Review: No Regrets: A Rock’n’Roll Memoir

No Regrets: A Rock'n'Roll Memoir
No Regrets: A Rock’n’Roll Memoir by Ace Frehley
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A very raw and unadorned rock biography for once. Unpretentious and not trying to be anything other than what it is, it gives Ace Frehley’s side of all the ruckus that was KISS back in the day, and his evolving look on life over the years. An interesting and somewhat entrancing read.

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Review: The Beatles: The Biography

The Beatles: The Biography
The Beatles: The Biography by Bob Spitz
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the better rock biographies I’ve read as of late, this one really gets down into the history of the Fab Four and all the dirt and eccentricities that came out of the Beatles, Beatlemania, and the eventual personality clashes as they grew older.

Personally, I’ve never quite understood the popularity; until Rubber Soul and Revolver, their music was pretty staid and lackluster – some good riffs and licks, a good backbeat, but nothing out of the ordinary. I know it was their Beatlemaniac arrival that “changed” pop music all over the world, but until they started experimenting in the studio, I didn’t really hear anything that special. But when they started raising the bar, they opened the floodgates for everything and everyone out there, as they legitimized rock music as art.

Bob Spitz’s book covers all aspects of their careers, from their individual life histories in Liverpool, the myriad early groups and gigs they performed there and in Germany, to Pete Best, Stu Sutcliffe, Brian Epstein, George Martin, and all the major figures in their lives, and to the strangeness: The drug use, Yoko Ono, and the blatant fear for their own lives they had when performing on some tours.

This is definitely a good read for any Beatle fan, and I think it provides a good look as to how the pop music industry used to work (originally and post-Beatles), which shows a marked contrast to the pap of today.

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Review: The Steve Ditko Omnibus, Vol. 2: Starring the Hawk and the Dove

The Steve Ditko Omnibus, Vol. 2: Starring the Hawk and the Dove
The Steve Ditko Omnibus, Vol. 2: Starring the Hawk and the Dove by Steve Ditko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another in DC Comics’ many series of artist-specific hardcover reprints, the Steve Ditko Omnibus Vol. 2 covers a lot of near random stories between the sixties and the nineties done by the legendary creator of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange.

Included are all three of the Hawk and Dove stories that Ditko created, his fondly remembered Starman series from Adventure Comics with Paul Levitz, his work on Man-Bat and the Demon that featured the mystic villain Baron Tyme, several issues of Legion of Super-Heroes, and a couple of short features with Black Lightning and the Spectre.

Of everything in this one, the Starman stories are the best part of the book and most deserving of a proper hardcover reprinting. As with many reviewers, I think it’s a shame that the final part of the story, in DC Comics Presents #36, wasn’t included (it featured artwork by Jim Starlin). A similar problem is with the Demon stories, as the first chapter of that story arc was in Detective Comics and had Michael Golden handling the art chores, hence it isn’t in this book.The story from Man-Bat #1 does feature the only time Ditko drew Batman in a regular story for DC, so that’s a plus.

I enjoy these collections, but I think they’re better when they are character or story-arc specific, rather than artist. Especially with someone like Steve Ditko, who’s later years with DC (and Marvel) was primarily as a fill-in artist, the Starman series being a rare exception. This wasn’t a bad book by any stretch of the imagination, though, as it shows Steve Ditko in great form with a variety of great artists inking his work. If you like Starman, Ditko, or DC Comics, you’ll more than likely enjoy this Omnibus.

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Review: Marvel Monsters

Marvel Monsters
Marvel Monsters by Peter David
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This short fifth-week event series had one of those things that’s missing from most comic books nowadays: It was fun! Goofy stories, good artwork, and just an all-around enjoyable feel to these tales, using many of the monsters that were the main reason Marvel stayed in business long enough to become Marvel. Nothing too cosmic or too angsty, but just right. It also has a treasure trove of history, with the reprinting of the Marvel Monsters Handbook, and reprinting several original Atlas monster stories from the fifties and sixties. A fun read all around that will remind old-time fans of how good Marvel Comics used to be, and hopefully engender newer fans to take a look back at the good ol’ days.

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Review: Timely 70th Anniversary Collection

Timely 70th Anniversary Collection
Timely 70th Anniversary Collection by James Robinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was an excellent collection of stories about Timely/Marvel’s original characters from the Golden Age. It was also one of the few comic book “events” that I’ve been able to stomach over the past twenty years.

This collects all 12th of the anniversary specials, featuring Captain America, the original Human Torch, the Sub-Mariner, the All Winners Squad, the Young Allies, and even such obscure characters as the Phantom Reporter and Marvex. A very fun read on all counts – GA characters infused but not overpowered by modern sensibilities, without a lot of deconstruction.

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Review: Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 2

Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 2
Legends of the Dark Knight: Jim Aparo Vol. 2 by Jim Aparo
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Great reprint volume featuring one of the best Batman artists (and one of my personal favorite comic book series as well).

This Batman reprint book features the art of the legendary Jim Aparo, best known for his work on the Spectre, Aquaman, the Phantom Stranger, and, of course, Batman in The Brave and the Bold. This volume reprints B&B #123-151 (all the Aparo issues; #146, with the Unknown Soldier is NOT in this one) and Detective Comics #437-438.

The Brave and the Bold has been one of my favorite comic books since I was a tiny tot, so this was a pure joy to read, especially since it featured many of my favorite stories; #123, with Plastic Man and Metamorpho, and the metafictional #124 are gems. Bob Haney does most of the writing on these stories (with Archie Goodwin doing the Detective features), and he’s one of those old comic book work horses who knew how to craft a good script and make a proper comic book. What Bob Haney and Jim Aparo got through to the reader in one issue would take at least three comics in these times of woefully decompressed storytelling. You always got your money’s worth with an issue of their Brave and the Bold.

The average reader today will probably not find these as enchanting as I did, but I think anyone who’s a Batman fan or a fan of good comic book art would enjoy this book!

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Balls Deep in the Golden Age: Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3

I don’t often buy random comic book reprints, since I’m currently trying to collect several series already (All Star Comics Archives, Doom Patrol Archives, Incredible Hulk Marvel Masterworks, etc.), but if I’m searching on Amazon or e-Bay and I see one sitting there for less than $15 USD shipped, I usually will take a second and snag it. That’s what I did last week when I saw the third Golden Age Human Torch Masterworks sitting in the Amazon Marketplace for ten samoleons.

Golden Age Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3I kinda thought it was a mistake, since this one was in the original MM trade dress, and they seem to go for more money than the regular, but it showed up yesterday all shiny and orangy. I just started paging through it when I opened the box, not intending to read much of it, but for some reason, the book drew me in and there I was starting the second issue just before breakfast. During the day, I kept going back to it and ended up finishing the book late last night.

The one thing that the Marvel Masterworks reprints have over most of the DC Archives is that they normally reprint series over characters; The golden age volumes reprint entire issues, not just all the features starring one character. Mind you, I enjoyed the Doctor Fate Archives and the Black Canary Archives immensely, but I would love to have seen entire issues of More Fun Comics or Flash Comics instead.  This volume reprints Human Torch  #9-12, and while only #10 is really as feature-laden as an issue of Marvel Mystery Comics, the whole comic books are reprinted, meaning the book is really a Human Torch/Sub-Mariner book (like the GA Sub-Mariner MMs are Subby/Angel books).

I’m not sure why I was enthralled by the book. It wasn’t even the regular creative team on the Torch feature (if “regular” could be applied to any Golden Age team besides Simon and Kirby). Carl Burgos and Bill Everett, the creators of the Torch and Namor, were serving in the military, so the majority of the art chores on the main features went to the often and undeservedly derided Al Fagaly and Carl Pfeufer, two workhorses of the Timely era. Personally, unless I’m being scholarly and actually looking, I rarely notice a lot of difference in Fagaly’s Torch and Toro, except for a little less detail in the presentation. Pfeufer’s Sub-Mariner does take a bit to get used to, with that triangle-shaped head, but he just has a more cartoony style than Bill Everett. And it’s hard for ANYONE to look outstanding when compared to Bill Everett, even today.

The stories were all very good, even considering the normal jingoism and racism of the era. It was wartime, after all, and comics were an important source of propaganda both on the homefront and for the armed forces in the midst of the action. Even the text features in these books were given over to tales of normal joes doing their best to help the war effort. It is quaint and a tad humorous to see the now-immensely regal Prince Namor of Atlantis breaking the fourth wall to tell folks to buy war stamps.

Issue #10 features a bunch of more lighthearted humor back-ups along with the main Torch and Sub-Mariner tales, including a humor filler by Basil Wolverton – always welcome in ANY comic book – and an adventure of Jimmy Jupiter. I like that strip, just because it proves that any old golden age feature from the Timely Era is still game for modern writers, as Jimmy (a young boy with a VERY active imagination) was an important player in the 2011 Captain America comic book.  Issue #12, the final issue in this volume, also stands out, with a strangely-gory cover, even for the pre-code era. The Human Torch is shown saving a young woman from a Japanese executor by grabbing the man’s arm and literally burning the flesh off it to the bone. Even without the later standards the CCA applied to comics, it just seems like someone wasn’t looking too closely when they sent this one off to the printer. There wasn’t even a story in the issue that was even remotely like the cover, as the Torch stopped Hitler’s ultimate V-2 from destroying New York and rescued a Russian sniper who was on a goodwill tour. Heck, even Subby was tackling Nazi u-boats; they just weren’t in the Pacific Theater much yet.

Golden Age Human Torch Marvel Masterworks #3  is just a very enjoyable blast from the past. As with most of the MM  GA reprints, it really shows how much Marvel/Timely had on the ball even back then, in the pre-“Excelsior!” days, and shows how a lot of veritable “unknown” writers and artists, at least to modern comic book fans, took up the torch and keep the home fires burning.

Oh jeez. I’m sorry. That pun really sucked. I’ll try to light up a better one later.

Damn. Damn. Damn.

Review: The Martian

The Martian
The Martian by Andy Weir
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

One of the better hard science fiction novels I’ve read, The Martian manages to maintain a level of suspense, and humor, even given the fact that 90% of the book has us looking at one character: Mark Watney, who was left for dead on Mars after an emergency forces the crew of the Ares-3 to evacuate. Whatney has little communication with the rest of the universe and is forced to fend for himself.

The only thing that I didn’t like about it was that if anyone could have been left alone on Mars, Watney was the only member of the crew that could’ve possibily survived such an ordeal, given is unique skills as handyman/engineer and botanist. I suppose the book might’ve been shorter with one of the other crewmembers, but Watney wouldn’t be quite such an secondhand superman – it often seems like he knows everything and anything he needs to know, and can somehow artifice anything from the limited supplies he has. The book reads as a sort of Red Planet Mars in reverse, or Gravity with a guy. The “techni-ness” of everything often drags things down a bit, as the author is teaching us the Martian basics rather than telling the story.

Even with those shortcomings, the book is an excellent and emotional story and definitely worth a read!

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