The Mindless Monsters vs. The Birds of Death: Doc Savage again (#SFWApro)

Alan Hathway contributes THE MINDLESS MONSTERS which has a lot in common with his Headless Men as an army of monsters runs wild in New York. Unlike the early book, however, these horrors are real — men transformed into zombie-like warriors with superhuman strength, mindless obedience and an unfortunate tendency to age instantly when their usefulness is done.

While this probably owes something to zombie films, it also resembles THE MONSTERS in that the villain doesn’t want to use his creations to loot but to intimidate: a few high profile, destructive capers and people will cough up the dough when he threatens to unleash his creations. Which are explained by mad science accelerating their metabolisms so that they’re using up years of their strength in short bursts (which also explains the aging).

It’s a concept that ought to work, particularly after Doc gets taken and almost enslaved, but it just never caught fire with me. I’m not sure why. It does add several new gadgets to Doc’s repertoire, such as an electric field used for security at his HQ.

THE BIRDS OF DEATH by Lester Dent worked a lot better for me, reminding of the kind of daffy mysteries the era sometimes popped out. It opens with two hoods trapping Boots Baxter, a wealthy but ugly man, by setting his pet canary loose. Fortunately Doc catches them before they catch Boots. Who admits to his servant in passing that when a woman he’d fallen for mocked his face, he ruined her father in a business deal and she’s now slinging hash in a greasy spoon. It’s a clear sign that even if he’s not the big bad, he’s probably guilty of something.

More weirdness accumulates. Lots of people have heavily calloused feet like they’d get walking barefoot in the tropics. Lots of people own canaries. Several people appear medically dead, which Doc deduces is a form of suspended animation. It turns out the answer lies in Africa so we get an overseas trip that like The Flying Goblin ignores there’s a war on. What lies at the end of the trail is a lost race that considers canaries sacred symbols (the canaries earlier in the book were just a red herring though) and has the suspended animation drug. Unlike The Green Death, though, they plan to use it as a revolutionary food preservation treatment. Instead of shipping meat, ship animals in suspended animation, then kill them on arrival. That way the meat is fresher and better tasting (oops. the treatment turns out to give meat a horrible taste).

Pat Savage shows up and gets more action than she sometimes does. First Doc asks her to stash the female lead in the case; then Pat shows up in the middle of the adventure later. She reveals that she stole one of Doc’s radio transmitters and uses it to keep track of what cases Doc is working on (which makes it surprising she doesn’t horn in more often).

Like The Flaming Falcons, this has a footnote that the chemicals Monk mixes up in one scene are real, but to avoid accidents, the publisher can’t divulge the formula. Other footnotes reference the uses of ultraviolet light for identifying minerals and the use of Native American languages as a method of encrypting Great War communications.

Overall, it’s a fun book.

Both covers by Emery Clark, all rights to covers remain with current holder.

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Let’s call our senators and representatives once again

Because once again, Republicans are trying to repeal ACA.  Apparently this bill is even worse than before.

One feature of the bill is that it takes some of the money that went to states that did the Medicaid expansion and channels it to states that didn’t. As a payoff, presumably. As NC will be losing money, it should be a no-brainer for our senators, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr. To date, they have voted consistently to put party over their constituents’ well-being, so I’m not placing any bets.

Speculation online ranges from “still not likely to pass” to “slam-dunk” for various reasons. It’s best not to take any chances and do what we can, now.

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Thoughts from Jack Kirby (#SFWApro)

So I recently started reading Jack Kirby’s Fourth World stuff for DC (Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen, Forever People, New Gods, Mr. Miracle) in the order of publication (worth doing as Kirby doles out portions of the Big Picture gradually). In Jimmy Olsen he introduces the Hairies, genetically engineered supergeniuses who’ve withdrawn from human society to do their own thing. They’re quite obviously an analogy for the hippies/counterculture (as were the Forever People) and in his third issue, Kirby muses on what they (and by extension the counterculture) means for us. While he was optimistic about the impact on society, I do find his vision surprisingly inspiring. So here it is. All rights to content and to the printed page remain with their current holders.

 

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The Mafia, Astro City and several less interesting books (#SFWApro)

AN OFFER WE CAN’T REFUSE: The Mafia in the Mind of America by George de Stefano looks at the history of Italian-Americans and bias against them, particularly the stereotype that they’re all mobbed up (as opposed to a reality in which lots of ethnicities have been involved in organized crime). That in turn leads to a look at The Godfather and The Sopranos, which was ongoing at the time the book came out. While de Stefano dislikes the stereotype, he actually loves the Godfather films for how awash they are in Italian culture, and The Sopranos for updating the stereotypes (suburban gangsters who are conscious they’re not playing at the Corleone level). While sympathetic to the antidefamation groups that condemn Mafia fiction, de Stefano dismisses the arguments that Italian Americans get it worse than anyone else (“We’re not pulled over for driving while Italian.”) and accuses some of the critics of rejecting their roots (i.e., they’re upscale enough to be embarrassed at the Corleone’s Old World ways). Interesting; all rights to image remain with current holder.

ASTRO CITY: Reflections by Kurt Busiek and Brent Anderson is definitely not the book to start with as it is, as the title says, a reflection on the series history — a shout back to Samaritan’s first story, the return of the reformed supervillain Steeljack and an update on the First Family. Well done, and reflecting (ROFL) Busiek’s sense that as Astro City ages in real time, we’re now seeing the rise of a second generation as more of the old guard hang up their hats (as in an earlier volume Lovers’ Quarrel). As always, Astro City is a great place to visit.

FLASH: Rogues Reloaded by Joshua Williamson and Carmine di Giandomenico is a decent “Rebirth” collection (though once again, nothing seems terribly reborn about this) in which the Rogues attempt to pull off one big score, then quit. If stock, this was well executed (except for adding Heat Wave a tragic backstory ripped off HELLBOY’s Liz Sherman) but the last couple of issues involving Reverse-Flash were quite pointless.

OF MONSTERS AND MADNESS by Jessica Verday is a disappointing Y/A horror novel in which 19th century expat Annabel Lee reunites with her family in Philadelphia, falls for handsome poet Allan Poe but oh dear, his creepy brother Edgar keeps showing up … This generally fell flat (a shame — Annabel herself is a good character) but a big part of the problem is that borrowing from other 19th century horror instead of milking Poe’s own works more bugs me aesthetically.

BEHIND THE MOON by Madison Smartt Bell is a literary novel in which a teen skipping school winds up in a coma while ducking a gang rape and finds herself in a Pretentious Surreal Astral Sequence, only to have her mother find her in the same plane. Even allowing for my general lack of interest in literary fiction, I wasn’t impressed.

JUSTICE LEAGUE: Timeless by Bryan Hitch (who writes and co-draws) improves on Hitch’s first two Rebirth volumes, but it’s still not a winner: we have silly things like the JLA taking an issue to share their feelings in the middle of an imminent alien attack, then a better story arc involving a plot by an alien intelligence to erase Earth’s superhumans from history (because of them, after all, the entire reality of the universe has been rebooted several times). This is definitely not the JLA’s finest hour.

 

 

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Woody Allen, high society and ex-cons: movies viewed (#SFWApro)

I began watching Woody Allen’s films back in 2011 with What’s Up Tiger Lily? and with Cafe Society this week I’ve sort-of finished. Only sort-of, because Allen’s still making movies — Big Wheel comes out later this year — and I wasn’t able to get most of his 1990s output without paying for DVDs (why neither my library nor Netflix has ’em, I know not).

What got me to work through his filmography (and to keep going despite charges he’s a child abuser) was how much his films changed over the years, from the sketch comedy of Take the Money and Run to more sophisticated comedies to rom-coms to pretentious dramas like Crimes and Misdemeanors. It’s a remarkable spread. Even if the films weren’t always to my taste (and little of his 21st century stuff was), the effort was worthwhile.

CAFE SOCIETY (2016) is one of those 21st century films that flopped for me. It starts off reasonably well as Jesse Eisenberg arrives in 1930s Hollywood and falls for uncle Steve Carrell’s secretary Kristen Stewart, unaware that Stewart is also Carrell’s mistress. Unfortunately this gets resolved mid-movie, leaving us watching Eisenberg rising to success and marrying well back in New York, which wasn’t terribly interesting, and his mobster brother’s subplot which isn’t interesting at all. I get the feeling Allen was shooting for more of a 1930s panorama than just the romantic plotline, but whatever the reason, it was a bad call.”Today we discussed the sixth psalm — oh lord, do not punish me in anger.”

I’VE LOVED YOU SO LONG (2008) stars Kristin Scott Thomas (above right; all rights to image remain with current holder) a woman newly released from prison after 15 years for killing her son, and moving in with her sister, much to the discomfort of everyone, including the brother-in-law worrying child-killing might turn into a pattern. This is so low-key, and Thomas so emotionally withdrawn for much of the film that it took me a long while to warm up to the film. Ultimately though, it was worthwhile. “We think we know everything nowadays, but we don’t know the source of a river.”

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An odd but satisfactory week (#SFWApro)

It wasn’t anywhere near as odd as Clark Kent’s dilemma (cover by Curt Swan, all rights remain with current holder). Just disjointed. I got the basics done for a Screen Rant list on Flash but I’m going to wait until closer to the S4 premiere to finish it. By the time I found that out, I had to hustle to draw up a different list … but I was told (correctly, I think) that it needs much more work to be interesting to SR readers. So I wound up not getting one done, which feels very strange after doing them so regularly for several months (I have skipped weeks but by design, not chance).

Screen Ranting aside, I did get quite a bit done

•I finished my work on the Leaf articles. That project is wrapped up, so it’ll be much more fiction the next few weeks (yay!). Though I’ll be ready if they tap me for another gig.

•I rewrote A Famine Where Abundance Lies and sent it out. I also sent out The Glory That Was.

•I almost sent out The Schloss and the Switchblade again, then I realized I need to rewrite it. In the current political climate someone who discovers a con apparently catering to Nazis isn’t going to be as surprised as when I wrote it last year. I got a first rewrite in but I’m really annoyed I have to do it at all. Thanks Trump for all the enabling you’ve done for white supremacy!

•I’m up to 18,000 words on this draft of Southern Discomforts, which is cool. And I think all the scenes I’ve done so far are much improved.

•I began work on replotting the last third and found (I think) the problem. The plot hinges on Gwalchmai kidnapping Joan, one of the lead characters, and using her life to force Olwen to surrender. The trouble is I’ve set it up as “surrender by time X or she dies” and it really doesn’t make sense. He wants things over and done, so it’d be more likely “surrender now.” So maybe he has no reason to kidnap her … but in that case what does he do? What ratchets up the tension and pushes everyone to struggle to stop him? The answers are not coming yet, but I think I’m asking the right questions.

•I got four more chapters of Undead Sexist Cliches done. Two of them are new and rough so they’ll require more tinkering than the rest, which are on their second draft (or third if you count the original blog posts).

I also received a review (via my publisher) from some German magazine for Now and Then We Time Travel. The English translation is very awkward, but I think their assessment is “impressive breadth, needs to be deeper.” But I could be wrong.

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RIP Len Wein (#SFWApro)

Last weekend Len Wein, one of my favorite Bronze Age comics writers, died. For a list of his accomplishments, this Atomic Junk Shop post is pretty good. I’ll take a few paragraphs to talk about my personal reaction to his work.

While I don’t think it was the first story by Wein I read, the Nick Cardy-illustrated cover above marks when I became a fan. When I started reading comics again after moving to the US, my old favorite Justice League of America was one of the first I bought (curiously I picked up Teen Titans, which I didn’t like anywhere near as much, several months earlier). At the time Mike Friedrich was the writer and while I enjoyed them, I think there was something missing. I didn’t really sense what until I read JLA #100 as Mr. Wein took over.

Len Wein’s superhero work never pushed the envelope as much as Steve Englehart’s (another writer of roughly the same period). It was simply good, well-told, entertaining stories.  Pacing, humor, character bits, action scenes, they all came together and worked.

The three part #100-2 arc involved the Justice League and Justice Society joining forces to save the JSA’s Earth-2 from apocalypse. To do that, they had to find the Seven Soldiers of Victory, who’d been scattered through time battling a creature called the Nebula Man. Seven teams set out across time for seven adventures. Throwing in a Golden Age team I’d never heard of was icing on the cake for me (this was long before even the most obscure heroes could be found on the Internet somewhere).

Among the pleasures of Wein’s two-year run were guest appearances by the Phantom Stranger and the supervillain Eclipso; the introduction of the Freedom Fighters; establishing Green Arrow and Hawkman as frenemies; and the lonely android Red Tornado exploring humanity (not a new concept, but well done).

I can’t say Len Wein made me a comics fan. I already was. But his stories were among the ones I most looked forward to, and that’s pretty cool.

Rest in Peace, Mr. Wein.

Below, one of Jose Garcia-Lopez’ covers for Wein’s Untold Legend of the Batman.
Rights to both covers remain with the current holder.

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