I Just Finished – Dark Shadows: The Heiress of Collinwood by Lara Parker

“Our revels now are ended…”

That quote, from The Tempest, Act 4, Scene 1, is familiar to most, if not all, fans of Dark Shadows. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, when there were no VCRs or DVRs and you could only watch a show once, and that when the TV station decided to play it, many fans of the Gothic soap opera listened ad nauseum to the show’s soundtrack LP. It featured music from the show, with narrations over a lot of it by Jonathan Frid and David Selby, the two most prominent stars. The last track on the album is Jonathan Frid reading Prospero’s soliloquy from The Tempest about actors and dreams. It’s a moody piece, and a fitting capstone to, well, pretty much anything.

Lara Parker ends her novel with the last sentence: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

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Superboy (1949) #124

From October, 1965, another three-story issue, this one featuring:

“The Insect Queen of Smallville” – Superboy’s girlfriend, Lana Lang, becomes a super-hero! Now, it’s important to understand that, if you’re Kal-El / Clark Kent and it’s not yet 1970, “girlfriend” is another word for “arch-nemesis.” Like Lois Lane in his adult life, Lana exists at this point only to try and prove that mild-mannered Clark Kent is actually the last son of Krypton. Also like Lois, she’s really bad at the job, and similarly obsessed with it.

This time out, Lana happens upon a spaceman in the woods, as teenage girls in small towns in the Midwest were wont to do back in the day. Said spaceman (now we would say “extraterrestrial,” but this was literally a little, green man.) She frees him from beneath a fallen tree. In gratitude, he gives her a ring which allows her to assume the powers of any insect.

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I Just Finished – Rocketship Galileo by Robert A. Heinlein

I’ve waited many years to read this one. I began reading Heinlein (with The Star Beast) in 1981. I’ve read most of his work, and, indeed, broke down this year and treated myself to the Virginia Edition, leather-bound copies of all of Heinlein’s work, including non-fiction articles and screenplays.

But this, his first novel published in book form, and the first of his juvenile novels, was a book that I’d always heard was badly dated and not as entertaining as his others. Now that I’ve finally read it, I disagree. Rocketship Galileo is as captivating, speculative and amusing as any Heinlein adventure (although Starship Troopers was rarely, if ever amusing. That one came from a dark place within the Grandmaster.)

It’s called “dated” less because of the naiveté of the idea that the first expedition to the moon would be the result of a contest for inventors–and particularly teenaged inventors–and more because the villains are–wait for it–Nazis.

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I Just Finished – Royals #6

I’m a bit behind on this series. I think #9 just came out. It’s not on the top of my “need to read this right now” stack, and I do have a lot of unread comics. Still, I do try to get to all of them.

I must confess that the cosmic side of the Marvel Universe is something I haven’t kept up with, and it’s gotten a bit complex and confusing for me. But, despite the fact that I’m not a royalist and hate the idea of inherited governing power, I’ve always liked the Inhumans. So I’m following this series to see what they’re up to. Black Bolt is missing and imprisoned, Medusa is terminally ill, Maximus is hanging around like a second-rate Loki. But I do enjoy Al Ewing’s writing, so this book is holding my interest. And I must admit, Ewing is making me like the character Gorgon for the first time ever. I’ve always considered him just an ass, sort of Ares to the Inhuman pantheon—a warlike, temperamental child. But writer Al Ewing has given him three dimensions and even made him a little sympathetic.

I miss Triton and Karnak, but it’s nice to see Crystal front and center. She so rarely was, in the Inhuman stories I grew up with. I had heard she had married Ronan the Accuser. I can’t see that ever happening, and I’ve been emotionally distanced from her scenes with him in this series so far, as their relationship crumbles. I just don’t feel it. Granted he’s cuddlier than Quicksilver, but this is a woman who’s loved the Human Torch. Ronan is way outside any type she’s established. Of course, she did once have a fling with a Realtor from Jersey, so…

Anyway, if you’re engaged by the Inhumans’ TV series and want to read current comics about them, this is a pretty good one. I would also recommend finding a trade collection of the original Fantastic Four issues that introduced them.

 

I Just Finished – Kingsman: The Golden Circle

I enjoyed this. It was far more comfortable, over all, than the first Kingsman film. Not that I remember that much of the first one. You don’t watch James Bond films to memorize their plot points, you watch them to go on a stylish thrill ride. And Kingsman is nothing if not a tribute to the James Bond films of Sean Connery and Roger Moore.

These films are hyper-violent. In the first one, there’s a seven-minute shootout in a church that goes beyond comic excess and is just uncomfortable. I had to look away. Although this one features a couple of encounters with a meat grinder, they’re over quickly and didn’t bring me the discomfort that the church scene did.

Halle Berry and Jeff Bridges are nice additions to the cast. Bruce Greenwood was a properly good ol’ boy villain as the President of the United States.

I have two complaints: First, some characters from last time out—one in particular—are ignobly written out of the franchise. They deserved better. Second, the film has three villains, and the biggest, nastiest comeuppance is saved for the least villainous, least interesting of them. He was a guy who did wrong, but he’s also given one of those “lost everything” reasons for turning bad. So he didn’t deserve what he got, while two other villains deserved exactly what he got, and they got a bit less.

Still, don’t think, just enjoy. That’s the secret.

I Just Finished – Uncanny Avengers (2015) #28

This series continues to delight. Johnny Storm is now a billionaire, heir to Reed Richards’s patent earnings. Of course, it’s pretty clear Reed’s on his way back, but still, it’s an amusing turn. Quicksilver is being written as something other than angry, for a change. If I’m honest, Rogue as team leader still feels forced to me. Is there a female X-Man (irony unintentional) who isn’t leading her own team? I get it, it’s long overdue that we had equality on that score, but it still feels a bit forced. On the other hand, anything that puts Jean Grey, Rogue, Kitty Pryde and Polaris into the limelight is okay with me.

But my favorite part of the issue was simply the first panel in which we see the Beast’s blue, furry, smiling face as he snatches an escaped balloon and returns it to a young Avengers fan. He’s been blue and furry right on through, but ol’ Hank hasn’t smiled a lot in recent history, and that’s a bad thing.

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I Just Finished – Professor Marston and the Wonder Women

So last night I saw this film, and on these very (virtual) pages said that it was the best Wonder Woman film of 2017. It was, because it communicated what the character was all about, which Patty Jenkins’s blockbuster starring Gal Gadot did not.

Wonder Woman was about love, pacifism and hope. She was about the triumph of compassion over war, over evil, over hate. I say she was about those things because she often is not about them anymore. In her new, iconic incarnation, she’s about women being able to be just as strong, just as aggressive, just as violent as men. That is not what her creator intended.

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I Just Saw the Best Wonder Woman Movie of 2017 (And It’s Not the One You Think It Is)

So I just got back from seeing Professor Marston and the Wonder Women, written and directed by Angela Robinson. I want to tell you why it’s a better Wonder Woman story than the one which starred Gal Gadot this past Summer, but I think I’ll start by explaining why the Gal Gadot film (actually, the Patty Jenkins film) disappointed me. I wrote this review the day after seeing that Summer blockbuster, but I didn’t publish it. It felt like I was spitting into the wind, because damn near everyone had declared that Wonder Woman (2017) was just the best superhero film ever–especially people who knew nothing about Wonder Woman and didn’t like superhero films.

Now, though, presented with what I think is a far superior film about Wonder Woman, if not starring the character, I want to share what I wrote then. Tomorrow, I hope to share my reflections on Robinson’s film.

A Lifelong Wonder Woman fan’s response to Patty Jenkins’s film

(Consider yourself spoiler-warned right now. Don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie and don’t want to know plot details.)

I love super heroines. Always have. Before I started reading comic books, the women of the Starship Enterprise fascinated me. A while back I wrote this tribute to the character I thought was Captain Kirk’s equal as an officer and an action-heroine.

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I Just Finished – Jean Grey #7

Jean Grey, founding member of the X-Men way long ago, has been kidnapped out of time as a teenager and brought forward to an era where her adult self is long dead, and remembered primarily for becoming the all-powerful, all-corrupt entity known as the Phoenix. Now the leader of her teenage cohorts, Jean is on a quest to learn how she can avoid following in her older counterpart’s footsteps.

In the latest issues of her solo series, Jean has been meeting up with a different denizen of the Marvel Universe each month–all the other Phoenix hosts, Namor, Thor, Psylocke, Doctor Strange–all with the goal of learning how not to become the Phoenix. She’s also being stalked by the ghost of her older self.

This issue, she meets up with the Scarlet Witch. There’s a bond between these two 1960s-born heroines, one which author Jeff Parker clearly recognized when he wrote a humorous series of adventures for the two, as teens, in the back pages of X-Men First Class several years ago. Both are mutants. Both were the only women on their teams, Wanda first in The Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, and later in The Avengers.

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I Just Finished – Star Trek New Visions Special: The Cage

Back in the days before most of us could afford a video recorder, and before there was such a thing as a DVD, a BluRay, or an MP4 file, there was no easy way to view a favorite TV show or movie between the times it was running on television. A few collectors could afford 16 MM film prints, but that was a very few. Star Trek fans had such a voracious hunger to experience and re-experience their favorite TV show that, in 1977, a company called Mandala Productions decided to cash in. They produced “Fotonovels”— composed of screen captures from Star Trek episodes, with dialogue and narration added comic-book style using boxes and word balloons. Bantam books published these monthly for one year, and I was all over them. Not only did they let me relive a TV show I couldn’t get enough of, they were also great photo reference. I was a budding artist in my teens, and later an illustrator for fanzines. Fotonovels were indispensible aids.

So when John Byrne of X-Men fame launched a series of new, larger format fotonovels a couple of years ago, I was immediately in for the long haul. Using photoshop technology and screen caps from the 79 original hours of Star Trek, Byrne has so far created 17 new Trek episodes in this nostalgic format.

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