Saturday, July 30, 2016

The Golden Derby - July 1966!

I think of this time fifty years ago this month as the moment when Charlton Comics became self-aware. Or least it was the time when they demonstrated they knew they had a fandom who were intrigued not only by the genre stories the company had produced for decades, but by the talents who produced those books. As we can see, one of the most famous comics in Charlton's whole oveure arrived, the final issue of what had been the long-running Konga series but which for a single giant-sized issue became Fantastic Giants, a book which had as its hook the artist Steve Ditko, celebrated front and center on the very memorable cover. The book featuring reprints of vintage Konga and Gorgo stories along with some new stuff from Ditko attempted to feed off the notoriety Ditko had gotten for his work at Marvel on Dr.Strange in Strange Tales and The Amazing Spider-Man. In a move that would presage the defection of Kirby to DC some years later, Ditko famously walked out on his most famous creations to work as he chose for the low-rent Charlton firm who had been there for him for decades as evidenced by the revival of his great co-creation for the company Captain Atom, who this month gained a new super-villain and a new partner named Nightshade, the Darling of Darkness. As evidenced by Outlaws of the West (sporting a nifty Rocke Mastroserio cover) and Love Diary (with a handsome Pat Masullli - Dick Giordano cover) the company still pressed ahead with its genre work. The final issue of Timmy the Timid Ghost (one of Charlton's longest-running titles) sported a cover with a nifty sense of irony as Timmy gets spooked by the latest issue of Ghostly Tales, Charlton's newest fright fest. It's a clever bit of cross-promotion and pulled off delightfully in this cover by Jon D'Agostino (with the Masterserio insert). All in all this is a great month for Charlton, one which pointed forward handsomely.

More to come next month.

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Friday, July 29, 2016

Conventional Thinking!

Frankly I need to decompress. The race for the presidency this time has absolutely worn me out, at least in terms of my ability to absorb more spin from either the Democratic or Republican operations. Much of the news has become unwatchable as politics drenches nearly all the stories which parade through the public consciousness these days. Pundits starts "punditing" before the bodies are cool in the case of the rash of terrible shootings we've endured over the last several months. They are so eager to tell me what to think, that they fail to fully tell me what happened. During the conventions I'm forced to go to C-Span to hear any of the early speeches in the conventions (and some of the later ones too) because the reporters won't shut their traps. Even the grand spectacle of the nomination roll call gets shunted into the background so that pundits can yammer yet more. Why the hell the go all the way to Cleveland or Philadelphia to ignore the event and talk over it. Dreadful!

The modern media has become a damn spectacle, a morass of emotional claptrap and attenuated attention spans. In a world where news is a commodity intended to be produced at profit, the news becomes more about style and its delivery, than about the motes of facts which are at the core of what's important. Self-serving boot lickers on both sides of the aisle are quick to glom onto any event and translate it so that their picked audience can absorb its lessons.

So after the close of the Democratic convention I am going into radio silence when it comes to the political media. Despite the cool and cogent elegance of the speeches by both Barrack and Michelle Obama, the whole thing has become tiresome overall. (God I miss him already!) I am bone weary of the tomfoolery Donald "Jackass" Trump perpetrates on a daily basis. Likewise the smarmy attempts to normalize his behavior as well as that of his opponent Hillary Clinton just becomes too much. Let it fucking be for a while. I need personally to cleanse my palate and get some perspective on what passes for discourse in the new America, a land increasingly driven by the momentary twitterings of no-nothings and nabobs, tools who spout inanities while the bodies drop.

So let me back away, turn down the volume, pay attention to movies from olden days and books from ancient times and just let it all flow on down the stream like the refuse which passes through the byways of Rio. I'll plug back in later when things have settled down and the measurements the pollsters insist on taking each waking moment of the day actually have some value as a predictive model of the future.

I'll pay attention to the election again, but not right now. 

Let's all get some rest.

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Thursday, July 28, 2016

The White Worm!

The White Worm by Sam Siciliano is the fourth to date in Titan Books series The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. It's the shortest of the four I believe and that's to its immediate benefit as the others are rather bloated affairs in the final analysis. The previous entries are The Angel of the Opera, The Web Weaver, and The Grimswell Curse. 

Once again we have the story told not by Dr. John Watson, but by Dr. Henry Vernier who purports to give us a more human presentation of the great detective. Actually by this fourth volume I find myself getting very tired of Vernier's somewhat pompous opinions and his rather constant reflections on sex. He's a married man and that's fine, but he's a bit of horndog and his desires are discussed more than I'd deem necessary to develop the mystery.

Siciliano this time has again attempted to fold Sherlock into a mystery from another literary source. He did this with The Angel and the Opera where he stuck Holmes into the middle of Gaston Leroux's novel of the Phantom. Here he plunders Bram Stoker's weird novel The Lair of the White Worm. I rather enjoyed the Stoker adventure and have a higher opinion of it than does Siciliano. Still I do agree it's a great setting for a Sherlock mystery.

The social dogma coming under scrutiny this time are Victorian notions of sex, particularly the lack of sex education given to youngsters so that they might approach their sex lives with some degree of understanding and with less fear and loathing. A noble idea, but like the previous obsessions with corsets and giant anatomy, the lectures get tiresome. But there does seem to be less of it here.

Sherlock is engaged by a young man of wealth to help him get to the bottom (quite literally as it turns out) of a mystery around his home which concerns an ancient cult and the devilish dragon/worm they worship. He wants assistance with that and help with the woman he loves, but for whom he feels less than capable of successfully bedding. While Sherlock uncovers the secrets of the cult, Vernier operates as a guidance counselor to the two youngsters giving them advice, backed up by his wife who shows up too, about a healthy marriage, one not necessarily built on the Victorian notions of pain and suffering.

We get to meet some real characters this time, a libertine lady who wanders around in the buff and constantly makes randy recommendations and a local pseudo-scientist who is positively insane. Death is close at hand at all times as are lots of snakes and other weird creatures. The weirdness does peter out though a bit sooner than the narrative and again the mystery seems not to be the primary concern, an odd choice for Holmes pastiche.

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016

The Grimswell Curse!

The Grimswell Curse by Sam Siciliano is the third of his entries in Titan Books' The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. Like its predecessor The Web Weaver, this one seems to have been produced for this series exclusively. The Grimswell Curse works overtime to evoke the greatest and most famous of the Sherlock Holmes adventures The Hound of the Baskervilles.

While the narrator is still the same as before, not Dr. John Watson but rather Dr. Henry Vernier, the cousin of Sherlock Holmes, we do this time get an adventure which works on its own and follows the classic pattern more closely despite the tonal variance supplied by the narration which posits a more human Sherlock than we're probably accustomed to.

The first problem this book has though is that it seems similar to its immediate predecessor in general format. A young woman of noble lineage is under some sort of seemingly supernatural threat and the men in her life are either unreliable or actively dangerous to her best interests. That sentence would work in both books, though of course there are twists in each. This time, the mystery and the narrative seem to pace one another pretty well though there is a general tendency to plod I've noticed in Siciliano's stories.

There is no spectral hound this time, but rather a ghostly wolf which seems to be the pet of a giant vampire of sorts who might or might not be the returned dead body of our heroine's father. Lots of enigmatic events and this one gets a rather Dickensian feel with the characters of the of the cast. Many, if not most are rather unlikable sorts and anyone who seems to be improving is often knocked off. Sherlock seems to take his sweet time solving this one even though he's right there and the finale is a bit to melodramatic for my tastes and makes a bit of a mockery of Holmes since he didn't see it coming.

Another annoyance is once again our narrator who seems obsessed this time with the size of people's hands. The sizes of people generally are a regular topic, but hands are special feature and the heroine's "large hands" are mentioned numerous times. At times I got the impression this was a tract for the betterment of larger folks in the population. 

That all said, I do rather enjoy this one more than I have the previous ones, if only for the brooding landscapes of the moors. The Hound of the Baskervilles is arguably my favorite novel all time and anything that evokes some aspect of it gets my nod of approval. This one might not be the sterling mystery  but it does have some of the mood.

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Tuesday, July 26, 2016

The Web Weaver!

The Web Weaver is another in Titan's impressive The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes series which has attempted to gather up some of the more curious of the Holmes pastiches of the last several decades. Sam Siciliano, the author of The Angel of the Opera returns this time with the first of three more stories, all done new for Titan. This story again brings us not Dr.John Watson, but Dr. Henry Vernier, the cousin of Holmes invented by Siciliano to present a more human Sherlock to the reader. It works and it doesn't.

Now it's important to know that the Siciliano stories are meant to be read in order and so while it's not critical that one have read Angel of the Opera it helps to understand some of the character development in this one. This is Siciliano's longest Holmes novel so far and it feels all of its considerable length. Truth told, the mystery does not measure up to the length, since the solution seems a bit too apparent too early on and there are not any significant twists to speak of.

The key to these stories, which makes them not completely successful Holmes adventures, is that Siciliano seems less interested in the mystery angle and more in freshening the picture of Sherlock himself, who routinely in these yarns degrades Dr. Watson and suggests that he is much more than the caricature painted in the pages of the Strand. Many of the characters mistake Vernier for Watson and some are never disabused of this misunderstanding.

The biggest change here is the addition of Michelle Doudet-Vernier, Henry's new wife who was only in his thoughts in the previous novel but very much in this one. So much so that some of the chapters are actually narrated by her. The point of this seems to be to add a female perspective to a story which is very much about the woman's role in Victorian society.

And that seems actually to be Siciliano's main point in this story which concerns itself with an enigmatic gypsy who suddenly appears and casts a curse upon a household which seems typical for its time but unfortunately is loveless. The lady of the story is exceedingly handsome and bright and Sherlock is smitten. The larger mystery seems to be a mild uprising among many in the working class to force the rigid Victorian society to reassess the nature of class which defines life for nearly all of its population.

And then there are the corsets. Much is made of whalebone corsets and the damage they do to women of the era and what a refreshing and provocative thing it is when some femme chooses to eschew them. Vernier is rather obsessed with corsets, taking every opportunity in the text to detail who is and who is not wearing one. His wife never does and these randy newlyweds make the most of her relative freedom from tradition.

So with all this character study and social agenda analysis going on it's sometimes difficult to keep track of the mystery, and that is what really just makes this book get really dull before it wraps. I want to like it more, it has an appeal, but unless you're reading all of the Siciliano canon as I have done, then I cannot recommend. If you are planning to, then it might behoove you to get this one under your belt as it does inform future efforts a bit.

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Monday, July 25, 2016

The Angel Of The Opera!

Sherlock Holmes has been the subject of countless variations on a theme as enthusiastic writers take the iconic hero and manipulate him in all sorts of entertaining ways. It's the magnificent strength of Arthur Conan Doyle's character that he can withstand so many contortions. Sam Siciliano has written several of these pastiches, beginning in 1992 with The Angel of the Opera which combines the narrative of Gaston Leroux's The Phantom of the Opera into the Sherlock Holmes canon. But there's an additional twist.

The narrator of this Sherlock Holmes adventure is not Dr. John Watson, but rather Sherlock's cousin Dr. Henry Vernier. The conceit here is that the stories of Watson are generally held in disdain by Holmes and as Vernier would have it, Watson is not nearly so close to the Great Detective as he would have us believe. We get in this adventure what purports to be a more complete and more humane presentation of Holmes as he is confronted with a case in the heart of Paris.

The story pretty effectively follows the general pattern of the Leroux novel but told from the perspective of a Holmes adventure with additional material added to put Sherlock's deductions into place. That being the case the story really drags a bit as we wait for elements of the Leroux original to unfold while Holmes and his new Boswell Vernier wander around the streets of Paris and the dim recesses of the Paris Opera House.

Dr. Vernier is a young man who is about to be married and much of his internal story deals with how he misses his fiance Michelle, an apparently strong-willed woman who is also a medical doctor. Vernier comes across as a bit of whiner to me, making bold statements about how Holmes and Watson don't get along and frankly casting Watson in a very negative light. The Holmes presented by Vernier is less quixotic, though no less mysterious, and the deductions seem less piquant.

The theme of the story appears to be about love and romance and how exactly that might ideally unfold for we mere humans stranded often in a society which forces fixed roles. There is also some rejection of the class structure on which much of European society thrived on at this time. When we finally meet Erik the Phantom, he is less awesome than in the Leroux novel,  with much more sympathy applied to his situation.

The novel is too long really, plodding a bit here and there, but I assumed much of this had to do with Siciliano's attempts to put his story into the frame of the Leroux original. This would prove to be wrong as subsequent of these Vernier-narrated adventures demonstrated.

More to come.

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Sunday, July 24, 2016

The U.S.S. Stevens Docks!

(First Appearance of U.S.S. Stevens on a comic book cover.)
Dover Books has released a truly significant comic book volume,  U.S.S. Stevens The Collected Stories by Sam Glanzman.

These are sobering tales of war from the perspective of sailors during World War II. This tome arrived at my house via the U.S. Postal Service (thanks be to the Postal Service) and it's awesome. A hardback book with four hundred or so beautiful pages of Glanzman artwork. At ninety plus years of age, Sam Glanzman is a living legend in the comic book field (I've adored his work since first finding it in the pages of Charlton's Hercules at the tender age of ten) and it's grand to see his truly important work find a more permanent place for readers of fine comics to enjoy for years to come. Dover Books and the folks involved with this book such as Drew Ford and Jon B. Cooke are to be congratulated. Thanks gentlemen for making this possible and thanks to Sam Glanzman for producing something of lasting significance in a field which all too often is littered with disposable trash.

And don't forget to pick up this lush trade, A Sailor's Story which gathers the two U.S.S. Stevens graphic novels Glanzman produced for Marvel. 

Get these books!!!

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