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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Jeff Hawke: Consel for the Defense (Comic Strips) (Science Fiction)

By Willie Patterson, & Sydney Jordan

Publisher: Titan Books (1987)

Softcover, 88 pages

Other sellers of this volume are more reasonable. Starting at 3.99.

Much of the background for this science fiction adventure strip is included in my previous review of Jeff Hawke: Overlord. So in brief, Jeff Hawke ran for nineteen years beginning in February of 1955 and ending in April, 1974. While English in origin, the strip found its most ardent fans in other countries. And there is still is an ardent, albeit older, base of fans who keep parts of it alive on the internet. You can see it on this laughably old fashioned fan site. While the fanzine on it may be real, it doesn’t look like it’s been updated in over a decade. But the site is selling original art from the series, so it may be legit.  

This particular book contains three stories of the Jeff Hawke strip, from its golden age if you ask superfans. The first is Counsel for the Defense wherein Jeff and his associate Mac are hauled off planet by alien police to act as the attorney for Chalcedon, a recurring villain in the series. Things go south, violence and hilarity ensue. Second is Pastmaster, where a figure from the far future appears in Hawke’s time (the future age of 1989) to bring a moonbase and its technology to primitive man and allow humans to technologically accelerate at an incredibly fast pace. This story is unique in its odd depiction of time travel. Last is Immortal Toys, a sort of ancient alien story with an interesting twist. A number of high technological devices are found in the ruins of ancient India and Jeff tries to track their source.

I will saw this, as the original writer pointed out ad nauseum, Jeff Hawke was ahead of its time. Many concepts which are common today first appeared in the strip. Which is why one says that the series was influential, if not popular. Counsel for the Defense introduces the idea of skill implants, as Jeff has a device implanted in his brain which gives him access to the Galactic law library. The ancient alien idea was a fairly new concept when this strip first appeared in 1966.

I have to say that this volume is not a continuation of the previous one, in fact the lead story Counsel for the Defense appears in Overlord, but the presentation in this volume is far superior. It’s softcover, as opposed to overlord’s hardcover, but each strip is larger and allows the reader to absorb the action and dialogue much quicker, allowing for a more enjoyable read.

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Jeff Hawke: Overlord (Science Fiction) (Comic Strips)

by Willie Patterson (writer), Sydney Jordan (illustrator)

Publisher: Titan Books (March 25, 2008)

Hardcover, 128 pages.


If you’re a science fiction fan and a comics lover there still is a good chance that you’ve never heard of this influential comic from yesteryear. Don’t feel too ashamed. The reason you haven’t is because there is a clear difference between influential and popular. Many people point to Jeff Hawke as being ahead of its time in various science fiction themes. It was, in a very real sense, the first science fiction comic strip that could appeal to adults as well as adolescents. Specifically in the main character’s attitude. Diplomacy was always attempted first by the titular protagonist, while violence was always a last measure.

It was published in England, but seems to have found its main following in Italy and various Scandinavian countries- which aren’t worth mentioning. It ran for nineteen years, beginning in February of 1955 and ending in April, 1974. This was back in the waning era of the adventure strip. Most of the established ones were continuing on (Dick Tracy, Dondi, Buzz Sawyer, Brenda Star, etc.), and all, including this one was accompanied by incredible draftsmanship and excellent quality inking. But the blood was in the water and little by little the minimalistic style cramped in to overtake quality art in the serial strip. Thank you very much Charles Schultz!

The stories in this volume are not the beginning of the strip, despite this being the first volume of the stories printed. These ones are considered to be the turning point of the series, the time when it truly defined itself, its thematic style, and broke away from all of the other adventure series. Before this, Jeff Hawke was a vaguely sci-fi RAF pilot, a synthesis of Dan Dare and Flash Gordon. After these stories, Jeff Hawke was something quite different.

Part of it came from a desire to do something diverse. Part of it came from the format. Unlike the others which had more space to work with, actions scenes did not work too well in the three panel format (there was no Sunday strips) so the authors looked for other ways to keep people’s interest. In any case, this volume is a good place to begin. The stories before this volume are similar to watching episodes of Dark Shadows before Barnabas Collins emerges from his coffin. It’s simply not the same.

There are four stories collected in this volume, each narrated by a demonic figure and his troll companion. If this means anything later on in the series it isn’t revealed in this book. The first story, Overlord, deals with a battle around Jupiter in which the Earth is nearly dragged into an interstellar war which would’ve left the entire planet destroyed. The next story, Survival, has Jeff Hawke and crew accidently left marooned on a lifeless asteroid. They must make some harsh choices to survive. Third we have, Wondrous Lamp, is a sci-fi take on the Aladdin story only using sci-fi elements. Fourth is Counsel for the Defense, which I will discuss more in the next blog installment.  

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Monday, March 11, 2019

Logan's Run (Science Fiction)

by William F. Nolan & George Clayton Johnson. (Foreword by Daniel H. Johnson)

Publisher:  Vintage; reprint (July 14, 2015)

Softcover, 168 pages 

“And he was twenty-one. Suddenly, twenty-one! And his palmflower was blinking and he was high in the threemile complex, hanging by one hand from the ledge, with Lilith laughing above him and he was in Arcade on the table with the scalpels slicing down on him and he was in the narrow corridor with Doc charging, popsicle raised, and he was on the age warped platform under Cathedral with the cubs, a blurred bee-drone, rushing in and the drugpad shimmering at his face and he was in brined submarine darkness in the heart of Molly as the walls quaked…”
I have to begin with this, the book and the film of Logan’s Run are two totally different animals. In fact they are barely similar in any way whatsoever. It’s incredible to believe how a film with such classic and iconic visuals and ideas, came from source material that had none of them and was a pretty tepid and nearly forgettable sci-fi thriller. I was going to try and stay away from discussing the film and focus on the book, but I’m finding that impossible because, even as crazy as it was, the film had almost a logical progression behind it. As Logan ran, he learned the truth behind his world that he had never questioned before, and you learned with him. Not so much here as the character learns very little.
Sequel novel to Logan's Run 

So I will give a brief way in which the two versions of Logan’s Run are different. First of all, the setting is not inside a giant self-contained bubble city run by a computer. It is the entire country, possibly the whole world, run by the computer. It’s as if the computer revolution happened and mankind lost, but is unaware of being the loser. In the film, they have no sense of history and no idea why things are as they are. In the book, history is well known and still celebrated. It was simply that there were too many people so they began to voluntarily put themselves to “sleep”. The entire world is connected by a series of underground high-speed tubes and underwater cities.
In the novel, a person is able to live until they are twenty one and then they must voluntarily step up for euthanasia. This is briefly touched on as being due to a population explosion. The author assumed the baby boomers would keep up the trend and so would their children, making a cutoff age necessary. And again, this is across the entire world controlled by a computer in North Dakota called the Thinker. There is no false hope of “renewal” as in the film, where a fake attempt at gaining more life was dangled to people to help them accept their fate. People just stepped up and did what they were told.
Which makes me wonder, without a fake, almost religious hope, why wouldn’t everybody run? That’s what happens with Logan. He isn’t sent on some secret mission by the Thinker. He reaches his Lastday and says, “I’m outta here!” He stumbles on the idea of sanctuary through the normal course of his duties and heads for it in a series of short and dull adventures.
1980s comic based on the sequel

While the old man dwelling in the ruins of America’s capital surrounded by cats technically similar. The old man here is far from senile and the cats are vicious Bengal tigers. It then all ends with a revelation of space flight and some quick growth in Logan’s character, none of which is pops up earlier. The entire book feels like it was written in three days and tossed out to see if someone would bite.
The book itself is a dull affair. Part of what I like in science fiction is the exploration of a new world. In this novel, we get the bare bones scraps of a setting and a series of antagonists who appear too briefly to make any impression. They’re here, Logan defeats them somehow and then they’re gone. The minimalist writing approach does not make for an interesting read. I simply just wanted to watch the film again and see a better variation of what I was reading.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Worry Doll (Horror) (Graphic Novel)

by Matt Coyle

Publisher: Dover Publications (July 20, 2016)

Softcover, 80 pages  


“Nobody I know does line work- or evasive subject matter- like Matt Coyle His scenes are rendered with such deftness and precision in one of the most unforgiving of all drawing media, where the smallest error or fickle hesitation sings out like a scratched record. And just like the grooves of a record, Matt’s use of hatching, those fine parallel lines that delineate contour and tone, never lapse into cross-hatching (where lines intersect); its more forgiving offspring, which most illustrators, including myself, gladly fall upon when things get wooly. It’s a technique that brings to mind those arts since lost to industrial and digital processes… the secrets were often guarded by practitioners, as if by a guild of magicians.”
I included the above paragraph by Shaun Tan from the introduction of this book describing the incredible art by Matt Coyle because he says it better than I ever could. One glance at the art inside this volume sends shivers down your spine at the sheer talent involved to create these images.

I encountered Coyle’s work way back in the 1990s when I ran across his first graphic novel, The Registry of Death, while scavenging in a fifty cents bin at Mid-Ohio Con. I was immediately struck by the story and art. Brutal and beautiful at the same time. It is a gorgeous example of grotesque beauty. Why it was not heralded as one of the best graphic novels of that year, I will never know- poor marketing I guess. The book still remains one of my favorite horror comics. After you get this book, check out that one.
The term “worry doll” comes from the ancient Mayans in the Guatemalan highlands. Traditionally when children are scared or have nightmares, they are given worry dolls before they go to sleep. They put them under the pillow and when they wake up, their worries are gone. Knowing this will give you a different take on the action in this story. And you might need it, because what is actually happening in this tale is up in the air.
There are easily multiple interpretations of the action. It is a mirror for yourself and how you interpret the images and words in this book reflects as much on who you are as a person as it does on the material presented. My suggestion is to approach it as you would a Beckett play and let the emotions and sensations presented by the words and images wash over you. Let them carry you along with the current, as it were, and then you will reach a satisfactory conclusion. Maybe not one of absolute fact, but an emotional ending.

Ostensibly it's about a group of dolls (actual dolls) who discover that they family they are with have been murdered. They go on an increasingly bizarre odyssey where reality blurs back and forth. What do they represent? The killer’s lack of emotion, or the dark places of the mind where he sticks his conscience? The souls of the murdered family? Or are the representations of demonic influence or the evil impulses that dwell in all me?
You tell me. I think all are valid interpretations. They cross the line from the real to the sublime. What’s your opinion?

For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

Last Exit to Brooklyn (Crime)

by Hubert Selby Jr. 

Published: Grove Press (January 14, 1994) (original publication 1962).

Softcover, 320 pages.

“Tralala was 15 the first time she was laid. There was no real passion. Just diversion. She hungout in the Greeks with the other neighborhood kids. Nothin to do. Sit and talk. Listen to the jukebox. Dink coffee. Bum cigarettes. Everything was a drag. She said yes. In the park. 3 or 4 couples finding their own tree and grass. Actually she didn’t say yes. She said nothing. Tony or Vinnie or whoever it was just continued. They all met later at the exit. They grinned at each other. The guys felt real sharp. The girls walked in front and talked about it. They giggled and alluded. Tralala shrugged her shoulders. Getting laid was getting laid. Why all the bullshit?”
As you can see from the snippet above, the books’ style is idiosyncratic, for the most part ignoring the rules of grammar, and slams various phrases together to make new words which mean the same thing, such as ‘tahell” and so on. If this is not your cup of tea then considered yourself fairly warned. The author chose to write in this manner in order to convey a sense of a story being told at a bar by one drunk to another. And he certainly succeeded at that.
Author Hubert Selby, Jr. 

There was quite a scandal when the book emerged. Next to Naked Lunch and The Warriors it was one of the few books published that dealt frankly with urban decay, transgenderism, violence (both street and domestic) and homosexuality. One of its unspoken themes is on the hopelessness of poverty, yet also demonstrates how most of the population has no interest is bettering themselves, or in anything beyond basic survival and substance abuse. It paints quite a different picture of the 1950s than those left to us by The Donna Reed Show and Ozzie and Harriet (kudos to you who know those references).
The book is comprised of a series of interconnected short stories all revolving around a greasy spoon diner, called the Greeks, and a dive bar named Mary’s. Many of the protagonists of one story turn up as minor characters in another. As such there is no real beginning, middle, or end, or a series of character arcs where the protagonists grows and changes from his experiences. These are sleazy people living in a poor area, trying to get by, trying to grab an easy buck, trying to stay drunk to forget about the fact that this will be the whole of their lives. It is filled with violent, unlikable people and I couldn’t take my eyes off of it.
While the initial publishing drew a lot of criticism, it was the British printing that actually sparked an obscenity charge. It was initially condemned, but then that ruling was overturned on appeal- becoming a landmark case against censorship in English law. As we can see by what’s happening in England today, it hasn’t gone far enough.
For more readings, try books by Rex Hurst. 

Disappointing film based on the book