Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness : Movie Review


   The much-awaited sequel to the first Doctor Strange movie has finally arrived, and it also Marvel's first step into the horror realm (no, I'm not counting Sony's Morbius).

    Thankfully, the Multiverse of Madness is in the hands of director Sam Raimi, who excels at the genre - especially adding humor in the mix, always a crucial element in a Marvel movie.

   The story almost defies description (at least when you're trying to be careful not to spoil anything), but here goes.

   It revolves around young America Chavez, (the lovely Xochitl Gomez) a teen from an alternate universe who discovers she has the ability to travel between realities in the multiverse - and a sinister force is trying to take that power from her, at the cost of her life. 

   She's trying to escape from a terrifying monster Shuma Gorath when Doctor Strange (an always magnetic Benedict Cumberbatch) and Sorcerer Supreme Wong (the delightful Benedict Wong) rush to her rescue - and then they try to protect her from the force that's pursuing her. 

    Strange decides to recruit help from fellow Avenger Wanda Maximoff / the Scarlet Witch (another amazing, heartfelt performance by Elizabeth Olsen). The ensuing story takes the cast to alternate realities, a delight of cameos with the Illuminati (hey, the commercials already spoiled that one) - two of the members of that group got the biggest crowd reaction in our sold-out theatre.

   There are massive battles (including a delightful music-based one), some heart strings to pluck at as Strange encounters past love Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), some horrific moments (usually accompanied by a laugh of delight at the cleverness involved), and some startling revelations about some other Doctor Stranges out there in the Multiverse.

   This movie covers a lot of ground, but I have to admit, I enjoyed it throughout. The challenge of Stephen Strange is similar to that of Tony Stark - how do you make someone who's not always the most lovable guy around into a hero you can root for? The answer is by giving him challenges to overcome (with smart, clever solutions), and having him do the right thing even when it isn't easy - the true mark of a hero.

    I loved this film, and certainly hope they keep this cast (and Sam Raimi) busy far into the future!


Grade: A


Sunday, May 8, 2022

Farewell to Neal Adams and George Perez

     In the past week comics fans have been forced to say goodbye to two beloved artists who provided us all with untold hours of entertainment.

   Of course, I'm talking about Neal Adams, who passed away last week, and George Perez, who passed on  Friday.

     Adams has been active in the business since the '60s, working on virtually every title in the DC Comics pantheon (including Jerry Lewis and Bob Hope).

    Of course, his lasting mark was on his redesign of Batman into a creature of the night. But he actually left his mark on every character he tackled, including this milestone issue for Superman - and he also drew the huge Superman vs. Muhammad Ali Treasury Edition, which I consider one of the all-time greatest single issues published. 

    Most people compliment Adams on his photorealistic style, but I don't agree with that (most of his drawings would not be confused with real life, after all) - but his style was much more detailed and naturalistic than anything that had gone before. I was an instant fan of his work.

    I didn't really see his art until he moved over to Marvel - his first work was on the X-Men, a title that had just been through a few amazing issues drawn by Jim Steranko (another titanic talent). 

   I clearly remember seeing the splash page for his first issue and thinking, "Why is Steranko signing his name 'Neal Adams'?" (I eventually figured it out.)

    It was his work on that series - and everything that followed, from Avengers to Justice League to Green Lantern and on and on - that made me a fan for life.

    Of course, there are other reasons to be a fan of Adams - he worked hard to help others out in the field and improve conditions for the creative talents of the future.

    Comics artists and writers were once paid poorly - but these days, you can make a good living in the industry.

    For that, for his inspiration to innumerable artists and writers, and for a lifetime of amazing work, we owe a debt of thanks to Adams.

    George Perez arrived in comics a decade after Adams, but he also had an immediate impact. 

   The first work of his I remember seeing was in the page of the black-and-white Marvel magazine, The Deadly Hands of Kung Fu. It was a splash panel with a bird's-eye view of New York, and I was amazed at the detail that went into every building - this was an artist to watch for!

    In addition to doing amazing work, Perez was also prolific, crafting several monthly titles regularly - something few artists have been able to manage, especially when you're talking about team comics. 

    I believe at one point he was drawing the Inhumans, the Fantastic Four and the Avengers at the same time! 

    One of the things that set Perez apart was that he was obviously a comics fan himself - you could see it in the care he lavished on every title!

    He managed two separate runs on the Avengers - one with writer Steve Englehart and, years later, with Kurt Busiek. But he didn't stop there - he went to DC and (with Marvel Wolfman) co-created The New Teen Titans, and changed DC forever with the Crisis on Infinite Earths series - and then he retooled Wonder Woman for modern audiences and worked on the History of the DC Universe

    Any one of those would make a career, but Perez did so much more for those companies, for the so-called "independent" companies (including CrossGen) - the list goes on and on!

    But best of all, Perez was a wonderful ambassador for comics - he never lost his love for the fans and gave tirelessly to charitable causes.

    It was wonderful to see the industry give back to George at the end, recognizing how beloved he was.

    Both men leave behind a vast catalog of amazing work they created over the decades, and we hope they know how much they were loved and respected by fans all over the world. 

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!


   (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.)


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!

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.)


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!


Grade: A-