Friday, December 2, 2016

The Ripper Legacy!

The Ripper Legacy  by David Stuart Davies from Titan Books offers up a competent Holmes pastiche which tears into the vintage conspiracy theory that the Jack the Ripper murders were actually an elaborate hoax by the British government to cover up an illicit affair by a royal and that there might even have been a bastard heir to the throne. Holmes and Watson take on a case of a kidnapped young boy and quickly find themselves up against a dangerous gang of very murderous criminals.

But to be honest, I had a difficult time getting going on this one. It did its job and and I was diverted, but unusual with a Davies Holmes story, I never really got fired up about the proceedings. It all seemed a bit too remote and cool for my taste, despite some decidedly pulp action. Maybe it's that the mystery isn't all that mysterious and the revelations are pretty easy to see coming. This tale never shocked me, though I did find myself mildly entertained.

For those who like Mycroft, there's plenty of him here, maybe a bit too much actually as his aloof nature seems a bit undermined and his tendency to stay at rest seems at times forgotten. There are plenty of villains, some very well drawn, but maybe there are too many as some of them seem to get forgotten as the story unfolds.

I have to give this one a recommendation but with a mild caveat that I didn't find it up to the standards of previous Davies efforts, which I've enjoyed mightily.

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Thursday, December 1, 2016

Look To The Stars!

It was already part of my...ahem..."master plan", but in last month of the year and the first full month of the looming "United States of Trump", maybe focusing on the plight of aliens, illegal and otherwise, might be of some small benefit. The types of aliens I'm most interested in right now here at the Dojo are those of a literary stripe who arrive from the depths of space itself.

A focus all month long will be something I've been wanting to do for many moons, taking a close look at the earliest days of the Kree on Earth and the covert mission of one Captain Mar-Vell. It begins in the pages of the Fantastic Four and ends in the pages of the Avengers with the epic Kree-Skrull War. We'll follow those seeds of war in the pages of the earliest issues of "Marvel's Space-Born Super-Hero" and more in a thread which will go by the phrase "Live Kree Or Die".

And in a weird confluence this will also lead into a revisit with one of my favorite gangs of arch-villains, the motley but deadly dozen dubbed the Zodiac. They were created (sort of) in the pages of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD and then came to full force in the Avengers (in an issue which also starred Captain Marvel by the way) and elsewhere. I've been hankering to read those vintage Zodiac stories again for some time and it seems that maybe the stars have aligned.

In the "Favorite Cover" section I've assembled some of my favorite images featuring assorted alien superheroes who have danced on comic book pages over the long history of comics. Alien invaders go all the way back to the very beginning and haven't stopped anytime recently.

All that and sundry others stuff too like spy movies and Sherlock Holmes and the usual whatnot that occupies this particular digital turf. 

So this month look to the stars! It beats watching the news.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Great Steranko!

Jim Steranko's influence on comics is undeniable. He came roaring onto the 60's comic scene and injected a whole new modern vibe and immediacy to the comics he drew despite himself being a synthesis of many of the classic styles he'd absorbed as a reader for years. In his style we see Eisner, Kirby, Kane, Krigstein, and more as he created his own distinctive look and atmosphere. But he did precious little comics work relative to his reputation. Since his early days he's often promised to do more than he's delivered (I'm still waiting in vain for Red Tide). But there's no denying his influence. Here's a gallery of his greatest comics work, darn near all of it in fact.

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

SHIELD - Who Is Scorpio?

The debut issue of Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD was a blockbuster for this young fan. Somehow I'd gotten hold of Strange Tales #167 and had beheld the greatness of Steranko, but this was the first issue I intentionally bought for myself and it literally blew me away.

I was at once mystified and fascinated by Steranko's storytelling and imagery. The famous silent multi-page opener fascinated and confused me simultaneously.

The book had a bravura and a heart but the time jumps made the whole a bit of jumble for me at the time. On this most recent reading I really was able to enjoy the lush Steranko images for their own sake and appreciate Joe Sinnott's cohesive and expressive inking.

The story of a loser comedian who gets mixed up with a murderous hood and then comes across the path of Nick Fury who is fighting for his life against the mysterious and murderous Scorpio is a beautifully rendered cautionary tale. It's loaded with atmosphere and saturated with a noir attitude bonded to the high octane action sequences.

In the second issue of the series Steranko gets his science fiction rocks off as he gives us an updated version of a classic monster movies blending plot elements from The Island of Doctor Moreau and King Kong (literally almost).

Inked with gusto by Frank Giacoia this one is high octane all the way. The opener showing Jimmy Woo's initiation into SHIELD addresses that dangling plot element and sets up the two-man adventure as Fury and Woo find the deadly volcanic island of Centurius a mad scientist who is creating and revising life at will.

Against this threat to the whole world Fury finds and drafts a whole movie crew who are busy on the island making another variation of King Kong. This one has humor and some true life tragedy.

In the third issue Steranko switches gears again, this time beautifully assisted by the soft inks of Dan Adkins.

Effectively Steranko adapts The Hound of the Baskervilles and blends it with some classic ghost stories and haunted house lore. There's more than a few secrets in this one, a beautifully drawn classic that offers a visual feats on every page.

Nick Fury is a man with a mission and more than bit of mystery as he stands in for Sherlock Holmes to battle the ghostly and ghastly hound.

Issue four has only a cover by Steranko. In a sign of what was to come, the reliable artist Frank Springer steps in with script by Gary Friedrich to reprise the origin of Nick Fury, a useful tale for those of us just discovering SHIELD at the time.

Steranko returns, with the assistance of inks by John Tartaglione, for one more full issue when he brings back the deadly Scorpio and attempts to deepen the mystery.

Scorpio captures Nick and in a weird reversal of the LMD confusion from the debut issue has Nick mistaken for his artificial counterpart. There are some delightful characters in this one and dark moments as Fury learns the real identity of Scorpio. The reader is not given access to this secret which will require a few more years and an issue of Avengers to solve. I hope to touch on that story next month.

And that my friends largely ends the relationship of Jim Steranko with the series which truly launched his career and to a very great extent still defines it.

He did produce two more handsome covers for the original run but that was all as other talents stepped into try and reproduce the magic he'd created. Frank Springer, Barry Smith, and Herb Trimpe all gave it a good try but alas Steranko proved to be too tough an act to follow.

Nick Fury and his Agents of SHIELD became an essential part of the background in many a Marvel story over the decades, and I'm mostly convinced that's where they function best. But for a relatively brief time when Jim Steranko was head honcho, it was otherwise. 

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