Search This Blog

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Stolen Valor: How the Vietnam Generation was Robbed of its Heroes and its History (History)

By B. G. Burkett & Glenna Whitley

Publisher: Verity Pr Inc. (September 1, 1998)

Hardcover 692 pages 

       “I saw this media distortion first hand. During an NVA attack of a nearby village, several South Vietnamese civilians suffered burns when the enemy torched their homes. The injured civilians were brought into our dispensary for medical treatment. Two reporters appeared at the main gate to do a story on how the Americans had ‘accidently napalmed’ the civilians. The village had not been napalmed. There had been no air strike. But the reporters had decided in advance what the story was. They wrote that the story had been napalmed.”
This powerful book describes the systematic stigmatization of the Vietnam veteran by the leftist anti-war movement with ties to communist elements and a lazy press intent on pushing an agenda rather than uncovering the truth. The term “fake news” has come into fashion lately and is bandied about by both the left and right- that is the manipulation of facts to push a political or social agenda. Little did we realize, as this book demonstrates, that the phenomenon of fake news has been going on in the mainstream media for as long as most of us has been alive.
For decades, various groups have been pushing the image of the Vietnam vet as a deranged loner, crippled with severe emotional trauma, unable to readjust back into the society that sent them into hell. However, as this book demonstrates over and over again, this is not the truth. Often these individuals who make claims of being involved in atrocities in Vietnam to reporters, or who show up at veteran’s events in old military gear, stinking of alcohol, are fakers. People who had never served in the military, were kicked out, or who never served in a combat zone. While many of them have mental issues, those conditions existed well before any military service.
The author of the book, while attempting to raise funding for a Vietnam memorial in Texas, kept running into obstacles with these fakes and the media portrayal of the Vet. Often one fed into the other. Reporters would ignore those who were adjusted and flocked to the deranged. Then the author began to look into the actual military history of the men who told the most outlandish stories and, almost universally, found that they were grossly exaggerating their experiences or were making them up completely.
Author B. G. Burkett

They had been allowed to get away with this for decades because the media were too lazy to check on these faker’s stories. Often they just reported whatever stumbled out of the “vets” mouth as absolute fact. When presented with evidence that they had been deceived, the media personality either would ignore it or became defensive and attacked whoever told them the truth. Learning that he always needed to have documentation, the author began systematically exposing phonies through their military records. The documentation in this book is fairly exhaustive, even if his stories of military frauds isn’t.
While every war has spawned its fakers, traditionally they have always revolved around fraudulent claims of valor in combat or fraud for veterans benefits. But it was the singular case of the Vietnam veteran that brought out the new type that of the PTSD faker, or the wounded vet fraud. One who would blame the war for why they couldn’t fit in with society. At first this was a mere trickle, but it quickly became a flood after the 1983 hit film First Blood and the introduction of its hero, John Rambo. After this, the victim hero became all the rage and the media was awash with mentally ill people describing false atrocity after atrocity and blaming “the war” or “the government” for their paranoid schizophrenia.
As we all know, PTSD is a real condition. It has been described in various terms throughout all history. The very first description of it comes from ancient Egypt. The Civil War named it Soldier’s Heart. World War I called it shell shock. Now we have a more clinical term, but, as any psychologist will tell you, it is a condition that is treatable and one from which 99% of soldiers recover. The fakers will nearly always claim it though, for attention, for benefits fraud, or to cover their other mental illnesses.
As these fakers made for a better story, the media (often without checking the faker’s stories). This then led to the reinforcement of the Vietnam Vet as psychotic time bomb, and attracted more loonies who wanted attention. This culminated in the CBS documentary The Wall Within by military wash-out Dan Rather. This film featured five “vets” that were unable to adjust back into American society after being forced to commit heinous rapes and murders of civilians by the U.S. Government. Several claimed to be special forces, or at least heavily involved in a combat arena. The author of this book filed various Freedom of Information Act requests and discovered that none of them had been deployed into combat zones in Vietnam. Several had never been in the military, others were nowhere near the fighting, a few had been enlisted after the conflict was over. Whether this was incompetence by the media, willful blindness, or a deliberate distortion is up for debate. However, no one can claim that it was fine journalism.
One of the most egregious examples of Stolen Valor Frank Dux, fake marine and fake "ninja" warrior. 

He continues to discuss the PTSD incidents, because he believes that it is used to push political agendas, the VA financial agenda (always need more money), the financial status of malingerers and fakers who can blame the failures of their entire lives on “the war”. He demonstrates here that while PTSD is a real thing, its effects should lessen over time, not increase. But if a person is receiving $2,500 a month from the government, tax free, because of PTSD related illnesses, where is the incentive to improve? If anything there is a negative incentive, it’s as if the government wants vets to be disabled… or at least pretend to.
Next to PTSD, the biggest fake claims comes from those who claim to have been infected with Agent Orange. The herbicide has been accused of causing everything from cancer to premature baldness, but no studies have linked it to anything except a skin rash if the dermis is exposed to it. The actual herbicide is a colorless liquid which causes leaves to shrivel up and die (not totally destroy the plant) whose purpose was to expose enemy troops hiding in the jungle. The trees would regrow their leaves within a week. It was called Orange, because the barrels containing it had an orange stripe down the side. So any stories from people claiming to be vets stating that they were covered in an orange mist is bogus.
Overall, it is difficult to contest that with the sheer number of fakers he uncovers, many of them picked up because their “incredible” stories are lauded in the media, there is a problem in the US. Whether it be sloppy journalism (as we are now all aware, the meticulous journalist is the rarity) or a ignorance by people how how to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain a person’s military record (DD-214).

Also included in the book are several appendices with the complete Department of Defense lists for those in Vietnam who have received the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Navy Cross, the Air Force Cross, and the names of all POWs in Vietnam who returned alive. Useful if you want to quickly check up on someone claiming to have won one of the highest military honors.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, February 26, 2018

William B. DuBay's The Rook Archives Vol. 2 (Superhero)

by William B. DuBay (writer), Luis Bermejo, Alex Nino, Abel Laxamana, & Jose Ortiz (illustrators) 

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (July 18, 2017)

Hardcover 152 pages

          Continuing on with the Rook stories which appeared in Eerie  magazine, we come to the second of three volumes. This book collects those tales which first appeared in Eerie 87 - 96 and Vampirella  70. Here, we have Restin Dane, “The Rook” and “Master of Time” continuing his bizarre journeys across space and time. At this point the time travel is optional as half of the stories in here take place during the “present” time of 1978.
          We have the first crossover hero team-up in Warren history, as The Rook meets Vampirella, the alien vampire from the planet Draculon (I kid you not, that is the name) who fights the powers of chaos that want to take over the world. Vampirella. She has just come back to Earth with a group of other aliens. Here the pair go on a violent adventure to destroy a monster that feeds on energy. Realizing that the monster has the power to destroy the world, they decide to go back in time to the Mesozoic era to prevent the creature from ever being deposited on the planet.

          The Western theme from the first stories are tossed aside and the stories become full on insane. We have aliens invading time, a six million year old man, robots rampaging, trips to the moon, and so on. The characters have really come into their own here. The writing is much stronger than the first volume, the writer is obviously surer now that the initial Western ideas have been used up, while the art remains strong- for the most part. The two exceptions being a flip story, where you have to turn the book on its side (which I always dislike) and the inking is off. The second is the story from Vampirella 70, which contains a continuity error (the two characters meet each other for the first time twice) and the art seems slapdash and hasty.

          The creator of the series and its titular character was William DuBay , not an immediately familiar name, but still an influential one behind the scenes. He cut his teeth on Warren publications writing stories for Eerie, Creepy, and Vampirella. The character was created at the insistence of publisher Jim Warren who wanted to create a new craze, so DuBay (along with Budd Lewis) wanted to work with the adventure western stories of yesteryear, but added a time travel spin so that there would be more scope to what the character could do- which is obviously true for anyone who’ve even glance through the book. After Warren folded, he went on to help found Marvel Productions (an animation studio) with Stan Lee, then moved over to Fox animation.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, February 22, 2018

W. B. DuBay's The Rook Archives Vol 1 (Superhero)

By W.B. Du Bay & Luis Bermejo

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (May 9, 2017)

Hardcover 128 pages

Finished 2/21/18

Amazon Listing

          How about reading a pseudo-western time traveling story set in the America of 1977 where they’ve developed sentient robots and one man cracked the mysteries of temporal relocation. Then throw in aliens and a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Sounds insane correct? Well… it is, but in a good way. Welcome to The Rook, culled from the anthology series Eerie originally published by Warren Publications, now being redistributed in giant tomes by Dark Horse. These reprint the stories that appeared in issues 82 -85 & 87, but none of the issues of the famous magazine of the same name and starring the same protagonist.
          The main character is Restin Dane, self-proclaimed Master of Time, who builds the Time Castle, a machine in the shape of a Rook chess piece-, which is how he acquired his nickname. Highly educated with multiple degrees, he goes back in time to save his great-great grandfather at the Alamo. Failing that he inadvertently transports a killer to threaten the life of his great grandfather. Then is transported to a possible future to see the wreckage that humans will make of the planet.

          Time travel in this universe is interesting. It seems that time is broken into fragments, which the Rook, is able to latch onto with his Time Castle. The fragment is then dragged to the Castle, it and any occupants can only stay in the fragment for a small period of time before being ejected. Then the Castle (which in a sense never actually moved) returns to its base. This sounds good, but then several characters move from era to era and are not ejected. A villain and two love interests. So the writing is inconsistent on this aspect.
          The art is superb. Charcoal with brush to make heavy contrasts of black and white give it a unique flair. It has a very 70s feel in a style that has gone out of fashion, but is due for a revival. The dialogue can be a bit stilted in places. Lots of exposition. A few plot points that don’t make sense. Some robots are killed in one episode and are melted into slag, but reappear without explanation in the next. A few elements, such as an alien lair in the old West, are introduced then quickly tossed. But these problems were fairly common with the Eerie recurring characters and this one held together better than most.

          I’m not sure if the series would fly so high today. Restin Dane is a typical of many of the men’s (or boy’s) adventure characters of the 60s and 70s. He is brilliant at everything he does, he overcomes most of his problems by violence, he is singularly determined with no doubts as to the rightness of his mission, and women all swoon to him. Apart from the time travel aspect, he’s really not much different from James Bond, Mack Bolan “The Executioner”, Remo Williams “The Destroyer”, and so on. It simply took those elements and added a fantastical setting to it.

          The series was so popular it was eventually spun off into its own magazine, the only one of Eerie’s recurring characters to make the leap. Though the series only lasted fourteen issues, it didn’t end due to bad sales, but because the company itself went bankrupt. While it was out, The Rook was the best selling title of the company. Now Dark Horse has reprinted them all (at reasonable rates) over three volumes, joining the ranks of the El Cid and Hunter, though my favorite stories from the magazine, Night of the Jackass, has yet to be reprinted. Now that’s a graphic novel I would snap up immediately.
The one I'm really looking for! 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, February 19, 2018

Grandville: Force Majeure (Graphic Novel)

By Brian Talbot

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (November 14 2017)

Hardcover 176 pages

          Continuing with my current theme of reading graphic novels of worlds filled with anthropomorphic animals we come to Grandville: Force Majeure, the fifth and, unfortunately, last book in the series. The author states that essentially each of the pages simply take too long to produce and five excellent books surrounding this character is nothing to be ashamed of. He further states that he feels the art and story are the strongest so far and has decided to go out while on top.
          For those who don’t know, the world of Grandville is an alternate history steampunk setting where Napoleon was not defeated at Waterloo and went on to dominate Europe. The only recent break in this was in England, which won its independence after many decades of guerrilla warfare. Grandville is a nickname for Paris which is the cultural, economic, and political center of the world. The various animals races are not commented upon and, like all such worlds, one simply has to accept them. The main character is Detective Inspector Archibald Le Brock, a badger from a working class background who has risen up the ranks through brilliance and determination. A violent Wind in the Willows.

          This is a very dense book. A lot of ins and outs, flashbacks, take backs, explanations in the old Sherlock Holmes style (re-read some of the original stories they often have large portions of Holmes explaining his actions from earlier in the story). This is fitting as we are introduced to Le Brock’s mentor, Hawksmoor (a Holmes analog) and are treated to more of the detective’s history. The action escalates with the release from prison of the gangster Cray, the brother of the man who murdered Le Brock’s wife. This starts an avalanche of murder and mayhem which leads to Le Brock having to match wits against the Napoleon of Crime in Grandville, master of all of the Paris gangs.  This one is not for the kids.
          Even better than the story is the incredible artwork. Full color and glossy, the detail given to each of the various animal species is incredible. The author doesn’t stick to the normal array of animals as do most who create such worlds. He has shellfish, crabs, slugs, badgers, an extraordinary number of different bird, lizard, dog types, and even a T-Rex. There are also a few nods to the anthropomorphized characters from other series about: Blacksad, Howard the Duck, The Bearenstein Bears, Donald Duck, and a few others that have slipped my memory.

          I’m going to miss this series. The dialog, the characters, the world in general, despite being all animal heads, felt very real. It takes a true master of storytelling to allow a reader to effortlessly look past the more bizarre elements of the story and become swept away in this fiction. He did before with Luther Arkwright and has succeeded again with Grandville. And with both the author always leaves me wanting more.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Spy Seal: The Corten-Steel Phoenix (Graphic Novel)

By Rich Tommaso 

Publisher: Image Comics (January 30, 2018). 

Softcover, 96 pages.  

          This is a fun book about a world with anthropomorphic animals in a Cold War setting. As you can guess, the main character is s seal who is inevitably drawn into a world of spies, codes, murder, and mayhem. Malcom, the seal, is recruited into MI-6 after preventing one assassination and accidentally causing the death of another agent. He is quickly trained and, still somewhat naive, goes on a European tour to track down what seems to be a collection of former spies selling secrets through art galleries.

          The action is somewhat surreal, just one step removed from reality, the said assassination happens during a dancer performance where the agents are on stage and attempt the murder mid-way through their dance. The charm of this book is how it is played absolutely straight. All the odd elements, the art, the mid-air disasters are taken in stride by the characters as if this was another day at the office. Rabbits blowing up art exhibits, okay. Secret agent is a phoenix so he keeps coming back from the dead, no problem. Fell out the back of a speeding train and down a ravine with only scrape and bruises, well that happens.

          It feels like a Tin Tin book. I suppose this was deliberate, the layout, the clean line art, the coloring, even the size of the book all match the Tin Tin style. If Herge decided to adapt a James Bond novel in his own style this would be the result. The author, Rich Tommaso, always is doing something different with each work. If you remember he authored the cult hits Clover Honey and  The Horror of Collier County, then moved on to the biographical piece Satchel Paige, then the touching story of Pete and Miriam. And here again we have a departure, a wonderful one. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

The Amazing Cynicalman Vol. II (Graphic Novel)

By Matt Feazell

Publisher: Not Available Books (2013)

Softcover, 153 pages

Finished 2/13/2018

Publisher's Site Listing

I found this under a pile of books in a comic shop in Charlotte, N.C. and it took me quite back. I’ve run across Cynicalman and his counterpart Antisocialman before. Most notably as a feature in a one-shot indie comic called Czar Chasm. It caught my eye because the cartoonist seemed to be doing the exact opposite of everyone else in the story, putting his best foot forward. Among the various comic art styles was this little stick figure story, an exercise in absolute minimalism, that succeeded more than any of the others, as it was the only strip I can remember (with the exception of Geriatric Man).

Feazell’s work has been mentioned in Scott Morse’s Understanding Comics and features on his chart of artistic styles as the iconic elements taken to the most extreme degree. I used to constantly run across his work in mini-comic form (most of which are impossible to get) in various comic convention, but now he has completely migrated to the web.
As for the actual content, the strips in this book are done in a daily strip format with a set-up and punchline ala Beetle Bailey or what-have-you. Most surround Cynicalman as he works for the Board of Superheroes and the various odd characters that inhabit the stick-figure world: Lizard Girl, Captain Videotape, Stupid Boy, etc. As for the content, it ranges from the amusing at best, to the groan inducing pun at worst. I enjoyed his work more when there was a longer story attached, it seemed more in line with his particular talents. Some of these strips are painful.

The art? What can I tell you, its stick figures. You either can accept it or don’t read. I will say Feazell is the master of giving stick figure characters personality with only a squiggle or a slanted line. Also in 2012, he produced a 90 minute live-action film based around the Cynicalman comic. I have not idea if it’s any good, but I’m including the trailer on Youtube for those who are interested.

I’m not including the Amazon listing for this one as the prices on it are ridiculous. The author’s direct website has much more reasonable rates for the products, plus new strips if you just want to browse. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, February 12, 2018

Jazz Age Chronicles: The Case of the Beguiling Baroness (Graphic Novel)

By Ted Slampyak 

Publisher: Caliber Press (1991)

Softcover 140 pages 

          Now here’s another piece of near-forgotten comic history for you 80s comic buffs, Jazz Age Chronicles. This came during the comic renaissance when many talents, who might otherwise have been unknown, found havens in smaller comic publishers. Such is the case here.
          The story set in the 1920s teams up Harvard professor Dr. Clifton Jennings and scruffy private eye Ace Mifflin in a twisty story over the sale of an evil arcane artifact that turns into a bad case of murder...and there’s a vampire. Obviously a lot of research went into making sure this comic looked and sounded right. The dialogue contained a lot of obscure slang from the era (“sheiks” for guys, “shebas” for gals) and there was not an anachronism among the dress styles, architecture, or vehicles from what I could see.

          While well put together and wonderfully illustrated, the story itself feels tired. A collection of cobbled together cliches. The university professor archaeologist, the gruff private eye, his faithful secretary who stays with him even though he’s always late with her check, the supernatural elements in the 20s ala Lovecraft. I didn’t see that much originality here. Maybe it got better as the series went on and I would definitely read more if I could find them cheap enough.
          It was originally published by E. F. Graphics, a house so small I literally cannot find any information about them except that they apparently once existed, but quickly folded. It was then picked up by Caliber Comics and ran for 9 issues. This collects the first three of them and several short stories, both illustrated and prose, starring one of the main characters. Caliber Comics (restarted in 2012 as Caliber Press) is the company who brought us Dead World - the original zombie comic book and far superior to The Walking Dead. And such classic as Baker Street, Kabuki, Renfield (Which is Dracula as told from Renfield’s point of view), Nowheresville, and Brian Michael Bendis’s first works Fire, A.K.A. Goldfish and Jinx.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Thieves' World vol 6 (Graphic Novel)

By Robert Asprin, Lynn Abbey, & art by Time Sale

Publisher: Starblaze Graphics (1987)

Softcover 64 pages

Finished 2/9/2018

Mile High Comics Listing

       This is an adaptation of several stories from the Thieves’ World shared fantasy setting. There have been at least twenty five novels and short story collections in the series, various board game and rpg spin-offs and this collection of comics. Beginning in 1978, this was the first in a number of shared universe series along the line of Wild Cards, The Man/Kzin War and, my favorite, The Damned Saga or Heroes in Hell.
          The stories presented here are “The Vivisectionist” by Andrew J. Offutt, about a man who, dum dum duuuummm, is a vivisectionist is gutting random people he captures for fun; and “The Rhinoceros and the Unicorn” by Diana L. Paxton, about a man who paints a picture for the shifting wizard, Enas Yorl, and is granted the ability to paint a person’s soul. Both of these were originally published in the third anthology Shadows Of Sanctuary.  The last is an original piece done for the series called “Arno the Nose” about a retired thief that can sniff out and destroy magical wards, who is coerced into one last job, but he insists on bringing his newborn baby along.

          All three stories are told in a staggered account, a little piece at a time is revealed in each tale before moving onto another story, giving the impression that they are all happening simultaneously. This is not how they are depicted in their original format, but adds a nice touch in my opinion.  The art masterfully plays with shadow and light adding the needed element to the dying city of Sanctuary and its derelict denizens.

          Now the internet will have you believe that these books are rare and charge astronomical fees, but I keep running into them in the bargain bins of comic stores and the dusty shelves of second hand book shops. So look there. I picked up this volume for $2, not 60 like some places are charging.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, February 9, 2018

Good-Bye and Other Stories (Graphic Novel)

by Yoshihiro Tatsumi 

Publisher: Catalan Communications (January 1, 1988) 

Softcover 118 pages

          This is a collection of nine short stories from manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi.  These are not the types of tales you might of upon hearing the word manga. No giant robots, psychic monsters, or sorcerer powers here. These are stories of regular people trying to cope with real problem in then-modern Japanese society. Still they aren't boring. No even really for kids. They tackle some adult issues such as abortion, infidelity, prostitution, sexual dysfunction, pimping, and virginity.
          The style here is a traditional Japanese one from the 1960s and 70s before the anime version (big eyes, small mouth) began to dominate the export medium for manga. While the characters are not explicitly Japanese looking, they are done in a bigfoot style with finer shading. It’s almost old fashioned, but still looks great, perfectly blending in with the story material. Though it is a little distorted as the original Japanese printing was of a much smaller scale, but I barely noticed the differences.

Catalan Communications, who published the book in English, was a company that, like several other failed companies in the 1980s, decided to translate and import European comics into the American market. It was a little more successful than its competitors as if offered better than average material at a reasonable rate, being the first to introduce Rocco Vargas, Torpedo 1936, Milo Manara’s work, and many many others into the United States. They were involved in a brief obscenity trial (back when America still had such things) over their distribution of Squeak the Mouse trade, which they eventually won. They lasted until 1992 when the big comic bust was just beginning and then went the way of many other companies. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Steven Burst's Jhereg (Graphic Novel)

By Steven Burst (original material), Alan Zelenetz (adpatation), & John Pierard (Illustrations) 

Publisher: Epic Comics (1990)

Softcover, 48 pages

          This is an adaptation of the fantasy novel of the same name by Steven Brust. It is published by Marvel’s now defunct Epic imprint, which was their attempt to present more mature content in the marketplace. It published and reprinted a host of great material. The print version of this story was originally published in 1983 and is the first of some twenty two novels by the author in this setting.
Author Steven Burst

          The action surrounds a sorcerer and professional assassin, Vlad Taltos, and his Jhereg familiar, and their attempt to track down a crime lord who has stolen several million gold pieces from the treasury of a powerful organization. The Jhereg is a sentient miniature dragon with a poisonous bite, carnivorous tastes, and the ability to psychically link with another sentient. Complication piles upon complication, until the hero realizes that another, more sinister, motive exists behind the thief’s actions and the protagonist must act to prevent a civil war from breaking out.
If you want to read the series here's where you want to begin. 

          Unfortunately the limitations of space in this graphic novel (48 to adapt 239 pages) meant that a lot of material, necessary background material in my opinion, had to be left out. The results is a standard fantasy story without the embellishments that make this series stand out. Characters are rushed, or mentioned then never seen again, or just thrown into the story. The art was good, but didn’t overcome the limitations of a rushed story.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Elfquest: The Final Quest Vol. 3 (Graphic Novel) (Fantasy)

By Wendy Pini, Richard Pini, & Sonny Strait

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (Jully 11, 2017)

Softcover 136 pages 

Collected here are issues 13 through 18 of the Elfquest: The Final Quest story arc. It’s with sadness and relief that I read these stories. Sadness, that a series I always admired and one that inspired me is ending. Relief, that they’ve decided to go out with class.
If you’ve never read Elfquest before, then this is not the story arc to jump into. The story collects and ties off characters from all of the previous runs and series, and there are a lot. So many that I have had to jump into my back issues to remember just who each of them is. While the standard collection of protagonists and antagonists are front and center, there are many more minor characters that have come to the fore.

They’ve also introduced one of the most interesting tribes of elves yet. Along with the Wavedancers, the Sun Folk, the Wolfriders, the Go-Backs, the Gliders, and some silent guy that rides a horse, we have the Rootless Ones. These are a group of elves that have merged with the wood, and they have become like trees. Their skin is bark and their blood is sap, and they eat rotting meat and vegetation through tendrils, like their sylvian brethren. They can move, but their understanding of the world is almost completely alien. These newcomers, along with the Troll equivalent of the High Ones, brings the world full circle. While these may seem odd changes they all do fit into the cannon of the Elfquest world in subtle fashions.
As the loose ends of the world are tying up, the fate of various elf tribes, the human tribes versus the war machine, the trolls, the ultimate question will boil down to what will become of the Wolfriders. The Palace of the High Ones is primed and ready, the call has been sent, and any elf that wants off the planet is on their way. Not all will go, but that is what adds to the tension to the story which of our heroes will remain. That is part of the bittersweet sorrow of these last chapters of Elfquest.

Apart from the movement of elves, most of the plot is taken up with Cutter coming to grips with the big revelation on the true nature of his soul from the previous volume. He retreats and rushes off, only to discover more elves. He is almost an inverse Hamlet character, not wanting to deal with reality, but eventually he makes his decision as to whether he will leave or stay when the palace heads towards the heavens.

The art, as always with Wendy Pini, is superb. The colors blend together in almost hypnotic hues. This adds to the sadness that this is the final adventure of the World of Two Moons. But I’d prefer a good ending than a zombie continuation of the series under some hack in twenty years. And the one thing that the Elfquest always does well is have a good ending.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Lady Luck: Sixteen Complete Stories (Graphic Novel) (Superhero)

by Klaus Nordling, et. al. 

Publisher: Ken Pierce, Inc., 1st edition (1980)

Softcover, 64 pages 

          This is a collection of sixteen, 4-page, stories from the original golden age of comics, the 1940s, surrounding an obscure character, Lady Luck. The character originally was conceived by the legendary Will Eisner as a back-up piece for his 16-page Sunday comic supplement, The Spirit. Lady Luck shared this distinction with Mr. Mystic and eventually fell into obscurity along with him.
          One of the reasons she fell into obscurity, only to be revived in reprints briefly in 1980 (where this volume hails from) is that there isn’t anything really new here except for the addition of a vagina. Heiress Barbara Banks masquerades as an air-head socialite by day, but at night, dressed in a green veil, hat, dress, and gloves with clovers embroidered on them, she is Lady Luck. She has no powers, apart from being attractive to every man around her and simply beats-up, strangles, and shoots her enemies. You’ve heard this one before? Of course, you have. She’s essentially a female Spirit, Batman, or Green Arrow. She wasn’t even the first female superhero there were at least eight by the time she came around, Fanotmah, Phantom Lady, Miss Fury, Wonder Woman etc.

          These were produced during World War II so Lady Luck’s enemies were your standard schmear of axis spies, saboteurs, black marketers, fifth columnists, and so on. As typical of Eisner productions, she has a racial stereotype assistant (ie. Ebony White, Chop Chop) called Peecolo, a big dumb Italian who is in love with his boss.  Some of his dialogue is as follows, “Ees eet porsible? Brenda? Lady Luck?” The one thing different I will say about Lady Luck is that inevitably a lot of people find out her alter ego. Nearly everyone close to her and a few enemies just tear off her mask and figure it out. Apart from that, it is your standard four-color beat-em-up fare.

          The history of this character is somewhat shaky. As it is stated above, she started as a back-up character for the Spirit in 1940 with Eisner production. Then was sold to Quality comics (as many of Eisner’s characters were) and began appearing in Smash comics in issue #43. She grew somewhat in popularity to the point where the title was changed to Lady Luck Comics in issue #85, then ended at issue #90 in 1950, when the initial superhero bust happened. 

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Friday, February 2, 2018

The Stand: Complete and Uncut Editon (Horror)

By Stephen King (with illustrations by Bernie Wrightson)

Publisher: Doubleday; 1st edition (May 1, 1990)

Hardcover, 1200 pages

            “There was a dark hilarity in his face, and perhaps in his heart, too, you would think—and you would be right. It was the face of a hatefully happy man, a face that radiated a horrible handsome warmth, a face to make water glasses shatter in the hands of tired truck-stop waitresses, to make small children crash their trikes into board fences and then run wailing to their mommies with stake-shaped splinters sticking out of their knees. It was a face guaranteed to make barroom arguments over batting averages turn bloody”
Where do we begin with this mammoth 1200 page extended edition tome- or should we call it “the writer’s cut”? I suppose if you are going to buy this book you might as well get the whole story. This is my first time reading it, despite truly enjoying the mini-series that came out in the mid-1990s. But that’s often the case with many of my relationship with King’s works. I have watched more TV mini-series and films based on his work than read the actual books themselves. The only other one I’ve tackled before this novel was Pet Cemetary back in 1995 or so.
Original 1978 cover

            So I cannot help but compare the novel to the series, it is inevitable. As I zipped through the pages, my mind conjured up the actors from the show and how certain things were similar or different. And honestly, the adaptation was near perfect. Everything essential to the book was present in the series, and in some cases improved upon. In fact it’s such a good adaptation that you might want to skip the book altogether. Honestly, you won’t miss much.
            A brief synopsis for those who are curious: A genetically modified plague is accidentally released from a government installation. The contagion spreads across the world and within two months, 99% of the world’s population is dead. Those who survive begins having dreams of an old woman (Mother Abigail) a 106-year-old prophet and of a Dark Man (Randall Flagg) an apostate from Hell. People begin to drift naturally to one side or another, until a final confrontation between the forces of good and evil occur in the center of Las Vegas.
The character of Randall Flagg is the most, and maybe only, interesting character in the novel. King regards him as his greatest villain and has made steps to expand him into later works - including adding a little epilogue in the expanded version. But King has done this by re-coning one of his other villains, Walter O’Dim from The Gunslinger, and merging the two characters. As I’m sure most of you know, O’Dim is the main antagonist from The Dark Tower series.
            The combining of these two characters is a mistake. The villain from The Stand is a true agent of chaos. He has no reason for what he does, he doesn’t know where he comes from, he is simply acting out a preset role. It just happens to be one he loves. He is the great fouler, who brings out the worst in people. Pre-Captain trips he traveled around extremist and leftist groups, spurring them on to commit violent atrocities. Walter O’Dim on the other hand has very specific goals. He wants to crack the Dark Tower and rule as a God. The two, as initially written, don’t measure up. C’est la vie.
The character is already identified in the story as Legion, a horde of demons whom Heyzeus smacked around in the Bible. This influence is evident in the number of names Flagg picks up in this novel alone: The hardcase, The Walkin’ Dude, The Dark Man, The man with no face, the Devil’s Imp, those are in addition to the constant variations of on the initials R. F..   And that’s what Flagg is, an influencer of destruction. He should have stayed that way.
Randall Flagg from the mini-series played by Jamie Sheridan

There are several illustrative plates in the book, an olde tyme tradition, of events in the story. Drawn by veteran artist Bernie Wrightson of Swamp Thing fame. I am a fan of his work, but the drawings here do not add anything to the reading experience. In fact, they seem pretty flat and lifeless, tossed off for an easy paycheck. They are entirely unnecessary.
King has often stated that with this book he wanted to do an American version The Lord of the Rings. And, while original in certain aspects, you can see the roots from Tolkien’s characters. Most obvious is Randal Flagg as Sauron and Mother Abigail as Gandalf. Trashcan Man can be related to Gollum, and Harold Lauder (the betrayer) is Boromir who tried to take the ring from Frodo. As for the main character himself, Stu Redman is Frodo, Glen Bateman is Bilbo, Nick Andros, Larry Underwood, and Ralph Bretner are the rest of the Hobbits and so on.
The book has been criticized as being an over-bloated novel that drags in the middle, before exploding in the end. Some of this is fair, but if you pick up a twelve hundred page novel you need to expect some of that. A lot of detail and many characters. Maybe certain characters could have been cut or merged, as in the mini-series, but this is the story of a journey. Of people travel to struggle against forces (natural and supernatural) beyond their control and to discover what makes a new normal.
Author Stephen King

Still the criticism is understood it seems like there should be more going on in this novel than actually takes place. Certain scenes take way too long (several pages too long) to develop than they should before the action takes place. They can get bogged down with too many details. You can also see why several scenes were originally cut, such as that between The Kid and Trashcan Man, in the original printing, as they really add nothing to the story but some filler. What gets my goat most though (and this is just my pet peeve) are the many many pop culture references in the text. It always dates the text, most of them are from the 70s and 80s, very stale nowadays.
On the other hand, the growth of the characters over the novel’s course is very realistic. I believed in each of them as real people with genuine reactions to the events that have enveloped them. While there wasn’t a huge amount of difference between the main characters, there was enough so that each was unique to the story. Each stood out as an individual.

           For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.