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Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Ladies in the Parlor (Crime)

by Jim Tully

Publisher: Underworld Amusements (August 6, 2008)

Softcover, 164 pages

“An Irish woman who had married a Jew, Mother Rosenbloom’s name was known wherever sex was bartered.
“She was between fifty and sixty, and weighed nearly three hundred pounds. Her breasts were as large as pillows. Her earring, studded with green and red stones, dangled two inches. The diamond rings on the short third and fourth fingers on each hand were encased deep in the flesh. It had calloused around them, giving evidence that the rings had not been removed for years.
“Her red painted cheeks were puffed and dimpled. She wore a gold watch at the end of a long chain. It went up and down like a censor as her heavy body moved forward.”
A term which emerged in the early 1900s was called “Comstockery”, which means “excessive opposition to supposed immorality in the arts”.  This term is named after Anthony Comstock, a moral crusader, post office inspector, and politician, who used his position to stamp out morally reprehensible material that was posted through the mail. Ladies in the Parlour is a fine example of a victim of Comstockery.
Originally printed in 1935, the book was seized from the publisher by the police on obscenity charges (eventually the book was also condemned as being blasphemous) and burned. It would not be reprinted until this edition in 2014, 79 years later. It is reprinted warts and all. The original version had several typographical errors in it and they are all put right back into the text. I didn’t find them that distracting, but I know it might drive some people crazy. 
Author Jim Tully
As I said in my review of the author’s other book, Shanty Irish, Jim Tully was co-father of the hard boiled style of writing. Along with Dashiell Hammett, he pioneered a blunt forceful style that hammered the point home in direct impactful language.
The matter was taken to court and the ruling upheld, with New York State Magistrate Jonah Goldstein writing that the novel was “Simply dirt in the raw, the pages of this book are replete with lascivious matter.”
However, newspaperman and hypocrite hater H. L. Mencken’s opinion was decidedly different. “If Tully were a Russian,” he wrote, “ read in translation, all the professors would be hymning him. He has all of Gorky's capacity for making vivid the miseries of poor and helpless men, and in addition he has a humor that no Russian could conceivably have.”
Despite all of the hysteria, by modern terms the book is pretty tame. In fact, in this story of women working in a brothel ,there is not a single sex scene. It is a character study of the women in a high end whorehouse and what brought them there, but there is none of the dirt that would accompany modern prostitution tales. All the girls want to work there, none regret their decisions, none have ever been raped or molested (except one and the reference is easily overlooked).
The story follows Leora, the eldest of nine children in an Irish family, who rejects the life of her poor parents and drifts into casual prostitution and later convincing those men to pay for a fake abortion. She eventually becomes a full time prostitute until the madam of her brothel passes away from pneumonia.
Some may claim that it is some sort of male wish fulfillment fantasy, ie. The Happy Hooker, but the lack of sex in the tale nixes that criticism in my opinion. While the book is thin on plot, or lacks an arcing theme, it is best viewed through the lens of a sociological look at a time in America that has gone with the wind.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

Insufferable Vols. 1 & 2 (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Mark Waid (Writer) & Peter Krause (Illustrator)

Publisher: IDW Publishing (February 9, 2016 Vol 1; May 17th, 2016 Vol. 2)

Softcover, 120 pages (vol. 1), 104 pages (vol. 2)

I'm reviewing the first two volumes (of the four available) together as they are contain one continuous story. No need to break it up into multiple entries, but separate links to both books are available above.

An engrossing read and a concept so intriguing that you wonder why no one had ever thought of it before. While these characters are obvious analogues to Batman and Robin, they are different enough so that any similarities seem almost coincidental.

A rich man, methodical and obsessed, becomes a costumed vigilante and eventually trains his son to take his place. They become Nocturnous and Galahad. However, the son gets tired of being put in the corner and reveals his identity to the world. His father is forced to go into hiding, but can't funnel his fortune away fast enough. The son becomes a media giant, and a brand, spending more time advertising products and posing for social media than defeating villains.

The interesting thing is that the title “Insufferable” can easily be applied to both protagonists. Nocturnus secretly enjoys demonstrating his son’s weaknesses to him, while hobbling him as an effective partner. Galahad has a public image to maintain and is thus hungry to collect bragging rights regardless of what he actually achieves. The father who will never treat his son like an adult and the son who hasn’t grown out of that blaming dad for everything stage. They make for a toxic team-up.

The plot is almost secondary to the family drama. When the mother died, father and son took half of her ashes. When both urns are rigged to explode and give the cryptic message “help me” then Nocturnus and Galahad are forced to work together. The big reveal at the end isn’t much of a surprise as it is literally the first you meet this character, but the ride to get to the final showdown is worth the trip.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Jack the Ripper Suspect Dr. Francis Tumblety (True Crime) (History)

By Michael J. Hawley

Publisher: Sunbury Press (May 3, 2018)

Softcover, 296 pages

“Scotland Yard was convinced they had a single killer who murdered two or more victims in separate events in the Whitechapel and Spitalfields districts in late 1888, thus Jack the Ripper fits the modern definition of a serial killer. What was not a consensus in Scotland Yard was which victims were killed by one offender. All told, there were well over a dozen victims of violent crime in the East End in the period in question. As in any research discipline, there are groupers and splitters. Some see the slightest similarities as justification to group together, while others focus on differences and split the groups apart. There are even modern researchers who are convinced there was no Jack the Ripper, and all of the casual prostitutes were murdered by separate offenders. Most experts agree, however, that the number of Jack the Ripper victims is in the middle, between four and six.”
This is an academic book and assumes that the reader already has a certain amount of knowledge about the Jack the Ripper case, its victims, and the investigation around it. It is not for someone who is new to the case.
Perhaps it makes too much of an assumption of pre-knowledge from the reader, because very little of it deals with the infamous Dr Tumblety in London, except for the fact that he was there. The book is more of a justification as to why Tumbletly should be considered as a serious suspect, rather than hard facts around Jack the Ripper. In fact, it is more interesting if you forget about the Ripper at all and view it as a character study of a habitual, mentally ill, but very successful criminal.
"Doctor" Francis Tumbletly
Tumblety was an “herb doctor”, ie quack and abortionist in the 19th century with peripheral ties to the Lincoln and Garfield assassinations. He was a narcissist and we'll known woman hater- especially towards prostitutes. Many times he is quoted in official documents as having stated that all such women “should be disemboweled”, and he owned the surgical tools to do this. Many at Scotland Yard considered him a likely suspect, even going so far as to send detectives after him to New York when Tumbletly absconded from London.
The main reason he has been discounted by many as a credible Ripper suspect is due to his homosexuality. All homosexual serial killers in the past have mostly preyed upon young boys. However, the author points out that the Ripper victims (however many there actually were) are not the victims of a sexual crime. They were not raped and most of the damage to the bodies was post mortem. Usually the first thing done to them was to have their throats slit. This indicates there were not killed for a sexual thrill, but for some other purpose.
Author Michael J. Hawley
However, bizarre murder was not the standard for Tumblety actions and the author justifies his assertions with the following points. 1. Tumblety's lifelong hatred for prostitutes, whom he saw as his sexual rivals for young men.
2. Tumblety's behavior changed dramatically in the late 1880s. He began to dress like a homeless drifter and not bathe, despite being the olde-time equivalent to a millionaire. As his health later deteriorates, with visible facial lesions, the author speculates that Tumbletly suffered from tertiary stage syphilis. Violent actions are commonplace for those suffering from it. Look at some of the actions of Caesar Borgia.
3. The point of the murders may have been to harvest the organs of the woman in order to attempt to create the supposed “elixir of life”. There were many purported magical societies popping up at the time who were attempting to find this version of the philosopher's stone. As life comes from the vaginal organs, it was believed that said organs could prolong life.
Obviously Tumblety failed, his disease grew worse and eventually leading to his death in 1903, but he may have been desperate enough to try. He had the tools, it was towards a class of person he despised, and was non-sexual in nature. This is a fascinating book for someone already familiar with the multitude of details in the Jack the Ripper case.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Showcase Presents: Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Roy Thomas (Writer) & Scott Shaw (Artist)

Publisher: D.C. Comics

Paperback, 672 pages

This collects all twenty issues of the last “funny animal” comic ever produced by DC comics in the 1980s. For those who are unaware of the genre here is the definition from the great late Don Marksten’s Toonopedia - “ A genre of fiction which, like superheroes, is found more often in comics and animation than elsewhere, and which is characterized by animals that walk and talk just like humans. Many aficionados of the genre insist that a funny animal no more has to be "funny" than a comic book must be "comic", citing Bucky O'Hare and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but others disagree. Many of the best funny animals, such as Uncle Scrooge, combine humor with adventure in about equal measure; but some, like Usagi Yojimbo, while not totally eschewing humor, place more emphasis on the dramatic aspects of their stories. And then, of course, there are Pogo, Bugs Bunny and suchlike, that are almost all humor. A surprisingly broad and varied category.”
Essentially the comic is just another superhero story, albeit told very tongue-in-cheek, with anthropomorphic animals in place of humans. After Superman knocks a strangely glowing meteorite into another dimension, it breaks into five pieces and bestows superpowers on five random animals. There is the titular Captain Carrot, Pig Iron, Rubberduck, Fastback (a turtle variant on the Flash), Yankee Poodle, who can shoot from her hands attraction and repellents beams in the forms of stars and stripes, and Alley Cat Abra, the mystical feline. Together they have some standard and mediocre adventures.
The material is clever, but not laugh-out-loud funny, and it became a little draining, reading twenty issues in a row of bad animal puns: San FROGcisco, Gnu York, President Mallard Fillmore, and so on. Normally I would never say this, but I think the absence of color in the Showcase Presents volume detracts from the comic. Something about the funny animal art lends itself to color.
 Along with the twenty issue run is a three part double sized limited series-which was always intended to be the next arc in the Captain Carrot run, called The Oz-Wonderland War. In this, the Zoo crew actually go to OZ, via Wonderland, to defeat the Nome King and restore Ozma to the throne of Oz. While this story has been right criticized as being way too similar to the L. Frank Baum book, Ozma of Oz, the art in both the Wonderland and Oz sections are dead-on recreations of illustrations in the original books. I think for this reason alone, the Oz-Wonderland War is the best in the book. 
Captain Carrot was an attempt to capitalize on the massive popularity of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and to also reassert the copyright claims on some of DCs oldest funny animal properties. This is similar to what marvel did with Peter Porker, The Spectacular Spider-Ham. Nearly all of D.C.’s old characters from the 40s and 50s make an appearance- Dodo and the Frog, The Terrific Whatsit, Hoppy the Captain Marvel Bunny (the first superhero funny animal), the Three Mouseketeers (a term ripped off by Disney), Peter Porkchops, McSnurtle the Turtle, & Nero Wolf. If you haven't heard of any of them you aren’t alone, they are names recognizable only to aficionados of the obscure.
There have been some modern updates to the Zoo Crew in The Final Arc, plus appearances in Countdown and Final Crisis events. But their appearances have been fleeting and those stories are not included in this volume.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

  For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Fashion Beast (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

By Alan Moore (author), Malcolm McLaren (author), & Anthony Johnson (illustrator)

Softcover, 256 pages

This book has a bit of an odd history as it was never intended to be a comic at all. Apparently back in the 80s, Moore was approached by Malcolm McLaren, infamous manager of the Sex Pistols, and asked the comic writer to collaborate on a film script.
They talked back and forth, eventually settling on this punk, near- apocalypse, adaptation of Beauty and the Beast. Well, things didn't work out and the project was shelved. Zip ahead 25 years and the head of Avatar Press gets ahold of the ancient manuscript and decides to turn it into a comic. It's a rather ironic twist that Alan Moore, a notorious hater of comics becoming films, has his film script become a comic.
The entire story has an 80s punk twang to it. Half of the drive behind the punk movement was the belief that it was about to be the end of the world, that inevitable nuclear annihilation was just around the corner. So you better fuck and party now.
Here we have this ancient fashion house creaking out designs out of step with a world on the edge. People are settling in to survive a nuclear winter, all able bodied men are being conscripted into war with an unnamed enemy- it being the 80s the assumption is that the war is being waged against Russia. Domesticated animals are replaced by dehumanized people (horses and dogs).
All the while the fashion-fame cycle keeps pumping out material, with a tortured recluse as the top designer. Riddled with gender-identity swapping, odd romance, and a panache of when the author was writing at his prime this is a different kind of book. For fans of his, this is one of those stories you really should pick up. Had it come out in the 80s, it would’ve been a much bigger hit.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom Vol. 2 (Superhero) (Graphic Novel)

by Paul S. Newman (writer) & Matt Murphy (artist) Jim Shooter (Introduction)

Publisher: Dark Horse Book (July 5, 2005)

Hardcover, 200 pages

Doctor Solar: Man of the Atom was a title that ran under Gold Key comics banner for many years in the 1960s- this was back when superheroes were just coming back into fashion (thanks to the likes of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko, all gone but not forgotten) and marketed to pre-pubescent boys. If any of this turns you off, don’t buy this volume.

That being said, this is not a bad comic. The relative obscurity of Doctor Solar is due to a bad publishing history by Gold Key and an overripe marketplace, which caused the comic’s cancelation despite some decent sales. It went along with other comic titles Turok: Son of Stone, Magnus: Robot Fighter, and The Mighty Samson into the back shelves. There they gathered dust until their copyright ran out and since have resurrected by a number of publishers. Valliant (first to do so, under the direction of Jim Shooter), Acclaim, Dark Horse, and Dynamite Entertainment have all had their crack on resurrecting the Man of the Atom. However, this volume only collects issues 8 - 14 of the original series.

The stories themselves are somewhat standard comic fare, with a touch of James Bondisms thrown in. Dr. Solar is the protagonist, while his alter-ego is called The Man of the Atom- a rather wordy superhero name. Due to his attempt to avert an imminent meltdown of the nuclear power plant, Solar absorbed a massive amount of radiation in the process. He survived and discovered that he had gained the ability to convert his body into any kind of nuclear energy. If you read this book, you will notice the writers will play fast and loose with Solar actual abilities, twisting it to make it do whatever the hell the plot required. But if you’re worried about scientific accuracy in a superhero story to teenagers, go read a goddamn textbook instead.

Solar turns green when he uses his powers, so I guess that’s how he manages to keep his identity secret, but even in the comic it seems as if everyone already knows who he is. The one thing which the story is lacking (and the reason Marvel and DC beat the crap out of Gold Key in sales) is the super villain. A superhero is only as good as his nemesis. In the case of this hero, all attacks against him are directed by a hidden mastermind named Nuro. He is a classic rip-off of Ernst Stavro Blofeld from the James Bond books. He is bald and his face is never seen, but he directs actions against the hero through a series of lieutenants who are never quite sure who their boss is and thus cannot give him away. Clunky today, but it was all the rage in the 60s.

The stories are decent and well plotted, but they are a little thin on character development. They are intelligent tales and make an attempt at using good science to solve that month’s problem- though that is quickly ditched if the author comes up with a more spectacular solution. Each story takes up an entire issue, but for some reason it was broken up into two chapters. I’m not sure why this was done, probably a holdover from the days when multiple stories were included in each issue. Still that’s a minor blip and not very distracting.

Before I go, I just have to give a shout out to the covers. As Jim Shooter rightly points out in his introduction, they are some of the best that the comics industry ever put out. Truly beautiful pieces of art.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, February 7, 2019

G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero vol 21: Special Missions (War) (Graphic Novel)

by Larry Hama (writer), John Royale, Jagdish Kumar, et. al. (Illustrators)

Publisher: IDW Publishing (December 11, 2018).

Paperback, 128 pages.

To anyone who has an old school knowledge of GI Joe the title of this volume should be familiar. It is the name of the second GI Joe comic put out by Marvel back in the day. Single issue adventures dealing with the Joe's missions not related to Cobra- or at least that was how it started.

The five issues here are of a similar format, though they focus on a single character from both sides of the fence, rather than a specific mission. These little one shots offer a good insight into the character and Larry Hama is the undisputed master of the war story- the only rival maybe being Joe Kubert. You cannot help but feel for these characters who are walking the knife’s edge with dignity in an effort to fight off evil.

The first issue centers on Stalker and his Nam flashbacks. As time goes on his night terrors increase causing him to doubt his own effectiveness to the team. A hostage situation allows him to learn the truth.

Second is a rare look into the backstory of the Baroness. We know she came from a world of privilege and due to her distant parents, liberal colleges, and the death of her older brother (a charity organizer, murdered by communist activists in Vietnam) became radicalized into a terrorist. Her meeting Destro in college seems too coincidental, but it's always been stated they had a past. We have just never been privy to some of the details.

Next story focuses on Duke and Roadblock and their last mission before they were recruited into G.I. Joe. People forget these two mainstays were not originally part of the team. They showed up in issue 22 at the funeral of General Flag and machine gun down a Cobra helicopter about to blow the funeral to hell. By the way the previous issue, 21, was one of the best GI Joe issues from the original series ever. The only problem I have with this action packed story is that the two soon to be Joe's refer to each other by their code names before they could have been issued them.

The fourth story deals with Destro and his sales pitch to a Middle Eastern dictator. As Destro is the head of MARS weaponry, this story has a bit more gun talk and security system development than most GI Joe stories. But there is still plenty of action.

Last are two stories revolving around the deceased Snake Eyes. One has Scarlet retelling old stories of Snake Eyes to his replacement. Most of them are rehashes of old issues, so it becomes rather redundant. The only thing new is where Snake Eyes acquired his latex masks that he would wear outside. The second story is very short and deals with Dawn's training into the GI Joe team. She is the one who gained all of his memories in the old Cobra Brainwave Scanner.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Wind of the Gods (Fantasy) (Graphic Novel)

by Cothias and Adamov

Publisher: Kitchen Sink Press; 1st American edition (1993). 

Hardcover, 64 pages. 

From the artist that produced TheWaters of Deadmoon - the greatest serialized story ever to appear in Heavy Metal Magazine- is Wind of the Gods. This was published during that brief period in the 90s when Heavy Metal tried to go into the graphic novel business. Like The Waters of DeadMoon, Wind of the Gods was originally written in French and was part one of a sixteen part series. The problem is that the rest of the story, and this is a very incomplete tale, was never published with an English translation.
As such, we are not left with a very satisfying story. Left on its own, all of the people with heroic intent and worthy of life are left destitute or dead, and all of the assholes in the story- and there are several- win outright. It wasn’t meant to end like that, and if you know French then you can still buy the rest of the series.

Once again we see a quickly failed graphic novel venture who tried to import the European volume style over to America. They license the product, then slap together a thin volume between two hardcovers and charge much more than they should for it. The original price for this book was $19.99. It never works. (Granted with the exception of Humanoids, but I’m willing to bet they are constantly on financial thin ice).  If an American pays that much they want an entire story. The regular comic model works because it’s relatively cheap. They should’ve published the entire story in one volume with softcover. Then at least you wouldn’t have one blogger bitching about it two decades after it was released.
As to the story, it takes place in ancient Japan at the time of samurai and Shoguns. A corrupt diaymo sends his men to deal with a rebel group and a town that cannot pay its taxes. This ends in a blood bath and an uncertain future for the men involved.

It's full of violence and sex. Loads of fun. However, it's probably not the most historically accurate story out there. Still if you want that read a history book. If you want some violent fun by one of France's premier artists then grab this book. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Legacy: An Off-Color Novella For You to Color (Crime) (Graphic Novel)

by Chuck Palahnuik (author), & Duncan Fegredo (Illustrator)

Publisher: Dark Horse Books (November 7, 2017)

Hardcover, 152 pages

A large format adult coloring book, which has become a mini-rage now, tell a novella length tale from Chuck Palahniuk (I’ve never known how to pronounce that name). While the book clocks in at 150 some odd pages, the words are in 32 point font and there are plenty of pictures for you to color in.

I often go back and forth on Palahniuk’s work. His earlier material, Fight Club, and so on is dead-on great, but as time continues his work seems sloppier and sloppier, more dashed out and less thoughtful. Which is probably the case as publishers are likely to print whatever he dashes out on his name recognition alone. His fame hasn’t done him any favors.

He is obviously educated and brings his knowledge to his work, but it is presented in such an off-hand way that it comes across as shallow. It’s as if he’s writing down to us. That he expects anyone who reads his material to be too stupid to take in any grand themes or detailed material, peppering up his narrative with off-color material, stripper, drugs, profanity, but essentially this is a quick dashed off story with a banal twist.

The action revolves around a magic bonsai tree that every thousand years sprouts a magical peach that grants whoever eats it immortality. A man inherits it from an absentee father and becomes embroiled in bloodbath after bloodbath as various forces try to track him down and obtain to the immortal fruit.

 For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst.