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


Wednesday, October 27, 2021

The Brave and the Bold #31: Cave Carson - What I Saved


   (Continuing my series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes elements written in 2010.)

   I think... I mean, I can't be absolutely sure, because I was, like, 4 years old at the time... but if memory can be trusted, this is the comic that first got me hooked on reading comic books.

   I learned to read at a very young age, thanks to my Mom and my two older brothers helping me along (I was reading comic books before I started Kindergarten).

   Comics were always around the house, but I don't remember any issues. I have vague memories of Donald Duck and Bugs Bunny comics, but that's all.

   Then one summer my cousin Jonathan (and his family) visited my Grandparents, and he had brought along some comic books. He let me read one of his adventure comics - and I was hooked. 

   I remember that it starred Cave Carson, and that there was a giant lava creature. Cave didn't have the most enduring career in comics - he appeared in a grand total of eight comics in the '60s - five times in The Brave and the Bold, and three times in Showcase. (He's had quite a few guest appearances since then, and recently he finally got his own mini-series - though it was an odd bit of work)

   Quite a few years ago I tracked down this issue at a comics convention, and it does seem to match my memory of that pivotal comic. It carries a cover date of August-September 1960, which matches the time frame about right.

    What I didn't realize is that (according to Wikipedia) this issue was the first appearance of my old pal Cave, and this issue was reportedly created by writer France Herron and artist Bruno Premiani (there are no credits listed). 

   What really amazes me is how well this issue holds up after (gulp) 60 years. 

   Oh sure, the story is over the top - it follows the underground adventures of Cave and his friends Christie Madison (a geologist) and Bulldozer Smith (a former sandhog, which is a construction worker who works underground on a variety of excavation projects). 

   Using their vehicle, the Mighty Mole, they explore the subterranean world, encountering strange monsters, including dinosaurs, menacing plants, lava creatures and a magnetic monster!

   The story is a fun ride as the team races from one danger (and narrow escape) to the next, all beautifully illustrated by the masterful (and woefully under-appreciated) Premiani.

   There are no superheroics on display, but there was plenty of action and the promise of more amazing worlds to discover. After reading this again, I can see why I was hooked!  

   So thanks, Cave, for getting me off on the right foot!

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Grade: A


Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Astro City #1/2 - What I Saved

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection recently. This post includes sections from an essay in 2015.)

   As much as I hate admitting having, well, human emotions, last night I was eating dinner at a restaurant, reading a book on Kindle, and I reached a surprising, sweet and touching moment, and my eyes started to fill with tears. 

   Fortunately, no one noticed, and I kept it together - but it made me think about the rare times that a comic book has caused such an emotional reaction.

   For example...

    The seamy underbelly of comics collecting - especially in the 1990s - was the exclusive comic, available only through special orders, extra expense or some such subterfuge.

   I usually ignored that sort of thing, but yes, I admit, I occasionally broke down and put in an order. And sometimes, it was worth it.

   Case in point: Kurt Busiek's Astro City #1/2, which just happens to be one of my all-time favorite comics.

   It tells the story of Michael Tenicek, a regular guy in a regular job who has an unusual problem - he keeps dreaming about a beautiful woman. He feels a connection to her - but he can't figure out who she is, or where he's seen her before.

   It's a mystery that consumes his life, until the answer arrives in the form of the mysterious Hanged Man, a mystic guardian in Astro City.

   He tells Michael the story behind the dream - and forces him to make a painful choice.

   It's a heart-breaking story that's sweet and touching and unforgettable - and yes, it brought genuine tears to the eyes of this grizzled comic book veteran.

   It was just another day at the office for the team of writer Kurt Busiek and artists Brent E. Anderson (here with inker Will Blyberg). They've teamed up on an incredible number of wonderful stories in the wide-ranging Astro City series, and this may be the best of the run - and that's really saying something.

   This story has been reprinted elsewhere, but I treasure this issue - as much as I hate to admit it, it was well worth the hassle and expense of the original order.

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Grade: A+

Friday, October 15, 2021

Amazing Spider-Man #15 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I saved when I sold most of my collection - this is adapted from a post for 2010.)

   It's easy to understand why I held onto this issue - it's worn down to within an inch of its life (and thus has minimal resale value) - and also, this is the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man I bought.

   Back when I was in Elementary School (when dinosaurs walked the Earth) my friends and I often talked about comics, and one of them - no idea who (John? Ben? Don? Doug, maybe?) - mentioned that he had tried Spider-Man's comic and really liked it.

   I had seen it in newsstands before - I distinctly remember seeing issue #9, for instance - but while I had been picking up Marvel comics like the Fantastic Four and the Avengers, I had resisted Spider-Man .

   The character just seemed strange, with an odd costume - and the art was out of the ordinary. 

   Then I saw this issue on the shelf at the Nitro Newsstand and decided to give it a try. (Thank goodness!) I was immediately hooked.

   The issue starts with a quick introduction to The Chameleon, who narrowly avoids being captured by Spider-Man. To deal with Spidey, that villain contacts his old friend Kraven, a big game hunter who is wily, loaded with weapons and eager to tackle the ultimate challenge - to track and capture Spider-Man.

   It sounds like a standard storyline, but Kraven proves to be far more resourceful than you might expect. He fights Spidey to a standstill in their first meeting, and manages to use a potion that leaves our hero shaken and woozy. 

   When they meet again, Kraven has a series of clever traps, including a pair of metal cuffs he clamps on Spider-Man's wrist and ankle - the cuffs are magnetized, and it takes all of Spidey's strength to keep them apart. 

   But the issue isn't just about action - it includes Peter Parker dealing with problems at school, at the Daily Bugle (where his girlfriend Betty is jealous of Liz Allen), and at home (where Aunt May is pushing him to go on a blind date).

   I was just amazed, reading that issue. The story was like no super-hero comic I'd ever read, loaded with lots of plot twists, action, drama and humor, as Spidey reeled off a series of genuinely funny comments while fighting for his life. 

   The art took some getting used to, because Ditko's style was so different from anyone working in comics in the early '60s. His figures were rubbery, every character had a unique look. I wasn't sure when I first started reading that issue, but by the time I got to the last page, I was sold on Ditko.

   Reading that comic was like having someone turn the lights on - I could see that comics could be so much more, and I was an instant fan of Spider-Man. 

   So to whichever one of my friends who made the suggestion to try Spider-Man in 1964, a long-overdue thanks!

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Grade: A+

Monday, October 11, 2021

Justice League of America #21 - What I Saved

 

   (Continuing the series about the comics I kept when I recently sold a large part of my collection.)

   I've been reading DC Comics since I first started reading comics (in the early '60s), and I've had different "favorites" over the years, including The Flash, Green Lantern, Adam Strange and Hawkman - but the book I've probably enjoyed the most for the longest time is the Justice League of America.

   The team was based on the original Justice Society group from the 1940s, during an interview I asked Julius Schwartz why they changed "Society" to "League." He told me that the old term was outdated, but that kids were familiar with the term "League" from sports - there were football leagues, baseball leagues, etc.

   Whatever the name, the idea of gathering all the biggest superheroes into a "knights of the round table" gathering was a hit - and a great bargain for kids, since you got so many heroes in one comic.

   This issue was the one that really knocked it out of the park for me. (The picture here is of my actual copy, which was obviously read and re-read into tatters.)

   The story brings together the JSA and the JLA - heroes of two versions of the world (Earth-1 and Earth-2) for the first time, although the Golden Age Flash (Jay Garrick) had crossed over with the Earth-1 Flash (Barry Allen) before this.

   To young readers, here was a treasure trove of "new" heroes to meet - and yes, as a kid I had no trouble understanding the idea of a parallel Earth (it was an old science fiction trope, after all), and it just added more depth to DC's arsenal.

   Eventually I would become more of a fan of Marvel's comics, and my old DC favorites would fall by the wayside - but the JLA never faltered, and I kept buying it until... well, actually, I'm still buying it. 

   This issue was a pivotal event in DC's history - and for this young reader. 

   I'll keep reading this one until it returns to the dust.

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Grade: A


   

   

   

Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Guy Gardner: Warrior #29: What I Saved

 


   Hey, it's a sideways cover!

   I'm a big fan of the underdog (hey, that's why I cheered on the Mets for years) - and that's probably why I was drawn to Guy Gardner, the guy who was runner-up for the "Green Lantern from Earth" job (Hal Jordan got the gig), and even though he eventually got his own ring, he was always treated as a second-tier character in GL and Justice League International.

   When he finally got his own comic, his adventures were written by Chuck Dixon, who excels at that kind of real-world, bare knuckles kind of hero.

   When Dixon stepped away, the editors wisely handed the reins to Beau Smith, a writer from the same rough-and-tumble, take-no-prisoners school of action.

   But almost immediately, Guy ran into what I call "crossover problems." The storyline in the GL book that had Hal go crazy and destroy the Green Lantern Corps (the less said about that storyline the better) also meant that Guy could no longer carry a Power Ring.

   Thankfully, Beau and a series of gifted artists didn't back down from the challenge - instead, they turned the volume up to "11" and started a series of wild adventures that gave Guy new, alien-based powers that allowed him to transform his body into any kind of weapon he could imagine.

   So that made for lots of issues filled with over the top action - but the creative team also knew when to throw a change-up at the readers.

   That's what makes this issue so much fun. Oh, there's some fighting in there, but most of the issue is turned over to a party featuring almost every hero in the DC Universe (and quite a few you would never have expected). It's all to celebrate the opening of Guy's new bar, and what a guest list! 

   Where else would you find Supergirl talking to Congo Bill, or Judo Master and Thunderbolt sharing stories over a beer?

   Drawn by Phil Jimenez, it's loaded with an insane number of characters (as he channels George Perez in the best possible sense).

   The comic manages something that's mighty rare these days - a funny story that has you smiling all the way along.

   The Warrior series was like that from start to finish - a wildly unpredictable and entertaining series that kept you guessing throughout. 

   We need more like it!

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Grade: A

Tuesday, October 5, 2021

Bat Lash #2 - What I Saved

 

   While I was never a huge fan of western comics (I like them a lot, but I was more of a superhero fan). 

   But I was certainly a fan of some of the writers and artists who worked on them, and I'd count artist Nick Cardy as one of the best.

   Whenever I attended a comic con, I was always looking for issues of the short-lived Bat Lash series, and at one Heroes Con in Charlotte, NC, about 10 years ago I found this issue - and happily, Nick Cardy was in attendance.

   The con I was attending was going to be closing soon for the day, so I stopped by Artist's Alley in hopes of finding him - and like any pro, there he was, working on a sketch or commission.

   I was always amazed to find a giant of the industry not surrounded by adoring fans, but I saw my chance and took it, and walked up to him.

   I said, "Excuse me, Mr. Cardy - I was wondering..." He cut me off, obviously thinking I was about to ask about a sketch. "Sorry," he said a bit gruffly, "they're getting ready to shut down, so I can't take anymore jobs today."

   I was worried that I had stepped on his toes here, but I pressed on. "Oh no, I just wanted to see if you had time to autograph this comic."

   I set the comic in front of him and his eyes immediately lit up, and a big smile broke out on his face. "Oh! I love this issue of Bat Lash!"

   He immediately launched into the funny story of how they had called him, needing an issue to keep on schedule - but they didn't have a script ready yet. He laughed - "I told them, no problem - I'll just write it myself! So I put it together in record time and took it into the office - I was really proud of that job and it was so much fun!"

   With that he signed the cover and handed it over. He said, "Thanks!"

   I walked away with a smile on my face - I'm always amazed at how nice so many comics creators are. They sit above us like deities, handing down dazzling displays of their talent for mere mortals to enjoy - how great is it, to meet someone with so much talent and humor and heart? 

    It made my day - so yeah, I'll be hanging on to that memory - and this issue - for a long, long time.

Grade: A

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Monday, September 27, 2021

Mystery in Space - What I Saved

 

   When I was just a tad my Aunt Janet would sometimes look after me. It was always a treat because her son Jamie, who was a few years older than me, had some cool toys and some comic books I could read.

   When I discovered this issue, it was burned into my memory - a giant cloud was punching a hero flying with a rocket pack? No wonder I became an instant fan after reading issue 81 of Mystery in Space, which starred Adam Strange.

   (I always wondered why the character didn't appear in Strange Adventures - something DC would correct when it reprinted his adventures in the late '70s.)

   The idea of a normal human becoming a hero on a distant planet, and defeating all kinds of bizarre menaces with his intelligence and quick thinking had me hooked - and when you add the stunning art by Carmine Infantino, I was a fan for life!

   The comic's emphasis on science even helped out in school. In issue #84 Adam faces the Dust Devil, a living sandstorm (the weather just didn't like him at all), and he realized that the creature's weakness was static electricity, so he rigged a trap using a Wimshurst Machine - a real-world device that uses a spinning wheel to generate electricity.

   In Junior High (these days they call it Middle School) a friend built one for a science project, and I said, "Cool, a Wimshurst Machine." He was stunned. "How did you know that?"

   I don't think I ever admitted that I learned it while reading a comic book.

   I only have about 30 issues of prime Adam Strange adventures in my collection, but I'm hanging onto them. 

    I wonder if Jamie still has his issue? Nah.

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Grade: A



Friday, September 24, 2021

Fantastic Four #35 (60th Anniversary Issue)

 

   While I don't buy most new comics (for lots of reasons), I couldn't let this milestone pass by unnoticed, and the (once) World's Greatest Comic hit a major milestone this month, celebrating 60 years since the first issue appeared in 1961.

   The Fantastic Four comic has been through lots of ups and downs over the years, having been launched mightily for the first 100 issues (or so) by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.

   They set a towering standard that the series continues to draw on, and many tremendous creators did their part along the way to keep the series going.

   This issue offers a nice nod to some of those high spots, as the team faces a time-spanning menace from Kang the Conqueror and his many alternate identities.

   Written by Dan Slott, the story is a nice nod to the past and future of the team, wonderfully drawn by John Romita Jr. 

   I have a few quibbles with the story, but they're not worth mentioning (and would take us into spoiler territory anyway), but it's an entertaining look back at the past and a strong modern-day adventure, too, with some nice nods to a certain recent TV mini-series.

   The FF has been hit-and-miss with me in recent years, but it's been good enough to keep me picking up the new issues, and not many series can say that. 

    They're the first family of comics and, when handled properly, can provide the kind of high adventure and heart that any fan should love. 

   Long may they reign!

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Grade: A


   


Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Groo - What I Saved

 

(Continuing the series about the comics I kept when I recently sold most of my collection - and why.)

    Mom always called my comic books "funny books."

     "Mom," I would groan, "They're not funny. They're adventure stories."

   Of course, that was before the first appearance of Groo!

    Created by Sergio Aragon├ęs along with Mark Evanier (who co-writes and scripts, I guess - it's never quite clear), here was a book that combined adventure with actual, laugh-out-loud humor.

   The stupidest barbarian of all time has had a long career, parading through many comic book companies and outlasting a couple of them - he's been published by Pacific Comics, Eclipse, Marvel, Image and finally seems to have a permanent home at Dark Horse.

   It's an amazing achievement, for a (more or less) independent comic to continue after hundreds of issues - but Groo and his creative team are indefatigable. The stories are an amazing mix of humor, satire, action and unbelievable attention to detail.

   And can we all just agree that, given the passing of Jack Kirby, Sergio is now the King of Comics? Is there anyone who has created more top quality comics, an incredible volume of work, has spread more joy and earned so much love from fans around the world? Just give him the crown already!

   And I should admit an ulterior motive here - just to prove how crazy this creative team is, pick up your copy of the Groo vs Conan collection and flip over to the back page - there you'll find a pull quote from this humble blog! How can you help but love a comic with such a deliciously lowbrow taste in reviews?



   So yes, when I pared back my collection, I kept a tight grip on my complete collection of Groo, a timeless series with endless potential. They'll have to pry that series from my cold dead hand! (Ahem, hopefully not anytime soon.)

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Grade: A

Friday, September 17, 2021

Conan #39 - What I Saved

       (Continuing the series about the comics I kept when I sold most of my collection - and why.)

   By the end of its third year of publication, the Conan comic had only been illustrated (mostly) by a handful of amazing artists - Barry Windsor-Smith, Gil Kane, Neal Adams and the artist who compiled an incredible run on the series and the character - John Buscema.

   It also had only one writer - Roy Thomas (though he also adapted work by other writers, including Conan's creator, Robert E. Howard). 

   I had discovered the Cimmerian in the pages of the 1960s Lancer paperback reprints of Howard's stories from the '30s, and was thrilled when Marvel announced it was bringing the character to comics.

   I loved Windsor-Smith's take on the character (especially once he got past the first few issues), and was sad to see him leave - but I couldn't complain about Buscema taking over, since he was one of the best artists working in comics, the inheritor of the Hal Foster mantle. (This issue gives its own take on a classic story from Foster's Prince Valiant Sunday comic strip.)

   But this issue was a real shock, because - perhaps for the first time - he inked his own pencils! The results were stunning, beautiful and fierce.

   Buscema was famously something of a grouch about being a comics artist, but given the hundreds of issues of Conan he drew - and who knows how many issues of Savage Sword of Conan - he must have had a connection to the character, and certainly his work shows his enthusiasm.

   I was (and am) a huge fan of his work - and the character, of course - and that's why I held onto these comics.

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Grade: A 


   

Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Hulk Annual #1 - What I Saved

    As I mentioned in a recent post, a few months back I sold three-fourths of my comic collection.

   But there were comics I saved, either out of sentiment, nostalgia or just because I couldn't bear to part with it.

   As I sort through those comics (once filed alphabetically, they're now jumbled up), I hope to write posts like this one, talking about "What I Saved."


   Up first is a comic I kept because of its cover - Hulk Annual #1.

   This is a comic I bought off the newsstand in 1968, and as a reader of The Incredible one's monthly comic, I couldn't resist this cover.

   I attended a talk by Jim Steranko several years back at a comics convention, and he talked about getting the assignment to do this cover - he was told, "We don't care what it is - we just need it fast." 

   So he turned this amazing work out in very short order and turned it in - but apparently the cover was a bit too intense, because they had Marie Severin redo the Hulk's face.

   Still, it was stunning - and the interiors were impressive too! Marie Severin and Syd Shores (with additional inks by "almost the whole blamed Bullpen") provided 51 pages of story, written by Gary Friedrich. 

   It dropped the Hulk into the Great Refuge where he found himself in a Civil War (of sorts) between the Inhumans (and Black Bolt in particular) and the forces of Maximus. So, lots of action, destruction and general mayhem in view.

   Marie's expressive art is always a treat, and if things get a bit rubbery in places, it was hard to complain since you got so much story for a mere quarter!

   I enjoyed (and read) this comic so much that that beautiful cover became detached from the comic. I'm afraid I spoiled the resale value at some point, as I committed the sin of using two small bits of scotch take to reconnect the cover - and hey, it's still hanging on there!

   How could I let this one go? (Obviously, I couldn't.)

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Grade: A

   

Monday, September 13, 2021

Marvel Studios’ Hawkeye - TV Trailer



   Marvel has released the trailer for the new Hawkeye series for Disney+ and it looks like a lot of fun!

   (And we could use something more lighthearted after the zombie episode of What If...?

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - Movie Review

 

   Back for a quick movie review! 
   
   My oldest son and I caught the newest Marvel movie - Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - and we both enjoyed it, with a few caveats.

   I've been a fan of the character since I picked up his first appearance in Special Marvel Edition in 1973. 

   Obviously, the film version had to make some changes - so gone is his costume and his "original" father, Fu Manchu, now replaced by a modern (and no longer offensive) version of the classic villain, The Mandarin

   There are lots of things to like about this movie, the most important one being: the actors are all terrific! Simu Liu plays Shang-Chi, and is charismatic, charming and very convincing as an action star. 

   His best friend Katy is played by Awkwafina, a heartfelt and very funny role, and Tony Chiu-Wai Leung is amazing as Xu Wenwu, the master of the ten rings.

   The story follows Shang-Chi, who's trying to build a life for himself - but he's drawn back into conflict with his father (who has an amazing backstory), and to ultimately discover the hidden secrets behind his mother's past - and a force that threatens the world.

   Along the way there are lots of great fighting sequences (those work best when they're done in the "real world" - not via CGI). There's lots of humor and some touching moments, as well.
 
   The film's only problem is that it tries to pack too much... well, stuff... into the story, especially in the chaos of the final act. (And like any first Marvel movie, there's always some origin-itis to deal with.)

   But it's a great start for the hero and there are plenty of plot threads to continue over into the next film in the series.

   It reminds me a lot of the first Black Panther movie - a film that breaks new ground, broadens the Marvel horizons, and plants many seeds for future stories - and is centered around a hero with amazing potential. 

   I'm also happy to finally learn the proper pronunciation of the hero's name - since 1973 I've been calling him SHANG ("HANG" with an "SHH" in front of it) CHEE, and only now do I find out that it's SHAUNG CHEE. You learn something new every day!

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Grade: A-

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Checking In After a Long Break

    So, it's been a while.

   I'm still technically on a break from the increasingly-inaccurately-named "Chuck's Comic of the Day" blog (as I have been for the last six months), but I hope to wrap that up in the near future - but your pal Chuck has been through some major changes since signing off back in February.

   For example: I sold more than half of my (not inconsiderable) collection of comics. I packed up my belongings, sold my house, and my wife and I moved halfway across the country.

   We were originally planning to do this next year, when I retired from my full-time job out there in the real world. We were going to move to a big ol' state where my son, his wife and our two granddaughters live (the name rhymes with Smexas) - but the real world complicated matters.

   The main problem was the rapidly escalating cost of homes in Smexas. At the rate they were rising, a decent home might be out of our price range by next year. 

   So we adjusted our timetable and bought a house now (and sold our previous house in record time - thank you, crazy housing market). That meant moving all our stuff, including way too many boxes of comics. The problem: our former house had a big, dry basement - our new home does not. So something had to give.

   My youngest son is a comics fan, so he walked away with the 10 or so boxes he wanted (with my blessing, of course). A friend had recently sold his collection to a dealer, and he kindly sent that dealer in my direction. The dealer made a very generous offer, and I accepted - two trips later, he had carried off about 80 boxes of comics and magazines and posters. 

   That left me with about 30 boxes of assorted treasures. (I'm considering adjusting the blog to focus on what I saved and why.)

    The move is done, though I'm still sorting through LOTS of boxes of comics and paperbacks and toys and God knows what else.

    And I'm still working, dividing my time between my new home and my old job (which means I'm flying a lot more than usual). 

   And then there's COVID.

   All of that combined made life complicated, so something had to give (several somethings, actually), and this blog was one of them. I do hope to return one day, and I apologize for dropping off the face of the blogosphere so abruptly - but as always, family comes first.

   So bear with me a while longer, and hopefully we'll get back to something resembling normal.

    And here are a couple of "instant" Movie / TV reviews to tide you over:

   "Black Widow" -  Loved it - worth the wait (and a great setup for future installments - or past ones).

   "Loki" - Terrific mini-series, nice and mind-bendy.

   "Free Guy" - Just saw it today - lots of good laughs in there (and one that got a big howl out of me - you'll know it when you see it). The story gets a little wobbly in places, but overall a fun film.

    Chuck out! (For now!)

   

Tuesday, June 15, 2021

"Invincible #5: “That Actually Hurt” - TV Guest Review

    Stepping back into the Guest Review spot is my pal Billy Hogan, who continues his reviews of the animated series based on the comic book Invincible:

"Invincible Episode #5: “That Actually Hurt”



   It's been a while since I had time to watch the next episode of this series on Amazon Prime Video, but I had taken a week's vacation, so took the time to watch the next episode. I wasn't disappointed.


   Superpowered thug Titan, who can transform into a rock-armored enforcer for criminal boss Machine Head, meets with various people who either threaten Machine Head's territory, or owe him money. The surviving Mauler Twin continues his work in his new lab, with much success.


   Mark Grayson continues to find his place as a superhero, but as the episode progresses, the double life of a hero puts a lot of stress on his relationship with Amber


   Omni-Man continues to train son Mark in superhero tactics, but wife Debbie continues to have suspicions about her husband, especially after finding demon detective's Darkblood's notebook, filled with clues about the crime against the Guardians Of The Globe at the end of the first episode. Eventually she finds a clue that makes her even more suspicious of her husband.


   Atom Eve also has drama, not only at home, but with the Teen Team, causing a lot of upheaval in her own life.


   Robot has a secret meeting where he offers a job opportunity.


   Eventually, Invincible meets a bad guy he first ran into in the first episode, who asks Mark for help to get his family out of a bad situation. Mark has to decide first whether to believe him, and second, should he help him, or should he concentrate on the big picture of protecting the entire planet.


   The episode ends with Invincible and the Teen Team involved in the biggest battle they have yet faced. Writer and co-creator Robert Kirkman crafted a twist ending I didn't see coming that might have major consequences in the future. He was a master at this with the INVINCIBLE comic book series.


   In the comic book's continuity, Titan was a minor villain, but with the animated series, he is taking his toys and playing with them in new and interesting way. The animated series is establishing itself as a strong series, able to stand on its own. It remains faithful to the spirit of the original comic book series, but continues to be its own unique story that brings me back for each episode. Even though I know how the story will develop overall from reading the comic book series, Kirkman and the animation team are playing with the characters in new ways that creates a new story in the Invincible Universe, or the Invincible of another dimension, to borrow a concept from superhero comic books.


   This episode still gets my top grade of a solid "A." This series continues to be for MATURE audiences only. If that's not an issue for you, I continue to recommend it.