Saturday, April 30, 2022

Review of "Batman No Man’s Land: Volume Two," by Dennis O’Neill

 Review of

Batman No Man’s Land: Volume Two, by Dennis O’Neill ISBN 9781779517142

Five out of five stars

The psychotic version of Batman in a post-apocalyptic Gotham City, a great idea

 The premise of this series of graphic comic books is the product of genius. A massive earthquake struck Gotham City, so completely destroying it that the federal government declares it a wasteland and orders it evacuated and then sealed off from the rest of the world. Some people refuse to leave their homes, while others choose to stay within the consequential chaos.

 The destroyed city has been partitioned into territories held by various groups, some criminal and others with a more noble intent. Police Commissioner Gordon and some of his officers hold one territory, Batman adversaries such as the Penguin and Two-Face hold others and in general other criminal gangs hold the rest. Most of the efforts of all the groups are spent on trying to hold and expand their territories, generally these are border skirmishes with little territory changing hands. Lives are lost on a whim, one of the most common forms of entertainment is to have one-on-one gladiatorial style contests to the death. Students of history will recognize the shifting alliances in the battles between princes that led to Machiavelli writing his classic “The Prince.”

 Batman and the second generation Batgirl have remained in the city and are the ultimate wildcard in the battles for territory. This is the more psychotic version of Batman; he is determined to save the city but is overwhelmed with the task. Commissioner Gordon and Batman are adversaries yet not enemies, although Gordon will seek his help if pressured hard enough.

 Post-apocalyptic tales are a staple of literature; this one is unique in that superheroes are involved. There was one mention of Superman flying in supplies, but that is the only time the most obvious solution is mentioned, having the other superheroes come to the rescue. Batman in his psychotic form is an excellent character to be involved in a tale of this type, for his psyche is a constant battle against an internal apocalypse. This is a great and engaging story, survival in its most brutal form; once I read it I started a search for volume 1. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

Review of "The Quotable Calvin Coolidge: Sensible Words For a New Century," edited by Peter Hannaford

 Review of

The Quotable Calvin Coolidge: Sensible Words For a New Century, edited by Peter Hannaford ISBN 9781884592560

Five out of five stars

The real, not the silent Cal

 Nearly all presidents acquire some form of a bad rap while in office. For Calvin Coolidge, the label was “Silent Cal,” due to his penchant for minimum speaking. Yet, in many ways such an attitude would be a welcome relief in the modern world, where every word a president utters is magnified and dissected. Yet, Coolidge did speak often and with focus, just not to hear himself speak and gather attention. Coolidge was a genuinely humble man, unlike the self-centered people that are the set of modern presidents.

 The quotes in this book contain a great deal of wisdom and reflect both Coolidge and the times when he was president. The automobile age was just beginning, and the world had yet to experience the Great Depression. It was a time of great optimism, and it was reasonable to think that the best role of the national government was to stay out of the way as much as possible.

 Coolidge was also someone that had genuine empathy for the people with real problems of poverty, health issues and even those of another color. If you have no in depth knowledge of Coolidge, you will be surprised at how liberal his views were regarding welfare. While brief, it reveals much about the man that history calls “Silent Cal.”

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Review of "Fool’s Paradise," by Mike Lupica

 Review of

Fool’s Paradise, by Mike Lupica, ISBN 9780525542100

Five out of five stars

The best Jesse Stone after Parker

 The defining characteristic that makes the Robert B. Parker books so good is the quality of the dialog. Snappy, succinct, to the point and humorous. This is without question the best novel featuring the Parker characters that was not authored by Parker.

 Jesse Stone has finally established reasonable control over his desires for alcohol and attends an AA meeting in a church. While there, he meets a man called Paul for the first time. Shortly after that, Paul’s body is found in the water, shot in the head in a manner that is conclusive for murder. With no identification on the body, it is difficult for Jesse and his crew to establish anything in the way of background. The first clue leads them to the home of a very wealthy local family.

 There are three main plot threads in this book. The first is the investigation of the murder of Paul, the second is the targeting of members of the Paradise Police Department by unknown assailant(s) and the third is the rekindling of the romance between Jesse and Sunny Randall. All three are handled very well, Sunny comes to Paradise when some backup protection is needed.

 A great novel where the two criminal investigations are kept separate, yet are intertwined, this is a book that could have been written by Parker. Presented with an anonymous segment with no data that can be used to establish a position in the sequence, it would be impossible to determine the author.

Review of "Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse," by Bob Ross

 Review of

Muddled Meanderings in an Outhouse, by Bob Ross

Five out of five stars

Humor about an essential activity

 Shortly before he died, I told my uncle about a septic tank joke that I had heard. I followed it up by saying that we were the last generation that would appreciate and understand the joke. Both of my grandparent’s houses had outhouses rather than an indoor toilet. Therefore, I am familiar with the act of executing nature calls outdoors when the weather was horrible. No one that has not done it can understand how rough it is to drop your pants and keep them down until the deed is complete.

 This book contains a set of short poems that reminisce about using an outhouse. They are very good, potty humor with an historical taste. Each item of prose is accompanied by an image of an outhouse, some very much finer than others. While most people will be able to appreciate the humor, true understanding of some of them will not be possible for those who have not fought the weather and the insects while pursuing the most basal form of relief.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Review of "The Chicago Bears and Super Bowl XX: The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team In History," by John Mullen

 Review of

The Chicago Bears and Super Bowl XX: The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team In History, by John Mullen ISBN 1572437901

Five out of five stars

They were great, but not as long as they could have been

 There are many convincing arguments that the 1985 Chicago Bears were the best team in NFL history. The statistics on their dominance are amazing.  Pat Summerall and John Madden, two of the most knowledgeable football followers, both firmly believed it. During that season, they were the most popular topic for discussion, both on and off the field.

 For a short time, William “The Refrigerator” Perry was the most well-known person in the sports world. Weighing somewhere around 350 pounds and a defensive tackle, he was surprisingly agile and was used as a running back and pass receiver on offense. Yet, the incredible fame and massive number of endorsements by some of the players and the head coach Mike Ditka proved to be a cancer on the cohesion of the team. There are still many questions regarding how good a coach Mike Ditka really was. To this day there are debates as to whether the 1985 Bears succeeded in spite of or because of him.

 All of these issues make this a fascinating book. It shows how fleeting even the highest levels of success can be. Yet, it must be kept in mind that the Bears were still very good in later years. Their record in 1986 was 14 and 2, in 1987 it was 11 and 4 and in 1988 it was 12 and 4. All good enough to get into the playoffs, where they went down to defeat.

 All teams have internal machinations that can be either positive or negative. In this case, many of them were negative. As Mullen states very clearly, jealousies over the amount of media coverage, the amount being earned by endorsements and some very foolish statements and moves by management kept the Bears from doing what they were perfectly capable of doing, winning another Super Bowl. As is made clear in this book, the team did largely self-destruct, although it was incremental rather than dramatic.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Review of "You’re Out and You’re Ugly Too: Confessions of an Umpire With attitude," by Derwood Merrill

 Review of

You’re Out and You’re Ugly Too: Confessions of an Umpire With attitude, by Derwood Merrill ISBN 0312969007

Five out of five stars

Loved the book, hate the title

The umpires of professional baseball have a unique perspective on the game. They have to make instantaneous decisions and believe in the old saying, “You have to be perfect your first day and improve over time.” Baseball also has the tradition where the players, coaches and managers can argue with the umpires. In many ways it is part of the theater of the sport. Nothing riles up the home crowd more than when the manager of their team and an umpire go face-to-face in what is commonly called a rhubarb.

 Longtime baseball umpire Derwood Merrill has written a book detailing his experiences on the field. One is struck with how poorly paid umpires are in the minor leagues and how dangerous it can sometimes be, especially in Latin America. Gunfire and police escorts are common there.

 The insight into the thought processes of umpires is very revealing, they understand that they will miss a call on occasion. It reminds you of the saying about cornerbacks in the NFL. When they get beat for a touchdown, they have to have a short memory, because there is always another big play coming up. Dwelling on a failure is a recipe for more failure.

 This is an enjoyable book for any fan of baseball. One of the best points made is that there has never been even one incident where an umpire’s integrity has been seriously questioned. When the gamblers that paid off the Chicago Black Sox were asked why they didn’t try to bribe the umpires, they responded by saying, “The price was too high.” When asked for specifics, the response was, “They were on a very high floor and if we had gone to them, they would have thrown us out the window.”

 Merrill has many stories to tell, and he has made the sports world richer for his telling them. However, the title is awful, personal insults like that get people kicked out of ballgames.

Review of "Kid Owner," by Tim Green

 Review of

Kid Owner, by Tim Green ISBN 9780062293794

Five out of five stars

Great sports story with unexpected ending

 Like nearly all stories about participants in sports, the end of the book describes the action in the big game at the end. However, unlike most of the others, the ending here is unexpected, although pleasing.

Ryan is a boy growing up in Texas, where football at all levels is just short of a religion. That extends up through the pros, where the dominant team is the Dallas Cowboys. Like nearly everyone else in his neighborhood, Ryan is an intense fan of the Cowboys. Ryan loves playing football and is very knowledgeable about the intricacies of the game. However, although he is very fast, he is also small and during his early years, the coaches generally keep him out of contact situations.

 That changes when he reaches middle school, and he acquires a new friend in Jackson. He is a transfer into the area and is so big that at first no one can believe that he is truly still in middle school. Jackson is also very fast and has the football temperament, so he is a natural on the playing field. Ryan also has a close female friend called Izzy she is also very knowledgeable about football. Both the history and the on-field tactics.

 When Ryan’s father dies, he suddenly inherits his absent father’s ownership stake in the Dallas Cowboys. It is quite a heady experience for a 12-year-old boy, and the attention is unnerving. His middle school football team is also in need of a spark, a quarterback that can make quick decisions when coming up to the line of scrimmage. Ryan proves to be such a player, even though many of his passes have the aspect of a wounded duck.

 The plot has two parallel tracks, Ryan’s inherited interest in the Cowboys and the subsequent legal fight as well as his desire to lead his team to a victory over powerhouse Eiland, a team that has not lost in years. In an ingenious weaving together of the two plot threads, Green makes the middle school game mean much more than it did before.

 If you can get beyond the unusual premise of a boy inheriting a major sports team, this story is great. It combines the strains of adolescence, the hysteria over football in Texas and the difficulties of an under-age child suddenly being in possession of great wealth. The inclusion of the Izzy character was also a stroke of genius, she is the grounding of Ryan within his world that is churning faster than he can cope.

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Review of "Science Comics Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate," by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

 Review of

Science Comics Wild Weather: Storms, Meteorology, and Climate, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill ISBN 9781626727908

Five out of five stars

Good science in comic form

 With the continuing focus on the consequences of the increase in the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere leading to climate change, the general public needs to be schooled in the science of the weather. This book does an excellent job of that using the comic form.

 The three main characters are a black meteorologist named Stormin’ Norman Weatherby that gears a strong resemblance to Al Roker, a white male news anchor named Chase McCloud that is dumb as a Will Ferrell character and a female news anchor called Connie Trales. The Chase character is an excellent foil in that he asks very dumb questions that frustrate Norman yet give him the opportunity to explain everything at the most basic of levels.

 All of the major issues of weather at the global down to the local levels are covered. This book is an excellent primer on the science of the weather and could be used as an introductory textbook at the middle or high school level.

Monday, April 18, 2022

Review of "Maggots Number 1," edited by Leonard Clark

Review of

Maggots Number 1, edited by Leonard Clark

Four out of five stars

 Bizarre and entertaining tales of the macabre

 When I saw this magazine on the rack at my favorite used bookstore, I had to buy it sight unseen for it was in a sealed package. I was not disappointed, the stories are gross, gruesome and entertaining. There is cannibalism, alien monsters that devour humans, a bank robbery with a femme fatale and a simple murder for profit that leads to a bizarre revenge.

 The artwork is all in black-and-white and is crisp and sufficiently descriptive. The dialog demonstrates some significant thought and is not ridden with clich├ęs, something that is easy to do when the topic is horror.

 I found it a fun read, if you like horror in comic book form, then you will enjoy this magazine.

Sunday, April 17, 2022

Review of "Classics Illustrated: The Count of Monte Cristo," by Alexandre Dumas

 Review of

Classics Illustrated: The Count of Monte Cristo, by Alexandre Dumas

Five out of five stars

Excellent visual abridgement of a classic story

 The full novel is over 1,000 pages long, so it was a significant challenge to abridge the story down to a lengthy comic book. Despite this difficulty, the creators of this comic have succeeded very well. The essence of the story as well as the political background of the restoration of the monarchy after Napoleon was overthrown is maintained.

 I have long been a proponent of the Classics Illustrated series of comics, for anything that encourages young people to get involved in reading the classics is something that I consider a strong positive. Given the extended length of the novel, this comic provides an excellent summary of the story.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Review of "The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom," by Blaine Harden

 Review of

The Great Leader and the Fighter Pilot: The True Story of the Tyrant Who Created North Korea and the Young Lieutenant Who Stole His Way to Freedom, by Blaine Harden, ISBN  9780670016570

Five out of five stars

How the North Korean state came into being

 No Kum Sok, later known as Kenneth Rowe after he came to America, is best known as the North Korean fighter pilot that flew his plane to an airfield in South Korea and defected, plane and all. It is a wonder that he was not shot out of the sky, it was his good fortune that the American and South Korean air defenses were inadequate to the task of defending their airspace. While this is his story, the most interesting history is that of Great Leader Kim Il Sung and how he managed to beat the odds and rule North Korea. He also managed to create what is the only hereditary absolute monarchy left on Earth.

 In the Second World War, Kim Il Sung was a relatively minor commander of a Korean partisan group that fought the occupying Japanese forces. While he saw combat, the action was not distinguished. Eventually, Kim Il Sung became one of the leaders of the Korean Communist Party and a favorite of Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin.

 When the war ended suddenly and something had to be done with Korea, it was agreed in haste that it would be divided at the 38th parallel into the Soviet controlled North and Allied controlled south. Kim Il Sung and Syngman Rhee both wanted the same thing, for Korea to be unified. However, each one wanted to rule the united pieces. Sung was the one that attacked first.

 The story of how Kim Il Sung ruthlessly gained absolute power and launched a war of attempted reunification is fascinating. It is also a lesson in power politics how the leaders of the two superpowers acted during the Korean War. To Joseph Stalin, the Koreans were simply expendable pawns in his rivalry with the United States and her allies. It pleased him that the North Koreans and Chinese were killing Americans and vice versa. The Americans also cared little for Korean lives as well. It is no secret, but little mentioned in the history books that the United States carpet bombed all the population centers in North Korea with no concern for the level of civilian casualties. It is this collective memory that the North Korean leaders have used to create the national paranoia they need to survive.

 It is also mentioned that many of the U.S. air force fighter pilots achieved their status as an ace by invading Chinese air space and attacking unsuspecting North Korean pilots there. This was of course a violation of American law and the U. N. mandate.

 This is a great book, even though it has two stories, one fascinating and the other just interesting. How Kim Il Sung managed to stay in power despite colossal mistakes and the near total destruction of his country is amazing. He managed to play the Soviets, Chinese and the Eastern block countries into letting him remain in power and finance the rebuilding of his country. The less interesting story is that of the defecting pilot No Kum Sok.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Review of "Coat of Many Colors," by Dolly Parton

 Review of

Coat of Many Colors, by Dolly Parton, ISBN 006023413x

Five out of five stars

Growing up poor, yet rich with love

 This book is about a girl growing up poor, where her family simply could not provide her with new clothes. When she needed a new coat, her mother sewed one together using rags that someone had given them. The stitching was done by hand by the light of a kerosene lantern. She was proud of her new coat, but when she wore it to school, the other children made fun of her.

 Her response was that only you can make yourself poor and that the coat represented a great deal of love that she had received from her family. With head held high and a smile on her face, patches on her pants and holes in her shoes, the girl proudly walked back and forth to school wearing her coat.

 Dolly Parton grew up poor in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and so this book is at least somewhat autobiographical. It is a delightful story of how children can be happy independent of their means.

Review of "Red In the Flower Bed," by Andrea Nepa

 Review of

Red In the Flower Bed, by Andrea Nepa ISBN 9780981461991

Four out of five stars

Main point is not obvious

 The subtitle of this book is “An Illustrated Children’s Story About Interracial Adoption”, but it is hard to discern that part of the story. It is about a poppy seed that falls from the flower and drifts with the wind until it lands in a garden. Once it germinates and grows into a flower it finds itself inside a garden containing all types of flowers and it feels happy to be a part of such a diverse family. It is a red poppy and all the other flowers welcome the color because it completes the rainbow.

 While an adult can see the theme of interracial adoption after being told that is what the story is about, it is not self-evident. Nevertheless, it is a nice story about the fundamentals of belonging and accepting differences, one that teaches children a valuable lesson about accepting and appreciating those that are different from us and that come from different places.

Review of "Great Linebackers of the NFL," by Richard Kaplan

 Review of

Great Linebackers of the NFL, by Richard Kaplan

Four out of five stars

Contribution to the major debate on excellence

 The 1960’s could be considered the decade of the debate over NFL linebackers. Followers of the NFL regularly argued over who was the best linebacker, specifically middle, in the game. Dick Butkis, Ray Nitschke, Mike Curtis and Tommy Nobis were the primary names featured in those conversations. This book contains brief biographies of those players as well as some who played outside linebacker.

 One of the most positive features of the book is that some of the earlier stars are included. All-time great linebackers such as Mel Hein and Bulldog Turner are also featured. They were both two-way players that excelled on both sides of the ball and are not well known.

 This is very much a YA sports history book written in the form of books published in the 1960’s. The content is laudatory and there is none of the dirt on players that now seems obligatory in books about stars in any sport. It is a simple, fun read.

Monday, April 11, 2022

Review of "Siegel and Shuster Dateline 1930’s, Previously Unpublished Work From the Creators of Superman, Number 2," Eclipse Comics

 Review of

Siegel and Shuster Dateline 1930’s, Previously Unpublished Work From the Creators of Superman, Number 2, Eclipse Comics

Five out of five stars

Other work by the creators of Superman

 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are rightfully given credit for the creation of the iconic character of Superman. He was created in 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, and Siegel and Shuster were in many ways just trying to survive financially. Superman was just one of many characters that they created in that time frame, yet the others were generally put away and forgotten.

This comic consists of some of that work. Most of the pages contain a series of stories about the two characters Snoopy and Smiley. If you are experienced in the early work of Siegel and Shuster, you will recognize the appearance of the Waif in story number 7. A main premise is that when Smiley receives a blow to the head, he briefly becomes capable of accurately predicting the future. Snoopy uses this to make a great deal of money.

 The remainder of the content is a series of rough sketches of the characters of Kaye, Inko, Bruce Verne, the Waif, Cornelius and Gloria Glamour. It is difficult to read the dialog of these captions.

Creating Superman would have been enough creative activity for several years. In this comic, you see some of the other products of these two extremely creative minds. Although the other characters did not become popular, they do show a high level of imagination and demonstrate unrealized potential.

Sunday, April 10, 2022

Review of "Siegel and Shuster Dateline 1930’s, Previously Unpublished Work From the Creators of Superman," Eclipse Comics

 Review of

Siegel and Shuster Dateline 1930’s, Previously Unpublished Work From the Creators of Superman, Eclipse Comics

Five out of five stars

Other work by the creators of Superman

 Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster are rightfully given credit for the creation of the iconic character of Superman. He was created in 1934, at the height of the Great Depression, and Siegel and Shuster were in many ways just trying to survive financially. Superman was just one of many characters that they created in that time frame yet the others were generally put away and forgotten.

This comic consists of some of that work as well as a short interview of Siegel and Shuster by Shel Dorf. Readers that have read the early stories featuring Superman will immediately recognize the artwork and dialog as being that of Siegel and Shuster.

 There are several short stories featuring other original characters. Some of them are “The Waif,”, “Spuds,” “Gloria Glamour,” “Ma Jenkins,” “Snoopy and Smiley,” and “The Radio Team.” All of the stories are one page in length My favorite was “The Waif,” a poor boy that walks up to a fancily dressed woman that is sipping on what looks like an ice cream soda. He pulls a mouse out of his pocket, which scares the woman away. He then proceeds to finish off her soda.

 Creating Superman would have been enough creative activity for several years. In this comic, you see some of the other products of these two extremely creative minds. Although the other characters did not become popular, they do show a high level of imagination and demonstrate unrealized potential.

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Review of "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter," by Ian O’Connor

 Review of

The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter, by Ian O’Connor ISBN 9780547327938

Five out of five stars

Book, like the subject, is a throwback

 In many ways, the tone of this book is very pre-Bouton. Before the publication of the now classic “Ball Four” by Jim Bouton, books about sports figures tended to be laudatory and lacking in any semblance of dirty laundry about the players. After that book was published, the authors felt free to expose all the faults of the athletes along with their successes. Sometimes, there seemed to be an emphasis on the negative.

 The subject is of course the longtime Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter. In many ways, Jeter was a throwback to the old days. He spent 20 years in the major leagues and every single inning he played was as a Yankee. Jeter also played nearly every day and was as close to a model citizen as is possible in the modern world.

 This is the story of his life and either by choice of the author or because there was very little to report, there was almost nothing negative in the descriptions of how Jeter conducted himself, both on and off the field. At a time when steroids were rampant in baseball, there was never a hint that he was a user of anything in the way of a PED.

 An all-time great baseball player, Jeter deserves the accolades, as in many ways he was a role model for people in all areas of sports. Despite his incredible talents, he had an unbelievable work ethic. Unlike so many other players with comparable talent, there was not an inkling of tendency to self-destruct.

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Review of "The Muppet Show Comic Book," by Roger Langridge et. al.

 Review of

The Muppet Show Comic Book, by Roger Langridge et. al. ISBN 9781934506851

Five out of five stars

The charm of the show is captured in graphic novel form

 This graphic novel is in essence a Muppet Show rendition in comic form. The main characters are presented in sketches that are absurd yet maintain the quirkiness of those unforgettable personalities. The two old men hecklers in the balcony pop up on a regular basis to give their caustic comments on what they have just seen.

 The Muppets are in the wild, aboard a spacecraft, in a science lab, under insurance audit and dancing in a ballroom. The longest running story is where an insurance agent is trying to determine for the formal records what kind of creature Gonzo is. It is not an easy task, for how do you define the undefinable.

 Truly unique characters in the history of entertainment, the Muppets are some of the best characters ever created. Each one is a work of genius, and there are so many.

Review of "Muppet Robin Hood," by Ross Richie et. al.

 Review of

Muppet Robin Hood, by Ross Richie et. al. ISBN 9781934506790

Five out of five stars

Entertaining retelling of the Robin Hood story

 In this graphic novel, the Muppet characters assume the roles of the characters of the Robin Hood story and tell it in their own way. The overall plot is similar to that of the original story, but of course given that they are the Muppets, there is a great deal of poetic license taken.

 Kermit is of course Robin Hood and Miss Piggy is Maid Marion. The dialog is truly that of the Muppet characters, especially the attitude of Miss Piggy, yet the sense of the story is generally preserved. It is a fun and entertaining rendition of a classic story, one that children will love to read, further preserving the legend of the noble robber that takes from the rich and gives to the poor.