Tuesday, May 29

Comicpalooza 2012 (and some random convention observations)

This past weekend, Friday through Sunday (25-27 May), was Comicpalooza: The Texas International Comic Con at the George R. Brown Convention Center in Houston, Texas. It was the biggest comic book convention I've ever attended. I only went for one day, Saturday, and had a great time.

To run down my day very quickly, I drove in from my sister-in-law's home on the northeastern edge of Houston that morning, arriving just before the scheduled opening of registration at 9 am. I had purchased my ticket a few nights before, on-line, and was taken by a kind lady inside to redeem my printed voucher, then sent back outside to wait in line for the doors to open at 10 am. I stood in line by a couple who had driven in from New Orleans to be there for all three days. Visiting with them made the hour go by a bit faster than it might have otherwise. Various cosplayers – Rorschach, Batgirl, and so forth – strolled by adding to the line behind us which grew longer and longer. We also saw George Takei (original Star Trek's Mr. Sulu) shuttled in a few minutes before opening. The organizers were punctual to a fault, opening the doors at 10 am on the dot.

I had several specific things to accomplish. No offense to Takei or the other actors from various shows and movies who were in attendance, they are not who I attend a con to meet. I'm far more interested in meeting the various creators, most typically artists, who have given me such enjoyment over the decades I have been a comic book reader. During this convention I had two primary goals: 1) To meet the great Joe Kubert, who has been in the industry for seventy years, from when he started basically as a go'fer at age twelve, just a few short years after comic books exploded onto the scene with the publication of Action Comics #1 in 1938 (yes, I know there were earlier comic books, but Action is the one that really mattered); and 
Art by Thom Zahler
(and it's mine, all mine!)
2) to meet a relative newcomer, Thom Zahler, who puts on basically a one-man show writing, drawing, and for a while even publishing although it's now been picked up by one of the “second-tier” publishers, IDW, what is my favorite “independent” comic, Love and Capes. In fact, in Thom's case I had contacted him beforehand and knew he had something special waiting for me – a commissioned piece of art depicting Aquaman and Mera. Besides the “Triple Shots” I picked up from Thom a few months back (see here), this is the first commission I've ever purchased.

Thom Zahler sketching
Given my general preference as far as comic art goes, which tends toward the more realistic along the lines of Neal Adams, I am sometimes surprised to find myself so greatly taken with Thom's style, which although “cartoonish” and indeed reminiscent of various animated styles (it reminds me a lot of the early 2000s DC Animated Universe Justice League cartoon), sports a clean simplicity that works very well with his own characters and also with many other classic super-hero characters. I love the result here, and will doubtless be picking up some more from him in the future. 
Art by Thom Zahler
 I really enjoyed visiting with Thom and his pal, Jesse Jackson (yes, I made the obvious jest, which he took good-naturedly) both then and several other times through the day. Thom was kind enough to sign for me not only each of the three volumes of Love and Capes, but also the three volumes of an earlier, less well known work entitled Raider. I also picked up a very low number of his limited edition print for Comicpalooza, as well as a Love and Capes tee-shirt. (Note: Both of the pictures came without the watermark shown here.)

Art by Robert Luedke
In my haste to get to one of the two highlights of my day, I forgot to mention that as I made my way to where Thom's table was set up I found Robert Luedke and picked up a low numbered limited edition print he did to benefit the Wounded Warrior Project.  I had known about this beforehand and made contributing to this worthy cause a priority.

After all that, I wandered around basically just exploring the large hall which housed Artists' Alley as well as Dealers' and Celebrity Autograph Booths, getting the lay of the land. As I said, this was the largest convention I've ever attended, and that hall was just roughly a third of the total floor space devoted to Comicpalooza. Immediately next was a hall housing various gaming areas such as a large rink laid out on the floor where there was an ongoing Roller Derby competition, several “boxing/wrestling” rings, an area where one of the stunt coordinators from the Star Wars movies was teaching Jedi swordplay, and the like.

Finally, there was an area partitioned off into a number of theatres, workshops, classrooms, and panel/discussion areas. One of the latter was my next destination, where in the 11 am hour Joe Kubert gave a retrospective of his seventy years in the industry, fielded questions from the audience, and drew a wonderful drawing of Nite Owl from The Watchmen that was to be auctioned off to benefit the Ronald McDonald House charity. (I apparently did not win it since I've heard nothing several days later. Congratulations to whomever did!) 
 This was the second high point of my day, just listening to one of the founders of the comic book medium who has emerged as probably the single most influential artist in the history of narrative illustration through his Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art. It's sad that just recently we have lost several of that first, “founders” generation – Jerry Robinson and Sheldon Moldoff coming immediately to mind. 
Joe Kubert signing
 I value the opportunity I had not just to hear him speak but, later in the day, to get the first volume of Tarzan: The Joe Kubert Years signed and to thank him for, with the first DC issue of Tarzan collected in that book, turning me on to the wonderful writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Most of the rest of the day was spent just wandering around the convention. Early in the afternoon I saw that science fiction author Larry Niven had arrived at his autograph booth. I went and introduced myself to him, saying a few words about how I've enjoyed various books and stories he's written. Unfortunately I did not have any appropriate books for him to sign – most of what I've read by him have been mass market paperbacks or older “cheap” Science Fiction Book Club editions such as The Mote in God's Eye which he cowrote with Jerry Pournelle. He and Pournelle are neighbors and good friends, and I mentioned to him that I sort of keep up with his, Pournelle's, and the latter's dog Sable's “adventures” in hiking via Pournelle's blog. I did, however, get Niven's signature on the Green Lantern graphic novel Ganthet's Tale; in the early '90s, as I understand it, DC asked Niven to formulate a “story bible” for the Green Lantern universe, and this “Prestige Edition” comic illustrated by John Byrne was one product of that. I also sat through a panel during which Niven and his “booth-mate,” fellow sci-fi author Timothy Zahn described the processes by which they have formulated alien cultures to populate various of their works. I say “sat through” because unfortunately Niven and Zahn were competing with a very raucous True Blood actress' question-and-answer panel right “next door” with only a fabric curtain between the two “rooms,” and I quite frankly was able to hear only very little of what I wanted to hear. I was, however, able to shout out my own small contribution to the panel when Zahn blanked on the name of the robot stories written back in the 1930s and 1940s by “Eando” Binder and I was able to jog his memory, “Adam Link!”

Rod Thornton, Thom Zahler, and Michelle Delecki
 "Gender Representation in Graphic Literature"
The other interesting panel that I attended, mainly drawn by Thom Zahler's involvement, dealt with “Gender Representations in Graphic Literature.” It was organized, as I understand it, by a graduate student studying such issues, and included two other artists besides Thom. The perceived misogynism of super-hero comics in particular, a perception exacerbated in recent months by the notorious portrayal of Starfire in DC's Red Hood and the Outlaws, was a major focus, but the artists were able to give a lot of insight into how they go about attempting to avoid such issues in their works. A specific issue that I find disturbing (and have commented on in this blog from time to time) was never addressed however, that of the oversexualization of teenaged girls such as Supergirl, in part because I could not figure out a way to frame the question without coming off as a “dirty old man”!  (On his own blog about the weekend, Thom posts a picture of "What a Panel Looks Like to Me" which shows some old guy off to the extreme left....)

Other than those various memorable parts of the day, I basically just wandered around from booth to booth – oh, at some point I also got a signature by artist Shane Davis in his Superman: Earth One hardcover. When I handed it to him, I said, “This is something I'm sure you don't sign every day,” to which he agreed, “No … this is the first one I've seen today,” although we both knew I'd been standing in a line of people the majority of whom had just that volume for him to sign. I ended up buying very little at this convention beyond the various posters and the commission from Thom Zahler – just a paperback collection of art by Joe Kubert along with his sons, Adam and Andy, and a couple of independently produced comics just for the heck of it. Which brings to mind the different “flavors” of the various conventions I've been to over the past few years.

I only started attending the occasional “con” a few years ago, mainly influenced by hearing about them through the various podcasts I discovered shortly before. There have been basically just four, a couple of which I've attended twice. Each has its own distinct character:

The first con I ever attended was the inaugural meeting of NOLA-Con in early 2009, held out in Kenner just outside New Orleans. It was very small – just a single room in the convention center there, probably less than a tenth the floor space of Comicpalooza – and I remember being amazed by how many of the artists, typically local in origin and not very well-known in the wider comics world, were willing to do small sketches for me in a little Moleskine notebook I brought for that purpose – and at a reasonable price, about $10. The most prominent artist that I met that year was inker John Dell, who does do a lot of work for both DC and Marvel. I picked up a few comics and trade paperbacks, but really had the most fun just meeting the artists. I found the second time I went to NOLA-Con, the next year, to be pretty much the same.

In between, in August of 2009, I attended the Dallas Comic Con – which was a bit bigger. It was the first that had panels, which I found interesting, as well as various celebrity guests. As I mentioned near the beginning of this post, I'm not really interested in those – especially am I not interested in paying $30-$50 for an autograph or a photograph with them. I got several more sketches in Dallas that year, including a “frontispiece” sketch by Michael Lark in my library bound volume of the entire Gotham Central series. (I paid a bit more for that – but really, really wanted it!)

Other than a quick trip to the second NOLA-Con as mentioned above, 2010 was “con-less,” mainly because of the preparations for our trip to the UK in June – and its aftermath the heart attack I suffered just after our return! But in January 2011 Wizard World brought its franchise of larger comic conventions to New Orleans. In area, it was about the size of one of the three halls at Comicpalooza, with no panels, just celebrities and artists. That was when I had a bit of a “reality check” regarding the sketches I'd been getting in my little notebook. It seems that the larger the con and the more prominent the artist, the more they demand even for these. One in particular who will remain nameless wanted $75! I declined, but have shied away from getting those sketches ever since. It's a bit of a shame, really. There are only a handful of artists I would even think of paying that kind of money for a five to ten minute quick sketch. That gentleman is not one of them. … What I really found attractive at Wizard World New Orleans 2011 was the many good deals that were to be had on merchandise. Not so much comics themselves, but numerous vendors had trade paperbacks for half-price or better and I found several things I'd been wanting, including a hardcover copy of Marvels signed by Alex Ross for $10. (I also got snookered into buying a pirated DVD of the last series of the DC Animated Batman Adventures for the same amount – recorded off the television broadcast – and have steered clear of the DVD vendors since. Live and learn.)

Wizard World New Orleans 2012 had as its highlight for me George Perez, from whom I got a wonderful Aquaman sketch – see my write-up here – as well as more good deals, including The Absolute Kingdom Come for half price. And that brings us to Comicpalooza. As you can see – different cons have different characters. I'd be hard pressed to say which I liked best overall. Each had its good points and each had its bad points. I do, however, have very fond memories of those two small NOLA-Cons out in Kenner. Wizard World has pretty much wiped that one out, sad to say.

Anyway, I'll end with a few random pictures I took over the course of the day. I always intend to take more, but these are the ones I got:

A general view of the middle hall

Roller Derby

Jedi Training, Young Padawan....

Marvel appears to be outnumbered here....

Did you lose Kato somewhere?

Thom Zahler's friend Jesse Jackson called it:
 The Composite Avenger!

I probably ought to know both of these, not just Poison Ivy....

Nightwing couldn't beat them off with a stick!

Somebody's making time with Harley Quinn's "Puddin'"!

Young Han Solo...?
Sorry for the increasingly inane photo captions.  I also learned something about taking video with my iPhone ... you do need to turn it on its side to get video in landscape aspect if you want to use it in a blog!

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!

Thursday, May 17

Casino Royale (1953)

By Ian Fleming

A few weeks ago our local parish library had its annual fundraising book sale, which my wife and I like to hit. Great deals can be had. Among my finds this year was an all-but-complete set of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in excellent condition, recent Penguin paperbacks. They were 50 cents apiece. I grabbed them. I was missing two – including this first volume in the series – but the very next day my son had a soccer game in Alexandria so I checked at Hastings there. I paid more for Casino Royale than I did for all the others put together! Compulsive completist that I am, that evening I placed an order through Abebooks.com for the other missing volume, and within a few days an all-but-pristine full set perched proudly on my bookshelf. I just recently got around to starting it.

It's not the first time I read one of the original novels that inspired the cultural phenomenon that is the 007 movies – or at least attempted to read one. Many years ago, when the movie Moonraker came out, after picking up the movie adaptation which is basically a transcription of the script into prose, I attempted the original novel upon which it was based. I did not get very far into it. The James Bond movies are notoriously different from the books, often bearing no resemblance to the original beyond the title. This was especially the case with the immediately post-Star Wars Moonraker. And I never really felt drawn to the originals for a very long time after that.

A couple of years ago, however, I did happen across a curious volume in Books-a-Million – a compendium of black-and-white newspaper strips from the 1950s that, as far as I can tell thus far, very faithfully adapt the original novels into graphic format. The James Bond Omnibus, “Volume 001,” looks to contain comic strip versions of about the first half of the book series, through Thunderball, including the various short stories as well as the novels, in the order they were published. I read through about half the volume, as I recall, before my attention drifted to other things. I always kept meaning to get back to it, and gave thought to delving into the original novels, but never got around to it. So many books! – So little time!

Then I came upon the library book-sale find. My immediate excitement was doubtless augmented by the synchronicity that I had just started reading Bronze Shaped as Clay, which of course includes a thinly-veiled James Bond as a major character. As indicated above, I grabbed them – along with an interesting albeit thin hardcover, For Your Eyes Only: Ian Fleming + James Bond by Ben MacIntyre, which I found on a different table. This latter book is heavily illustrated, sort of a semi-coffee-table book overview of the life of Ian Fleming heavily geared toward the writer's most famous creation.* It's a fascinating story. My point is, everything seemed to come together, and as soon as I cleared out some other backlogged reading intentions I started Casino Royale.

I'm not going to engage in a full-blown review here. Suffice it to say that if you have seen the 2006 film with Daniel Craig, you know the basic story – although there are considerable changes in detail as well as additons to the story, the central plot is there more or less intact: Agent 007's battle over a casino card-table with Le Chiffre, an agent of the enemy; his reluctant attraction to yet ultimate betrayal by a beautifuly fellow agent, Vesper Lynd; even the harrowing torture that he suffers at the hands of Le Chiffre (although the most memorable line from that scene, Bond's defiant “Now the whole world's gonna know you died scratching my balls!,” is nowhere to be found). I already suspected from the comic strip adaptation that those beats would be there, pardon the pun. That adaptation is very accurate, with only minor differences necessary to condense the story as well as tone it down a bit.

Art by John McLusky
for Daily Express
This was quite an enjoyable read and I look forward to continuing the series. There is something special about seeing characters such as this in their original settings. In this case, the story is very much informed by the still-fresh memories of World War II in the context of deepening 1950s Cold War tensions. And here we see a much more down-to-earth, human Bond than the virtual super-hero he became in the movies. He's less “cool,” less sure of himself, indeed less likable, with less of the boyish roguishness. It's one major difference between the motion picture medium and prose that the latter allows the reader to have considerable insight into the core of the character – depending on the author's intent as well as skill, of course, and Ian Fleming was a natural storyteller. That can be good – or it can, as in this case, lay bare an uglier side of our hero's nature. One thing that I've heard commented on through the years is that the literary James Bond is colder, with a real misogynistic streak to him. That is very much the case. He has definite negative feelings toward the very idea of women engaging in his line of work. How much of that was Fleming and reflective of the time in which he wrote as opposed to the character he was drawing I could not say, but I know I was a bit taken aback by the punch line, so to speak, of Bond reflecting on his growing feelings for Vesper near the end of the book, before the climax:

He found her companionship easy and unexacting. There was something enigmatic about her which was a constant stimulus. She gave little of her real personality away and he felt that however long they were together there would always be a private room inside her which he could never invade. She was thoughtful and full of consideration without being slavish and without compromising her arrogant spirit. And now he knew that she was profoundly, excitingly sensual, but that the conquest of her body, because of the central privacy in her, would each time have the sweet tang of rape” (pp. 158-159).


Anyway, despite the lack of CGI-worthy pyrotechnics and a diabolical world-threatening super-villain – evil though he be, Le Chiffre is in the context of the larger world very much a small fish – this is an engaging little character drama that leaves me wanting more. And, similar to the movie, the book's conclusion sets up what must have been a central overarching conflict in Fleming's novels as the ambiguous character of Vesper Lynd and her fate give Bond a driving purpose going forward – to hunt down and destroy SMERSH.

Cheers! – and thanks for reading!
* * *
* Fleming's only other creation, for a single children's book, was – I kid you not!Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang.

Saturday, May 12

Spinner-Rack Memories!

Superman marries Lois Lane ... twice in one month!  With very different consequences each time....

Stop on over and check out my newest blog, devoted to comic book memories from my childhood.


Wednesday, May 9

Dynamite Comics - June 2012

Well, Dynamite keeps discovering ways to get more of my money … this month begins their treatment of The Shadow. Next month will bring their version of The Spider. I'm planning on trying out both of them – and based on this first issue of The Shadow, I plan on keeping this one at least. I'm not so sure about The Spider since it seems they are taking considerable liberty with that character, but we shall see.

The Shadow #1
The Fire of Creation, Part One”

In any case, I like what I see in this premier issue of The Shadow. It is (unlike The Spider, apparently), set in its proper world, that of the 1930s. It's graced with atmospheric art illustrating a compelling story that is somehow connected with wider world events than just contemporary New York, specifically the atrocities being perpetrated during that period by the Japanese in China. This issue is basically just set-up, introducing the situation and the characters, but it accomplishes that very well.

One thing I was curious about is already answered here – this version of the character seems, as far as I can tell, to be based more on the radio show version than the pulp magazine version. I can't say that I've read that many of my ever-growing collection of Shadow stories, but it is my understanding that the more notable supernatural aspects of the character were confined to the radio plays. The pulp character was a highly effected cloaked and vigilante lacking the radio version's abilities to “cloud men's minds” and read a person's fate, both of which are in evidence here. Even the Shadow's secret identity of Lamont Cranston (itself a ruse in the pulps) seems an otherworldly figure here, and we get hints of resulting trouble in the relationship between Cranston and Margo Lane. That latter character, as I understand it introduced into the radio show in the 1930s, did not appear in the pulps until relatively late, sometime in the 1940s. I have not listened to more than a handful of the radio shows, so don't know how many other pulp supporting characters might occasionally appear on the air, but I did recognize Moe Shrevnitz whom I only know from the print adventures.

In any case, whatever the pedigree of the elements that are put together to make this latest comics version of the character, I am pleased with the result. Maybe best of all, this title is authorized by Condé Nast, so we don't have some kind of legal challenge to look forward to as has resulted from Dynamite's publishing of its Lord of the Jungle and Warlord of Mars titles....

Lord of the Jungle #3
3: The Call of the Primitive” [ previous issue ]

This issue continues the adaptation of Tarzan of the Apes from the ape man saving Jane and Esmeralda from the panther to the aftermath of his saving Jane from the mad bull ape Turkoz. Is that climactic sequence the first time we get translated “ape-speak” in this title? It seems to me that previously its just been grunts and so forth – which we also get in this issue. For instance, on page 13 we witness Tarzan spying on Jane as she disrobes for bed – “Oo” indeed! The art in this title is generally good, although I find some of the characters drawn almost cartoonish (Professor Porter), while I frankly find Castro's Tarzan himself a bit too thuggish in his features, looking too much like Marvel's rendition of the character in the mid 1970s series when they picked up the licence from DC. I found John Buscema's Tarzan too much like his Conan.

One thing I kind of like in this adaptation is that Nelson takes a little space to expand on the characters. The standout beneficiary of this is Jane's African-American maid Esmeralda, who is portrayed as the smartest of the new stranded party. It is she who correctly perceives that Tarzan and “White Skin” are one and the same – that Tarzan taught himself to read and write English but does not know how it is pronounced. Therefore he can write the meaning of his name, “White Skin,” but pronounces it in the ape language as “Tarzan.” To which insight Jane is plainly dismissive. Similarly, Esmeralda recognizes the baby skeleton in the cabin as nonhuman – and is again dismissed. And see her expression moments before when she hears Professor Porter's comment about the two adult “specimens [being] of the higher, white race.” This is, of course, part of Nelson's effort to remove the racial overtones of ERB's original story as he discusses in the commentary on the first issue linked from my previous blog entry, but it works here except that Jane's reaction reflects very poorly on herself.

All in all, continuing to be a quite enjoyable treatment of an oft-told story. (Although isn't that a rather unfortunate placement of the “flap” of Tarzan's loincloth on the cover...?)

Warlord of Mars #17
Gods of Mars, Part 5! Helium Divided” [ previous issue ]

In this continuing adaptation of the second John Carter book, news that John Carter has returned from the Barsoomian “heaven” – which he boldly proclaims as “a land of false hope! A valley of torture and death” – splits Helium in a confrontation with Zat Arras, the Zodangan who has established himself as dictator in the absence of the Heliumite royal family. But news of Dejah Thoris' capture along with Thuvia by Black Pirates leads John Carter and his supporters to mount an invasion.

One thing more apparent here is a distinct coloring contrast between the white Earthman John Carter, his half-Barsoomian son Carthoris who has a pinkish hue, and the very rest of the cast, very red Barsoomians all – well, most, considering there are also green Tars Tarkas and black (really grey) Dator Xodar.
Speaking of Dator Xodar, we unfortunately get to revisit what I found to be the objectionable addition to the story from last issue as Sola relates meeting Thuvia and hearing “of her love for Jawn Kar-turr,” and the Black Pirate can be seen in the background whispering in the ear of Kantos Kan (who muffles a snicker, “Kk-kk!”)  No … just no. This is quite an annoying blemish on an otherwise fine rendition of ERB's world.

I'm not sure why, but this story has really felt rushed the past couple of issues. Next issue brings the conclusion. I wonder if Dynamite will continue directly into the third novel, which actually is named The Warlord of Mars?

Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars #1 of ?

At some unspecified time between A Princess of Mars and The Gods of Mars, Dejah Thoris is teaching her son Carthoris history when he asks her about a legendary “Battle of the Face of Barsoom.” The lack of verifiable information despite a few surviving veterans who prove surprisingly reticent inspires her to organize a “field trip” for Carthoris and other “hatchlings” to conduct an archaeological study of the battlefield. She and other women plus male guards precede the main group to set up camp, but their airship breaks down and strands them in a deserted city infested with feared white apes – which proceed to slaughter the men while the women watch in horror from hiding. And, we're promised, “Next Issue: It Gets Worse.”

I'm not really sure what the point of this miniseries is, other than a money-grab. Were I not an inveterately compulsive completist, I think I would pass on it. The only thing mildly intriguing is the possibility, based on the name of that battle, that we might get to see the mysterious “Face” on Mars incorporated into these tales of Barsoom.

A couple of comments about the art. One very interesting feature of the great cover by Brandon Peterson*:

I don't got / No belly-button!” 

Makes sense, what with Barsoomians being oviparous. Of course, inside the issue navels still abound. The inside art is by Liu Antonio, who did much of A Princess of Mars in the early issues of the main Warlord title. I have to say, I'd forgotten how: a) hatchet-faced his Dejah Thoris is; b) how huge he draws her breasts; and c) that he “tips” them with the smallest “pasties” ever, so that it looks more like she has very small, golden nipples! Do I prefer other artists...? Guess.

Oh, and the double-page spread at the end of the issue, showing the slaughter of the guards, is almost comical in its gruesomeness.

Nevertheless, I'm in this for the long haul.  Yes, it's another way Dynamite gets more of my money ... superfluous miniseries of properties I love.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!
* * *
*Who, incidentally, did this wonderful sketch of Supergirl for me at Dallas Comic-Con in August 2009:

Tuesday, May 8

Geographical Ramblings in the United Kingdom

In recent years, my wife and I have made a couple of historical tours of England and Scotland.  In 2008, during Spring Break, we started at London, working our way around and up to Loch Ness, and ultimately flew back home out of Glasgow.  In June 2010, our then-fourteen-year-old son joined us in a whirlwind tour starting at Edinburgh, travelling into the Western Isles, then south ultimately back to London from where we departed.  Both trips were entirely self-guided, focussing mainly on places of historical interest to myself as an historian specializing in early medieval Britain.  We did a lot of other fun stuff as well.  Along the way both times my wife and I each kept copious notes and took hundreds of pictures, which ultimately resulted in my putting together extended illustrated travelogues that allow us to revisit those wonderful days and share them with family and friends.  I have now completed reformatting those travelogues and have posted them here for all to see and, hopefully, enjoy.  The two trips respectively may be joined by clicking on the pages UK 2008 and UK 2010 just under the banner at the top of this blog.


Saturday, May 5

The Avengers (2012)

Directed by Joss Whedon

The culmination of several years – and several movies' – build-up pays off, big time. The Avengers is perhaps the best super hero movie I've ever seen. Joss Whedon's writing and directing are brilliant, working to all his strengths, combining action and character development in an ensemble setting. I'm sure if I wanted to I could find things to criticise, but quite frankly I don't want to. Rather, I want to hold onto the incredible feeling of satisfaction, signified by the grin that stayed on my face almost continuously through two and a half hours – punctuated by a couple of instances where I laughed so hard l cried – for as long as I can. I may come back later and give a more in-depth review, but for now I'll leave it at that – I loved this movie!

Three cheers!

Friday, May 4

Bronze Shaped As Clay (The Bronze Saga #10, 2012)

By Mark E. Eidemiller (free download here)

In this the tenth and ostensibly final installment of the Bronze Saga, a.k.a. the “Christian Adventures of Doc Savage,” Mark Eidemiller works with characters whom he as come to know intimately well. Not just Doc Savage and his extended group of companions that has steadily grown over the past decade and more, including Eidemiller's usual p.o.v. character Perry Liston, but to a degree far beyond his cameos in past volumes, he himself, Mark Eidemiller of Portland, Oregon, plays a critical role in the story and shares in the life-changing events with which it culminates. Eidemiller plainly indulges in a great deal of wish fulfillment as he dons what Grant Morrison dubbed his “fiction suit” (see here) – over which he gets to put on a flight suit as well – and soars like a hawk into battle alongside Doc Savage himself in the climactic confrontation with a villain literally out of a James Bond novel.

And I do mean that literally. I'm not sure why, in this shamelessly unauthorised volume in a series of fan-fiction that has throughout its run used numerous copyrighted characters sans permission, Eidemiller chose to thinly veil the identities of these particular characters, but I don't think I really depended on my Ph.D. to know exactly who “John Fleming” and his acquaintances were from the first moment they appeared. And when “Fleming” was referred to as “Agent Oh-Fourteen” I had to groan. (Actually, “Fleming's” bride who was killed years before mere hours after their wedding, revenge for which drives him for much of the story, did retain her original name, I believe, but none others.) In any case I mentally read “Bond” (and visualized an elderly Sean Connery, albeit beardless) whenever I saw “Fleming” throughout.

The gists of the converging plots are these: Mark Eidemiller has received divine inspiration that it is of crucial importance that he be aboard the Clark Savage Institute's “helicarrier” ('cause that's what I'll always think of it as) at some point in the near future. Meanwhile, the most bitter arch-enemy from “Fleming's” buried past returns, having discovered a means to utilize nanotechnology to induce either rejuvenation or rapid aging. He uses the former to return “Fleming” to the prime of life – but only to destroy him by framing him for a heinous crime for which the best he could hope would be a long second lifetime in prison. The latter he means to use to blackmail the world's richest countries or see the populations of their most important cities die of old age within a matter of hours. (Okay – unlike my question regarding the seemingly unnecessary changing of the name of fictional characters folded into this story, it's perfectly understandable why Miley “Hannah Montana” Cyrus' name was changed when, right off the bat, she becomes the first victim of what the world dubs the “Dorian Gray Virus.”) The stories come together when, on a vacation in the Bahamas, Perry Liston and his wife Dot, along with Mitch Drake and his lover, lounge singer Jill Woodward, are drawn into “Fleming's” plight when one of Jill's backup singers becomes an innocent victim in the villain's plot against him.

As hinted in that quick overview of the setup, Doc Savage himself is less a central character than usual, rather taking a bit of a back seat for a good bit of the story to Perry and Mark, as well as to “Fleming.” Doc is definitely there, but he's still having a difficult time adjusting to the physical limitations imposed on him by the serious injuries suffered in the previous book – and, it turns out, to the knowledge that for a second time confrontation with Wail has goaded him into acting recklessly with devastating results. But Doc does rally, in part due to spiritual counselling from Eidemiller, and plays a more central role in the later phases of the story.

I don't think it's too big a spoiler to say that, in the end, all works out, and indeed our characters are left in a much better place than they had begun after the end of the previous book. Indeed, how exactly that comes to be – the journey, so to speak – is the real fun of this story. Because Eidemiller truly is a gifted writer.

Nevertheless, when I wrote above of “life-changing events” I meant that literally as well. Not just for the Eidemillers – Mark and his wife Karen, in whose cases the “wish fulfillment” aspect I also mentioned earlier results in cures of their respective physical ailments (I wish I could avail myself of nanotech to lose a few pounds) – as well as Doc, but for the world at large although it does not know it yet. In fact, by the end of this novel, my feeling is that the world the Bronze Saga series takes place in has diverged so far from the world we inhabit that, as much as I will miss seeing the further adventures of these characters, I believe that Eidemiller is making a wise decision to put it behind him and concentrate on his other series, The Irons Alliance, which world is admittedly by the “present” considerably different from our own, but has been virtually from the beginning. For myself, at least, part of the charm of the series early on was that it seemed very much to bring Doc Savage into our own world – with a few tweaks necessary to do so – but as events and developments progressed, not least bringing more and more “fictional” characters into the stories, but even moreso the development of ever more fantastic technologies that necessarily will change the world, it is less and less “our own world.” One of Hare's Rules of History®, introduced in my first lecture in World Civ: “Technological change always has social consequences.” It's an inevitable conundrum facing any kind of “realistic” fantastic fiction that it may start in our world but will inevitably create a different world. The Bronze Saga installments have been tracking along more or less in real time (a bit of time lag, actually, but my sense is that each novel was pretty much locked into the general time when Eidemiller initially plotted the story, with the time lag constituting his writing, editing, and putlishing time. But in order to keep it ostensibly “our world” the consequences of events and technologies introduced along the way cannot realistically be followed through. In the Irons Alliance stories, on the other hand, starting in the past, Eidemiller can (presumably) work his way up to a present that we have only seen a glimpse of at this point, but which is, again, pretty different from our world – at least if that's his plan rather than set all his stories subsequent to the retrospective origin related in As Iron Sharpens Iron in the already different present world. In either case, it seems to me he has a great deal more latitude.

That's not to say that all questions raised along the way in this series are answered by the end of this “last” book. Eidemiller does leave the possibility open for future stories, should the inspiration take him. Most disappointingly for me, the mystery of Perry Liston's “magic” ring only deepens as we find out that the recently deceased Johnny Littlejohn knew more about it than he'd ever let on, and yet we – and Perry – are left with no real explanation for how Perry's namesake uncle who bequeathed it to him had come to have it in the first place, nor more importantly, what it was. I've previously speculated that perhaps a way could be devised to connect it with the One Ring, long (thought?) destroyed in the fires of Mount Doom, perhaps those fires rather simply purified it of the malevolent spirit of Sauron. Here I'll go a step further and suggest that Perry's mysterious “uncle” is in actuality his doppelganger from the Irons Alliance universe, whose story and how he came to possess the Ring and bequeath it to his “nephew” remains as yet largely untold....

I have so far refrained from dwelling on the religious aspects of this story. As with the more recent books in the series, I'm not going to dwell on it here, having said enough in earlier reviews. Suffice it to say that Eidemiller maintains the same overtly evangelical Christian tone that has pervaded the books, and if the reader accepted them hitherto there is no reason not to do so here. As I've made clear, I come at my faith from a different perspective, but that in no way interferes with my enjoyment of this series. Sure, again I find one particular conversion recounted herein – while in no way “impossible” for the ineffable Grace of God – a bit unlikely, but I do also applaud Eidemiller's realism in admitting that not every person is likely to come to such a happy ending. In particular, I know it must have been a tremendous temptation not to recount a salvation experience for “John Fleming” – bearing in mind that the door in “014's” case is left open.

All in all, I enjoyed this story immensely as a fine denouement to the Bronze Saga. Sure, I'll miss the characters, but I look forward to Eidemiller's continuation of the Irons Alliance.

Cheers!, and Thanks for reading!
I see that for the “faked up” cover dress for this novel, artist Dale Harris has shifted format to match that of Will Murray's newest Doc Savage novels, The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage. Nice touch, although from the particular illustration here I kept thinking that Doc would end up in space....

May the Fourth Be With You!

Happy Star Wars Day!

Post #200: Free Comic Book Day 2012

2012 Commemorative T-shirt* Image
by Jim Lee
It just so happens that my 200th-anniversary post hits just now, but when I realized the timing I thought, what better way to commemorate the milestone than by taking notice of one of the greatest days in a fan-boy/geek's year -- no, not the US release today of The Avengers but rather the 11th annual Free Comic Book Day!  Tomorrow, Saturday 5 May -- as on the first Saturday in May each year since 2002 -- comic book shops across North America and even beyond will offer special free promotional copies of comics from a variety of publishers in an effort to attract potential new customers.  In many shops in larger cities the event has grown into much more than that, into virtually a miniature Comic Book Convention with associated activities including creator appearances, signings and sketches, cos-players (those fan-boys and -girls even geekier than me who show up dressed as their favorite comic book character), gamers, and the like, all having a ball.

Not having the luxury of a comic shop in our own little college town, one of my fellow fan-boy colleagues and I will be hitting the road bright and early for Excalibur Comics, Cards, and Games in Shreveport, a little more than an hour's drive up the Interstate.  For us, it hits at a good time to take a little road-trip celebration, what with finals week having just ended meaning we've survived another semester.  It offers a chance for us to revel for a little while in the ambience of a comic shop, something that is denied us fans forced to get our comics monthly via a mail-order service and thus miss out on the mini-celebratory day that comes each week on New Comic Book Day Wednesday.  And finally, it does offer a chance to check out the variety of titles and genres that are available in today's market.

If you're interested in checking it out for yourself, check out the FCBD site's handy store locator.  Believe me when I say that, anyone who is just open to the medium can find a title to suit their taste and interest -- mystery, horror, neopulp, science-fiction, romance, today's comics are much more than just "super heroics."  And they're not just for kids, either.  In fact, many are specifically not for kids.  Parents, exercise due oversight -- but go into the shop with your kids and you'll doubtless find something that you'll enjoy, too.


... And, by the way, I do have my tickets to see The Avengers later Saturday....

* Presumably as another consequence of my monthly mail-order method of buying, although I pre-ordered this months ago, evidently my T-shirt won't come until the end of the month along with my comics that were released on each of the Wednesdays in May.  Rats!  Guess I'll just have to wear one of the last two years':

2010 T-shirt by Sergio Aragones
2011 T-shirt by Darwyn Cooke