Friday, October 31, 2003

Good Evening. Permit me to introduce you to...

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First, the usual disclaimers. This is a list of horror-and-supernatural themed comics that have made a big impression on me in my longer-than-I-like-to-think-about comics reading experience. I do not intend for this to be a "all-time best" list, nor do I even claim that these are shining examples of works of sequential fiction. Also, I'm sure much of what I'll be writing is already familiar territory for many, so apologies in advance if it gets tedious. I just want to share with the rest of the class some titles over the years that I've grooved on, man. So here goes nothing.

Of course, the first (and in most cases, the best) real horror comics of note, but not necessarily the first ones I was exposed to, were the EC titles such as Tales From the Crypt, Vault of Horror, and others, which saw print in the 50s. Before I was born, believe it or not. I didn't read any of these classic books until I was in my late teens/early 20s and had a friend who had a few of the reprint editions, and they were as good as I had been led to believe. I have never owned one, either in original or reprint format, so I don't really include them on my list, but they're damned good. I especially tended to like those illustrated by Ghastly Graham Ingels, Bernie Krigstein, and the SF stories that Wally Wood drew. That stout-hearted stalwart, the Pop Culture Gadabout, has saved me the trouble of writing more since he has recently posted a nice overview of the line with emphasis on a story illoed by another good one, Johnny Craig. Go here, read, then come back. I won't wait long for you.

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The first horror comics I remember being exposed to were the line of B&W magazines published by Warren- Creepy, Eerie, and later the original incarnation of Vampirella, which kinda came late to the party. After all the dust settled from the Wertham trials, and after EC had folded all its horror titles with the advent of the Comics Code, the only place these sort of stories could appear were in the pages of magazines like these, which weren't displayed in the same locale as comic books, nor were they aimed at the same audiences. Actually, the first horror comics I remember reading were probably the seven-or-eight page illustrated adaptations of movies like The Mummy's Hand that appeared in Famous Monsters of Filmland and Monster World, and although I didn't know it then those were Warren's way of testing the waters for a whole magazine of nothing but illustrated horror stories. And oh, boy- what talent they assembled between their covers, especially in the first year of both titles: Archie Goodwin was the editor (and main scriptwriter) in the early days, Frank Frazetta did most of the covers, and the likes of Reed Crandall, EC's Wally Wood, Joe Orlando and Jack Davis, Neal Adams, Steve Ditko, Tom Sutton, Dan Adkins, Gene Colan, Gray Morrow, and my personal favorite Jerry Grandenetti, whose hallucinogenic, expressionistic style just blew me away. Much later the likes of Berni Wrightson and Richard Corben, then all those Filipinos, came along and revitalized the line. The Warren titles were, to me, artist showcases first and foremost- the scripts were all tight and well written, but most were riffs on the EC template. Either way, those Warren magazines really got their hooks in me early on and I spent many an allowance coin on them whenever they came out on the magazine rack at the Houchens Market.

Also coming out at about the same time were the supernatural titles of Gold Key, formerly Dell. Dell had changed over to the Gold Key imprint at roughly about the same time I was aware that there were even such things as comic books, so I don't really remember Dell all that much, but I remember the GK imprint very well. Gold Key comics were also unusual (on Planet Dave) in that they weren't sold on the same racks as DCs or Marvels or even Harveys, but were always found at the local Ben Franklin five and dime store, and nowhere else. Well, OK, also at the Stevenson's five and dime down the street, but they weren't there long. I think Ben Franklin sold Gold Keys exclusively until the early 70s, when they shared spinner rack space with DCs. But I digress. Gold Key didn't have the superstar artist firepower that Warren did, but they had some solid illustrators like Russ Manning, Jack Sparling and Doug Wildey and Gold Key books were often pretty darned entertaining. They published several horror-themed titles, all with lush painted covers and featuring code-approved but no less remarkable tales of terror aimed at kids and teenagers. One story I remember in particular illustrated the legend of Spring-heel Jack, in Ripley's Believe it or Not, I think...really creeped me out, as I recall. I always had at least one GK horror title like Boris Karloff's Tales of Mystery or The Twilight Zone around when I was in grade school. If I had the patience and the money I'd track some of these down but have little of either, so I'll just have to get by with my memories.

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To be honest, I'm not sure which of the Big Two (who both published horror comics pre-Code, but pretty much ceased after it was introduced) actually got around to doing supernatural comics in the 70s, when the Code relaxed its anti-vampire, zombies, and werewolves restrictions a bit, but I seem to recall Marvel testing the waters with its Morbius, The Living Vampire character in an issue of Spider-Man before DC revamped its House of Mystery/Secrets titles, so I'll go with the House of Ideas first. When the Morbius story went over well, Marvel rush-released its own takes on a Werewolf (By Night, actually not bad when Mike Ploog drew it), Frankenstein's monster (ditto), and the big kahuna of sanguinary doings himself, Dracula. After a shaky beginning, the Tomb of Dracula, as it came to be called, got in a real groove, with writer Marv Wolfman (not the first scripter, but he came aboard very early on) creating and developing a solid supporting cast to interact with Drac, as well as giving the lead a well-developed, if belligerent personality, and stalwart Gene Colan did some of the best work of his career, illustrating (I believe) all 70 issues, plus a story or two in other books at the time. Colan has always drawn his figures and backgrounds as if they were on the verge of dissipating into mist, something which came in very handy when he was given a character that could actually do this. ToD, despite its subject matter, was still a Marvel comic and sometimes listed into melodramatics and compromise (one specific instance, I recall, had Drac encountering an angel, late in the series' run- an angel dressed in a spandex costume, of course), but it was still one of the best things Marvel did in the 70s and is well worth one's time if one cares to invest it. They've finally released that long-awaited Essential edition of the first 25 issues, plus three other Drac appearances, and it's well worth the 15 bucks. Not long after the Morbius issue of Spider-Man, we got two horror anthologies, Tower of Shadows and Chamber of Darkness. Don't remember much, if anything, about CoD, but I'll always remember the lead story in Tower by Jim Steranko which is one of the best pieces of sequential storytelling I've ever seen. Above is the more sedate-by-comparison cover that appeared on the newsstands, then the rejected design (complete with groovy logo) by Steranko colored for the Steranko-Graphic Prince of Darkness one shot which came out a few years ago, then an interior page example. The original title for the tale of greedy heirs and a weird old house was: "Let Them Eat Cake", which was so cool that it came as no surprise to read that Stan didn't like it and somewhere down the line it got re-titled "At the Stroke of Midnight". Zzzz. But the story itself- whoa mama. Steranko was at his graphic storytelling peak then, and this tale was a tour-de-force. You can see a B&W example of one of the pages above.

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One other Marvel supernatural book of note was Man-Thing. Another swamp-dwelling creature who was semi-intelligent and whose touch burned those who feared him, as the copywriters kept telling us again and again. At first, he appeared as the all-new lead in a reprint title, Adventures Into Fear, most notable for the first appearance of Howard The Duck. Eventually, they put MT into his own title, and assigned the team of Steve Gerber and, after issue #5, Mike Ploog to do the script and art chores. Gerber's stories tended to be of the "Man-Thing and company encounter weird strangers and menaces in the swamp" variety, but written in his typically quirky style with human interest shadings and Ploog's quirky, Eisner-inspired art brought just the right tone to the proceedings. My favorite of these was the one depicted above, "Night of the Laughing Dead", (a two-parter in #'s 5 and 6) in which MT and his friends encountered a suicidal clown who had come out to the swamp to do the deed, and wind up fighting for his soul with demons from hell. Gerber crafted a touching script out of a very odd premise, and this was the most memorable of their run together, which lasted until issue 11, and included the infamous-for-its-title-and-the-legion-of bad-jokes-it's-inspired Giant-Size Man-Thing #1.

Moving on to DC now, it seems that about the same time Marvel stuck its toe into the horror comics pool, DC followed suit in the late 60s by revamping (no pun intended) its former flagship supernatural titles, House of Mystery and House of Secrets, which had been featuring superhero takes like Eclipso, Dial H for Hero, Prince Ra-Man, and others. Also at about this time they launched a title whose lead had actually been created in the 50s, and had a very short-lived book of his own then, the Phantom Stranger. Early issues consisted of the Stranger, that enigmatic character whose origins were clouded in mystery but could usually be counted on to show up, introduce the story, dispense warnings and advice and bicker with Doctor Terry Thirteen, a skeptical James Randi-type paranormal debunker/investigator who was determined to prove the Stranger was a charlatan. This went on for several issues, until a young writer named Len Wein showed up and, combined with artist Jim Aparo (who did the best art of his career, in my opinion, on this title), ushered in the most creatively fertile period that the character has ever known. Wein gave the Stranger a girlfriend of sorts, a blind psychic named Cassandra Craft, and set him to battle a murderous cult called the Dark Circle, led by a sexy high priestess named Tala with aid from a cynical, morally ambiguous magician named Tannarak, who had appeared several issues back in the run. This was truly PS's golden age, because after Wein and Aparo left, it was back to becoming a glorified horror host (the Rod Serling of comics, some called the character at the time) before the inevitable cancellation. That Wein/Aparo run, though, was some great stuff, and it was issues 14-26, in case you were wondering. Also appearing in the last few W/A books was an interesting back feature, The Spawn of Frankenstein, by Wein and Mike Kaluta, in which Dr. Thirteen gets mixed up with Frankenstein's monster. The episodes that Kaluta drew were really great, and issue #26 was a fun crossover between the Stranger and the SoF, with Aparo interiors and a Kaluta cover.

One reason Wein left the Stranger was so he could focus on DC's latest horror star, the Swamp Thing, who had just earned his own brand new title in the late summer of 1972. This particular run tends to be overshadowed by Alan Moore's brilliant re-imagining of the character some 13 years later, but I've always had a soft spot for its original incarnation, which featured the best artwork of Berni Wrightson's career and some clever reworkings of classic horror-film icons; a Frankenstein monster, here called the Patchwork Man; a werewolf, witches, and so on. In #7 Swampy met Batman in Gotham City, which treated us to Wrightson's lithe version of the Dark Knight, complete with fifty-foot long cape, touched on Lovecraftian territory in #8 when he encountered M'Nagalah, a malignant "old god" in a mine shaft, and so on. After issue #10, Wrightson tired of incessant deadlines and left, along with Wein, who went over to Marvel and began his quick slide to obscurity, and new creators came aboard: David Michelinie (fresh off an underrated run on the Unknown Soldier comic) and Nestor Redondo, who was easily one of the best of the then-new Filipino artists that were prevalent in comics in the mid-70s. They had a tough act to follow, but they often excelled and Swamp Thing was consistently good for a long time, but eventually sales dwindled and the book got cancelled, and then a few years later Alan Moore, Steve Bissette and John Totleben happened. But that's another story.

A sort of wild-card entry into DC's 70s horror stable was the Mike Fleisher/Jim Aparo take on the Golden Age character, The Spectre. After DC had revived the Discarnate Detective in the early 60s, first in one of those JLA/JSA team-ups of yore, then in his own short-lived series in which he was treated as sort of DC's answer to Dr. Strange, the decision was made to give the character a spotlight in one of DC's anthology-type books, Adventure Comics, which had been floundering in sales. Fleisher took the earliest appearances of the Spectre as his inspiration, specifically the instances where the Spectre would kill a man dead in his tracks by giving him a death stare, or pick up a car full of fleeing gangsters and fling it into space, watching it catch on fire as it left the atmosphere. This grim, avenging angel aspect of the character had been pretty much ignored previously, and Fleisher decided to take it and blow it up to imaginative, outlandish, Grand Guignol (or as much so as one could do in a Code-approved comic) levels. Killers disguised as hairdressers? Spec would gesture at a pair of scissors out of one of their pockets, enlarge it to giant size, and cut one of them in two! Trapped kidnapper in a sawmill? Transformed into wood and cut into sections! Fake swami, with crystal ball, ripping people off? Transformed into glass and shattered! This was a gruesome hoot for a while, and this relaunch of the Spectre was quite popular at first...but eventually it became formulaic and stale, and sales dwindled as well, and was eventually replaced in Adventure about a year after it had begun. But these issues were PG rated, gory good fun and Jim Aparo turned in some outstanding art on these as well. They're well worth checking out if you find them, and I'll always remember them fondly.

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I think there was a pretty long dry spell for interesting horror-themed books in the late 70s and 80s; other than Moore's (and later, Rick Veitch's not-bad) Swamp Thing, and Gaiman's Sandman of course. Seems like all the independents like Eclipse and Pacific tried their hands at horror anthology books, and most were forgettable. But one character, created by Moore as sort of a gadfly during his Swamp Thing run, soon became a star and eventually got his own title in the late 80s, which helped launch the entire Vertigo line: John Constantine: Hellblazer, still going strong to this day. Ol' JC has had a number of different writers and artists in those one hundred eighty-plus issues, but has always remained a fascinating and charismatic character. Perhaps the best run of this title was Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon's long run in the 90s which introduced a lot of great characters, developed the lead in new and interesting ways, and set the tone for their subsequent Preacher series. Another long run by Paul Jenkins and Sean Phillips was outstanding as well. Actually, JC:HB is as good right now as it's been in a long time, with Mike (Lucifer) Carey at the helm. Speaking of Sandman, I gotta mention Carey's excellent Lucifer ongoing series, which is as good as it gets in mainstream comics right now, in my own humble opinion.

Dark Horse Comics' major contribution to the horror comics genre is, of course, Mike Mignola's Hellboy, the always entertaining adventure/horror series featuring a seven-foot demon who gets called "The World's Greatest Paranormal Investigator" and has become, thanks to Mignola' innovative style, a stylistic benchmark for any sort of subsequent supernatural-themed illustrated endeavor. Big Sunny D recently posted a great commentary on this series, and I'll just point you here so you can read it. One of the best things about the Hellboy series, in my opinion, is the organization he works for, the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, aka the BPRD, which is staffed with a fascinating cast of characters and provides a lot of depth for the entire series. I want a BPRD cap, damn it.

Another series I like a lot originally appeared as a backing feature in Hellboy before getting its own one shot a couple of years ago, The MonsterMen by Gary Gianni. Gianni's meticulously retro artwork recaptures the feel of old pulp magazine illustrators more convincingly than anyone since Mike Kaluta, and the concept (which still hasn't been fully explained yet, due to the sporadic nature of MonsterMen appearances), is just downright wiggy. Most of the tales so far revolve around one Saint George, a fellow who dresses in a smoking jacket and wears a medieval armored helmet to help people do battle with the malignant forces of evil. Lotsa fun, and well worth checking out when possible. This series has had a lotta names as well: it was originally called "Gary Gianni's MysteryMen", then was changed for obvious reasons to "Corpus Monstrum", and is now known as "Gary Gianni's MonsterMen". Whatever they call it, I like it.

X-Men saturated Marvel really didn't have much of note coming out in the 90s, unless you count its Ghost Rider book...they attempted several times, especially in the wake of the success of DC's Vertigo imprint, to revive their supernatural stable to no avail. However, in my opinion they did publish one standout title in that period: Warren Ellis and Leo Manco's Hellstorm series, which I included in my 12 comics series everyone should read list. Go here to read what I wrote then.

Finally, I want to mention a couple of Fantagraphics' forays into supernatural comics, especially my personal favorite: Richard Sala's Evil Eye. Sala's made a career out of writing and illustrating oddball murder mysteries and ghost stories, and I really like his quirky, Charles Addams-meets-Nancy Drew style. Eye is his ongoing series, which features a mystery serial Reflections in a Glass Scorpion and the stand-alone exploits of his somewhat enigmatic and waifish Peculia. This book, and all of Sala's work like this, is an acquired taste, I suppose, but I acquired it a long time ago so I'm in for the long haul. Besides, Sala draws, in my twisted opinion, some of the sexiest women I've ever seen. Also from Fantagraphics, and speaking of acquired tastes, is Meat Cake, by performance artist Dame Darcy. Darcy's primitive art style and whimsical, sometimes surreal, Neo-Victorian gothic stories don't appeal to everyone, for sure, but I find them charming. I also get a strong antebellum Southern-style ambiance from them as well. Darcy has been known to do the occasional ghost story as well, in her turn-of-the-previous-century style, and these are always excellent. Plus, if you send her 20 bucks and a copy of your palm, she'll tell your fortune! Where else are you gonna find that in a comic book? The Bros. Hernandez, in both incarnations of their Love and Rockets series, also sometimes dip into the supernatural well, most notably the Mexican legend of La Llorona. Fantagraphics also publishes Charles Burns' Black Hole, a title to which I was initially attracted, but I found it kinda dry and uninvolving after a couple of issues so I moved on. I really like Burns' style, though (especially on those great El Borbah stories), so I might try to buy a collection of this down the road sometime.

I know there are probably a lot of great books I've overlooked, or didn't mention because they just didn't fit somehow (like Dr. Strange, Neilalien) but these are ones that have left the strongest impression on me in the past, so there ya go. Sorry it's taken me so long to finish this; I've had all kinds of stuff going on non-stop around here and it's seriously cut into my time in front of the butterfly for your patience and Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Hie thee to John Jakala's joint for a nice response post to someone else's critique of Watchmen. He especially hits the nail on the head when it comes to justifying the otherwise tedious pirate story that took up a part of that twelve issue series.

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

Quick note while watching Navy NCIS...isn't it odd how much David McCallum resembles Robert Vaughn now?
One of the nice things about my new template is that the problem I was having with space in the template code area is now (knock wood, of course) a thing of the past. I can link like a muthafucka without fear of losing precious code at the bottom of the area.

Just added the amusingly named group blog, the Comics Burrito. Go forth and viddy, oh my droogs.

Update: guess I spoke too soon, about the template that is. For some reason, now everything in the body is center justified. Maybe it was because I dropped an MF bomb. I don't know how or why this happening; I have a "center" command but I also did a /center as well, and it should be affecting only the links box and not the body of the page. Sigh. Anybody? Help?

Guess this will be all from me tonight- I have started writing the horror comics post, but it won't get done tonight because Carnivale, The Black Cat, Navy NCIS (see below) and It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown are all coming on this evening. Tomorrow, it's off to Bowling Green to get my weekly comics fix and I might even, if the stars all align properly, go see a matinee of Kill Bill. Then, I have a doctor appointment Thursday morning, and hopefully I'll get home in time to see Scars of Dracula which comes on AMC at 11 AM. Later on, that evening we're supposed to see the Horse Cave Theatre production of Frankenstein, featuring my son as a gravedigger, so I don't know how much I'll get done then either! That gosh darn real life- always interfering with by blogging!

But as God is my witness, as God is my witness...they're not going to lick me! I'm going to live through this and when it's all over, I'll never be hungry again! No, nor any of my folk. If I have to lie, steal, cheat or kill! As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!

Oh. Sorry. had a little Scarlett O'Hara moment there. What I meant to say is that as God is my witness I intend to finish both that post and more comments on Sean's most recent 13 Days of Halloween entries- before Halloween's over, that is. I've also been over to my Mom's to pull Marvels out of my collection for reappraisal and an eventual piece...key word eventual.

I keep messing around, putting the (center) command in different places. My most recent try wound up left justifying everything. You PC users- is the body still center justified? For a while it was showing up just fine on my Mac, but when I opened this up on a PC everything was wrong.

Oh well. Time to eat supper and vegetate in front of the TV. Oyasumi Nasai, y'all.
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BSBdG's go out today to the Bride herself, the late Elsa Lanchester, who would have been 101 today.

Of course, most people remember her for her role as the Bride of Frankenstein, (and even better, as Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley in a speaking role in that film) but actually she had a long and diverse career on both stage and screen. Just recently, I've seen her in films ranging from 1958's Bell Book and Candle to the 1964 teen romp Pajama Party, as well as a witty supporting role to husband Charles Laughton in 1957's Witness For the Prosecution.

For me personally, there's always been something about the young Elsa that I find very attractive- her doe eyes, her unusual pointed, cleft chin and equally pointed nose, swollen, bee-stung lips and veddy English demeanah just grabbed my fancy. She was no classic beauty by any means, but she definitely had that certain je'nais se quoi... I think that's how you spell it, anyway...

Anywho, click on the picture above to go to her official website, which does have some interesting pics, just not enough of em!
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One thing before I give it up for the night- those of you who are able to get American Movie Classics and find themselves awake at 5 AM CST should go there and check out one of my all time favorite 50's low budget giant monster movies, The Giant Gila Monster! If you've never seen this flick, then I highly recommend it. It's got a giant lizard, creepy credits music, hot rods, girls, rock n' roll, nitro glycerin- everything you need in a movie! Apparently I have a kindred spirit out there on the web, because here's a site devoted to this classic of drive-in cinema!

Apparently "Monstervision" has begun in full vigour on AMC.. I would get up early, but I've already got this movie on VHS. They're showin' a lot of cool movies over the next few days- with commercials, unfortunately, but that's the price we pay, I suppose. Oh, by the way- they're also showing the original Invasion of the Body Snatchers at 3 AM.

Monday, October 27, 2003

I love this song. The rest of the album, less so, although most consider it (probably correctly but I just don't hear it that way) a classic. But this song blows me away every time I hear it, with those ass-kicking mellow soul horns doing the wango tango with that wah-wah guitar.

Sly was the Man before anybody knew what the Man was.

I'm on the verge of ordering this new Sly collection from Columbia House, because they're running one of those buy one, get three free sales which really means you still wind up paying five bucks shipping for your "free" selections...but when you total the cost of four new CDs from your favorite mall store and compare it to what you pay for your order, you make out like a bandit. Plus, CH has this sweet-looking Dave Brubeck collection, and I really really really want a CD with Billie Holliday singing "Autumn in New York"...if they have one... I'm also mulling over getting Macy Gray's second CD as part of this order, and I'd love to get the new OutKast as well but CH won't allow it to be part of any special deals. Feh. I could probably get it for cheaper at the CD Warehouse, used.

OK, I guess I'm done. I'm just rambling, waiting for the Monday night game to come on.

Update: I placed my order. In addition to the Essential Sly and the Family Stone set, I also ordered the Essential Dave Brubeck, the remastered and expanded Good Old Boys by Randy Newman, a longtime favorite album o'mine, and the Bob Dylan Bootleg Series Vol. 5: Live 1975-The Rolling Thunder Revue. Four double cd sets for $38! Don't ask me how I intend to pay for them, though. I decided to get the Macy Gray CD later, and they didn't have a Billie Holliday set with "Autumn" on it. Looks like I'll have to keep an eye out for Lady in Autumn: The Best of the Verve Years which not only has "Autumn" but her versions of "Strange Fruit", "Stormy Monday" and a song I heard Maria Muldaur cover nicely, "Lover Man".

And boy, does that Dolphins/Chargers game suck or what? Last time I ever pick a game on a hunch.
Greetings, my friends. We are all interested in the future, for that is where you and I are going to spend the rest of our lives. And remember, my friends, future events such as these will affect you... in the future!

Like good ol' Ed Wood said via the Uncanny Criswell, here are the comics that will be appearing in my holds the future! (Well, Wednesday, all right?) According to that most enigmatic of oracles, ye auld Diamond shipping list:

JLA #89

That's it! Looking forward to the new JLA, and what promises to be a bang-up finale to the best story arc yet by the current regular team. The new Legion promises the return of a character that I had absolutely no desire to see again, but I believe I was in the minority amongst Legion fans: Superboy. And not the modern Superboy, no- the original, Kal-El version. Yawn. Something else scheduled to come out is


which I would dearly love to get, especially since it's going to be one of the titles I intend to cite in my upcoming horror comics I have known and loved post. It's 15 bucks and black and white, and 15 bucks isn't terrible but it's still a lot for me to drop at once, especially these days. Hm. I wonder if I could sell my JLA/Avengers back to them...!

Sunday, October 26, 2003

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And now...without warning...that long awaited and oft-threatened Special Solo Beatles edition of Johnny B's Mondo Vinyl-O! in which I take twelve long-playing vinyl recorded albums and write a paragraph or so about them. This was precipitated by my acquisition of a new turntable several months ago after about two years without a functioning one, and the subsequent vinyl playing orgy that ensued. I figured I might as well write about it, and I did. This time out, I've decided to hold forth about solo Beatles records, of which I have several and of which several find their way onto the rotating platter quite often. So roll up, roll up...

Paul McCartney

RAM (1971)
This was the first proper solo Fabs record I ever owned, and at this point I should send out a shout out to my then-neighbors Grant and Greg Elliott, in whose basement I heard this for the first time. Paulie, a bit taken aback by what he perceived as harsh critical treatment of his first (and probably, after all is said and done, best) solo effort, 1970's homemade McCartney and the slight 45-only follow-up "Another Day", (even though I have personally never seen a review that was less than kind, and I believe that any critical backlash was out of anguish over the dissolution of the Beatles and Macca's role in same) decided to pull out all the stops and really deliver something that would wow the music press and restore his somewhat tarnished rep. Well, the road to hell is paved with good intentions, as they say, and what Paulie delivered out of his newfound convictions was one odd, patchwork record, both slapdash and overproduced at the same time. Ram is made up partially of song fragments, some stitched together Frankenstein-like with the seams still showing, such as "Long Haired Lady", with nice BVs by Mrs. McCartney and the oddball mega hit single "Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey", surely one of the most unlikely hits ever-which rest beside Big Production Songs like his bloated, overlong, but nicely scored Beach Boys homage "The Back Seat of My Car", the rocking opener "Too Many People", with a great, nasty guitar sound; and the Buddy Holly love letter "Eat at Home". I like the slight but pleasant acoustic ditty "Heart of the Country", the bluesy rockers "Three Legs" and doo-wopish "Smile Away" (with its vulgar lyric)- among the few times Macca really rocked convincingly on his own. "Monkberry Moon Delight" is catchy despite the utter lyrical inanity. "Dear Boy" is a lovely, forlorn and brief song that alternately pokes fun at and expresses regret to his former songwriting partner in the Fabs. Lennon didn't appreciate all the namechecking, both explicit and imagined on his part, that he received- upon noticing that Paul had attached a picture of two beetles fucking on Ram's collage sleeve, he responded by having a photo made with him standing in a pigpen, holding some unsuspecting swine by its ears which made its way, in postcard format, into the first printings of his subsequent Imagine album, and you probably are aware of his vicious swipe at McC via Imagine's "How Do You Sleep". Nasty letters column exchanges ensued between both parties, and the Lennon-McCartney feud dragged on for over a year before both parties wised up and reconciled. History lesson aside, Ram remains a puzzling, schizo listen. I like its offhand, sloppy feel, and many of the songs are beautiful...but as a whole it becomes too much sometimes because it's produced to distraction and the songs don't always hold up. Still, and maybe because I get a pleasant nostalgia rush when I hear the unintelligible opening lyric and guitar lick of "People", I pull this one out quite often.

Here's another waay overproduced album, but unlike Ram, the songs are constructed in letter-perfect fashion. Every note and lyric in its proper place and right, veddy good, carry on, soldier. This was the follow-up to 1973's Band on the Run, the record which proved to many critics that Macca still had a little left in the tank. It was also the album debut of Wings mark III, probably to this day the most fondly-remembered version of that group, with Jimmy McCulloch on guitar and Joe English on drums. McCullouch, in particular, had set Beatlefans abuzz with his stinging guitar solo in 1974's single "Junior's Farm" and his nice work on the album Paul did with his brother, McGear. Compared to Band, it's almost as tuneful, but not as engaging. It starts out just fine with the demure acoustic title track (reprised on side two), which segues into the big crashing rocksong opener "Rock Show" (a minor hit), which namedrops Jimmy Page and has some eyebrow-raising lyrics about "scoring an ounce" from pothead Paulie. When all the cymbals stop crashing and the pianos stop glissandoing, next up is another pleasant but unremarkable love song called, well, "Love in Song", which illustrated as well as anything what the problem is with this record- there are some high highs, but there's also a lot of derivative tedium as well. "You Gave Me The Answer", for example, finds Paul dipping once more in the same retro well from whence came "Your Mother Should Know", "Honey Pie", and "Gotta Sing Gotta Dance", with about the same unimpressive result. "Magneto and Titanium Man" is catchy, but features some truly dumb lyrics which namedrop Marvel Comics characters and makes me wonder whether Paulie really ever read any of those funnybooks. "Letting Go", for some reason, never fails to remind me of Band's "Let Me Roll It", although the two songs are very different and only share track positioning. Both are said to be written as conciliatory gestures to John. "Letting Go" is definitely the second best song on side one, though. And we get more dullness on side two, including the tedious McCullough composition "Medicine Jar", whose own advice Jimmy, who died of drug and alcohol abuse about three years later, should have heeded; an attempt to redo "Oh Darling", this time titled "Call Me Back Again". It's passable but pointless. "Spirits of Ancient Egypt" is catchy and fast paced, and even rocks a bit, but the overall effect is unremarkable. The highlight of side two has to be the Big Hit Single "Listen to What the Man Said", which features Allen Touissaint somewhere in the mix playing sax (this album was mostly recorded in New Orleans) and is one of my favorite Macca solo songs period. It's somewhat wistful and very likeable. All this music was wrapped in a cleverly realized Hipgnosis studio (you know, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin) sleeve which featured posters galore and illustrations by the great George Hardie NTA, who I would link to in a heartbeat if he had a web site. If I had a scan of everything he's done, I'd create one, I love his illustrations that much.

By 1986, Paul was again hearing about how wretched his recent output had been, such as the soundtrack to the excruciatingly pointless 1984 vanity flick Give My Regards to Broad Street and his good in places but mostly unsatisfying 1982 opus Pipes of Peace, so he, by all appearances, seemed to really make an effort to wow his critics with this record. He enlisted an outside (non-Beatle extended family, cf. George Martin) producer, Chris Thomas, and sacked longtime songwriting partner Denny Laine in favor of 10cc's own "cute one" Eric Stewart, and appeared to take special care with the arrangements and lyrics for each song, even trying to write imaginative nonsensical words a la Lennon in "However Absurd". And for my money, he really succeeded. In fact, I think Press To Play is a very underrated album, and one of the best of any of the solo Beatles' efforts. Well, OK, if that was a 25-album list, perhaps. Songs like the rockish opener "Stranglehold", "Talk More Talk" (another patchwork song, but this time the seams don't show); the title cut (somewhat reggae-ish), "Angry", a hard-edged and punky (well, as "punky" as Macca can be, anyway) workout; "Move Over Busker", which sports funny lyrics and a great melody; and the gorgeous side one closer "Only Love Remains", a nicely produced strings-and-piano thing which could have been bombastic and unbearable in some hands (and indeed, if it had been on Ram or Red Rose Speedway it would have been unlistenable, I'll bet) but gets just the right touch here and should be a more fondly-remembered track than it is. I think that by 1986, people had simply had enough of Paul McCartney and his erstwhile surviving bandmates, and Play's reception was proof of that. Pity, because I think this is a really strong album and well worth rediscovering.

John Lennon

Known in some circles as "How To Kill Your Career and Get Kicked Out of the Country". By '72 John had traveled over to the US of A and had taken up residence here, ostensibly so Yoko could search for her missing daughter Kyoko, but also because he was tired of living in and being taxed to death by his native country. As soon as he got here, because of his aggressive peace propaganda campaigning, he became a magnet for every radical, Yippie, free-thinking, anarchistic headcase with an agenda to push and a cause to endorse, and John, as open-minded and eager to please as always, fell right in- endorsing many controversial causes and backing many less-than-desirable fringe dwellers slash pseudo celebrities who were more than happy to have a Beatle in their corner. Some of the causes he espoused were worthy, some less so. Anyway, at some point in the interval after the release of his Imagine album he realized that he was going to have to deliver something to the record company eventually...and hit upon a then-novel idea: he would quickly write and record songs in tandem with Yoko and NYC band Elephant's Memory which addressed the relevant topics of the day, and issue them quickly, newspaper-style, on his presumably receptive mass Beatle audience and anyone else who was enlightened enough to listen. Not the worst of ideas, but he got off on the wrong foot when the initial single, "Woman is the Nigger of the World" dropped the N-word on aghast 1972 radio programmers (even though the word was used in its literal sense, and not as a racial epithet) and barely got played- thus dooming this album, complete with faux-newspaper cover, to die a quick and decisive chart death and ensuring that no one but the hardcore faithful would get the message. This is far from a total disaster, though- Lennon correctly assumed that the crude, bluesy Elephant's Memory Band would add a little roughage to his recipe, Phil Spector is on board to make sure the mix doesn't get too muddy, and while many of the songs have dated badly ("Attica State", "Angela", about Angela Davis) and suffer from näive lyrical sentiment (Yoko's songs in particular have this problem) and heavy-handedness, there are some gems, such as the folky, dobro-driven "John Sinclair", Yoko's berserko "We're All Water", and the album's only masterpiece, John's valentine to his adopted home, the Chuck Berry-ish "New York City". Not long after this came out and bombed, faced with deportation by the hostile Nixon administration, John distanced himself from his radical politics, told the sycophants to get lost, and promptly seperated with Yoko. He then recorded the professional, tuneful, but reserved and lackluster Mind Games, then promptly embarked upon the legendary "Lost Weekend". Also part of the package was a live record that documented an evening which featured John and Yoko and Elephant's Memory playing with Frank Zappa and what was left of the Flo & Eddie verion of the Mothers of Invention, for only a buck more than the standard list price. This particular record is pretty hit and miss, mostly miss, and at least half of it, in this version, features Yoko's trademark avant-garde free-form yowling and screeching, which must have amused Zappa to no end. Roll eyes here. Zappa bitched a lot about this particular record release, in fact...for years after he claimed that J & Y butchered the master tapes, remixing and arranging them to feature the pair at FZ's expense, extending even to the innersleeve in which it came- which was the reproduced cover to the Mothers' 1971 Fillmore East live album on which J & Y scrawled their own graffiti and drew pictures, and so on. If I'm not mistaken, the Zappa people eventually released restored tapes of these sessions on one of the multitudes of posthumous live releases that came out in the 90s. For a buck, the record wasn't bad, but it didn't add much to this album as a complete package.

It was during that Lost Weekend, when he was living in LA, shacked up with Yoko's personal secretary May Pang (at Yoko's insistence- whatta gal) and scarfing down a million and a half gallons of alcohol with Harry Nilsson, Ringo, Keith Moon and anyone else who happened to show up, that John decided to record an oldies album. This was prompted by at least two things- first, a lawsuit by the publishers of Chuck Berry's "You Can't Catch Me", who sued John because someone thought "Come Together" plagiarized part of a settlement, John agreed to record that song and two others from that publisher. Also, a record was due to the company, and John had hardly been busy writing new songs. Plus, at the time it seemed like everyone and their grandmother was recording albums of songs from the 50s and early 60s, like David Bowie, Bryan Ferry, the Band, and others. "Happy Days" fever had just gripped the country, and 50s nostalgia was the thing. So John went in (at the height of his mania) with Phil Spector at the height of his, and between fighting, bickering, drawn pistols, drunkeness, drug abuse and God only knows what else managed to cut maybe a half dozen songs before Spector took off with the tapes and the whole crew was politely asked to vacate the studio premises. Lennon eventually sobered up long enough to record another album, Walls and Bridges, co-produce Harry Nilsson's Pussy Cats and not long after, John and Yoko reconciled. Happy about this, and happy abut having survived the Lost Weekend but not especially keen to write an elpee's worth of toons (househusbandry was beckoning, you know), he decided to track down the tapes Spector ripped off and see if there was anything to salvage. There wasn't much. Some of the tracks from those ill-starred sessions did survive and were included though, and it's easy to tell which ones they are because they're easily the dullest on the album! John took these, and recorded newer covers, and released the whole thing in 1975...and this was his last non-greatest hits type record until his big 1980 comeback Double Fantasy. This album is often brilliant, and often pretty humdrum, too. He leads off with a fine cover of Gene Vincent's "Be-Bop a Lula", follows that with his magnificent version of "Stand By Me" (he really sings the hell out of that one), then goes right into a Little Richard/Elvis medley of "Rip It Up/Ready Teddy". He stumbles next on one of the survivors from the Spector sessions, the song which got the ball rolling in the first place, "You Can't Catch Me" which gets a too-long and plodding rearrangement, but quickly redeems himself with a sly and low-key funky horn-driven cover of Fats Domino's "Ain't That a Shame". Those are the highlights of side one, for me. Side two starts out strong with "Slippin' and Slidin'", which I remember seeing him perform on some awards was set to be the next single after "Stand", but got pulled at the last minute. The rest of side two is fair-to-dull, and one would think that John would have done better by the likes of Buddy Holly ("Peggy Sue") and Larry Williams, who he used to cover excellently in the early Beatles days. I just don't think John's heart was really in this, and the Spector sessions cuts should have probably stayed in the can- but this is really a fine, listenable record, often brilliant. One just wishes it could have had a less troubled birth and had been recorded with a bit more commitment.

John Lennon's murder in 1980 made this record more poignant than it was ever intended to be, but it's also a more enjoyable record than its predecessor in my ears, anyway. John wasn't able to help produce it to distraction like he did Double Fantasy, and that keeps the songs honest and even a bit rough around the edges, very unusual for an 80s-produced record. Like Fantasy and Some Time in New York City, it's half Yoko and half John, but by 1980 Yoko had grown as an accessible songwriter and many listeners had grown more acclimated to her quirks. Her stuff is well-crafted and often catchy in its singsongy way (I myself prefer the 70s stuff), but it's John's contributions, as usual, that make or break the record, and it's got some wonderful tunes like "Nobody Told Me", "I'm Stepping Out", and a version of an old Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem, intended as a valentine to Yoko and presented here in little better than a demo version titled "Grow Old With Me" which sounds fragile and so emotionally unguarded that the listener can't help but be moved. There's another demo of this track on the Lennon Anthology set which is even rougher, and I prefer it. It's a heartbreaker. I remember being quite disappointed by Fantasy, then of course shocked and devastated at his murder, then the whole rotten shame of it all was driven home by this collection, which gave us a glimpse of what John had left to offer.

George Harrison

After his resounding opening solo career salvo All Things Must Pass, George got sidetracked by the Bangladesh concert and other things before finally releasing this, the follow-up, three years later. Living suffers in comparison with its predecessor, simply because it's not as big and ornate and hyperproduced. The songs are all low-key mid-tempo exercises, even the nominal rockers "Don't Let Me Wait Too Long" and the title track, and there's nothing which really sticks in the ear. But...each and every song boasts strong melodies and excellent playing, and after repeated listens becomes very enjoyable. Ya just gotta make the commitment first. If you've heard nothing else from LitMW, you've heard its only hit single "Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth", a pleasant enough Dylanish ditty with some nice slide work. Other faves of mine include the droning, "Long Long Long"-ish "Be Here Now", which is quite lovely if a little like listening to a meditation lesson; the aforementioned title track, which romps along at about five minutes, has some clever lyrics, and features a couple of sitar passages- which he didn't get around to using again until 1987's Cloud Nine. "That Is All" is a sweet, understated ballady thing with a great melody- and was covered by Harry Nilsson a couple of years later; "Try Some Buy Some", a lecture on the evils of greed and covetousness, was originally written for and recorded by Ronnie Spector, but George decided to recycle it and created a very distinctive swirling calliope-mixed-with-Spector (Phil)-is wall-of-sound ambience. This track, as well as any other, demonstrated the biggest problem with LitMW: every song is immaculately crafted and always listenable, but almost every cut has a dour, scolding, didactic tone- especially on out-and-out sermons such as "The Lord Loves the One (That Loves the Lord)" (kinda know right off the bat what you're getting there, dont'cha) with its ridiculous lyric about "The leaders of nations/They act like big girls", The Light That Has Lighted the World", and "The Day the World Gets Round". How much tolerance you have for this sort of thing will directly impact how much you enjoy this album. Me, I suppose I got used to that sort of thing a long time ago- I mean, this sort of thing has been running through Harrison's music as far back as "Don't Bother Me" and "Think For Yourself", so I just concentrate on the melodies and the general sentiment and let all the rest go out the other ear. Kinda like when I used to go to church, heh... Anyway, this record did pretty well, sales-wise, most likely on the good will engendered by Pass...but many regard this as the first in a series of disappointing efforts by the Quiet One.

EXTRA TEXTURE (Read All About It) (1975)
This album, which has the distinction of being the last one released on the Apple records label (and appropriately enough, the Apple is now depicted as an eaten-away core), was recorded during a low point, both creatively and personally for George and it's pretty obvious- the Dark Horse album and tour debacle, plus a bout with laryngitis and hepatitis, had taken a lot out of him. The perkiest cut and would-be hit single, "You", was originally intended for Ronnie Spector; when that failed to materialize, George re-recorded the vocals (in a much higher key than one which befits his voice, so it has a very noticable speeded-up effect) and released it himself. It's catchy, but slight. This whole album has a diffuse, murky, shabby quality to it, and although cuts like "Can't Stop Thinking About You" (which, to be fair, could have fit very well on All Things Must Pass) and "The Answer's At The End" have strong melodies, they get bogged down in the malaise that permiates everything here. "His Name Is Legs" (Larry Smith, of Bonzo Dog Doo Dah fame) is kinda clever in a cutesy way, and "Tired Of Midnight Blue" boogies along agreeably if not energetically, but the overall effect of a complete listen to this album is quite enervating, preachy sometimes and depressing. He would go on to do much better eventually, but Extra Texture was a record that probably should have remained in the can. One would be better off looking for the original vinyl featured a cool die-cut cover which was practically the highlight of this lackluster effort. I cannot tell a lie- I took my review of this album and rewrote it a bit to save a little time. So sue me.

After the career low points of Dark Horse (even though I really like that record) and Extra Texture, George rebounded somewhat with 1976's more upbeat 33 and 1/3, then took three years to deliver this, the enjoyable, if somewhat slight, follow-up. There's a good-vibes feeling throughout the record, probably the result of kindler, gentler George having decided to stop playing the rock star game and concentrate on his home and family. He still can't resist telling us how he feels we should live our lives, but now just shrugs off our skepticism where before it seemed to get under his skin. Everything on this album is a celebration of simple pleasures of his life- his wife, Olivia ("Love Comes to Everyone", "Dark Sweet Lady", "Your Love is Forever"), son Dhani ("Soft Touch"), new hobby auto racing ("Faster"), the Moon on a tropical beach ("Here Comes the Moon", not exactly a sequel to the more well-known Abbey Road song, and probably the most elaborate and lovely track on the record- really overlooked, in my opinion), even the joys of fungal sensory enhancement ("Soft Hearted Hana", a clever 'shroomy soft-shoe). George also reworks the rejected White Album track "Not Guilty", toning down its crashing rock into more of a gentle shuffle more in line with the feel of the rest of the album. There was only one hit single, the cheerful and sprightly "Blow Away", the video of which showed George in all his curly permed glory. Honestly, this will never be an album which goes down in the annals of Beatle history as a landmark or anything- but it is a surprisingly fun listen.

Ringo Starr

After doing an album of standards "for his Mum", which I've still never heard, Ringo followed it up with an album of country/western music, featuring some of the cream of Nashville sessionmen at the time like Elvis' drummer D.J. Fontana and the Jordanaires, Charlie Daniels, Jerry Reed, Neil Young stalwart Ben Keith, and others and indulged himself in the same spirit which led to Beatle tracks like "What Goes On" and "Act Naturally". This is not a bad record by any stretch, but it just doesn't leave much of an impression because there's just not a lot of spark in any of the tracks. They're all competently played and sung (Ringo is in pretty good voice, for Ringo) but for some reason the tracks are lifeless. Hard to say exactly why. But still, there is a lot of listenable stuff here including the title track, the more uptempo "$15 Draw", a great honky-tonk workout titled "I'd Be Talking All The Time", and a downbeat anti-Vietnam War song called "Silent Homecoming".

In 1973 producer Richard Perry and all of Ringo's musician friends, including his ex-bandmates, got together and pitched in on a record with Ritchie which wound up being a monster smash hit with critics and the buying public alike, and thirty years later Ringo remains a solid, clever album which hasn't dated badly at all. When it came time to follow it up, Ringo once again turned to Perry and most of the same cast that enlivened Ringo...but sadly, the law of diminishing returns was in full effect and the resulting Goodnight Vienna falls way short of the standard of its predecessor. Plain and simple, the songs aren't quite as good. Which is not to say that this is a bad album, far from it- there's still a definite bonhomie in effect and the fun spirit comes across in nearly every track. John Lennon again contributes a winner, with the rocking title track; Hoyt Axton's "No No Song" is funny and clever, and has great BVs by Harry Nilsson; Ringo covers not only Harry on the string drenched "Easier For Me", but also does very well by Roger Miller on "Husbands and Wives", an example of (in my opinion, anyway) good country-rock as strong as any Gram Parsons or Mike Nesmith song at the time. "Occa Pella" is a horn-driven duet with Dr. John. A pleasant reworking of the old chestnut "Only You (and You Alone)", with more smooth Nilssonian BVs, was the biggest hit, and really the only clunkers were a muddy-sounding collaboration with the then-hot Bernie Taupin-Elton John team, "Snookeroo", and the plodding "Call Me", which pointed to the direction of the next three Ringo releases, which pretty much killed his solo career momentum.

Nobody cared anymore when this came out, even Ringo really (a lyric sample: "I'm going crazy with this record business/I want to stop it/You want me to stop it/Everybody wants it to stop"). Crafted from a host of songs that were given to him by his former bandmates, along with Harry Nilsson (his last new songs to see release in his lifetime) Ron Wood, and Steve Stills. Originally titled Can't Fight Lightning, it came out on the fledgling Boardwalk Records (the major labels having long ago passed on any further Starr product), which went belly up soon after this came out, ensuring a quick chart death. But- all things considered, this is a surprisingly good album, featuring great contributions from Paul in particular ("Attention", "Private Property") and Nilsson, who pretty much defines the sound and feel of the record with his reggae-and-steel-drum flavored "Drumming is my Madness" and the charming, if a bit negative title track, along with a reworked "Back Off Boogaloo" done in the style of Harry's long-ago cover of "You Can't Do That", with lots of lines from Beatle songs floating in and out and around the melody. George's "Wrack My Brain" was a minor hit single, which troubled the top 100 if I recall correctly and spawned a video I remember seeing. There's a cover of a Carl Perkins song which Paul produces, probably one that was suggested by Macca's earlier duet with Perkins on his Tug of War album. I don't think this is in print anymore, but if you see it in a used vinyl bin somewhere I strongly suggest you take a flyer on it- it's a very entertaining record and deserved a wider audience than it got. Ringo didn't do another album until he seized upon the All-Starr Band conceit towards the end of the decade.

Whew! That's gonna do it for now. I love to write about the Fabs and all aspects of their careers, and have gotten a lot of pleasure from their solo records, which often get short shrift from critics and writers, so any chance I get to hold forth about them, I take.

But I am done, and so I will Back Off, Boogaloo until a later time. Coming soon- horror comics I have known and loved.
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I was restlessly flipping through the channels one day last week, when I was actually moved to stop and check out a scene from one of those multitudes of military-themed crime investigation shows by the sight of one young lady, all made up in Hollywood standard Gothgirl style and attitude (except for the white lab coat), who was this particular organization's forensics expert/computer whiz. Just the type, I'm sure, that's encouraged in the Naval Armed Forces. Anyway, I was, well...impressed (for lack of a nicer word) by her as she wisecracked with Mark Harmon and clicked away, doing remarkable things on her computer using only the keyboards. Have you ever noticed that in the movies and on TV, you can do anything by keyboard shortcuts and nobody ever uses a mouse? Anyway, her name is Pauley Perette, the show's called Navy NCIS: Naval Criminal Investigation Service, on CBS, her character's name is Abby Sciuto, I may watch again...who knows, and this concludes my little lovestruck observation post.

10/28/03 Note to Sean Collins: she apparently plays Beth, assistant (and girlfriend) to the male lead's character, in The Ring. Small world, huh.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

No, more right now!

Big Sunny D, that ras-cule, loves Mike Mignola's Hellboy, as does your humble scribe...the difference being that he's gone and written a great appreciation of the series and I haven't. I think you should go read it right this very minute.

Or as soon as you can...

And you know what? I, too, am a little apprehensive about the upcoming film version, despite Guillermo Del Toro's involvement.
Oh, and I'd like to say one more thing, for the record- the new season of Cartoon Network's Justice League, scripts and (especially) animation, has been pretty darn good so far and 110% better than its inaugural season.

That is all.

More tomorrow.
I've been following Sean Collins' scholarly and interesting 13 Days of Halloween list of (mostly) horror films he likes, and I had once written some of my reactions in a post but decided I didn't like it, and deleted it. Having heard a couple of dissenting opinions on my decision, I have decided to have another go at it, which is now going to take longer because he's written about four more films since my original post! And please bear in mind that these are just my opinions, and I have been known to be wrong before. Anyway, here goes nothing:

First up, as sort of an honorable mention he wrote about the pre-LotR Peter Jackson film Heavenly Creatures, which I've only seen once, a couple of years ago, at the insistence of the Bacardi Show Political Correspondent, who raved about it constantly to me and eventually loaned me a VHS copy. I wish that I could say that I was as blown away by it as the BSPC, but I just had a hard time caring about the unlikeable characters we were given throughout. I did think the fantasy sequences were imaginatively staged, and it was well acted, but the lack of sympathetic characters really did it in for me.

Next, the list proper began, and it was a flick that I had left off my list, causing me no little amount of dismay when I realized that I had forgotten it. Oh- it was Hitchcock's The Birds. At the risk of refuting the statements I made in my own horror movie list a week or so ago, I will admit that if there's ever a movie that made me uneasy, it was this one. It's given me the willies since I saw it long ago as a kid- don't know what my parents were thinking letting me watch this film in my impressionable youth. Probably that I'd seen everything else, why not this too. Anyway, there are many scenes that have made an indelible mark on my memory- especially Tippi Hedren trapped in that phone booth, the bird attack in the attic which was apparently as harrowing in real life as it was onscreen, and (especially) the playground scene, which creates tension so thick you could, as they say, cut it with one of Mrs. Bates' butcher knives. A big part of the feel is, I think, the way Hitchcock directs it with cool precision and a minimum of bravura moves, but not so much that he smothers the paranoia and fear inherent in the script. This one was, as Sean T. says, personal- and it shows.

The Wicker Man was next, and it's one I read about in magazines like The Monster Times for many years before I actually got a chance to see it in some sort of uncut version. That's been over twenty years ago, I think, and perhaps I should try to view it again (with older eyes) because I really wasn't all that impressed with it. As I recall, I was a bit bored by it because it was so determinedly stolid and slow moving, and I suppose that was to create a sense of impending dread or some such but it just didn't grab me where I felt it. The ending, as I recall, livened things up a bit but Edward Woodward's character came across as such an obstinate prig for the most part that I didn't feel too sorry for him when he met his fate. Again, I'm probably being a bit unfair to this movie, and I really should try to see it once more, but I gots ta call 'em like I sees (or saws) 'em.

Number eleven on the Attentiondeficitdisorderly horror hit parade is Night of the Living Dead, the original of course, and I'm in complete agreement with Mr. Collins on this one. It's every bit as effective now as it was thirty plus years ago.

At ten is a film that I would have never thought to put on a horror film list, the Coen Brothers' Barton Fink. I dearly love the works of the Bros., but Fink is perhaps my least favorite of their oeuvre, and I wish I had a really good reason why. It's full of typically odd Coen-ish characters and dialogue, and the direction, photography, and performances are all first-rate...but it just didn't connect with me for some reason. I suppose that I just didn't really sympathise with the protagonist, or maybe the flaming finale struck me as a little too over-the-top, I don't know. This is another one I think I need to watch again, having done so only once, and lots of people with much more informed opinions than I love this film, placing me squarely in the minority, it seems. Sean makes a great case for its inclusion on his list, and highlights several things I didn't see in the same (fire) light.

Even odder, to me, is the inclusion of film #9, Stanley Kubrick's Eyes Wide Shut- which I certainly regarded as a horror, but not in the same way Sean intends it. I will say that again, Sean makes a great case for this movie, but I've sat through it twice, finding it plodding and uninvolving, full of unpleasant characters doing unpleasant things to each other, and really don't want to do it again. Kubrick was a great filmmaker, no doubt about it, but even the great ones stumble occasionally, and I've always regarded this and his muddled adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining as his career worsts.

And finally, #8 today, Clive Barker's Hellraiser, a movie I remember seeing as soon as it came out because I was such a huge Barker fan (and stoked at getting the chance to see The Hellbound Heart visualized) at the time. I'm not so much of a Barker fan anymore, but this remains the best film version of any of his works, and still holds up as a truly imaginative gore/horror film. Again, Sean makes some trenchant observations.

And that's all he's got so far! I'll try to comment on the other seven, whenever he gets them posted. So far, fascinating reading.
Congrats to the Florida Marlins and all that...but boy I'd like to bitch-slap whoever the genius was at Fox that decided to use the Coldplay song "The Scientist" during the post-game highlight clip. That beautiful song has no business playing over scenes of grown men jumping around on each other. Then I'd bitch-slap them again, just for Firefly and Futurama. General principles, you know.
And now, just because I can, here are my Fearless NFL Pigskin Prognostications!

St. Louis over Pittsburgh- I know, the Steelers are at home, but the Rams have been pretty darn hot lately, bringing back memories of the "Greatest Show on Turf". Pittsburgh has kinda been in disarray lately as well. I think this will be close, but the Rams have more firepower.

Seattle over Cincinnati- I was tempted to make this my upset special of the week, and some have, but I think Corey Dillon's latest pop-off will cause some morale damage, and with the Bungles, morale is very important.

Tampa Bay over Dallas- this is another one that will be close, but I just can't see banged-up Tampa Bay losing to the Cowboys at home.

New England over Cleveland- the Pats seem to be in a groove right now, and Cleveland has looked good in fits and starts but can't get any consistency on either side of the ball. I like overacheiving New England.

Tennessee over Jacksonville- the Jags have been pretty bad all year so far, and the Titans have been very strong. I thinks Jacksonville will play them tough at home, but the Flaming Thumbtacks have just got too much.

Carolina over New Orleans- The Saints fooled some people with their lopsided victory over Atlanta last weekend, but right now the Falcons couldn't shut down a good division 1-A college team. The Panthers will be a tougher nut to crack.

Baltimore over Denver- the Habitual Liars won't be able to worm their way out of having absolutely no one at quarterback. Nominal starter Kanell, even if he gets over the flu, was cut by the Falcons, for chrissakes. Unless Shanahan is lying about the health of his signal callers yet again, this could be a long day for the visitors.

Chicago over Detroit- boy, will this be a fun game to watch. Not. I'm going with the home team, simply because they're the home team, and that's more than the Lions have going for them.

Minnesota over the New York Giants- I see no reason why the on-a-roll Vikes can't prevail over the disappointing G-men, especially at home.

San Fransisco over Arizona- the Cards, Lions, Falcons, Bears and on some days others are disproving that "parity" nonsense that so many stuffed-shirt traditionalists like to whine about so much. Most of the SST's, I think, were 49ers and Cowboys fans. Anyway, the Cards are bad. Real bad. And the 49ers still have enough left to walk all over them, even though against most teams they'd be down from the big victory over Tampa.

New York Jets over Philadelphia- here's a hunch game. The Jets seem to have worked some things out, and the Iggles are still working their problems out, so I'm goin' with the Jets in a game which should be played on St. Patrick's Day cause there will be so much green everywhere...

Indianapolis over Houston- you never know about the Texans, but I think the Colts will be too much for them.

Kansas City over Buffalo- I like the Chiefs defense better than I like Buffalo's defense. I can't believe I'm typing these words.

San Diego over Miami- once in a while, you just have to step up and pick an upset, and here's mine for this week. Miami is up-and-down, and the 'Bolts seem to be getting better, plus they're on the road. Take SD and the points.

That's it! Please don't bet on these picks, or if you do, don't come cryin' to me when you lose your rent money...
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What I bought and what I thought, week of October 22

Mike Carey's formula for this, the first chapter of the latest continuation of the storyline he's been setting up for months now, is to put five magicians (some familiar, some not so) in a run-down house at the summons of John Constantine (he wants to warn them about the evil to come), and sit back and watch the fireworks. Carey, in just a few months, has already created more interesting characters than the last three JC:HB writers combined, and fortunately for the reader of this issue in particular, they're all well defined and interesting, with sharp, often amusing dialogue. This old Swamp Thing fan appreciated the inclusion of a relative of Anton Arcane, who's the black sheep of the family because he's not insane. Marcelo Frusin is back on art chores and is typically excellent despite the Loughridge Murk. A

In which we get Edgar Rice Burroughs' most famous creation reworked, with a dollop of Marvel's late 60s-early 70s Ka-Zar for good measure ostensibly in service of giving Elijah Snow a love story- but come to find out, at the end, that what we're actually reading is a main character's origin tale. Warren Ellis is positively verbose this time out for some reason, and John Cassaday is typically stellar. Nice pulp magazine swipe/tribute on the cover...and this issue actually came out on time! Will wonders never cease... A

No real appreciable drop-off in quality here; Brubaker and Phillips give us surprising revelations (with requisite complications) in the Miss Misery (does anybody else think of that Nazareth song when they scan her name?)-Holden Carver romance, passive/malevolent string puller Tao has an amusing/fascinating exchange with the ruler of modern-day Egypt, and Carver suffers a grisly injury that we have to wait until the end to find out what happened. Big problem for me: the apparent predictibilty of one thing- you can bet your ass that if someone tells their origin story to Carver, they'll be dead before the last page. It's happened at least once already, and it happens again here, and while it (and who it happens to) is pretty surprising, it adds a dimension of predictability that I don't particularly want to see again in this otherwise excellent book. A-

Well, I do like the idea of reimagining the DC Implosion casualty character Cinnamon as Sharon Stone in The Quick and the Dead, and it's a passable plotline that's been set up by neophyte (to me, anyway) writer Jen Van Meter, in which the revenge seeker is confronted with someone that seeks revenge on her. It's a bit too self-consciously 100 Bullets-like, but I blame that on the amateur hour Risso-ish stylings of artists Fransisco Paronzini and Rob Campanella, who never seem to rise above their fanzine-level abilities. Maybe in a couple of years, they'll be something to watch, but right now they're not adding a thing to a comic that needs more of a spark than they can provide. B

The occasional funny quip and clever situation just doesn't compensate for the tedium engendered by this old school Spandex throwdown slash video game-ish quest tale. Script-wise, this is so disappointingly by-the-numbers that you pretty much know what's going to happen before it actually happens. The dialogue is overblown and melodramatic, unless it's Plastic Man. I gotta admit, though, that I liked the way the Batman/Captain America team was portayed, especially when they realized that they were being manipulated and immediately tried to find out the cause, which is still small beer in my book. Busiek must have been in a bad mood when he wrote this, because every character seems to be pissed off at everybody else, and some of the characters' attitudes (Superman, Cap, Thor) are so out of, well, character that it becomes a major annoyance. Also, again, artist George Perez equates quantity with quality and gives us page after claustrophobic page crammed full of tiny panels and Kirby dots and contorted figures clad in skin-tight uniforms, and wide open, gaping mouths and flying rubble and...well, you get the picture. It makes an already enervating script even more tiresome. And there are two more issues to go, oh happy day. I know, I know, I don't have to buy them, but geez- I've already bought the first two and the faint, tiny voice of the 12 year old fanboy in me wants to know what happens next! C+

I didn't pick this up when it came out a week or so ago, but my curiosity was aroused by all the internet grousing I read as well as the 99¢ price tag. I don't know what the braintrust at DC was thinking when it chose these particular stories- none of them, even the Jack Cole Plastic Man tale, is indicative of what made those old stories so appealing and fun. The Superman tale is fast-paced enough, but talky and is saddled with an uninteresting plot, and Wayne Boring (who did better stuff, in his stiff style, in the 50s) was certainly no Joe Shuster back then. The Batman tale has a high pedigree, with a Bill Finger script and Jerry Robinson inks, but is even more talky than the Superman story and that becomes a huge distraction. Even so, it's the best of show here. I've never been all that crazy about the Moulston/Peter Wonder Woman stuff, and this one didn't change that. Again, there's just too damn much expository dialogue and long-winded captions- but there's just so much screwiness and soft-core B&D within it that it's fun in spite of itself. Finally, I always loved reading Jack Cole Plastic Man reprints whenever I ran across them (DC was really good about running them in their 25¢ 70s Super-Spectaculars), but good lord- this has such a convoluted, far-fetched (yes, even with a man who can stretch like a rubber band) plot that it really tried my patience. Even Cole's art wasn't up to snuff, looking rushed and cluttered. Myself, I'm a bit more acclimated to these Golden Age tales, having read many of them in reprint format back in the 60s and 70s. One can only guess what newer comics readers would think about it. DC should really consider doing this again, but using more care in the selection process- it seems that once again, we get what we pay for. C+

Friday, October 24, 2003

Here's something for Shawn Fumo...
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Gimme a "T"! Gimme a "J"! Gimme a "B"! Gimme an "S"! What'cha got? The first anniversary of the Johnny Bacardi Show, that's what! So happy blogiversary to me! Yaaay!

Image courtesy of Tack-O-Rama.
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Sendin' out a quickie BSBdG to Dale "Buffin" Griffin, diminutive drummer for one of the best bands ever to walk the face of the Earth, Mott The Hoople. He's 55 today.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

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Link restoration shall begin soon. I did want to take the opportunity, though, to send out BSBdG's to good ol' Weird Al Yankovic, 44 today.

Also, appropriately enough, today would have been the 110th birthday of the non-performing Marx brother, Gummo, real name Milton.

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Finally, another posthumous BSBdG for 50s, 60s and 70s British pinup queen/singer/actress Diana Dors, who would have been 72 today. She starred in many films, but the one I'm most familiar with is 1973's Theatre of Blood, the clever Vincent Price Shakespeare revenge movie.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

It's been one of those days.

I received word from the recruiter that Cabela's has decided to go with someone else to fill their opening. My Great Nebraska Adventure seems to be over, in disappointing fashion. Downright disheartening, it is- I thought I would have been a great fit, and could have adjusted quite well to living in the Plains. They felt differently.
John Jakala's linked to DC's January solictiations at ToonZone, and has reproduced the cover of the new Midnight, Mass miniseries. Nice to see that cover artist Tomer Hanuka has curbed his tendency to render all his figures as emaciated zombies. But seriously, folks, I thought the first MM series was a hoot, albeit a drably illustrated hoot, and I'm looking forward to this one.

Another interesting-looking title is My Faith in Frankie, from Mike (Lucifer) Carey. Marc Hempel does the covers and interior inks.

I'm also eagerly anticipating New Frontier, another DC revisionist history series involving the DC stable as they were in the early 60s, when Fox and Broome and Infantino and Sekowsky walked the earth. Should be interesting, and for the love of God I hope it's fun at $6.95. By January I may be chopping up furniture for use as firewood...
Dave Fiore has written a nice overview/commentary on one of the Grant Morrison issues of Animal Man. Animal Man is a title that I've never read in any significant measure, despite my admiration for Morrison's scripting, because the artist that they got to illustrate the majority of it was one Chas Truog, whose work is, in my own unworthy opinion, some of the worst to ever grace any works of sequential fiction. Flat, unimaginatively laid out, awkwardly posed, poor perspective shots, you name it. Maybe I just got off on the wrong foot with the guy because he was the artist they chose to follow Steve Leialoha in Epic's long-ago Coyote ongoing, and he stunk on ice...and I've never seen anything from him since that has changed my opinion. I'm sure he's a nice fella, and is loved by his friends and family, tithes often, and is a pillar of his community...but Jesus Mary and Joseph I hated his artwork. And it inspired such distaste in me that I only picked up one issue of AM in the entire run, the one in which Dolphin (a fave obscure character of mine before Peter David had his way with her in Aquaman) appeared. I've never heard anything but good stuff about the AM book, though, apparently from people who just don't get too worked up about the pictures that illustrate all those you never know, I might get a trade one of these days and try to slog through it.

There's been a whole bunch of comics related stuff I've been wanting to write, like my opinion of the Gone and Forgotten-slagged Marvels, my favorite horror comics, and more. I just haven't had the wherewithal lately to get them out of my brain and through my fingers as of yet. Hang on, though, there's always hope...or so they keep telling me...
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BSBdG's go out today to the Mouseketeer that launched a million wet dreams, Annette Funicello, 61 today.
Sorry to read about the death of Elliott Smith. I wasn't so much of a fan that I had all his records or anything like that, but I had XO and I liked it very much.

Update: Apparently Smith's death has been ruled a suicide. Boy oh boy. Sad news.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003


I was at a state car and truck auction all today- bought a Dodge Ram 1500 pickup for my son, who is kinda hard on vehicles (he's had three, and he's only 21)...we'll see how "ram tough" they are now! He's gonna be paying for it, in case you were wondering how I was gonna pull that bit off. Plus I haven't been feeling well the last few days, and haven't felt like concentrating long enough to write anything that's my lame attempt at justifying my lack of content over the last couple of days. I'll try to do more better tomorrow.

Finished 8-6 in football predictions over the weekend, making my record 66-35, .653.

Comics on my pull list tomorrow, according to the new Diamond shipping list:

AVENGERS JLA #2 Yeah, yeah, I's got to get better, right?

Mostly good stuff, and a well-deserved break for my dwindling bank account.

Thinking pretty hard about going to see Eels on Saturday night in Nashville, at a venue to which I've never been...if I have any money and feel like it after yet another (property) auction with which I've agreed to help Saturday morning. Rhonda, they're gonna be in Louisville this Friday night. In other musical newsicals, against my better judgement I bid on a Posies CD, the one critics generally agree is their best, Frosting on the Beater on eBay and paid a staggering $3.25 for it- shipping and everything! If it hadn't been so cheap I wouldn't have done it. Of course, I'm a firm believer that you get what you pay for, so stay tuned...

Just got finished watching Boris Karloff play another evil Oriental type in the 1930s flick West of Shanghai...not especially PC, but still a fun adventure yarn with Boris hamming it up and helping a very logic-defying script. He was much better, and the film was a lot livelier (albeit even less PC- offensive, even) in The Mask of Fu Manchu, which I watched a few nights ago. Man, what a totally nutball adventure yarn, so over the top- especially for the Thirties! I think that Doug Moench, Jim Starlin and Paul Gulacy must have viewed this before they did Master of Kung Fu for Marvel in the 70s. I'm really enjoying all the old Karloff films they've been airing on TCM lately, many of which I haven't seen before like The Walking Dead, a Twilight Zone-ish tale of a wronged man who is executed but is brought back to life and extracts revenge on the gangsters who framed him. Directed by Michael (Casablanca) Curtiz, no less!

Whenever I see those 30s films, dealing with adventure and danger and high-concept thrills in remote (usually Oriental) spots, it makes me wish someone had the wherewithal to make a Doc Savage film in this vein, full of adventure and fun, located in Tibet or Mongolia and in heated battle with John Sunlight or some other suitably megamanaical villain, but not played with smirky condescension and lowbrow camp hijinks like the horrible 1975 Doc movie was. Hell, film it in black and white, and get Roy Wood to write the score. I know, I know...what? When I first started reading the paperback reprints of the old Doc Savage pulp novels, I was also listening to the first two Electric Light Orchestra LPs and Roy's own solo Boulders a lot. I still think of Doc whenever I hear No Answer's Woody instrumental "First Movement (Jumpin' Biz)".

Speaking of movies, don't miss a day of Sean (Barnabas) Collins' 13 days of Halloween, in which he writes about some of his favorite horror films, and does a darn fine job of it too. I had written some of my impressions on his first three choices, but I wasn't happy with what I wrote so I deleted it. Maybe I was hasty- I've already had someone ask me what happened to it! I didn't think anybody had time to see it... Perhaps I'll rewrite later.

OK, that's all the damage I'm gonna do for now. Got a lot to keep me busy tomorrow as well, so I don't know how much I'll be able to post but you never know.

Oyasumi Nasai, ya'll.

Monday, October 20, 2003

People helping people...a million billion thanks to Laura for providing me with the code that enabled me to have that lovely lovely streamlined Google search function in my links column at right. She has my undying gratitude.

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BSBdG's go out today to Be'la Ferenc Dezso Blasko, better known to most as Bela Lugosi, who would have been 121 today.

Other noteworthy birthdays today: Tom Petty, 53, and the late Mickey Mantle, 72.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

As Chuck Brown would say, "good grief".

I just read over at A Small Victory that Gregg Easterbrook, he of the wonderful Tuesday Morning Quarterback column and the wrongheaded anti-Tarantino (and unintentionally anti-Semitic) commentary has been fired by ESPN!

ESPN is totally overreacting, and you just know that the Rush Limbaugh debacle is at the root of it. Easterbrook made a mistake, but he has apologized and should at least be given another chance. ESPN didn't get rid of Bob Ryan, who still appears regularly on The Sports Reporters, did so just this morning as a matter of fact, and said something equally as mistaken and wrong about Jason Kidd and his wife. He got some probation time from both his paper, the Boston Globe, and ESPN, which was sufficient. To just fire Easterbrook like that is stupid and wrongheaded, and I intend to email them about it, for all the good that'll do. The email link is in Michelle's post above.

I'm sure gonna miss reading TMQ...
Ran up on an interesting Salon article about R.E.M. this morning.

The article mostly deals with the perception that perhaps R.E.M. has run out of things to say and interesting ways to say them, and the fear within the band that they will become stale and irrelevant like a Chicago or the Beach Boys, for example. And after repeated listens to their most recent album Reveal I'd say those fears were certainly justified. Here's hoping that the Athens group can find a way out of their creative rut, but it's apparently not gonna happen anytime soon- their upcoming CD release is a best-of package.
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BSBdG's go out today to ol' Emilio Lizardo himself, John Lithgow, who's 58 today. John's been in some great films, and some not-so-great ones, and I have never warmed to his most recent project, the silly TV series Third Rock From the Sun...but he'll always have a special place in my movie pantheon for his performance as the mad dictator from Planet Ten, Lord John Whorfin, in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai.

That's OK for you, monkey boy!

Saturday, October 18, 2003

Well, heck. I was gonna let the comics reviews be my last post until Monday, but I ran across this site courtesy MetaPop: the Paul's Boutique Samples and References List!

I'm sure many of you will agree with me when I state unequivically that the Beasties' 1989 effort is one of the greatest albums in the history of ever, and we will never see the likes of it again, sampling costs and laws being what they are these days. This site attempts to catalogue all the samples and lyric references, as well as other nuggets of info about that record, and is very thorough.

Girls with curls and big long locks
And beatnik chicks just wearing their smocks
Walking high and mighty like she's #1 and
*She thinks she's the passionate one*

Check it, boy-eee!
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From all of me to all of you...COMICS REVIEWS!
What I bought and what I thought, week of August 13

Taut, gripping GCPD-vs.-unidentified-sniper story with outstanding Brubakerian use of the largish cast, especially Josie Mac, who is really beginnning to grow on me (I should go back and read her backup feature in those Detectives from a couple of years ago) and that fellow who runs around at night with the bat cowl on. Michael Lark's newer, looser style, which really shines in a couple of places (especially in the cliffhanger ending) is beginning to remind me of John Paul Leon, or Tony DeZuniga. Or maybe Leon inked by DeZuniga. Whatever. If Ed doesn't botch the ending, never a given, this is gonna be a real good one. And I didn't forget to pretend that there was snow falling while reading! A

Excellent until the copout ending, this finale to last issue's tale of an accountant who used the events of 9/11 as a way to escape from his crooked bosses still shows that Pete Milligan has more than one note to play when it comes to the title character. Javier Pulido also does another excellent job on art- his style may be simple, but his composition and pacing are second to none. You've gotta be good (like Pulido and Mike Lark) to shine over Lee Loughridge's colors. A

Part two of "Brothers in Arms", (God I hope Carey didn't intentionally swipe that from Dire Straits) in which a couple of Titans (not from Tennessee) with a lot more ambition than brains cause a lot more trouble for the title character and his cast, which includes the former hatcheck girl at Lucifer's piano bar...and I have no idea what's going on with her. The ending says one thing, but earlier events in the story suggest otherwise. Typically solid Mike Carey scripting, doing wondrous things with the various characters that's he's inherited and extrapolated from Neil Gaiman's long-ago blueprint. Peter Gross and Ryan Kelly sometimes seem to be aping the style of alternate artist Dean Ormston, and the result is sometimes a bit distracting. A-

JSA 53
Well, kiddies, here's my guilty pleasure book for the time being. Oddly enough, I was on the verge of dropping this a couple of months ago, after two bloated, convoluted, far-fetched and tedious multi-dimensional, time-spanning, spandex-laden slugfest epics, but for the time being anyway we're back to what attracted me to this book in the first place: the quiet stuff, favoring character interaction over all that other junk. I like the mix between the older characters and the newer ones that have sprung up in their place, and three pages of exchanges between Power Girl and Wildcat or Alan Scott and Jesse Quick are a hundred times more fascinating to me, in this setting, than a dozen issues of what we've had previously. We also get some extended face time with this new Crimson Avenger character that someone at DC really wants us to like- she's OK, but nothing special, and I found myself wishing the Spectre would show up and give her a beatdown- and more glimpses of the beginning of what may turn out to be another bloated, convoluted, far-fetched and tedious multi-dimensional, time-spanning, spandex-laden slugfest epic. Guilty pleasures, like I said. B+

Most of this reads like a Mad magazine-type parody of Lord of the Rings, but it's entertaining enough, with lotsa cutesy easter-eggs courtesy of artist Zander Cannon. Favorite cameo: Jonny Quest in the line to get permission to go on a...well, quest, and Stewie from Family Guy holding Maggie Simpson hostage in an alley. Favorite joke this issue: Toybox: "Jeff, you have to. Maybe it would be like, y'know, closure. Smax: "I don't need closure. You know what needs closure? Your mouth needs closure". Ba-da-bump...ching!Thankewverymuch! You've been a great audience! Don't forget to tip your bartender! B+

As is the nature of most anthologies, again a mixed bag, albeit better than last month's mixed bag. Great lead story by J.H. (Promethea) Williams and one Haden Blackman, which deals with the underdeveloped notion of Hellboy's sexuality and charisma. Mignola's always downplayed it in the past, but you just know that HB could be a chick magnet if he wanted to be. Next up is a typically well drawn C. Scott Morse tale about an encounter with a mysterious old man who hums jazz and bathes in an icy stream. I love Morse's art a lot, but this one has a ending that doesn't make a lot of sense. Third up is a better-than-you'd-think Jim Starlin-illo'd and Ron Marz-scripted story which is nothing earth-shatteringly different; the chief pleasure is in seeing Jim Starlin draw Hellboy, and he does a pretty darn good job, the best I've seen from him on anything in a good long while. A nifty Cam Stewart pinup is next, then another chapter in John Cassaday's retro, and somewhat pointless Lobster Johnson story. Where's Sammy Clay when you need him? B+

I was so underwhelmed by the Loeb/Sale team's previous go at revisionist history, Spider-Man: Blue, that I was gonna pass on this...but there was something about the cover graphics and interior art that made me decide to give it a go...and I'm not sorry I did, despite some dodgy character moments. Sale apes Jack Kirby as slavishly as he did Ditko and Romita Sr. in Blue, and this time the result comes across as clever, rather than falling short of the mark. A little overpriced, but not bad. Not all that good either. B

The first issue of David Mack's superhero story slash art lesson, with a healthy dollop of Native American studies to boot was exciting. Issue number two was as well illustrated as number one, but too much space was devoted to what we already knew about Mack's creation Echo and not enough space was devoted to advancing the story. We get more story advancement here as well, but the busy, painterly affectations of the artist have begun to distract more than delight, and that's not good. Nice to look at, and God knows I wish I could do it, but it's kinda like drinking tequila. A shot or two is fine, but if you try to drink a whole bottle you're gonna regret it. Mr. Mack, you've made your point. You're an excellent artist. Now will you please get on with it and wrap this up now? C+