Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Hawkworld by Tim Truman

Tim Truman (artist and writer)
Alcatena (inks)
Sam Parsons (colors)
DC Comics, 1991 

This trade paperback compiles the three issues of Hawkworld published by DC from August - October 1989, and features an Introduction by DC editor Mike Gold.

Hawkworld is basically Truman's take on a postmodern origin story for the Hawkman character first introduced into comics in 1940. It was well enough received to motivate DC to issue an ongoing series a year later, also titled Hawkworld, that ran for 32 issues until falling victim in Spring 1993 to the Great Comic Book Crash then unfolding.

The story is set on the planet Thanagar, where the elite live in luxury and splendor among the high towers of the city; aided by artificial wings and anti-gravity belts, they can fly like the eponymous birds of prey.

The Thangarans have enslaved a bewildering variety of alien races, representatives of which are obliged to work as slaves and servants in the high towers, while many more are condemned to live in strife and squalor in the slums occupying ground level.

The lead character, Katar Hol, is the son of a Thanagar aristocrat and a new recruit to the police force, where his skills and courage make him a man with a bright future. However, Katar Hol's exposure to the brutal tactics used by the police against the aliens of the ground warrens causes him a crisis of conscience.

As Hawkworld unfolds, Katar Hol finds himself forced to make a decision: remain indifferent to the plight of the Underclass, or become a Social Justice Warrior. Of course, Hol chooses the latter option, and finds himself drawn into a violent conflict with the corrupt and amoral leaders of the police force and the planet Thanagar itself..........

I found Hawkworld to be one of the better reboots of a DC comics superhero to be initiated in the late 80s and early 90s. Truman's plot is somewhat predictable - after all, this is DC comics, not 2000 AD comics - but it avoids becoming overly complicated, and doesn't belabor the Social Justice theme.

As is always the case with Tim Truman comics, it's the artwork that makes Hawkworld stand out. Ably assisted by inker Alcatena, and his longtime collaborator colorist Sam Parsons, Truman serves up some impressive draftsmanship that lifts the series above the usual superhero fare. 

Truman has a knack for drawing monsters and the presence of a potpourri of aliens within the pages of Hawkworld gives him an excuse to outdo himself with variations on reptiles, primates, and birds, and even has a tentacled monstrosity thrown into the mix in the book's closing pages. 

Summing up, Hawkworld stands the test of time as one of the better DC titles of its era. Hawkman fans, Tim Truman fans, and those who appreciate good graphic art will want to pick up a copy.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: The Goblin Reservation

Book Review: 'The Goblin Reservation' by Clifford D. Simak

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Goblin Reservation’ first was published in 1968; this DAW Books version (160 pp) was published in May 1982 and is DAW Book No. 482. The cover artwork is by Kelly Freas.

The novel is set in the future, when interstellar travel is routine due to the introduction of teleportation. Aliens from all over the galaxy come to Earth to attend university at the College of Supernatural Phenomena in Wisconsin. There they mingle with the Terran creatures of folklore and myth (like the eponymous goblins, trolls, banshees, etc.), who - by some process Simak never really explains – have been made ‘real’ and interactive with the world around them.

As ‘The Goblin Reservation’ opens the lead character, a faculty member of the College named Peter Maxwell, returns from a teleportation trip gone badly wrong. Instead of arriving at the Coonskin planet, his intended destination, Maxwell instead found himself on a Crystal planet peopled by strange beings who apparently hold knowledge of the history of the existence of the universe. Even as he struggles with his half-remembered experiences on the Crystal planet, Maxwell's is further bewildered to learn that ‘another’ Peter Maxwell had returned a month earlier to the College – and been killed under suspicious circumstances.

As Maxwell tries to determine where his doppelganger came from, he stumbles upon drama and intrigue surrounding a mysterious alien artifact, its sale to the highest bidder, and access to the greatest body of knowledge the Universe yet holds. Resolving these mysteries will require the counsel of the elder creatures of the Goblin Reservation………..if they are willing to assist him, that is………

‘The Goblin Reservation’ is the first Simak novel I’ve ever read. For one reason or another, he is one of those sf authors from the 60s and 70s that I’ve never really felt much urgency in seeking out. After finishing ‘The Goblin Reservation’ I have to say I don’t see an overwhelming need to try other Simak novels.

The trouble with ‘Reservation’ is not that it’s poorly written – in fact, by the standards of mainstream sf of the late 60s, it’s actually reasonably well written. But it stands as a spiritual forerunner to the ‘humorous sf’ of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and that’s a genre I never really have warmed to.

Much of the narrative of ‘Reservation’ is structured around lengthy conversations in which Peter Maxwell engages in witty banter with Alley Oop, the 1930s comic strip ‘Caveman’ character; a ghost; a swell dame named Carol; and Carol’s pet sabre-tooth cat, Sylvester. This is fully as cheesy as it sounds.

Interspersed with these humorous motifs are segments in which Simak introduces wide-eyed sci fi tropes such as time travel (giving Simak the chance to write a passage in which William Shakespeare joins Maxwell’s party at a tavern for some ale-drinking and lively conversation), the Big Bang, evolving Universes, and duplicitous aliens. These traditional sf tropes meld awkwardly – if at all - with the narrative’s more cutesy episodes, giving the book a contrived character that seems dated and unrewarding.

Summing up, if you’re a fan of the comical sf of Ron Goulart, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett, then ‘The Goblin Reservation’ likely will be a rewarding read. But all others can pass.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Normal's Books and Records

Normal's Books and Records
Baltimore, MD

I began regularly patronizing Normal's Books and Records soon after it opened in 1990 on 31st Street in Baltimore's Waverly neighborhood, and stopped only when I moved to Iowa in 2010. 

So it was after an 8 year absence when, a couple of Saturdays ago, I walked into Normals. Aside from a new coat of paint, not much had changed since the early 90s. 

It was swelteringly hot out (temps peaked in the low 90s that day) and just as hot in the store........... just like the old days ! Sweat dripped from my face as I toured the cramped aisles and crouched to examine the books lined up on the lower shelves.

I came away with some worthy finds (pictured below). Normal's is not a very large store, so you need to step inside with the idea not of trying to get some sought-after item, but rather, taking advantage of whatever quirky selections are on the shelves at the moment.

The sci-fi and horror sections are rather small, but there usually are some rare items in stock that you likely would have a hard time finding at Wonder Book and Video or McKay's Used Books. Most paperbacks are between $3 and $5 (although some titles might be higher) and the hardbound books are priced at around $5.

Sections devoted to art, music, movies, theatre, science, history, African American studies, Womyn's Studies, religion, and other topics are a little more extensive, but also adhere to the philosophy of showcasing rarer titles over those titles (e.g., Our Bodies, Ourselves) you can find in just about any used bookstore.

The section devoted to vinyl records is extensive (lots of cassettes and CDs available, too) and quite eclectic. 

Near the front counter is a shelf devoted to new acquisitions; here you can find newly published hardbound books for 50 - 60 % (or more) off the cover price.

Summing up, while I can't necessarily recommend making a trip to Baltimore just to go to Normal's, if you are in town and have a few hours free, it certainly is worth your while to check it out. 

[Note that the surrounding neighborhood is reasonably safe during the day, but is sketchy after dark. I recommend making sure your car doors are locked, that you have no valuables displayed on the car seat, not waving your iPhone around while walking down the street, and being aware of who is around you and what they are - or aren't - doing]

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Barry Manilow

Barry Manilow
promotional photo, 1974

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Book Review: Caddyshack

Book Review: 'Caddyshack', by Chris Nashawaty

5 / 5 Stars

‘Caddyshack (The Making of a Hollywood Success Story)' was published in April, 2018 by Flatiron Books. It’s a small, 294 pp volume featuring an insert section of photographs of the film’s producers and cast.

When Caddyshack came out in late July 2018, I didn’t rush out to see it. The title song, 'I’m Alright’, had been released earlier in the month, and was getting steady airplay on FM radio, so I had some idea it was forthcoming. 

But there were a lot of movies being released that Summer: The Empire Strikes Back was still pulling in audiences, and a low-budget film titled Airplane, released at the beginning of July, was turning out to be the comedy film of the season. If any newly released film had a buzz, it was not Caddyshack, but rather Brian DePalma’s ‘explicit’ thriller Dressed to Kill, about a housewife who pays the price for seeking a one-night-stand. 

Special effects team filming the animatronic gopher used in Caddyshack

In July of 1980 Caddyshack struck me as yet another low-impact Bill Murray comedy (like Meatballs the previous year), or worse yet, another bloated, self-indulgent movie designed to showcase over-rated Saturday Night Live cast members, like The Blues Brothers, which had come out just the previous month.

Needless to say, I had no idea that Caddyshack would, within a few short years, come to be regarded as one the most iconic and influential comedies in the history of American film.

Author Chris Nashawaty is the ultimate Caddyshack fanboy and his book is a celebration of how the film came to be, how it was shot (often chaotically) at a Florida golf club in the Fall of 1979, and how it got a disappointing reception upon its release.

Nashawaty starts his story in 1966, and ends it in September 1980, with the untimely passing of a major figure in the making of the movie. The book is thus not just a recounting of the making of the movie, but an examination of the rise of the new generation of comedies and comedians in American pop culture during the 1970s. It’s the story of The National Lampoon, Animal House, and Saturday Night Live, all of which made possible the making of Caddyshack

L to R: Doug Kenney, James Rivaldo, and Henry Beard of the Harvard Lampoon, 1968. Kenney would go on to produce Caddyshack

Nashawaty takes care to cram his narrative with all manner of insider tales and anecdotes, and by so doing, stays consistently entertaining (as Nashwaty makes clear, it’s a minor miracle that Caddyshack turned out to be a watchable movie, given the improvisational, haphazard nature of the script, and the heavy drug use by both cast and crew). I won’t disclose any spoilers, but I will say that there are plenty of tales that will give the film some added shine when next you view it.

‘Caddyshack (The Making of a Hollywood Success Story)' is very much aimed at a Baby Boomer readership. If you are over the age of 50 then this book will certainly trigger nostalgia; it’s little less clear whether those under 40 will find it as engaging.

I am not a super fan of the movie, but I do treasure the stoner culture of the 70s and early 80s, and for me, this book was well worth picking up. Recommended !

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Meltdown Man progs 178 - 181

Meltdown Man
by Alan Hebden (story) 
and Massimo Belardinelli (art)
from 2000 AD, Progs 178 - 181
September 1980 - October 1980

'Meltdown Man' debuted in issue 178 (September 20, 1980) of 2000 AD. Created by the writer of Harry 20 on the High Rock, writer Alan Hebden, and illustrated by Massimo Belardinelli, the series ran for 50 issues, ending in August, 1981 (issue 227).

The series' premise borrowed somewhat from The Planet of the Apes: Nick Stone, a soldier in Britain's elite SAS unit, is on duty in a 'small kingdom' in the Persian Gulf. Stone has the misfortune to be caught in a nuclear blast and somehow teleported to another dimension, landing on a planet populated by Manimals called 'Yujees'

The Yujees are ruled by their human overlord, an amoral aristocrat named Leeshar. Stone's willingness to accept the Manimals as 'people' sets him against Leeshar and guarantees a steady stream of frenetic adventures throughout the run of 'Meltdown Man'.

Like other 2000 AD comics during the early 80s, Hebden's writing for 'Meltdown Man' centered on action and satiric humor, and avoided the constipated, self-indulgent scripting that dominated American comics of the same era. 

Massimo Belardinelli, who did an outstanding job providing the artwork for 2000 AD's 'Dan Dare' strips of the late 70s, was perfectly suited for illustrating 'Meltdown'.

The entire 1980 - 1981 run of the series has recently been reprinted in a trade paperback (below) from 2000 AD. It's available at your usual online retailers.

Posted below are the first four episodes of 'Meltdown Man'. 

Friday, May 11, 2018

Book Review: The Druid Stone

Book Review: 'The Druid Stone' by Simon Majors

2 / 5 Stars

'Simon Majors' was one of the pseudonyms used by the prolific American author Gardner Fox (1911 - 1986). The Druid Stone first was published in the U.S. in 1967; this New English Library paperback (111 pp) was released in February 1970.

The NEL could saddle its paperbacks with underwhelming cover art; that said, this has to be one of the worst cover illustrations I've ever seen on a book. But this also is one of those novels where, sadly, the poor cover art complements the poor text within.............

The Druid Stone is set in New Hampshire in the mid-60s. The protagonist, a man of the world named Brian Creoghan, is in a state of semi-retirement, losing himself in wandering the rural Autumn landscape during the days........ and sitting down beside the fireplace with a snifter of the best brandy in the evenings. 

He draws the attention of two 'Goths': Ugony and Moira MacArt, a brother and sister living in a mansion nearby.

It seems that the MacArts are intently pursuing occult knowledge, knowledge that they hope will allow them to access Dis, the parallel dimension often referred to in old legends and myths as the world of fairy. They believe that Croeghan has the innate ability to access Dis, provided the right conditions are used to enable his Astral Transport.

Bemused by the idea, Creoghan consents to participate in a strange experiment: by touching the Druid Stone, an artifact in the possession of the MacArts, he will attempt to project his 'astral body' into Dis.

The experiment succeeds..........and upon lapsing into a coma in 'our' world, Creoghan finds himself reincarnated in Dis, in the body of a barbarian warrior named Kalgornn. Croeghan / Kalgornn then embarks on a series of adventures, all of which have implications for the survival of our world and its inhabitants.

Even making allowances for its brevity, The Druid Stone is a mediocre effort from Fox, who was content to rely on stilted, pulp-style prose when writing this novel. 

Its underlying premise shows promise, and likely could have been worked into something impressive by a more dedicated author. For example, Fox shows hints of Lovecraftian events underlying what seems to be a conventional sword-and-sorcery tale, but these and other glimpses of imagination never are developed, and the narrative lumbers to a predictable ending. 

I can only recommend The Druid Stone to those Gardner Fox devotees who must have every one of his novels in their collection. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

You're the Love by Seals and Crofts

You're the Love
Seals and Crofts
May 1978

In May of 1978 I was a High School senior, and pretty much indifferent to what I was going to do once I graduated in the following month. I had vague ideas of maybe going to college.....or maybe, just doing nothing much at all.

Such an attitude would be anathema today, but back in the 70s, well........ things weren't so heavily scripted as they are nowadays.

Anyways......... as the month rolled on, I became aware of a new single playing on FM radio, creeping in amidst the constant rotation of Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London. The new single was by Seals and Crofts...........and it was a disco song.


I was of course well aware of Seals and Crofts, who were - by the standards of 70s album-oriented rock - a bit too 'mellow' to be hip with the under 21 set.

But for these 'mellow' musicians to do a disco song was mind-blowing.........needless to say, in the aftermath of the success of Saturday Night Fever the previous Winter, everyone was doing disco, but the idea of Seals and Crofts doing disco was as utterly alien a concept as......... Debbie Boone doing a heavy metal tune.

But when you listen to You're the Love forty years later, it's a great song. It holds up as well as - or better than - many of the competing flash-in-the-pan disco songs of the late 70s.

Released in April of '78, You're the Love (a single off the album Takin' It Easy) eventually reached No. 18 on the Billboard Hot 100 and No. 2 in the Adult Contemporary charts. 

The video is here.

Well love, you came to my rescue. I knew the moment I met you.
Lonely and I was cryin'. Hurtin', I felt like dyin'.

Oooo. You're the love, you're the love in my heart and soul.
You're the dream, you're the dream, you're the dream in my life.
You're the way, you're the way, you're the way that my feelings flow.
Oh, my love loves you, girl. You, ah ah. You, girl, girl. You.

Showed me that I was someone. Gave me the strength to go on.
Now that I'm flyin' and free. Thank you for what you gave me.

Monday, May 7, 2018

The Born Losers

The Born Losers

He had just returned from the War….one of those Green Beret rangers.

A trained killer, people would say later.

Before the War, he had hunted down and broken wild horses in these mountains.

Some said the reason he was so good at these things, and the reason he lived alone in this forest, was that he had some Indian blood in him.

Others said that he simply didn’t like people.

All I knew, was his name………..


(Billy Jack's Theme,  written and produced by Mike Curb, co-produced by Al Simms.  Performed by Davie Allan And The Arrows, as 'The Sidewalk Sounds' )

Saturday, May 5, 2018

Book Review: Mona Lisa Overdrive

Book Review: 'Mona Lisa Overdrive' by William Gibson

4 / 5 Stars

Mona Lisa Overdrive first was published in hardback in November 1988; this Bantam Spectra mass market paperback version (308 pp) was released in December 1989. The cover artwork is by Will Cormier. 

By 1988, the year Mona Lisa Overdrive was published, cyberpunk was firmly established as a pop culture phenomenon, and its role in reviving sf was undeniable. 'First generation' cyberpunk novels from Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker, John Shirley, Greg Bear, Lewis Shiner, William Thomas Quick, and other authors were commanding a lot of attention. 

Having played the leading role in creating cyberpunk, Gibson found himself obliged to conclude the themes and plots generated in the genre's two touchstone novels, Neuromancer and Count Zero, even as the new talents were stepping into the spotlight with their own innovative takes on the genre. This could not have been the easiest of tasks for Gibson.................

Mona Lisa Overdrive is the concluding volume in the so-called Sprawl trilogy; the preceding volumes of course are Neuromancer (1984) and Count Zero (1986).

Mona Lisa Overdrive is set eight years after the events of Count Zero. While Count Zero had three major plotlines, with Mona Lisa Overdrive, Gibson expands to four.

One involves Angie Mitchell, who was introduced in Count Zero as a genetically engineered wunderkind who can access cyberspace without need for a computer ‘jack’ inserted into her skull. All grown up, Angie now is a global superstar due to her participation in a network-based reality show centering on the activities of the rich and famous.

Another plotline concerns Bobby Newmark, the ‘Count’ in Count Zero, and some wasteland scavengers.

Another deals with Kumiko Yanaka, the teenaged daughter of a Yakuza boss; as the novel opens, she is traveling to the UK to shelter from a burgeoning war between her father and other global criminal enterprises.

The fourth plotline involves Mona, a runaway who is eking out an unrewarding existence in Florida as a streetwalker. Mona’s boyfriend / pimp Eddy is yet another low-level hustler with big ambitions, but no real chance at achieving them. Until, that is, Eddy befriends a man named Prior, who is wealthy, carries a gun, and has a special interest in Mona........

Without disclosing major spoilers, I’ll say that the backstory to Mona Lisa Overdrive deals with the two AIs introduced in the previous volumes in the trilogy: Neuromancer and Wintermute. These AIs are making their presence known to the hacker underground via 'voodoo' avatars. The communications from the two AIs portend the advent of massive changes to the architecture of cyberspace.

But the actions of the AIs aren't the only efforts underway to alter the future of mankind. For the intelligence behind the creation of cyberspace has its own aims...........aims that will involve the murder of Angie Mitchell.......... 

Most of the impetus for reading Mona Lisa Overdrive comes from trying to figure out how Gibson will bring his four different plotlines together into any kind of convincing resolution. To his credit, although his handling of the four plotlines becomes a bit awkward at times (making this novel arguably the weakest entry in the Sprawl Trilogy), he does indeed do this.

Summing up, despite its rather diffuse nature, Mona Lisa Overdrive is a serviceable conclusion to the Sprawl trilogy. I can’t recommend it as a standalone read, as knowledge of the events in Neuromancer and Count Zero are necessary prerequisites; but if you are familiar with the first two volumes, then getting a copy of Mona Lisa Overdrive is recommended.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Awaiting the Collapse by Paul Kirchner

Awaiting the Collapse
by Paul Kirchner
Tanibis Editions 2017

If you read High Times, Heavy Metal, or Epic Illustrated at all during the mid 70s to early 80s, then you surely are familiar with the artwork of Paul Kirchner. Until last year a compilation of Kirchner's work from that era simply didn't exist, forcing fans of his art to scrounge among old magazines and scans to get the goods.

Now comes 'Awaiting the Collapse' from European publisher Tanibis Editions. While it's not the most complete collection of Kirchner's work, it comes close.

This is a quality hardbound book, measuring 12.5 x 9.8 inches, with good reproductions of the artwork.

All of Kirchner's 'Dope Rider' strips from obscure indie magazines and High Times from the 70s and 80s are present here. I had never before had access to these strips (scans of the back catalog of the magazine don't really exist) and thus, seeing them here uncensored and (in some cases) redone in full color is rewarding.

Also present are just about all of Kirchner's comics from Heavy Metal and Epic Illustrated: classics like 'Tarot', 'Hive', and 'Critical Mass of Cool'. 

Along with material from High Times and Heavy Metal, 'Awaiting the Collapse' features all of the covers Kirchner did in the 70s for the Al Goldstein sleaze tabloid Screw. Additionally, the book collects some softcore porn strips Kirchner did for National Screw (a short-lived spinoff title) and other porno mags.

As far as 'bonus' material is concerned, 'Awaiting' features a never-published comic titled 'Arena'.

For reasons that are unclear, 'The Mirror of Dreams', from the December 1981 issue of Heavy Metal, and one of Kirchner's best comics, doesn't appear in 'Awaiting'.

One of the more interesting sections of the book is its Postscript, where Kirchner recounts his adventures as an up-and-coming graphic artist during the early 70s, working with comics legends like Wally Wood and Neal Adams. Kirchner assisted the former with a number of strips for different publishers, including Creepy

In the Postscript Kirchner also provides an in-depth description of his technical approach to drawing and composing comics and illustrations.

Summing up, 'Awaiting the Collapse' is a valuable book for fans of Kirchner's art; devotees of graphic and comic art in general; and those who treasure 70s and 80s 'stoner' culture and its memorable magazines. 

Sadly, weasel-minded speculators are trying to sell the book for $96 (!) at amazon. My advice is to order a signed copy directly from Kirchner at eBay for $29.99 plus $4 shipping.