Wednesday, January 27, 2016

"Doctor Who: The Glamour Chronicles" - "Royal Blood" by Una McCormack, "Deep Time" by Trevor Baxendale and "Big Bang Generation" by Gary Russell (A Review)

Three Doctor Who novels, three treasure hunts - one big quest. The Glamour Chronicles sounds reminiscent of The Key to Time serials from the Tom Baker era of Who, in which a series of adventures is loosely connected by a hunt for pieces of a large artifact, culminating in a showdown with the enemy. That's not quite what we get here...

What is the Glamour? It's a maguffin, that's for sure - the plot element that motivates a character to go from here to there, as Alfred Hitchcock would establish in a lot of his cat-and-mouse thrillers, but even if the answer wasn't entirely interesting, we knew what it was: Roger Thornhill was mistaken for a guy named "Kaplan", Richard Hannay was trying to find out what "The 39 Steps" are, etc..but it feels like we got 3 different answers to what the Glamour is. In Royal Blood, it's a shapeshifting sentient being. In Deep Time, it's a parasite/honeypot trap linked to an ancient race of "elder gods". In Big Bang Generation, it's a lodestone, a key that sets off a doomsday machine...I think (that one is a little muddy to me). It's implied the 3 books follow in that sequence via various remarks said in each book, but either of the last two have conclusions that could easily wrap it up, so this double solution (an Ellery Queen shoutout in Doctor Who - remarkable!) allows you to choose to read no further..ultimately, the Glamour isn't as interesting a prize as the situations wrapped around it. Regardless, the sales receipt revealed the numbering, so that was handy.

Royal Blood is the Doctor Who fairy tale story. Think The Curse of Peladon, The Androids of Tara, The Keeper of Traken, Robot of Sherwood, even Day of The Doctor, with Queen Elizabeth and the Zygons. Two warring kingdoms, the Doctor and Clara in the middle, then Sir Lancelot shows up, plus we get a "magic" amulet. It's all good stuff, plus McCormack employs a mixed-narrative with jumps from 2nd to 3rd person perspective, so we get to care about who these characters are that the Tardis team befriended. One problem: the Doctor has no scenes with Lancelot! I didn't get that at all...maybe the dialogues would've sounded too reminiscent of Twelve's with Robin Hood in Sherwood, particularly since he has the same skepticism about the Arthurian legend that he had with the green archer. Clara gets a lot of nice moments, here, although that might add fuel to the vitriol from fans who loathed the character and joked about changing the title to Clara Who. Grade : B+

Deep Time is the most suspenseful of the three volumes. The Doctor and Clara are last-minute passengers on a spaceship with a crew on a archaeological expedition that goes sour when the ship crashes on a planet that's evolving through time in increments, with the whole team along for the ride (reminds me of the planet from Star Trek III). There's frozen tundras, deadly plants, poisonous bugs, catacombs, haunted spacecraft, ghosts, the Tardis in peril and - the fans always eat this up - Time Lord mythology. Also, Twelve tries making coffee from recycled waste material. It's a good Doctor Who sci-fi/horror tale. Grade: A

Big Bang Generation, in theory, seems like an easy sell. It's got a reunion with one of the Doctor's old companions from the Doctor Who novels of the 1990s and audio plays by Big Finish Productions - Bernice Summerfield, who was one of the conceptual prototypes for River Song (the other being 'Time Lady' Iris Wildthyme). The problem is Bernice has too many supporting characters along for the ride, so the adventure is always digressing to what they're doing, what they're thinking. Imagine if The Husbands of River Song had Clara, Danny Pink, Rigsy, Oswin AND Missy tagging along with Twelve - there's no room for any of the scenes with the Doctor & River to have any weight. There are moments of Twelve & Bernice together that are very fleeting, but considering that this is the only companion known to have had sex with the Doctor (the documented kind, of course) and appeared in one the most acclaimed Doctor Who novels ever (Paul Cornell's 7th Doctor novel Human Nature, which was adapted into a two-part episode with David Tennant) then it feels like this is meant to get people interested in digging back into the old material to see what all of it means. Or not, since I  think there are limits to how much of that material should be considered canonical, even if it's name-dropped in episodes of the TV series. The adventure itself feels like a mashup of Time Heist with assorted special effects from The Christmas Invasion, The Stolen Earth, The Bells of St. John and Doomsday, with the alien bar from The Witch's Familiar. It's a book that warrants a 3rd or 4th read to get a handle on the details. Grade: B- (A- if you're familiar with the continuity of Bernice Summerfield and her adventures).

With 2016 featuring no new episodes, aside from a Christmas special, these 3 books are entertaining, brief and worth a look during the looonnnggg wait. Of course, I posted quotes. Enjoy!

Monday, January 25, 2016

#Top5ComicBooks of 2015 - #4: "The Amazing Spider-Man: Renew Your Vows" by Dan Slott and Adam Kubert

Spider-Man...married? With child? That's the way Spider-Man comics should've continued, in my humble opinion. No crazy stalker-kidnappers, vampires, Gwen Stacy-Norman Osborn shippers, Iron Spidersuits and deals with Mephisto. Just stories about Marvel's greatest superhero defying his hard-luck existence by becoming a husband and father while continuing to fight the good fight using his unusual powers, intelligence, resourcefulness and wit, because that's what a responsible grown-up man does. THAT'S the real Peter Parker. That's the real Spider-Man.

And if it required a tie-in mini-series set in a parallel universe showcasing a preposterous new villain as part of a patchwork crossover to dust off this status quo and show what readers lost in favor of a bizarre, myopic, "not-on-my-watch" possessivenes on the part of higher-ups, so be it. It's only on the final page that Dan Slott hints that even he's aware that The Regent is an incredibly stupid villain whose m.o. has him miscast as a Spider-Man foe and he may have been working off an outline that was handed to him from editorial, but the dialogue between Peter, Mary Jane and Annie May Parker rings true in a way that many Spider-Man comics orbiting this mini-series haven't in almost two (!) decades. It ain't perfect, but it's the best I've seen or read with the webhead in a long time. My one regret is that this feels like the end - the "Whatever Happened To The Man of Tomorrow? "-esque execution has me suspect that Peter Parker will never be portrayed in this manner anywhere again. His default characterization will be either a teenager ( example: the new Spidey comic book series), or a late-twentysomething "millennial" sap.

Now if only we knew who is that kid in that one panel of issue #2...who is he looking at?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

#Top5ComicBooks of 2015: #5 - "Resident Alien: The Sam Hain Mystery" by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse

I'm surprised Resident Alien hasn't been optioned for a TV series..yet. From Dark Horse Comics, this sci-fi/detective series has good characters that would be fun to watch, but part of it's appeal is that it has a nice quiet, low-key tone to it. It's protagonist looks like an older Chameleon Boy from The Legion of Superheroes mixed with the cool demeanor of Mister Spock..it's the Martian Manhunter comic book I would love to read from DC Comics, but they're not delivering. Thankfully, the team of Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse are offering something much better.

Stranded space alien Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle lives in the small town of Patience, Washington and presides as the resident 'town doctor'. He has a recessive telepathic ability that allows him to cloud minds and interact casually among humans without an elaborate disguise. Part of the suspense comes from his telepathy allowing a margin of error; there are humans capable of seeing his true form, particularly Asta, his nurse at the clinic, who became his friend and confidante. Since his showdown with a serial killer in the first arc, he's often shown walking with a cane after a leg injury. There's a subplot involving government agents slowly investigating his whereabouts, and a lingering mystery about the orange lunchbox-shaped object he's carried with him (the only article he's kept since his spaceship crashed) but that's still in the background. It's a bit Northern Exposure meets Diagnosis Murder with 5% Twin Peaks thrown in...those are awfully dated refrences..I'll add Gravity Falls to it...like if Ford was revealed to be half-alien, less of an egghead and solved mysteries rather them compile them in journals, he'd be Harry Vanderspeigle.

At the forefront of the series is Harry's aplomb as an amateur sleuth. In The Sam Hain Mystery, he discovers the mystery novelist he admires may have resided in the town of Patience and left behind an unpublished manuscript with the town doctor - Harry's predecessor, but the only known writer of note is a cookbook author...

It's the third arc of the series and a fourth - The Man With No Name - will debut this year. It's schedule is similar to new episodes of Sherlock - a series of mini-series, so there's no chance the creators will tire of it or give in to nonsensical storylines. This series is a class act that is worth your time.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir" by Terry Gilliam

I wonder if cartoonist/writer/actor/director/producerTerry Gilliam regards himself as boring. Gilliamesque, his memoir, seems awfully preoccupied with name-dropping encounters and collaborations with other people - so much so that he only has enough time to discuss his work almost as a collection of asides and afterthoughts; recollections of  his films scarcely take up a 1/3 of the book! I feel we're left holding a product - a coffetable book - very attractive, with bits and bobs of acute insights planted here and there to highlight and appreciate, but not something meant to be taken seriously. "I'm not dead; a more-comprehensive (i.e. "stuffy") look at my life and career isn't really my bag, ok?" - that's the message I got, so just enjoy it for what it is - a Gilliamesque book about Terrry Gilliam!

He's kind of a hoarder - he's saved lots of stuff going far back, even having his ancient battered edition of that Preston Blair how-to book on animation that many cartoonists took swipes from ( seriously, though - THAT book is good stuff; I still own a 1990s edition of it ), or yellowed sketch pad scribbles of aliens shaped from vacuum cleaners. I DO find him to be the most interesting of the Monty Python troupe, largely because he's continued to do stuff, whereas the others cashed in and have coasted off the past to varying degrees. I look forward to seeing his Don Quixote adaptation in whatever form it finally takes ( as of right now, it's going to star John Hurt and premiere on Amazon Prime ) and the likely Criterion Collection DVD/Blu-Ray editon of that ( Almost all his movies end up released with Criterion editons - it's their afterlife).

Naturally, I highlighted the bits I liked in the gallery below...the book reminds me a lot of the two memoirs animation director Chuck Jones wrote/illustrated in the late-80s and late-90s: Chuck Amuck and Chuck Reducks - bon-bon-size acute insights packaged in an attractive way for the coffetable..I have both of those as well, but while I keep a chessboard hogging the space on my coffeetable, they look nice on my bookshelf. Gilliamesque looks nice there, too.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

"Superman: The High-Flying History Of America's Most Enduring Hero" by Larry Tye

Superman has been around for over 75 years now, so it made sense that someone wrote a biography of the iconic character's existence. I had purchased this book shortly after I was halfway thru reading Men of Tomorrow - the Gerard Jones book, which I had reviewed in the previous post - so of course, I'm going to suffer some slight deja vu.

It's a very good appendix of Superman and the many writers and artists who worked on the character over the decades...and of course, it wouldn't be complete without chronicling the lives of Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, but this time, the strongest passages aren't so much about them, but about George Reeves, Alexander Salkind, Michael Siegel  ( Jerry's son, whom he neglected ), Christopher Reeve, and some crumbs of shrewd observations regarding every attempt at innovation or retooling the character doomed to erosion, always falling "back-to-basics". These pointed remarks are few and far between...I can imagine a leaner book, packed with more insights and less name & fact-checking..actually, about a 1/3 of Men of Tomorrow told the same tale, so if you, the reader, already own one book, you don't need the other.

One glaring omission: Larry Tye had little/nothing to say about Superman: The Animated Series. Two sentences! What's the deal?! He devoted 3 pages to Superfriends! Maybe he's saving something for an updated volume, which will include Batman vs. Superman...

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters and The Birth of The Comic Book" by Gerard Jones

T.M.I...Too Much Information.

Gerard Jones' opus on the origins of comic book publishing, Men of Tomorrow, is excellent, but I think it might've been too much to take in...things happen for a reason..why did the guys who created Superman live like paupers for most of their lives? Why did the writer who helped create/develop Batman go uncredited? The book is full of answers...

It's also obviously influenced by Michael Chabon's then-trendy novel, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, which would've made a lasting impression on me if I hadn't read Tom Dehaven's superior Derby Dugan's Depression Funnies a few years earlier. It's an irresistible narrative hook: the story of four men - two became tycoons (Harry Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz), the other two (Jerry Siegel, Joe Shuster) created Superman, which should've made them rich, but didn't - drives the book, but there is room for Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Bill Finger, Will Eisner, Mort Weisinger, Bill Gaines and (a man whom no account of the history of superhero comics would be complete without ) Frederic Wertham, who actually gets a fair shake from Jones, the most even-handed portrayal of the man I've ever read anywhere.

And...you get a good idea of the origins of the business model for publishing magazines and periodicals..I can't help thinking that the business hasn't changed as much as people would like to think...though Bill Finger is finally getting credited with Bob Kane for Batman, now, so that's a nice epilogue...maybe Jones could update the book someday to include that. It would be somewhat.. reassuring.