Tuesday, January 4, 2022

Uncle Scrooge #219 - What I Saved

 

   From the mid-'80s to around 2000, I had a fun job.

    I was working at a local TV station in West Virginia, writing and producing educational children's programming. 

   One of the regular features we produced focused on local artists, and a friend suggest we pay a visit to an artist who had just started writing and drawing Disney comics - Don Rosa.

   Don lived just a couple of hours away, so I made a connection through a mutual friend and arranged to shoot the segment at his home studio.

   The videographer, our teen host and I arrived at the given time, and I knocked on the door. Don opened the door, and we both did a double-take. It was like looking in a mirror!

    We were about the same height, same build (I have since put on weight, while Don remains annoyingly slim), same thinning hair - the big difference was our glasses. Don wore round wire-rimmed lenses, while mine were square.

   We both laughed. It was a terrific interview - Don was (and is) very funny and generous with his time, and the feature that resulted was terrific.. 

    I immediately set out to track down his work, and that led me to this issue of Uncle Scrooge, which was Rosa's first full-length Duck tale (this issue is dated July 1987).

   Titled "The Son of the Sun," it's an incredible, rollicking adventure that pits Scrooge, Donald and nephews Huey, Dewey and Louie against Scrooge's evil nemesis, Flintheart Glomgold.  

   They launch into a competition to find the lost gold of the Incas, and what follows is equal parts adventure, humor, history and discovery. Like the best Carl Barks stories, it's thoroughly researched, loaded with surprises, twists and shocking events. 

   Rosa's art manages to live up to the story - it's amazingly detailed, loaded with great action sequences and (literally) Earth-shaking events. He manages to get the maximum out of the incredibly expressive (and virtually animated) ducks. 

   In other words, this comic is just a pure delight from beginning to end.

    And it was just the start for Rosa, who spent years crafting terrific stories around the Ducks - it's a job he was born to tackle. 

   I can't urge you strongly enough to sample Rosa's work (especially his history of The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck) - and it goes without saying that you should also read Carl Barks' stories, which are classics in every sense of the word. 

   Between the two, they've crafted a number of my all-time favorite comic stories.

   So thanks, Don, for being such a good sport - and bringing me back to the Duck fold!

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   (This series focuses on the comics I saved when I recently sold most of my collection. This essay includes elements written in 2010.) 

Grade: A+

Friday, December 17, 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home - Movie Review

 

    It is especially challenging to do a spoiler-free review of a movie that's just loaded with wonderful story moments that we can't discuss without taking away from the fun of seeing it yourself.

   That's the problem with Spider-man: No Way Home, the third movie starring the amazing Tom Holland in the title role (not counting two Avengers movies and one Captain America film. Spidey gets around).

   This movie picks right up where the last one ended - with his secret identity exposed to the world. This has terrible effects on his family and his friends, and in his desperation to fix it, he turns to Dr. Strange (another star turn for the much-in-demand Benedict Cumberbatch) to cast a spell to make everyone forget his secret. (I love the interactions between Spidey and Strange - the perfect Odd Couple of comics.)

   Things don't go well, and (as seen in the promos), the most powerful villains from other universes are drawn into the modern reality - so welcome Dr. Octopus (wonderfully realized by Alfred Molina), Electro (with a sly Jamie Foxx making the most of this new reality) and the Green Goblin (with Willem Dafoe very nearly stealing every scene he's in, putting his mark on the title of "best film version of a comic book villain ever").

   In a movie loaded chock full of great bits of business, the best of the bunch is how Spider-man reacts to the idea of sending these villains home. It's a truly heroic take on a hero making a really difficult decision.

   The story also gives lots of fun moments to M.J. Watson (the luminous Zendaya) and Pete's best friend, Ned (Jacob Batalon), his "man in the chair."

    Look, there's so much more to say, but to say more would spoil things, and we're not going there. 

    My advice is avoid the Internet (except this site, of course) and go see the film. It's not perfect (a few minor plot points are a bit fuzzy), but it's a lot of fun. Heck, I haven't heard an audience cheer during a movie - and applaud at the end - since Endgame.

    Go. See. Enjoy! (You can thank me later.)

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Grade: A+


    

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Ghostbusters Afterlife - Movie Review

 


    Just got back from seeing Ghostbusters Afterlife, and I'm happy to report that I enjoyed it! 

    I wasn't sure if it would work with kids at the heart of the story - and like all too many modern movies, it probably runs about 10 or 15 minutes longer than it should - but there's a lot of goodness in there.

    It follows a down-on-their-luck family (Mom, teen son and teen-ish daughter) who go to the extremely rural farm owned by their father / grandfather who abandoned the family for mysterious reasons. 

    What follows is lots of discovery, some nice character beats, a good mix of action, humor and just enough horror to make it fun.

    By the finale, I will admit (without giving anything away), I was in tears of joy. A wonderfully satisfying ending. 

    The movie leans hard on the original film but has an extremely clever basis for doing so, and has fun with some throwback moments to the original. (Don't blink or you'll miss J.K. Simmons in a hilarious cameo.)

   It's not perfect, but it was lots of fun - what more do you want? 

   Oh, and there are two scenes in the credits - one early and one at the end, both worth waiting for.

    Your mileage may vary, but I had a great time - for the first time, a worthy sequel to the original! (I see you standing there, Ghostbusters II.) 

   I can't wait to see it again!

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Grade: A

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Blackhawk #190 - What I Saved


   From my earliest days as a comic reader, I was a big fan of the Blackhawks.

   It's difficult to say why, because on paper, the whole idea sounds silly. 

   Seven pilots form a team named after their leader, Blackhawk. They all dress in identical black leather flight gear (except for Chop Chop, who thankfully by the '60s was no longer portrayed in the original, '40s racist version of a fighter from China). Each is from a different country, and each brings a different skill - and a distinct dialect - to the adventures.

    Of course, that would make it problematic today, when each member's catch phrases - Olaf's "Py Yiminy!" or Hendrickson's "Ach Himmel!" or Andre's "Sacre!" - would probably be seen as making fun of the people of their homeland. In reality, of course, it was just a shorthand way to make each character stand out.
 
  Blackhawk's origins are vague - he first appears fighting the Nazis in Poland, but he seems to be American. The rest of the team includes Chuck and Stanislaus.

   After the end of World War II, they continued fighting against criminals, aliens, monsters and other dangers with the occasional help of Lady Blackhawk

   Through teamwork and strategy they overcome every menace. For most of the book's original run, each issue featured three stories. I always thought that worked against the team, limiting them to these brief, 8-page adventures. (It certainly must have been a challenge for the writers, with few returning villains to use.) 

   I picked issue #190 (published in 1963) for this review because I have such fond memories of reading this one over and over again. And what a terrific cover!

   It includes these stories:

   "The Baron of Plunder" - The team investigates reports of a group of criminals dressing up as evil knights and laying waste to the countryside. It's up to the team to overcome the odds and stop the evildoers!

   "The Blackhawk Mascots vs. The Bogus Blackhawks" - Some criminals who manage to trap the team plan to take their place - but haven't reckoned with the team's mascots - a hawk and a chimp!

   "The Fantastic Human Starfish" - A powerful human starfish embarks on a crime spree and seems unstoppable, until Blackhawk takes drastic action!

   Though uncredited, the art is apparently by Dick Dillin as penciler and Charles Cuidera as inker - the two had a long run on this series and did an amazing job, creating easy-to-identify characters and telling the story cleverly and clearly. They were classic DC artists (working in the "house style"), and always at the peak of their profession. There are few artists today who could turn out such high quality work, in a comic featuring so many characters, on time, month after month. (There were giants in those days.)

   Back in the days when I attended comic book conventions (thankfully those events are coming back), I almost always picked up a Silver Age issue or two of Blackhawk (or at least I give it a good try). 

   The series wasn't cutting edge, but each comic was fun to read, filled with the manly adventures of a band of brothers - characters I loved as a kid. Heck, I'm still crazy about them. 

   It's a title that never fails to give me that warm nostalgic buzz - that's why I held onto all the Blackhawks I've bought over the years. Great memories! 

   (Continuing the series of posts that offer a look at the comics I kept when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes segments from an essay written in 2012.)

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Grade: B+

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

The Eternals - Movie Review

 

   I finally got the chance to catch The Eternals at the local movie theatre.

   And.... I liked it!

   I'll admit that it's not my all-time favorite Marvel movie, but it also is really is not a typical, by-the-numbers sturm und drang superhero movie. 

   It leans on the original Jack Kirby concept (with some changes along the way - some I understand, some I'm not sure about) and draws heavily (and wisely) on the Neil Gaiman-written Eternals limited series.

   It works on an epic time scale, with locations all over the globe, and it takes its time unfolding the story, introducing the characters, setting up the conflict, etc. 

   Those who are looking for something to gig the movie on comment on the slow pace, but that's needed to give us time to get the lay of the land and sort out the large cast. 

   There are quite a few plot twists along the way, and a healthy dose of humor keeps it from becoming too grim and depressing.

    Best of all, it has heart (often in surprising places), and yes, some stunning action sequences.

   I think it helped going into this one not expecting the usual string of battles. There are loads of special effects on display, and a surprisingly thoughtful science fiction story being told.

   The Celestials are the big question mark in the story (boy, are they big), as cosmic gods overseeing the creation of the universe. Or are they? They bring up some big questions and we'll have to see how the Celestials - and the Eternals - change the Marvel Universe.

    Can't wait!

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Grade: A-

Monday, November 15, 2021

Daredevil #7 - What I Saved

 

   Here we have one of my all-time favorite comic books. Ever.

   I got this issue of Daredevil in trade from my neighborhood friend Bruce when I was very young. (I can tell, because he had the habit of writing his name on the cover - and it's right there by the newspaper headline.)

    I've held onto this issue tightly ever since, and it shows - the poor comic is terribly threadbare and barely holding together, but it's just a good a "read" as ever.

   Cover dated April 1965, this issue features the first appearance of Daredevil's red-and-black costume, courtesy of Hall of Fame artist Wally Wood. He's at the top of his game here (and boy, is that saying something), as he takes us from the undersea splendor of Atlantis to the middle of Manhattan, throwing in one of the greatest fight sequences ever just for fun. When it came to detailed art, dramatic poses, powerful characters and amazing battles, Wood couldn't be beat.

   Written by Stan Lee, the story begins with Namor the Sub-Mariner being coaxed into finding a way to allow Atlantis to find its rightful place in the surface world. Rather than declare war, Namor decides to try to find a peaceful solution - so he goes to New York to hire a lawyer so he can sue the human race!

   By an amazing coincidence, he arrives at the law firm of Nelson and Murdock, but doesn't appreciate their advice (good luck suing the entire Surface World). 

   Namor decides to force the surface men to take him to court by going on a rampage in the town (obviously Namor is a bit impulsive), which brings him into conflict with Daredevil.

   The contrast between the characters is entertaining all by itself - Daredevil is light-hearted, joking, but intent on protecting the city, while Namor is a noble but destructive force of nature - and Lee and Wood get the maximum out of the humorous potential of Namor being a "fish out of water," as he struggles to cope with revolving doors and elevators, ultimately dealing with them in a straightforward (if destructive) manner.  

   When DD and Namor first fight, it's a relatively short battle, and as expected, Namor has little trouble dealing with the Man Without Fear. Namor surrenders to the authorities and awaits his day in court, when urgent news forces him to leave (as he proves the adage, "Iron bars do not a prison make"). 

   Fearing Namor will hurt innocent bystanders, Daredevil again tries to stop him, and stages a battle that's amazing for its ingenuity and for the incredible courage and determination exhibited by DD.

   It's easy to be a hero when you have the advantage, but as Daredevil shows here, it takes something extra to stand up against an opponent who much more powerful.

   I won't spoil the ending, but up to this issue Daredevil had always been just another comic book character. After reading this adventure, I thought of him as a true hero.

   (This post is part of a series about the comic books I kept when I recently sold most of my collection. This post includes part of an essay written in January 2010.)

Grade: A+

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Detective Comics #301 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I recently sold most of my collection.)

   For modern comics fans, it's not cool to talk favorably about the Batman stories from the late '50s / early '60s.

   Those were "my" Batman stories, the ones I read when I first got interested in comic books, and I held onto a few of those often silly and off kilter - but darned entertaining - comics.

   At the time, Batman wasn't the campy figure from the '66 TV show, or a Dark Detective embittered by the deaths of his parents.

   Instead, he was simply a hero wearing a striking costume, fighting against crime and assorted menaces - including lots of aliens, monsters and strange scientific foes.

   Detective Comics #301 is a good example. In pursuing some crooks at a synthetic gem factory, Batman is exposed to a strange treatment that leaves him glowing red with intense heat and unable to breathe normal air.

   Can't let a little thing like that slow down a crimefighter! He devises a special airship that allows him to keep fighting the bad guys. But when the city is in danger, he puts his life on the line to protect Gotham. 

   You know, like a hero.

   The backup story is truly silly. John Jones, the Manhunter from Mars (better know today as J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter), is shocked when a group of Martian criminals turn up on Earth and start wreaking havoc. J'onn returns to Mars and immediately... runs home and visits his (white-haired) mother and (bald and wrinkled) father! He then discovers an Earthman who's traveled to the red planet and is using fire to take over. 

   None of these stories will ever make "best of" lists, but they're solid little adventures from a simpler time. 

   They may not be cool, but I love 'em!

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Grade: B