Monday, July 25, 2016

The Angel Of The Opera!

Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of countless variations on a theme as enthusiastic writers take the iconic hero and manipulate him in all sorts of entertaining ways. It's the magnificent strength of Arthur Conan Doyle's character that he can withstand so many contortions. Sam Siciliano has written several of these pastiches, beginning in 1992 with The Angel of the Opera which combines the narrative of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera into the Sherlock Holmes canon. But there's an additional twist.

The narrator of this Sherlock Holmes adventure is not Dr. John Watson, but rather Sherlock's cousin Dr. Henry Vernier. The conceit here is that the stories of Watson are generally held in disdain by Holmes and as Vernier would have it, Watson is not nearly so close to the Great Detective as he would have us believe. We get in this adventure what purports to be a more complete and more humane presentation of Holmes as he is confronted with a case in the heart of Paris.

The story pretty effectively follows the general pattern of the Leroux novel but told from the perspective of a Holmes adventure with additional material added to put Sherlock's deductions into place. That being the case the story really drags a bit as we wait for elements of the Leroux original to unfold while Holmes and his new Boswell Vernier wander around the streets of Paris and the dim recesses of the Paris Opera House.

Dr. Vernier is a young man who is about to be married and much of his internal story deals with how he misses his fiance Michelle, an apparently strong-willed woman who is also a medical doctor. Vernier comes across as a bit of whiner to me, making bold statements about how Holmes and Watson don't get along and frankly casting Watson in a very negative light. The Holmes presented by Vernier is less quixotic, though no less mysterious, and the deductions seem less piquant.

The theme of the story appears to be about love and romance and how exactly that might ideally unfold for we mere humans stranded often in a society which forces fixed roles. There is also some rejection of the class structure on which much of European society thrived on at this time. When we finally meet Erik the Phantom, he is less awesome than in the Leroux novel,  with much more sympathy applied to his situation.

The novel is too long really, plodding a bit here and there, but I assumed much of this had to do with Siciliano's attempts to put his story into the frame of the Leroux original. This would prove to be wrong as subsequent of these Vernier-narrated adventures demonstrated.

More to come.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The U.S.S. Stevens Docks!

(First Appearance of U.S.S. Stevens on a comic book cover.)
Dover Books has released a truly significant comic book volume,  U.S.S. Stevens The Collected Stories by Sam Glanzman.

These are sobering tales of war from the perspective of sailors during World War II. This tome arrived at my house via the U.S. Postal Service (thanks be to the Postal Service) and it's awesome. A hardback book with four hundred or so beautiful pages of Glanzman artwork. At ninety plus years of age, Sam Glanzman is a living legend in the comic book field (I've adored his work since first finding it in the pages of Charlton's Hercules at the tender age of ten) and it's grand to see his truly important work find a more permanent place for readers of fine comics to enjoy for years to come. Dover Books and the folks involved with this book such as Drew Ford and Jon B. Cooke are to be congratulated. Thanks gentlemen for making this possible and thanks to Sam Glanzman for producing something of lasting significance in a field which all too often is littered with disposable trash.

And don't forget to pick up this lush trade, A Sailor's Story which gathers the two U.S.S. Stevens graphic novels Glanzman produced for Marvel. 

Get these books!!!

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Saturday, July 23, 2016

Price Guide Blues!

It's been many moons since I felt the need to pick up a copy of The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide. This annual publication was once a big event, a way not only to glean a little info on the relative price of a collection which I never intended to sell (I've changed in that respect) but often offering up some interesting articles on various parts of the comic business. Eventually the whole magilla got overwhelmed by the internet and the copious variant covers Gemstone foisted upon us when they took over the gig some years ago. I quit getting it. But I have to say the Russ Heath cover for one version this year is tempting, an atmospheric image which is completed with the clever title homages to vintage DC war titles. This one looks choice.

Not that I want to slight a fine artist like Amanada Conner who does a fine job on two covers which alas are intended to be two halves of a single image. I appreciate the clever image, but buying two copies of the guide to get the whole shebang is not ever going to be an option for me.

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Friday, July 22, 2016

The Wrath Of Fu-Manchu

With The Wrath of Fu-Manchu the official saga of Sax Rohmer's despicable "Devil Doctor" comes to a close. Released in 1973, well after the 1959 death of Rohmer, the book is actually a collection of stories as opposed to a novel. This makes the volume more akin to the earliest Fu-Manchu adventures which were serialized and had a distinctive episodic quality to them. In addition to "The Wrath of Fu Manchu" (which gives the tome its title) we have three more stories focused on Sir Denis Nayland's battle against the Devil Doctor: "The Eyes of Fu Manchu" (1957), "The Word of Fu Manchu" (1958) and "The Mind of Fu Manchu" (1959). The volume adds in other Rohmer short stories not featuring Fu-Manchu to make the volume more acceptable to the modern market and more like the novels which preceded.

The stories are dandy and have Fu Manchu trying to get his mitts on atomic power, life-preserving drugs and such as that. The usual material with a young hero who finds an exotic love battling alongside Sir Nayland Smith across the globe.

It's not the greatest, but it's pretty good. Fine entertainment and  recommended.

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Blackhawks Attack!

Dave Cockrum clearly loved the classic Blackhawks, as this cover demonstrates. The doughty heroes rush at the reader with vigor and violence, all dressed in immaculate black leather save for Chop-Chop who alas is only slightly removed from his vintage stereotype.

Cockrum was clearly inspired by this Quality comics cover by Reed Crandall for the debut issue of Military Comics which saw the very first Blackhawk stories.

This issue echoes that debut but also sadly makes even more of the nasty Chop-Chop caricature which plagued these early stories. They are regrettable signs of the time for sure.

The attack mode those is duplicated in this offbeat Blackhawk era which attempted to make the Blackhawks all different from one another and more purely superheroes which the time seemed unable to get enough of. But as it turned out, there was a saturation point and the Blackhawks found it. I like this era, but many others do not. At least Chop-Chop looks much improved.

And finally we have this Joe Kubert classic for the mid-70's revival of the series. The updated uniforms are pretty neat, though the cut-to-the-navel look is pure Bronze Age. Love the energy on this cover.

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Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Apes Rule!

It's been a great month for Apes here at the Dojo. Last month featured a month-long look at many things related to the Planet of the Apes and this month I find on the stands waiting for me, two new comics which both showcase other famous apes quite prominently.

Boom Studios has released Kong of Skull Island, a comic which seems to pick up on the threads of a proposed King Kong back story first established by Joe DeVito in his expansive work Kong: King of Skull Island. This story seems to be the until now secret origin of the Kong, as the species first arrives on Skull Island along with some of the humans who will play an important role in their early development. This is the story of Skull Island before the great wall.

The debut issue features a bombastically illustrated story which delivers on impact with several full-page and double-page spreads to accommodate the larger than life cast which includes a number of "Kongs" as well as some giant dinosaurs. I found the story itself, the writing spare, so much so that I had a difficult time deciphering just exactly what was going on at all times. Modern comic book writers seem to want to not bore a reader with too much explanation and that's admirable to a point, but you cannot excise so much exposition that a situation comes across as vague. At least this debut issue needed a bit more verbage to help my get the players straight.

But I'll learn more as I go as I'm sure to stick with the remainder of this six-issue limited series.

Also on the stands this month is the second issue of the highly entertaining revival of the Hanna-Barbera hero universe in Future Quest. This book's conceit is that nearly all of H-B's action heroes are gathered together to combat a threat to life on Earth and beyond.

This time we learn more about how Space Ghost and more importantly his allies Jan and Jayce arrive on Earth only to be discovered and assisted by Jonny Quest and Hadji. We also see Birdman and the Herculoids in action with lots of neat hints about what comes next.

Featured on the cover are some of the "Beasts" of the various teams with Bandit leading the way for Herculoids Gloop and Gleep, Zok the Dragon, and the twin ape terrors Blip the Monkey and the awesome Igoo the Rock Age.

Igoo is probably my favorite of the various Herculoids, though I confess having a very hard time picking one. They are an amazing and varied group of heroic critters, all of whom are distinctive and charming.

But overall  the Apes rule!

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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Up, Up And Away!

Yesterday I had a pretty long drive ahead of me at a rather ungodly hour so I was looking for something to help me pass the time on the road and I stumbled across something I've had for many years in my collection, a two-CD set of the earliest Superman radio adventures. As it turned out they were ideal for the circumstance and I enjoyed them mightily.

Clayton "Bud" Collier - the man who voiced Superman
I was both entertained and surprised at the story which was altered in some significant ways from the original comics stories. We have Krypton of course and the first episode of twelve minutes or so was dedicated to the the origin of Kal-El and how he, already part of a race of "supermen" was sent to Earth to escape the destruction of his home world. Not much news there, but in the second episode we meet an adult Kal-El who matured in the rocket who pops out all ready for action and who quickly seeks to begin a career of helping people. Guided by a wise Judge and his grandson, the alien picks the name of "Clark Kent" pretty much at random and then goes and tries to get a job on the Daily Planet. From there things progress pretty much as we've come to know them. But frankly these changes in the classic story caught me off guard.

In his first adventure Superman faces off against "The Wolf", a criminal who is sabotaging trains for profit. Then we meet the mastermind behind The Wolf, a cackling villain called "The Yellow Mask" who steals an atomic gun. After that Superman faces off against some more basic swindlers and such. Solid crime-oriented adventures in which we meet Perry White and Lois Lane. What's really different to me was the personality of Superman. Given life by Clayton Collier, he really comes across as arrogant, ordering around police chiefs and fire chiefs and such. He seems to get a kick out of using his powers to mystify folks. Without the fundamental humility I've come to assume about the character, he's a very different kind of person and hero.

I was reminded of what Jules Feiffer wrote about the character, about how he must be gloating in secret knowing how much superior he was to the mere humans around him. Here's what Feiffer says: "The truth may be that Kent existed not for the purposes of the story but for the reader. He is Superman’s opinion of the rest of us, a pointed caricature of what we, the noncriminal element, were really like. His fake identity was our real one. That’s why we loved him so. For if that wasn’t really us, if there were no Clark Kents, only lots of glasses and cheap suits which, when removed, revealed all of us in our true identities —what a hell of an improved world it would have been!" I definitely get it from these radio shows. Superman is a bit of a smarmy dick in these early adventures. 

These were a great deal of fun. Glad I found them.

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