Tuesday, December 29, 2015

NOT THE BEST AMERICAN COMICS

Why do I keep doing this to myself? Among other accomplishments, Albert Einstein defined insanity as “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

So why I do I keep reading each annual edition of The Best American Comics and expecting it to be something other than an artsy-fartsy pretentious anthology of comics that are as far from being the best such comics as I am from playing power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers?

I saved myself $25 by getting The Best American Comics 2015 from my local library system. This year’s guest editor was Jonathan Letham, who gave me some hope with two innovations. First, he divided the various comics and excerpts into sections based on subject matter and other considerations. Second, his introduction to the book and each section were in the form of comics. Raw squibbles that didn’t hold up past the first few, but comics nonetheless. In addition, I was pleased to see the first entry was an excerpt from Roz Chast’s brilliant Can’t We talk About Something More Pleasant? and the next was an excerpt from Jules Feiffer’s good-but-not-brilliant Kill My Mother. It was a good start. More accurately, it was a good start that just increased my yearly dismay with this series.

Series editor Bill Kartalopoulos makes his contempt and disdain for mainstream comics clear from his foreword. Letham reinforces that contempt and disdain in his introductions. Neither has any use for any of the well-told, beautifully-drawn comics stories from Dark Horse, DC, Image, Marvel, Oni or any of a dozen publishers, large and small, I could name. This faux-elitist anthology is oh-so-far above that sort of thing.

Amusingly, a section devoted in part to mocking super-heroes was to include a story by Steve Ditko, whose current work is, to be kind, is best appreciated by Ditko cultists. Ditko refused permission for his work to be included.

In the past when I’ve raised these issues, apologists for The Best American Comics have claimed they were unable to obtain rights to use mainstream material. It’s a lie revealed by the book’s “Notable Comics” listings, which include nary a mainstream story. No Usagi Yojimbo. No Lumberjanes. No Chew. No Ms. Marvel. No Daredevil. No Saga. No The Fade Out. No Fables. No Resident Alien. No any of the dozens of other mainstream comics that are better written and better drawn and more meaningful that 95% of what Kartalopoulos and Letham did include.

Fuck them.

It’s long past time for comics creators and publishers to raise a middle finger to The Best American Comics and create an anthology of their own. Put aside company and professional rivalries and work together. Recruit rotating editors from the many sage commentators who haven’t stuck their heads so artistically up their faux-elitist asses. Maybe make this new annual anthology of the finest American comics a fundraiser for the Hero Initiative.

We need an annual anthology that recognizes great comics by great creators ranging from Derf Backderf and Carol Tyler to Stan Sakai and G. Willow Wilson. And I think we all know I could list over a hundred such worthy creators.

The Best American Comics has failed the greater comics community. We can do better. We should do better. We must do better.

My pledge. Right here and right now. I will buy such an anthology every year without fail. I will promote it in every venue available to me. I will do whatever I can do to make this concept a reality.

It’s not just time for such an annual anthology.

It’s way past time.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY

‘Twas the night after Christmas and all through the Isabella house, not a creature was stirring...except for good old bloggy Tony who was watching A Christmas Horror Story [2015] on DVD. Not for the first time, Tony thought how crispy cool it would be for him to put together a Christmas horror movie marathon. This was a notion he’d  raised on several occasions, only to be hooted down by his loving family. And so, on this rainy night, with the family checking out Christmas lights in downtown Mordor, excuse me, Cleveland, he had to settle for watching but one holiday horror movie.

A Christmas Horror Story is an ambitious anthology-style film with William Shatner holding together the four stories. Shatner plays a festive and increasingly inebriated radio host named Dangerous Dan. He’s working a double shift on this Christmas Eve trying to bring holiday cheer to the residents of the fictional town of "Bailey Downs," of which we will speak more soon.

Here’s a quick rundown of the four stories...

Three students sneak into their high school, which used to be both a convent and a place for unwed mothers, to investigate the brutal murders that took place there one year earlier.

A cop who was one of those on the scene after the above murders is trying to reconnect with his wife and son. They drive to a private farm to cut down a Christmas tree, but bring back something evil.

A dysfunctional family of four drive to a secluded estate to visit an elderly aunt in the hope of her helping them with their serious financial problems.

At the North Pole, Santa Claus faces an outbreak of zombie elves. Yes, I said “zombie elves.”

It’s more than a little bit jarring to switch from story to story, especially since it often seems that the tales all relate to each other in some way. However, outside of them all taking place in or around Bailey Downs, they don’t. Story one is only connected to the second story through the cop, who never figures in the first story. Story three is a stand-alone that only shares some mythology with story four and said mythology is a fleeting element of story four. As you can tell from the cover of the case, Krampus appears in the fourth story.

My original intention was to make this a spoiler-free review, but I have to reveal some elements to discuss the four stories of the movie.

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Shatner’s boozy DJ does a terrific job setting the scene and then reacting to the mounting horror. His angry weatherman holds up a “Fuck Christmas” sign before leaving for a food drive at the Bailey  Downs mall. Again, more on Bailey Downs after the spoilers.

The “trapped in the high school” segment is a chilling ghost story whose unhappy and vengeful spirit is tied to the school’s former use as a convent and clinic for unwed mothers. Zoé De Grand Maison is terrific as student Molly Simon, investigating the murders of a year prior.

When the policeman’s family trespasses on a strange man’s land to cut down and steal their Christmas tree, their asthmatic young son gets lost. Though they are unaware of it, he has been replaced by a murderous changeling. The switch has dire consequences. This is the weakest of the four tales with lapses in logic and mediocre-at-best acting.

After their elderly relative refuses to help them financially, the dysfunctional family are stranded when their car breaks down. They make their way back to the relative’s estate, only to be hunted by Krampus. The anti-Santa is one scary dude. It has the best ending of the four stories.

“Santa versus the zombie elves” is fast-paced and gore-filled with what appears to be little logic driving the story. I say “appears” because there actually is clever logic to the tale.

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A Christmas Horror Story has perhaps too many directors and writers for even an anthology-style movie. The three directors are Grant Harvey, Steven Hoban and Brett Sullivan. The five writers are James Kee, Sarah Larsen, Doug Taylor, Pascal Trottier and an uncredited Jason Filiatrault.

Here’s a bit of interesting trivia about the film from the Internet Movie Database:

The film takes place in the fictional town of "Bailey Downs" which is where the "Ginger Snaps" films take place as well as the name of the suburb where the Allison clone in the "Orphan Black" TV series takes place. This was intentional; the filmmakers were responsible for the Ginger Snaps films and [Ginger Snaps] director John Fawcett is one of the creators of 'Orphan Black".

Here’s a bit of stupid trivia about the film. For some reason, this direct-to-DVD release was re-titled A Holiday Horror Story for sale at some Walmart stores in the United States. The movie itself was not changed, just the DVD case. Given how many horror movies have had “Christmas” in their titles, I don’t understand the reasoning behind this change.

Back to the movie itself...

A Christmas Horror Story is like an above-average issue of a horror comic book. Each story has a shock ending. Each story has visuals that would fit in perfectly with the old black-and-white Creepy and Eerie or the better House of Mystery offerings. There should have been a comics adaptation of this film.

I was entertained by A Christmas Horror Story. In fact, the more I think about the movie, the more I like it. If I ever do get to have my Christmas movie marathon, this movie will be on the bill. It’s well worth watching.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Monday, December 28, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #140

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder: Soldier’s Heart: The Campaign to Understand My WWII Veteran Father by Carol Tyler, Gil Kane’s Undersea Agent and Web of Evil: Volume One!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, STAN LEE

Stan Lee - my boss, my friend, my mentor - is 93 years old today. Wikipedia describes him as “an American comic book writer, editor, publisher, media producer, television host, actor and former president and chairman of Marvel Comics.”

Stan is all that and more to me. Professionally speaking, the man who will always be “Stan (the Man) Lee” to me was and remains the biggest influence on my comics life. He’s the reason I devoted my professional life to the comics industry. Without Stan, you would not be reading this bloggy thing of mine...and would not have read any of the tens of thousands of comics stories, articles, columns, introductions and books I’ve written over the past four decades plus. Second only to my own father, I am a son of Stan.

Wikipedia adds:

“In collaboration with several artists, including Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko, [Lee] co-created Spider-Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, Iron Man, Thor, X-Men, and many other fictional characters, introducing complex, naturalistic characters and a thoroughly shared universe into superhero comic books. In addition, he headed the first major successful challenge to the industry's censorship organization, the Comics Code Authority, and forced it to reform its policies. Lee subsequently led the expansion of Marvel Comics from a small division of a publishing house to a large multimedia corporation.

“He was inducted into the comic book industry's Will Eisner Award Hall of Fame in 1994 and the Jack Kirby Hall of Fame in 1995. Lee received a National Medal of Arts in 2008.”


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In 2014, I was interviewed by two wondrous middle-school students -  Alyssa and Emily - for their National History Day project on Stan Lee. I ran the entire interview in March, but I want to again share some of their questions and my answers with you today.

Q: How do you think Stan Lee demonstrated leadership in the early years of Marvel?

ANSWER: Stan set the tone for the Marvel super-heroes in the 1960s and beyond. The stories took place in a fictional universe that was close to our real world. He made the heroes and the villains more human. His writing was much sharper and more witty than that of any other writer in comics; all of us writers who came after Fantastic Four #1 learned from Stan. He collaborated with artists in such a way as to make their work more visually exciting and investing them more fully in the stories. He started running credits for writers, artists and letterers in the comic books, adding colorists credits as soon as that became possible. He got readers excited about the comic books again and that resulted in great publicity for comics in general. He invited the Marvel readers into the world of Marvel Comics and even the Marvel movies reflect that sense of inclusion.  At the age of 92, Stan is still the grand master of comics, working harder than comics people half his age.

Q: Have you ever worked with Stan Lee on a project. If so, what was it?

When I came to work in the Marvel Comics offices in New York City in late 1972, I worked with Stan Lee, Roy Thomas and Sol Brodsky. I had been hired to put together The Mighty World of Marvel, which was a weekly magazine which reprinted our early super-hero comics. The magazine was put together in New York, but published and sold in Great Britain. Roy got me started, Sol handled the production of the magazine and Stan would approve the covers I would design with various artists and the copy I wrote for those covers. Before too long, we had added Spider-Man Comics Weekly and Avengers Weekly to our British line. So I was editing three magazines each and every week for a while.

I also worked with Stan on Monsters Unlimited. This was an American magazine which mostly featured photos from monster movies to which Stan would add humorous dialogue balloons. After an issue or so, we added text articles about monster movies. I would buy and edit the articles and help Stan do the layout for the magazine. This was a lot of fun.

I did other things with Stan during my time at Marvel. I learned a lot about writing comics stories from him and Roy. I also learned about the production end of things from Sol. I could not have asked for three better teachers.

Q: Do you think Stan Lee made comic books popular during the time you were enjoying comics?

Stan made a real connection with the Marvel readers. We were drawn to the great characters, stories and art, but Stan took it a step further and made us feel like we were part of a select community of comics fans. I loved comic books from before I learned to read from them, but Stan and Marvel cemented that love. I continue to read and enjoy all sorts of comics from all over the world.

Q: Did Stan Lee influence you or your work?

Stan is probably one of my biggest influences. I studied the comic books he wrote and learned a lot from him even before I worked with him. I have also been influenced by Stan’s showmanship and the fun he brings to everything he does. As much as possible, I learned to incorporate that into my own public appearances.

Q: What are your feelings toward Stan Lee?

He has been one of the most important people in my life. His comics writing inspired me. Working with him was terrific. We still keep in touch today and I visited him in his Los Angeles office around this time (January) last year. I’m honored to call Stan my friend and my mentor.

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I’ve written about Stan many times over the years. My two favorite Stan-inspired bloggy things are “A Salute to Stan Lee,” which was posted on December 29, 2012, and which originally ran in an issue of Comics Buyer’s Guide...and “Kid Stan Outlaw,” written after I’d visited him in his Los Angeles office.

Whenever I write or think about Stan, I do so with admiration and a joy that’s hard to describe. I can’t separate my many memories of Stan from my love of comics in general, nor would I ever want to. He means the world to me.

When I first started out in the comics business and civilians would ask what I did for a living, I would tell them I wrote comic books. Their follow-up question would almost always be: “Do you draw the pictures?” That has changed in the past several years.

These days, their follow-up question is always: “Do you know Stan Lee?” I’ve witnessed people squeal with delight when I tell them I know him and have worked with him. And when they ask me what he’s really like, I might tell them about my long relationship with him and all I learned from him. But, more often of late, I direct them to Stan’s cameo appearances in the Marvel movies.

That’s Stan. Bigger than life and bringing the fun. Even as I wrote those lines, I was grinning. I just plan love the guy.

Here’s me squealing a boisterous “happy birthday” to Stan (The Man) Lee. Thanks for all the magic and wonder. Thanks for all the life lessons. Thanks for your friendship.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.  

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Saturday, December 26, 2015

CATCHING UP WITH PUMPKINHEAD

A few months back, I wrote admiringly of Pumpkinhead, a 1999 horror movie staring the great Lance Henriksen. This quick summary of the film is from the Internet Movie Database:

A man conjures up a gigantic vengeance demon called Pumpkinhead to destroy the teenagers who accidentally killed his son.

Since then, I’ve watched three direct-to-video Pumpkinhead sequels: Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings (1994), Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes (2006) and, just this past week, Pumpkinhead 4: Blood Feud (2007). The latter two were filmed back to back.

The only thing Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings has in common with the other three films is a creature seeking vengeance and an old witch who brings it to life. Here’s the IMDB summary:

Thrill-seeking teenagers resurrect a demon from his grave and a bloody rampage for revenge begins.

I reviewed Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings earlier this month. Because I’ll be discussing plot elements of the other two films, you should assume there are

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Lance Henriksen is in both movies as a ghostly Ed Harley, cursed to forever roam these backwoods, a spirit trapped between Heaven and Hell, never to see his departed son again. Between these two films, we get an actual Pumpkinhead mythology. Those who summon the demon pay an eternal price, those targeted by the demon have, at least, a chance to save their souls.

Once summoned, Pumpkinhead will kill those he was summoned to kill and anyone who gets between him and those he was summoned to kill. It makes no distinction between the two groups.

Though the blind old witch is the gatekeeper between our world and that of Pumpkinhead, she cannot - for unexplained reasons - prevent those seeking revenge from following the same sad path as Ed Harley did. And, once the demon has been summoned and linked to the person seeking vengeance, only that person can stop it.

These are concepts worth exploring further. A reboot of the series is said to be in the works and, if that’s truly the case, I hope it makes use of these elements.

Moving on to Pumpkinhead 3: Ashes to Ashes, here’s the full summary from the IMDb:

A small backwoods community has discovered that the local mortician has been cutting corners by dumping the bodies of their loved ones in a nearby swamp as opposed to cremating them as promised. Infuriated by the horrific desecration endured by the dearly departed, the residents of the town seek out a local witch with the power to resurrect the demon of vengeance. As the demon Pumpkinhead rises to claim the lives of all who took part in the abominable scheme, the eccentric town physician who masterminded an illegal organ donor business makes it his mission to murder any and all who played a part in unleashing the murderous monster.

Doug Bradley is excellent as the sinister Doc Fraser. No one in the town realizes what he’s up to until it’s too late. Ioana Ginghina is just as good as one of the townspeople who summoned Pumpkinhead, only to regret what she has done. Douglas Roberts is interesting as Bunt Wallace, the now-grown kid who led Ed Harley to the old witch in the first movie and who now works for mortician and the doctor. Bunt cowers before his bosses. But he also tries to do the right thing, even knowing he’s on Pumpkinhead’s list. Beyond these three, the action ranges from adequate to not-quite-awful.

The Pumpkinhead suit is pretty much the same one as in the second movie. It looks like a costume. I’m hoping any reboot restores the realistic spookiness of the original design.

I can’t say I loved this movie. It had fine moments, but it dragged in places as well. The dragging is something that also afflicts the next and (to date) final movie in the series. Here’s how IMDb summarizes Pumpkinhead 4: Blood Feud:

In a Virginia forest village, true love between Ricky McCoy and Jodie Hatfield is sabotaged by their families' long-standing bitter feud. Despite sheriff Dallas Pope's grim warning, actually from bitter experience, it will only eat up his soul, Ricky resorts to vengeance on all standing in his way by appealing to pumpkin-head, a magical forester monster, who unleashes ever greater horror.

I’d have nothing but positive remarks about this movie if it were not for the Hatfield-McCoy stuff. Using the names of the legendary feuding families made Pumpkinhead 4 dated and exploitative. Where the other movies all at least recognized the presence of the modern world outside the back woods, this one was so insular that its setting never rang true.

Henriksen is great as Ed Harley. His cautionary spirit works much better in this movie than in the previous one. Lynne Verrall is on point as the blind old witch and makes the most of her refined role in the Pumpkinhead mythology. Ron Freeman is very good as a sheriff carrying an ancient burden. That’s pretty much it for the acting.

I want to like this movie more than I do. I love the expansions of the Pumpkinhead world. But the dumb stuff is dumb, the killings are by the numbers and the ending is merely a variation on the endings of the first and third movies.

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I’m looking forward to a Pumpkinhead reboot. I think there’s much to be done with this franchise. And, as I’ve said elsewhere, if any publisher lands the comic-book rights to the series, I’m the writer they should call first. I could write the hell out of Pumpkinhead. Well, maybe not the hell per se, that being such an important part of the story and all, but I could definitely bring some real scary stuff to the party.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

AND SO THIS IS CHRISTMAS...

Even though I missed the actual holiday due to excessive joy with my family, I want to wish all of my bloggy thing readers the most merry of Christmas. If I had a lick of sense, I would end today’s communication there, but I think we all know that’s a mighty large “if” when it comes to me.

This Christmas feels weird to me. Leading up to it and experiencing it, I had a lot of morose thoughts bashing around inside my brain. Here’s where I try to get them out of there.

This was a second Christmas without my father, who passed away in October of 2014. It was yet another Christmas without my youngest brother, incarcerated in a federal correctional institution because he stole over a million dollars from a client. Unless he catches a break, he won’t be out until early 2017.

It’s the first Christmas without her dad for one of our cherished neighbors. I can’t help thinking of all the other people I know who are having their first Christmas without a loved one or with other awful changes to their situations. A divorce, loss of child custody, loss of a job, and so on.

I read a stupid version of “The Night Before Christmas” written by one of the Republican candidates or one of his campaign staffers. It turned an amusing and pleasant tradition into a screed of hate-mongering. I think it was Mike Huckabee, a Christian minister whose concept of Christianity surely makes Jesus weep. It made be wonder how all these Republicans who claim to be Christians can continue to claim that in light of their un-Christian actions and positions. But they are, after all, the party of bigotry, fear and lies. Being hypocrites is in their DNA.

If you’ve been reading the bloggy thing this month, the paragraph you just read makes me, officially, a Christmas asshole. I was the guy who brought up politics. But, at least, I didn’t hit on any of my hot or even lukewarm cousins.

But here’s what the Republican fear-mongering leads to...

Last week, U.S. officials refused to allow a British Muslim family to fly to Disneyland for a planned holiday. The family had obtained clearance prior to their intended flight. They don’t seem to meet any of the criteria for being refused boarding a flight, save for the ambiguous “miscellaneous grounds.” After repeated queries, the only explanation the family was given was that they “must have done something wrong.”

The British are our allies. The vast majority of Muslims wish us no harm. The something wrong in this story is that U.S. officials seem to be putting into effect the demented and illegal and unworthy of our country “no Muslims allowed” plan of the vile Donald Trump and his equally vile supporters and fellow Republican candidates.

Damn it. That is not my America.

Must...go...to...my...happy...place.

I thought about some past Christmas celebration. There was the one where my folks gave me Jules Feiffer’s The Great Comic Book Heroes  (1965). Besides being my introduction to such characters as Plastic Man and Will Eisner’s The Spirit, the book told of how Feiffer made his own comic books as a kid. Inspired by that, I started making my own comic books with my friends Terry Fairbanks and Mike Hudak, and sending them to Marvel every other month. We’d always get back some nice little note from Stan Lee or Flo Steinberg or Roy Thomas, and made me feel even more connected to the publisher which gave me my first real job in comics. I was hired by Roy Thomas.

My comics bond with Terry Fairbanks turned into a greater bond in my life. He married Nora Joyce. I was in their wedding party and so was Nora’s niece, Barb Kepke. It took me over then years to get the lovely Barb to the altar, but we’ve been married for closing in on 32 years now.

I thought about my first Christmas after moving to New York to work for Marvel Comics. Because money was tight, I hadn’t planned to fly home that year. Then I heard Rosemary, my younger sister, only six at the time, wouldn’t have Christmas if I wasn’t home. So I made secret plans to come home. My older sister Carrie would pick me up at the Cleveland airport.

Stan Lee gave me my birthday off. I left for the airport around 6 in the morning. Only to find out my flight and most other flights had been cancelled. I was flying on the glorious student standby. I can’t remember which airport was which, if I started at JFK or at Newark, but the other one was open. So the airline bused us over to that airport. No charge for the transportation.

When I got to the second airport, all of those flights were either cancelled or delayed. The airline gave us lunch vouchers while they sorted things out. My $50 ticket was paying off big, except that I was still in New York or maybe New Jersey.

Late in the day, I finally got on a flight to Cleveland. The plane was nearly empty so the air hostesses loaded me with sandwiches and snacks. Then came the news we couldn’t land in Cleveland. We were diverted to Toledo, which was about 100 miles away from Cleveland.

When we got off the plane in Toledo, the airline had arranged a bus to take us to Cleveland. No charge for the transportation. I got to a payphone just before we left to update Carrie on where I was and where I would be dropped off in Cleveland.

The Cleveland weather was bad. It took Carrie a while to get to me and then a while to drive us back home. It was almost midnight by the time I walked through the door. The next morning, when Rosemary woke up, I was sitting under the tree. I was the only present that I could afford to give my family that year.

Even though Christmas seems to bring out the worst in some people, especially Republican candidates and Fox News commentators, it also brings out the best in others. My heartwarming tales of the season include the ten-year-old Ohio boy who was flown with his family to Wichita - at no expense to them - to get a free prosthetic arm from Peebles Prosthetics of that fine city.

Then there was the outpouring of support, emotional and financial, for comics artist Don Perlin when he hit some medical woes and the attendant cost of those woes. Over $18,000 has been raised in just three days.

But my favorite “better angels” stories has to be the tale of the repo man who couldn’t bring himself to repossess the car from the single mom who was trying to raise a 10-year-old daughter. The mom has a pituitary tumor that gives her seizures and trouble walking. It made her unable to work as a pharmacy technician and forced her to drop out of Cleveland State University.

The repo man offered half his pay until her delinquent car payments were taken care of. His company refused. Instead, the company chose to cover those payments. Then the staff took the daughter’s holiday wish list and bought presents for her, delivering them to the girl and her mom just before Christmas.

That’s the America I love. That’s my America.

And for all you right-wing imbeciles you think there’s some sort of war on Christmas, I direct you to our opening image. A brave young lad who loves Christmas risks life and limb to stop two criminals from ruining Christmas. Not once, but in two movies.

Those criminals...that’s a War on Christmas. Yes, it’s the stuff of fiction, but so is Bill O’Reilly’s War on Christmas.

If there is anyone I wouldn’t allow to fly to Disneyland, it would be O’Reilly and his despicable cronies. They are toxic waste in human form and a threat to children, happiness and the good tidings of this season.

From this Christmas asshole to all of the non-assholes reading this, I hope you had a truly joyful and wondrous holiday.   

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.  

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A IS FOR AIRBOY

Here begins a series of reviews, planned to run through the rest of this month and January. The idea is to clear out a bunch of comics that have been sitting in my office waiting to be written about by your bloggy thing balladeer. They will alternate with other bloggy things. Let us begin...

Airboy, the four-issue series by James Robinson (writer) and Greg Hinkle (artist), was the subject of much controversy and loathing, even as it was praised by some readers and industry professionals. It was published by Image Comics in the summer of this year.

The premise of this “Mary Sue” story is that a severely depressed James Robinson, forever whining about the difficulties of working with a major publisher, about writing a few movies that he believes no one liked, about being typecast as a guy who does recreations of Golden Age characters, about...well, it all blurs together. James (at least seen in this series) is an unhappy man given to massive drinking, massive drug use and cheating on his wife. Knowing, as I do, a great many fine writers who cannot get the opportunities that Robinson enjoys - he’s currently writing multiple series for Marvel Comics - I found myself having no more sympathy for him that I do for entertainment and sports celebrities who don’t appreciate all they have and act out in destructive ways. Which is a shame since I liked the James Robinson I met a couple of times back in the day and think his Starman is one of the finest super-hero comic books of all time.

Asked to revive the public domain character Airboy, Robinson goes on a bender with happily-married artist Hinkle, pulling the artist into the same self-loathing behavior in which the writer indulges. I am assuming - for the sake of my own happiness - that the writer and artist portrayed in this series are mere fictional constructs, no more real than the Airboy character who suddenly appears during their substance abuse party. The Airboy of the 1940s and 1950s was a pleasant fellow. This version is a jerk.

The controversy stemmed from the trio visiting a bar frequented by crossdressers, drag queens, transvestites and transsexuals. It’s a den of iniquity with sordid sex acts performed in bathroom stalls. The Robinson of this series refers to the bar patrons as trannies, a description that doesn’t cover all the possible permutations and which has fallen out of favor in the LGBT community. I have a few problems with the outrage.

The first is that the character who uses the term is not remotely admirable. He’s the biggest jerk in the series. He would use that term without thinking twice about whether or not it’s appropriate. Because he’s a self-loathing jerk whose sense of privileged misery is all he embraces. Are comics writers no longer permitted to write unpleasant characters and use dialogue that reveals how unpleasant those characters are?

The second is that the term “tranny” is not as universally reviled as the outrage would suggest. I know crossdressers who embrace the term and are somewhat jolly in using it. I don’t care for it and I don’t use it. However, coming out of the mouth of this unpleasant version of James Robinson, it wasn’t inappropriate. I can make the case for it being deplorable in that Robinson uses it to make the bar patrons part of his self-loathing, but, given how the character behaves throughout the issue, it’s not inappropriate.

The controversy is a side issue. The series itself strikes me as an exercise in whine and poses. The Robinson character pulls all other characters into his childish behaviors. He doesn’t seem to learn a thing in the course of an adventure/delusion that pulls him and the Hinkle character into a World War II battleground. At the story’s end, the Hinkle character walks away, suffers no consequences for his behavior and basically tells Robinson to get in touch when/if the writer gets his shit together and starts writing. By this time, I wasn’t expecting a satisfying ending.

The only redeeming quality of Airboy is Hinkle’s art. As Robinson states in dialogue, it’s different and fresh. It is grounded in the real world, but can still deliver action sequences when the story requires it. I liked the art a lot and hope to see more from Hinkle in the future.

Airboy crashes and burns without ever lifting off from the runway. Definitely not recommended.

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There are a few gems to be found in Marvel’s Secret Wars debacle. Secret Wars: Agents of Atlas #1 by writer Tom Taylor, artist Steve  Pugh and color artist Tamra Bonvillain is one of them. It’s a done-in-one story set in one of the many domains created by the now-God-like Doctor Doom. This particular domain is ruled by Baron Zemo and his Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Standing against them are Jimmy Woo, Gorilla-Man, Namora, Marvel Boy, the robot M-11, Venus and secret ally Phil Coulson. The one-shot has action, drama and more than one grim surprise. Best of all, it has a satisfying ending, a welcome relief from the stories that never reach a conclusion. Track down this issue in the back-issue bins. It’s worth the hunt.

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Just prior to Secret Wars, most Marvel titles had one or more “Last Days” issues. Some of these were quite poignant. In Ant-Man: Last Days, Scott Lang learns the world is ending, but is unable to see his daughter. Despondent, he ends up spending his last day with a group of rejuvenated super-heroes of the 1940s and his last night with the new female Beetle. A hero sleeping with a villain is most often sordid, but writer Nick Spencer actually made it kind of sort of life-affirming. With art by Ramon Rosanas and colors by Jordan Boyd, this was a satisfying done-in-one story.

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Aquaman #40 [May 2015] wrapped up the six-issue “Maelstrom” story arc by Jeff Parker and Paul Pelletier. It ended with Aquaman having emerged victorious with a big heroic closing panel of Mera with her arm about him and on an optimistic note. As you should know by now, I love that kind of ending.

Aquaman #41 comes around with a new writer and a new artist and in the middle of yet another depressingly grim tale. Aquaman is being hunted by his own people. He has been overthrown by someone that he thinks is Mera. He ends up sleeping with that someone he thinks is Mera and she turns out to be Mera’s evil sister. This has gone on for six issues with no end in sight. Yawn.

In a world where I am in control of DC or Marvel, I would mandate that the heroes win more often, that the stories be at least partly optimistic and that, after a victory, the heroes get to have three or four months of stories that aren’t depressingly grim. Because if a comics writer can’t tell such stories and make them dramatic and entertaining, he’s not much of a writer.

*mic drop*

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #139

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Amazing Spider-Man, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man 2099, Spider-Woman and Web Warriors!

WHAT I'M READING

I read a lot of stuff every day/week/month/year. With some of the things I read, I read them a chapter or story at a time while also reading other. I like the variety of this method.

Here what I’m currently reading...

Ellison Wonderland by Harlan Ellison. Published by Edgeworks Abbey and PS Publishing, this is the “52nd Anniversary, 9th Edition” of the legendary collection of tales, “using only revised, updated and preferred texts and the very best butter.” It’s part of a special deluxe signed edition limited to 200 copies with a second thinner book - Pebbles from the Mountain - included in a spiffy slipcase. This ninth edition has a new forward by J. Michael Straczynski, the original Ellison introduction from 1974/1978, a new introduction, and an afterword by Josh Olson. I’ll be reading this set well into next month.

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Komomo Confiserie Vol. 2 by Maki Minami. This shojo manga about a rich girl cast into poverty and working for the son of one of her former household staff started out cruel and has become much more layered and positive in this second book.

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Garfield Volume 1. Written by Mark Evanier with art by Gary Barker, Dan Davis and Mike DeCarlo, this softcover collects the first four issues of the comic book published by Kaboom!, which is an imprint of Boom! Studios. Having read and greatly enjoyed random issues of the comic book, I splurged and bought all the volumes published to date. I’m happy with that decision.

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The New Yorker. I ordered a test subscription to this magazine to make it easier to post links to Andy Borowitz’s satirical columns on my Facebook page. Then I started reading the magazine. This will surprise folks who know of my dislike for New York City, but I look forward to this weekly publication. Not everything in a given issue will interest me, but no issue goes by without my finding myself interested in some subject that I never thought I’d be interested in. I renewed my subscription for a full year.

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Every year I swear I’ve read my last edition of The Best American Comics, an anthology historically dismissive of mainstream comics. Every year I end up getting a copy of the new edition from my local library system. Every year I’m disappointed and sometimes angered by the editorial choices. Then the vicious cycle repeats

I’m about a hundred pages into The Best American Comics 2015. Guest editor Jonathan Lethem has already made dismissive comments about mainstream comics, but has earned a reprieve from my wrath because his introductions to the overall book and its individual chapters are in comics form drawn by him. Some of this year’s stories and excerpts are choices I agree with. Some others have me shaking my head and exclaiming “Really?” in a sarcastic tone. Maybe this will be the year I break the vicious cycle one way or another.

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The past few days, the mainstream comic books I’ve been reading are mostly from Marvel. I’m working my way through various Secret Wars series and, on rare occasion, finding something I like. I am also enjoying the final issues of the pre-Secret Wars issues of Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael Allred.

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I’m reading the third double volume hardcover of Emma, a historical romance manga by Kaoru Mori. Wikipedia describes this series thus:

Set in Victorian London at the end of the 19th century, Emma is the story of a maid who falls in love with a member of the gentry. However, the young man's family disapproves of him associating with people of the lower classes.

Emma is a wonderful character. The overall stories are complicated with a large cast of characters who are difficult to keep track of, but the books are filled with compelling drama and a real feel for the era. There are enough of life’s little victories to keep hope alive no matter what forces act to keep Emma and the man she loves apart. The art is stunningly beautiful.

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Boy Commandos by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby Volume Two reprints over two-dozen stories originally published in Detective Comics, World’s Finest and Boy Commandos in 1943 and 1944. After Captain America, Rip Carter and his young warriors were Simon and Kirby’s biggest success. At DC Comics, only Superman and Batman sold better. It’s easy to see why when you read these stories. They are packed with action, heroism and humor. Some stories will make you chuckle out loud, others will make you shed a tear. These are comics completely of their time and a window into their World War II past.

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Last but by no means least, I’m slowly savoring Peanuts: A Tribute to Charles M. Schulz in which over forty artist show their love for the great cartoonist and his work. The variety is breathtaking. I’m about forty pages in and loving every one of them.

That’s what I’m reading. How about you? 

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME

When I get older, losing my hair,
many years from now
Will you still be sending me a valentine,
birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
If I'd been out 'til quarter to three,
would you lock the door?
Will you still need me,
will you still feed me,
when I'm sixty-four?


Reaching 64 years of age is a milestone, mostly because it’s one of the few ages mentioned in a Beatles song. Also, I never thought all that much about my age when I was “just seventeen.” But, now, like the guy in the song quoted above, I have many questions about the age I have attained and the circumstances in which I find myself.

Will the wonders of this world in which I live, a world filled with natural beauty, decent people and continued promise survive all the terrible things done to it by people who are not decent, by people who are driven by religious zealotry, by their lust for even greater power and wealth than they currently possess, by people guided by bigotry and fear?

Will my country, which, tragically, has its share of those terrible people, turn its back on the ideals and promise of America and cede control to the deceitful and arguably insane right-wing servants of the wealthiest and most powerful monsters in our land?

Will those who live in paranoid, unreasoning fear that Sharia Law will reign in America ever realize their desire for laws based on their own religion is cut from the same cloth?

Will we be less than the Americans we must be, the Americans many people around the world see as our planet’s best hope for life and liberty, peace and happiness?

On more personal notes...

How will Sainted Wife Barb and I deal with a looming “new normal” for our lives? After over a quarter-century with first Kaiser and, more recently, the company (Healthspan) that bought Kaiser's Ohio operations, Barb’s job and, indeed, all Healthspan medical services here, will be concluded by or around the end of March 2016. We’re in good shape even if Barb doesn’t find another full-time job - which isn’t a certainty for a 59-years old pharmacist and manager no matter how glowing her resume and how just plain great she has always been at her job - but we are quite naturally nervous about what our lives will be like in the near future and beyond.

Will our adult children continue to succeed and thrive in the years to come? Will we be able to be there for them?

Will I have the health and strength to do all the things I want to do? All the things I must do?

Will I still be able to connect with an audience in the future and will I still have the opportunities to do so?

What will be my life be like when I am 64 and 65 and so on?

Isn’t this the worst birthday celebration ever?

All grimness aside, though I may have concerns about my future and that of the world, I am a reasonably happy man.

I have Barb, Eddie and Kelly. I have a cat who sometimes seems to like me. We live in a nice home in a nice neighborhood with great neighbors. We have friends we love and who love us.

I have written many things of which I am very proud and which have entertained a great many readers. It looks like I will continue to have the opportunities to write many more things of which I can be proud and which will, hopefully, entertain a great many readers in the years to come.

I have many things I still want to write. I have many things I still want to do. Even when the bad stuff in this world gets me down, I take heart from all of those things I want to write and do. They mean I can envision a future.

I am still in a position to help people less fortunate than myself. Maybe not to the extent I would like to help people, but I always hope that will change for the better.

So, yeah, happy birthday to me...and, if the universe is kind, many more good years of joy, creativity and success to come.

Thanks for all your good wishes on this day.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.  

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Sunday, December 20, 2015

ALL YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE FORCE AWAKENS

Star Wars is back! This is the best Star Wars movie since the first one and I can’t wait for the next one.

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

DONT' BE A CHRISTMAS ASSHOLE

Let me preface this by admitting I’m arguably a Christmas asshole. For one thing, just a few days before Christmas, here I am calling other people assholes. For another, I should have posted these sage words of wisdom a week ago.

The inspiration for this seasonal bloggy thing was my standing in a long line at the local post office where I was mailing books to a friend of mine. It was Monday, December 14, and I knew that there would be a long line. Because, you know, Christmas.

Whenever I’m in a long line at the post office at this time of the year, I can count on two things happening. The first will be that someone in line will proclaim that day is the busiest shipping day of the year. I have no idea if that particular day was, indeed, the busiest shipping day of the year. I hear this claim every time I’m in a long line at the post office around Christmas. They can’t all be the busiest shipping day of the year. That’s just simple logic.

Proclaiming it’s the busiest shipping day of the year as you stand in that long line at the post office does not make you a Christmas asshole. People like to believe they are part of anything even the least bit special. If this makes your time in that long time pass a little more pleasantly, I’m happy for you.

What does make you a Christmas asshole is if, while standing in the long line, you complain loudly about the post office and especially the hard-working postal clerks behind the counter. They work hard  on not just this particular busiest shipping day of the year, but on all of the other busiest shipping days of the year. Which would be almost every day in after Thanksgiving.

Did you not expect to find a long line at the post office? Have you never mailed anything at this time of year? Do you think you will make the lines move faster by complaining about them and insulting the people trying to serve all the postal customers as quickly as humanly and electronically possible? Depending on how you answered the above questions, you may be a Christmas asshole.

Let me amend that. If you complain about my hard-working friends at the Medina post office, you are an asshole. No question about it.

Here are some other simple signs that you might well be a Christmas asshole. Pay attention closely.

If you get angry because someone says “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays” or vice versa, you are a Christmas asshole. Either one is an expression of good will and it should be taken as such. Neither is a salvo in the War Against Christmas or the War Against Non-Christians. It’s just good will. Give it a chance.

If a Nativity display on public land makes you angry, you might be a Christmas asshole. You only get to be angry if the powers that be don’t allow your own holiday display.

If you think only your religion should be allowed the use of public land, you are most definitely a Christmas asshole. We do not have a official state religion in this country. We should never have an official state religion in this country and, by the way, if you’re supporting candidates who do think Christianity or any other faith should be the law of the land, you’re one of the biggest Christmas assholes in history.

If your Christmas card photo shows your family - even the toddlers - holding guns and other firearms, you are a Christmas asshole and shouldn’t be allowed to own guns and other firearms. Because you’re not just a Christmas asshole, you’re endangering your children and you’re a menace to society.

If you are the family member who brings up politics during family holiday gatherings, you’re a Christmas asshole. That’s much worse than hitting on your hot cousin.

There are many other ways you can be an asshole, but these are some situations specific to being a Christmas asshole. Which, I think we can all agree, would be a bad thing.

Merry Christmas AND Happy Holidays, my friends.   

I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Monday, December 14, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #138

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Over a thousand pages of Stan Sakai goodness in Usagi Yojimbo: The Special Edition, Invisible Ink: My Mother’s Secret Love with a Famous Cartoonist by Bill Griffith and Minimum Wage Book One: Focus on the Strange by Bob Fingerman.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

THE STRANGE WORLD OF MY DREAMS

Scott Edelman, one of my Marvel Bullpen buddy of the 1970s, has a great blog where he discusses writing, life, food and restaurants and much more. Once a month, he also posts a list of dreams he had the previous month. Dreams like...

I dreamt I discovered my Dad had been in movie musicals with Lucille Ball, and when I asked Mom why no one ever told me … she shrugged. Nov 18

And...

I dreamt I visited Harlan Ellison and we ended up singing tunes from Broadway shows, which was fun, only — I don’t remember which songs! Nov 4

Inspired by Scott’s keeping track of all his dreams, but much less committed to writing down all of mine, I do keep a pad of paper on my night stand. When I wake up from a particularly weird dream and remember it well enough to jot down a few notes, I save said notes for use in the occasional bloggy thing feature I call...The Strange World of My Dreams.

My dreams tend to be fairly involved. I usually can’t sum them up in a line or two. Sometimes, they play out like complete stories. Other times, they seem like springboards for stories I should write someday. This one is more of the latter.

The night of December 5:

I’m in a hovercraft that looks like a big van. Indeed, it’s known as a Battle Van and is the chief operation vehicle for the American Food Protection Agency, a quasi-military government agency formed to protect our nation’s farms from radical Christian terrorists who  believe famine will speed the coming of the Second Coming. This is a serious thing in the world of this dream.

Piloting the Battle Van is Niecy Nash, who played Denise Hemphill on Scream Queens. Hearing the call of President Bernie Sanders, she gave up her acting career to join the AFPA. She was one of dozens of entertainers who did this, including George Clooney and Britney Spears.

I’m Niecy’s partner. I’m a Story Consultant. Government studies had shown that classic comic-book writers of the 1960s and 1970s were best suited to devise clever solutions to any situations that might arise when terrorists attack. We’re in radio communication with a second Battle Van. I don’t know who was piloting the second Battle Van, but Roy Thomas was that unit’s consultant.

Assisting each team is a computer network programmed with all the stories of even more classic comic-book writers like Bill Finger, Gardner Fox and Otto Binder. Between the living consultants and the story databank, the Battle Vans are ready to combat the terrorists,  device clever escape plans when necessary and follow clues to the hideouts of the terrorists.

Our uniforms look like the Jack Kirby-drawn uniforms from Harvey’s The Three Rocketeers. We look damn fine in them.

What I remember from the dream is all background and not an actual mission or story. However, as I’m sharing these background details with you, there’s a part of me that wants to write an American Food Protection Agency graphic novel.

This has been a visit to...The Strange World of My Dreams.

That’s all for now, my friends. Hug your loved ones and keep them close. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

Friday, December 11, 2015

MANSQUITO REDUX

When I requested a movie called Mosquito Man from my local library, I thought it sounded familiar. When I picked up the DVD, I realized why. Mosquito Man was actually Mansquito, a movie I had seen on the Sci-Fi Channel in 2005. Not only I had seen it, but I reviewed it shortly after its debut and, in answer to a bloggy thing reader’s request, reprinted that review here in early 2013. In an attempt to justify my watching “Mosquito Man” this week, here’s what I wrote about the movie previously, followed by some additional comments on my most recent viewing of the film.

From 2005 and 2013...

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My reviews of cheesy monster movies have proven very popular among my bloggy thing readers.  When I reviewed Spiders and mentioned the lead actress also appeared in Mansquito, Ty Kieth insisted I review the film.  Feeling a sudden deja vu, I checked my “Tony’s Online Tips” archives and found I had already reviewed Mansquito way back on March 24. 2005.  Here’s what I wrote...

"Hey, Mansquito! Take this!"

...says the police detective with the unkempt hair as he sends an armor-piecing bullet into oxygen tanks at a hospital savaged by the blood-sucking title star of this 2005 sci-fi movie. It would probably be impolite of me to mention this early in my review that only *female* mosquitos suck blood.

SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
SPOILERS AHEAD
 
 Mansquito [2005] made its debut on the Sci-Fi Channel earlier this month. The set-up goes like this:

Deadly virus carried by mosquitos. Scientists - including the principled heroine played by Musetta Vander - try to find a cure by manipulating the DNA of other mosquitos. Typically callous head of research lab gets a mass murderer sprung from death row to test the serum on, this without the knowledge of the heroine. Oh, yeah, her detective boyfriend is the one who busted the murderer.

Murderer escapes in lab. Kills guards and heroine's assistant before some sort of nuclear rotisserie blows up. Murderer catches the worst of it and changes quickly into...Mansquito! Heroine gets smaller dose and starts changing slowly.

The creature suit isn't bad and there is some creepy fun to be had at first. Near the movie's end, director Tibor Takacs goes too heavy on the gore; heads and limbs go rolling all over the hospital where the heroine is being cared for.

The hair of Corin Nemac - he plays the detective - has a life of its own with a clump of it constantly falling over his forehead. I guess he had to do something to get noticed. That Mansquito is such a scene-stealer.

The funniest moment in the movie - and you can only watch this movie for laughs - is when I realized where I'd seen Vander before. She played the mantis-lady on the first-season episode of
Buffy the Vampire Slayer wherein Xander Harris nearly got eaten. Is this not the worst possible typecasting? To be the actress directors think of when someone turns into a giant bug?

I was going to give away the ending, but, what the heck, this stupid movie is actually worth seeing just for the fun you can have making sport of it. If I rated it on any other basis, it wouldn't get more than one Tony (for the creature suit). But, as your very own Mystery Science Theater 3000 home game, I give it a respectable three Tonys. Hey, Mansquito!


Back then, I was still rating comics and other items on a scale of zero to five Tonys.  I don’t do that anymore.

There’s something I should make clear since it’s obvious I will be reviewing more cheesy monster movies in future bloggy things.  Yes, I make mockery of many of these films.  But I mock them with love in my heart.  Cheesy monster movies are one of the great pleasures of my life and I like to share them with you.

Though I may disparage their works, I have nothing but love for the makers of these movies.  They are the heroes of their small budgets who do remarkable things with what little money they have, filming scripts that aren’t exactly Shakespeare.  Most of them are just as sincere in their love of these kinds of movies as I am.  They are brothers from another probably monstrous mother.

Though I’m not a big fan of Facebook groups, I recently requested membership in and was accepted by the Fans of SyFy Original Movies group.  There’s all sorts of news and lots of love for the movies on that page and I’m enjoying the heck out of it.  I recommend it to all of you who enjoy my monster movie reviews.

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Some additional 2015 notes and thoughts...

Mansquito was directed by Hungarian-born Tibor Takács whose later films include Kraken: Tentacles of the Deep (2006), Ice Spiders (2007), Mega Snake (2007), NYC: Tornado Terror (2008), Meteor Storm (2010) and Spiders (2013). I was a little hard on him back in 2005. His movies are fun.

The movie credits four writers, which seems like three more writers than you need for a film like this. They were...

Kenneth M. Badish (story, (as Ken Badish)
Ray Cannella (story)
Boaz Davidson (story)
Michael Hurst (screenplay)

...and they all have other writing, directing and producing credits for movies of this sort. Solid professionals.

Corin Nemec would become a favorite of mine before long. He really brings it to sci-fi monster movies and I always look forward to a film where I see he’s in it.

I haven’t seen much of Musetta Vander in recent years, which is a disappointment. She’s a fine actress, strikingly beautiful without looking all Hollywood. I would cast her as the capable heroine of a movie like this in a heartbeat.

The creature effects are as nice as I remember them. Overall, the film holds up and was worth watching a second time. Maybe the now-renamed Syfy Channel should bring Mansquito back for a “Legion of Monsters” reunion movie. I’d watch that.

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I’ll be working hard in these weeks before Christmas, posting these new bloggy things as fast as I finish them in an effort to make up for the days I missed. It won’t be unusual for me to post more than one column in a single day...and there’s lots of good stuff on my list of possible topics. Keep watching this space.

That’s all for now, my friends. Hug your loved ones and keep them close. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella

I READ EVEN MORE COMIC BOOKS

I like to think I become wiser and more forgiving as I get older, but there’s a slim possibility that’s a crock of shit. However, I am striving not to take what has been done and will be done to old favorites personally. Some readers, maybe even most readers, enjoy some comic books more than I do. They have their own ideas on what they like in a character or a title. As Don Thompson, my late and always missed mentor, used to say “If you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this.” Words to live and review by.

DC’s Grayson [$3.99] is not a title I enjoy. The title star is the former Robin/Nightwing. His identity was exposed to the world and he was thought dead. He has infiltrated a spy organization called Spyral and is that nefarious group’s Agent 37. He’s still working for Batman, even though Batman isn’t Batman these days. We won’t go into Batman’s present circumstances today.

Grayson #14 is the only issue of the title I have ever bought and I bought it for the Looney Tunes variant cover by Mikel Janin and Spike Brandt. I love this variant cover. It’s the main reason I’m  writing about Grayson in this bloggy thing.

Dick Grayson has reportedly been under fire for nearly a decade and rumors of his impending demise were all the online rage with fans of the character sorely miffed at what they perceived as DC’s lack of love for Nightwing. I can see where DC might have a problem with Grayson. Logically, Dick must be pushing 30 and that means company cash cow Batman must be pushing 50. As a reader who is facing his 64th birthday in a couple weeks - Will you still need me, will you still feed me? - that doesn’t bother me.

What does bothers me is that Dick Grayson, a grown-ass man who has proven himself time and time again, is still answering “how high” when Batman tells him to jump. Granted, he’s one of several grown-ass men and women who do the same, but, after a time, that routine became tiresome to me. Except in the case of Black Lightning, this doesn’t offend me per se. I just don’t find it interesting. I would like to see Grayson be his own man. But, if you like that sort of thing, you’ll like this.

Sidebar. Though I don’t buy Grayson or, for that matter, too many mainstream super-hero comic books, the genre still remains one of my favorites. I have a friend who does buy a great many super-hero comics and he loans me his copies so I can keep up with the titles and, on occasion, when I think I have something interesting to say about them, write about them. I might not enjoy some or even many of those titles, but I will never disparage the genre as a whole. I love super-hero comics, even if I don’t love all of the current incarnations of some of my old favorites.

Sidebar the second. I also strive not to be one of those cranky old fans who proudly proclaims that he wouldn’t wipe his ass on super-hero comics published after the 1960s or the 1970s or the 1980s or whenever he was toilet-trained. Maybe that next different take on the Astonishing Sponge-Man will thrill me anew. But I’ll never get the chance to discover that renewed thrill if I refuse to give the new Sponge-Man a chance to win me over.

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Eerie Archives Volume Twenty [Dark Horse; $49.95] reprints issues #95-99 in a magazine-size hardcover collection. This is a terrific looking book, but, alas, by this time in the title’s history (1978-1979), I found it difficult to read each new issue.

The stories were wordy and not in an “Alan Moore is an incredible writer” kind of way. I never warmed up to The Rook and that strip is in every issue. The art is mostly by Spanish artists who, though many could draw beautifully, were sub-standard storytellers. If all I want is pretty pictures, I’ll go to a art museum.

Some of the stories read like they were written long after they had been drawn. They read like the American scripters were given pages of somewhat connected art and asked to make up a story to go with it. Some of the attempts get an “E” for “effort,” but none of these stories win even a small prize.

There are some good stories. “Harrow House” is a decent surprise-ending tale which was unfortunately broken into two halves and run in issues #95 and #99. It was written by Bruce Jones and drawn by Jose Ortiz. I also enjoyed Jim Steinstrum’s “Willie’s Super-Magic Basketball” with art by Carmine Infantino and Rudy Nebres. Comics historians might also find some value in Joe Brancatelli’s biased and tedious “The Comic Books” columns.

These later Eerie Archives collections are for Warren Publications enthusiasts. You could get very good copies of the original issues in this book for less than the cost of this reprint volume. If you really like the material and the hardcover format, then I suspect you’ll be okay with the $49.99 price tag.

ISBN 978-1-61655-850-5 

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I’ve been extremely critical of Marvel’s recent Secret Wars event.I haven’t cared for the main, as-yet-uncompleted series. I haven’t cared for most of the countless tie-in series. Okay, I suppose you could count them, but that would be as boring as actually reading them. There has been a sameness to these spin-off titles, even when they are written and drawn by talented creators. Still, one of the series did kind of sort of tickle my fancy.

The four-issue 1872 speaks to my love of the Marvel westerns of the 1960s, even though it doesn’t feature any of those cowboy heroes. Written by Gerry Duggan with art by Nik Virella and colors by Lee Loughridge, this series is set in a secluded Old West town filled with versions of such Marvel mainstays as Steve Rogers, Tony Stark, Bruce Banner, Wilson Fisk, Natasha Barnes, and others. It’s a town under the thumb of Mayor Fisk who, in turn, of the Roxxon Company. While not as breezy as the Marvel western comics of the 1960s, it is a solid story of good guys and bad guys and some folks finding their way to one side or the other. There are some shocks along the way and, most importantly, a satisfying ending. These four issues tell a complete story, something the majority of the other Secret Wars spin-offs failed to accomplish.

This series has been collected in a just-released trade paperback with some additional reprints from Avengers #80 and Marvel Comics Presents #180. At $15.99, it’s an affordable gift for your Marvel Comics reading friends or yourself. I recommend it.

ISBN 978-0-7851-9877-2

That’s all for now, my friends. Hug your loved ones and keep them close. I’ll be back soon with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella




Wednesday, December 9, 2015

TONY'S TIPS #137

This week in TONY'S TIPS at Tales of Wonder...Derf Backderf's Trashed, Rocky and Bullwinkle Classics, and Rick Geary's Louise Brooks Detective!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

BEHIND

Sing it with me...

"It's the most frustrating time of the year."

I'm falling behind on multiple fronts during this holiday season. I'm talking business and financial meetings. I'm talking minor household and medical issues. I'm talking columns and interviews and other things I must do. And all of that is in addition to the usual holiday stuff. Something had to give. Or, at least, it would if I were remotely sane. But I think we all know that sled launched a long time ago.

I'm not skipping any bloggy things. They may not post on the exact date they are intended for, but they won't be skipped. Eventually, says the foolish dreamer in me, I might post two bloggy things in the same day and catch up on my daily schedule. We shall see.

The same holds true for my Facebook page. I'll still be posting all the birthday greetings, historical facts and remembrances I usually post. They might be spread out over the course of the day, but I will get to them.

Those interviews I promised people? I will make them happen.

My convention schedule for next year? Also on my "do or die" list.

Let the desperate adventure commence!

Tony Isabella

Monday, December 7, 2015

I WATCH MORE MOVIES

Yesterday, I wrote about five of the nine movies I saw in November. Today, before I get to the remaining four films, I want to discuss the movie I watched last night.

The Internet Movie Database categorizes Stung [2015] as comedy and horror, but I think folks have been getting a bit loose with that designation. Just because a horror movie might have a few laughs, that doesn’t make it a comedy. Here’s the IMDb summary:

A fancy garden party turns into upper class prey when a colony of killer wasps mutates into seven foot tall predators.

While some of the mutant bugs might be seven feet tall and one is considerably larger, most are not that big. The largest one changes its size depending on what the script requires. Such is the way of the CGI monster.

Stung is the first full-length movie for director Benni Diez whose previous directing gigs have been shorts. It’s also a first credit for writer Adam Aresty. They did well.

Though there are lots of cast members/victims at the garden party, there are only four main characters. For Julia [Jessica Cook], who has just started a party business, this event is her potential big break. Bartender Paul [Matt O'Leary] works for her and has a thing for her. She has a thing for him as well, but does her best to hide it. Sydney [Clifton Collins Jr.] is a creepy little man under the thumb of his rich mother and whose mommy issues play a role in the film. Lance Henriksen delivers his typical brilliant performance as the mayor of this small town. If I were making a monster movie, I would cast him in a millisecond.

The mutant bugs make their presence known early on in the movie and bloody mayhem ensues. In a remarkably short time, we’re down to the four main characters. That’s when the movie really gets scary and suspenseful as, trapped in a wine cellar, the four try to escape. The chills don’t stop until the movie ends.

Diez and Aresty (who came up with the idea for this movie working as a caterer at a wasp-infested party) did a lot with a reportedly meager budget. Most of the reviews I’ve seen read like damning with faint praise, comparing it to other low-budget creature features. A pox on those reviewers. This is a solid thriller that deserves my respect and yours. Watch it as soon as you can.

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Wikipedia describes Avenged [2013] as a “Redsploitation film” and, though that never really struck me as a thing before this, I do see where it might fit. Such movies (Billy Jack, for one) are generally about Native Americans seeking revenge on their white tormentors. The tormentors in this movie are well deserving of getting a giant load of vengeance dumped on their racist heads. Here’s the summary from IMDb:

A deaf girl is brutalized by a murderous gang who are then hunted by her when the bloodthirsty spirit of an Apache warrior inhabits her lifeless body.

Directed and written by Michael S. Ojeda with additional dialogue by Deon van Rooyen, Avenged is a brutal film that starts horrifying  viewers early on. Zoe [played by Amanda Adrienne Smith] is a real sweetheart, determined not to let her deafness take away her love of life or independence. The love between her and boyfriend Trey [Rodney Rowland] is genuine. When cruel fate puts Zoe in the path of a family of stone killers, I was horrified by their assaults on her. If it’s possible to hate movie characters, I hated these men and wanted them to come to the worst possible ends. I’ll stop there to avoid having to post any spoiler warnings.

Avenged is a hard movie to watch, but impossible to forget. This is no comment on its quality - I think it’s a very good movie - but I don’t think I could watch it again. However, if you have the stomach for films like this, I would recommend you watch it. Once.

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Pumpkinhead II: Blood Wings [1994] is a direct-to-video sequel to the first Pumpkinhead movie, but its relationship to that movie is not a strong one. It does have the same title monster seeking vengeance on humans who did wrong. It has a blind old witch who doesn’t seem to be the same blind old witch from the original. It has what looks to me like a newer Pumpkinhead costume but one without the gritty charm of the original. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Thrill-seeking teenagers resurrect a demon from his grave and a bloody rampage for revenge begins.

This Pumpkinhead is powered by the spirit of a deformed orphan boy who was murdered by teenage bullies now grown into adults. The old witch had cared for the boy while he was alive. When she is caught in a fire accidentally set by the thrill-seeking teens, Pumpkinhead goes after both those teens and the men who killed the orphan whose spirit controls the creature.

Pumpkinhead II was directed by Jeff Burr, who hails from my state of Ohio. He has many horror movies to his name. It was written by Constantine Chachornia and Ivan Chachornia with additional dialogue and material by Andrew Osborne and an uncredited Will Huston. Too many writers...

Acclaim did not fall on this movie. Rotten Tomatoes has it at 14%  on its tomatometer. I think the film is better than that low score suggests. There are decent performances from several cast members. There’s a decent back story involving the orphan boy and the town’s new sheriff, whose troubled but basically innocent daughter is one of those thrill-seeking teenagers whose actions launch the horror and murder. Okay, it also has Roger Clinton (brother of Bill) in a silly role that shows how much the younger Clinton was not a good actor, but he’s not on screen long.

This is the kind of movie you watch when you have 88 minutes or so to kill. I liked Andrew Robinson and Ami Dolenz as the sheriff and his daughter. Steve Kanaly was appropriately heinous as a crooked judge. Gloria Hendry as the town doctor and Linnea Quigley as the town women-of-ill-repute were fun. It’s far from a classic, but it is entertainingly watchable. Give it a shot.

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I finally got to see Sleepaway Camp [1983] in its entirety. I had seen heavily-edited bits and pieces of it on TV, but wanted to see it in its original version. Having now done that, I have very mixed feelings about the film. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Angela Baker, a traumatized and very shy young girl, is sent to summer camp with her cousin. Shortly after her arrival, anyone with sinister or less than honorable intentions gets their comeuppance.

Sleepaway Camp was directed and written by Robert Hiltzik. He has a very brief resume consisting almost solely of directing, writing and producing Sleepaway Camp and its sequels.

Sleepaway Camp is sort of a touchstone summer camp horror film with the usual horny and cruel camp counselors, a sketchy camp owner, a pedophile, coworkers who sort of chuckle about the pedophile, lots of gruesome murders, and, of course, the shy Angela [played by Felissa Rose]. It also has an off-the-wall performance by Desiree Gould as Angela’s aunt and adoptive mother. My eyes went wide and the movie seemed to freeze whenever Gould was on screen. It’s as if she were a human pause button.

The various deaths, not all of them the work of “the” killer, are not particularly gory. There are some shocking incidents of mental and physical child abuse. The shocking final scene, which I won’t reveal on the off-chance you might not know it, is abrupt, clumsy and poorly lit. The movie runs but 84 minutes, but it seems padded to me. I think it’s one of those films horror movie fans almost have to see, but it’s really only so-so.

Amazingly, I saw some bits and pieces of the sequels while channel-surfing past Chiller TV. As a result, I have requested those films from my local library. They look more fun than the original. Maybe not better, but more fun.

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My final November movie was 10.0 Earthquake [2014]. Here’s the IMDb summary:

Los Angeles is about to be hit by a devastating earthquake and time is running out to save the city from imminent danger.

You’ve never heard that one before, right?

Directed by David Gidali, the movie has pretty much all the usual disaster movie tropes. There’s the scientist and estranged husband who comes together with his wife and daughter to get them all out alive. There’s the greedy energy-baron who ignores safe concerns in his quest for wealth and power. There’s the spunky young scientist whose first day on the job is one hell of a lot more of a disaster than most first days on the job. There’s the crazed scientist who never met a conspiracy theory he didn’t embrace. Convincing special effects? Not so much.

Written by Alex Greenfield and Nancy Leopardi with J. Greg Abbott providing additional dialogue, 10.0 Earthquake does have a pretty good cast - led by Henry Ian Cusick and Jeffrey Jones - that makes it a not entirely unpleasant way to spend an hour-and-a-half. It’s not a movie you should go out of your way to watch - leave that to trained professional psychos like me - but, if it falls into your lap or shows up on TV, and if you don’t have anything better to do at the moment, give it a whirl.

That’s all for today, my friends. Hug your loved ones and keep them close. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella








Sunday, December 6, 2015

I WATCH MOVIES

In the month of November, I watched nine movies. All of them came from my local library or from area libraries connected to my local library through the Clevnet system.

The best of the bunch was The Final Girls [2015], a slasher horror-comedy written by M.A. Fortin and Joshua John Miller, and directed by Todd Strauss-Schulson. Miller is an actor. Strauss-Schulson was the director of A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas [2011]. Here’s the Internet Movie Database summary:

A young woman grieving the loss of her mother, a famous scream queen from the 1980s, finds herself pulled into the world of her mom's most famous movie. Reunited, the women must fight off the film's maniacal killer.

This is a clever film that respects the slasher movie genre as it pokes fun at it. Taissa Farmiga leads the very likeable cast as Max Cartwright whose mother Angela made her solitary claim to fame as Nancy, the most memorable victim of Camp Bloodbath. Angela is played by Malin Akerman. Joining Max in the world of the movie are best friend Gertie [Alia Shawkat], Gertie’s horror movie fanatic step-brother Duncan [Thomas Middleditch], Max’s crush Chris [Alexander Ludwig] and Vicki [Nina Dobrev], Chris’ ex-girlfriend and Max’s former best friend. These actors deliver good performances all around as their characters are forced to accept that they have, indeed, living in an old movie and are further challenged when they realized their presence has changed the movie’s plot...and not necessarily for the better.

The “final girl” of the title is the sole surviving cast member of movies like Camp Bloodbath. It’s a trope found in Halloween [1978] and many horror films, but upended in others. This movie plays with this classic trope in ways both comical and suspenseful. The result is a film that’s both a good horror movie and an often-hilarious comedy...a dichotomy it maintains brilliantly right to the end of the movie.

I love The Final Girls. It’s one of the best B-movies of the year and, as such, earns my highest recommendation.

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The worst of the movies was Hot Pursuit [2015]. Here’s the quickie summary from IMDb:

An uptight and by-the-book cop tries to protect the outgoing widow of a drug boss as they race through Texas pursued by crooked cops and murderous gunmen.

I got this from my library because it starred Reese Witherspoon and Sofía Vergara, two actors whose previous comedic performances have entertained me greatly. Not so in this movie.

Directed by Anne Fletcher from a screenplay by David Feeney and John Quaintance, what could have been an amusing combination of a female buddy movie and The Odd Couple failed miserably because the women played by the likeable Witherspoon and Vergara are thoroughly unlikeable. Witherspoon’s cop is so tightly wrapped around her rule book and her desire to live up to the legacy of her killed-in-the-line-of-duty hero cop father that she seems like she is channeling Barney Fife. Vergara’s widow is a treacherous diva, driven only by her greed and her desire for vengeance against the cartel boss who murdered her brother. Virtually every problem they encounter is of their own making and their escape from those dire circumstance can usually be chalked up to sheer dumb luck.

Not surprising given almost all of Feeney and Quaintance’s previous writing credits are for television sitcoms, Hot Pursuit feels like three episodes of a failed sitcom that a network was burning off to fill an hour-and-a-half while most of their viewers were watching some sporting event. Even if you’re watching it during Thanksgiving  weekend, as I did, avoid this turkey.

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Detention (2011) is a horror satire film directed and co-written by Joseph Kahn, whose previous credits were music videos for Britney Spears and others.  Mark Palermo is the other writer of this movie, Kahn financed most of the movie himself. Here’s the quickie summary from IMDb:

As a copycat killer named after movie villain Cinderhella stalks the student body at Grizzly Lake High School, a group of students band together to survive while serving detention.

This movie left me with mixed emotions. There’s some clever stuff in it, such as the names of the cast and crew members appearing on brand-name products and other items. Some of the humor works, some of it is forced. There are unexpected twists that made me giggle a little because of their audacity. Ron Jeremy has a bit part, which is always a mistake because he is always the creepiest thing in any movie in which he appears. Despite several good moments, Detention seems longer than its 93-minute running time.

The bottom line...Detention is one of those B-movies that is okay when you have a hour-and-a-half to kill and you’re not particular about how you kill it. But it’s not going to be a move you’ll watch a second time.

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Shockwave (2006), also known as A.I. Assault, marks the third time that director/co-writer Jay Andrews (a pseudonym for Jim Wynorski) has made the same movie. As faithful readers of this bloggy thing will recall, The Curse of the Komodo (2004) and Komodo vs. Cobra (2005), reviewed here on October 20, shared the same basic plot as describe in this IMDb summary:

When a plane carrying a pair of top secret military robots crashes on a deserted Pacific island, a team of Navy seals must find them and turn them off as soon as possible for the longer they are activated, the smarter they become.

Co-written by Bill Monroe, Shockwave replaces the giant creatures with giant war-machines that were pushed into testing before all of their bugs had been worked out. The murderous machines are hammers and all humans are the nails.

This made-for-TV movies boasts some familiar faces from other sci-fi movies and TV: Hudson Leick, Michael Dorn, Bill Mumy, Robert Picardo, George Takei and Tim Thomerson. Fresh from dying in those two komodo movies, Paul Logan, future star of Mega Piranha (2010), gets to die in this one, too.

Sad to say, the third time wasn’t the charm. The CGI war-machines are cluncky. The familiar plot elements - such as criminals holding up a casino and crash-landing on the island of the robots to face death with the Navy Seals and scientists - are wearing very thin in this third movie in as many years.

I don’t regret watching Shockwave once. How could I resist seeing how Wynorski - who usually makes much better movies - got a third film out of the same old plot? But I wouldn’t recommend this movie to anyone who wasn’t a big a Syfy Channel freak as I am.

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War of the Satellites (1958) was the oldest movie I watching last month. It was a low-budget quicky made by the great Roger Corman to exploit the national shock and media frenzy of the Russians getting into space first with the launch of their Sputnik satellite. Corman directed the movie, which was written by Irving Block, Lawrence L. Goldman and Jack Rabin. Here’s the IMDb summary:

An "unknown force" declares war against planet Earth when the United Nations disobeys warnings to cease and desist in its attempts at assembling the first satellite in the atmosphere.
 
Dick Miller leads the case, playing a dependably heroic scientist. Susan Cabot is the dependably beautiful scientist who he falls in love with it, though the romance angle is downplayed. Richard Devon is a dead scientist being impersonated by an alien saboteur who can split into two people ala Duo Damsel.

From concept to final product, the movie reportedly was good to go in eight weeks. The special effects may look comical, but I thought the acting and the suspense were above average. While the movie is not remotely a classic, I would consider it a basic touchstone of the post-Sputnik science-fiction movies of the 1950s. I’m happy I finally got to see after all these years.

That’s a wrap for today, my friends. Hug your loved ones and keep them close. I’ll be back tomorrow with more stuff.

© 2015 Tony Isabella