and then into the character of Tom Swift Junior.

 Since Tom is depicted as a mechanic rather than an inventor, this is not a science fiction book. Even the inventions of Barton Swift are not explained in any detail, so science is not really a part of the plot.

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Review of "Strange But True Baseball Stories," by Furman Bisher

 Review of

Strange But True Baseball Stories, by Furman Bisher

Four out of five stars

Memorable events rather than strange

 With a major league baseball season of over 150 games and at least 16 teams in the majors, there has been ample opportunity for unusual events to take place. What is described here is more in the area of memorable rather than strange. For example, the famous Bill Veeck publicity stunt of having Eddie Gaedel bat in a game is not strange. To many, it was a brilliant move to attract nationwide attention to what was a lousy team that drew few fans.

 The fact that Stan Musial started out as a pitcher until he hurt his throwing arm and became one of the best hitters of all-time is also not strange. Several other players started out at one position and then became great at another. Actor Chuck Connors was a baseball player of dubious distinction until he became an actor. Again, not all that unusual, and certainly not strange.

 Having said that, this is a nice book of historical events in baseball. It shows how the game reflects the world around it and that the people that have played it were human. The most unusual story is how Ty Cobb literally discovered himself as a baseball prospect.