The Amazing Spider-Man – Vol. 4 (Marvel Masterworks) – From trapped to unmasked.

The Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 4 (Marvel Masterworks)

Price: $17.48

(4.5/5)

Pros: Highly influential stories, some very good action, John Romita’s art

Cons: Some filler stories here and there

Spider-man attempts to thwart a theft operation by an unknown outfit, whom he then learns that their leader is an unknown entity calling themselves The Master Planner. At the same time, Peter must deal with his first day of college, and then suddenly tragedy strikes his home. -summary

The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 may not be the best volume at this point in regards to overall quality storytelling. However, it’s definitely the single most influential volume because the outcome towards the end of the book will play a critical catalyst in the life of Peter Parker/Spider-Man for the rest of his life. This one major event is very important in the Spider-Man mythos.

It was no secret that Spider-Man was one of Stan Lee’s favorite children, easily 1 or 2 as he seemed to be a lot more into these stories. Spider-Man decides to search for The Master Planner when he steals something very important to him. At this point, this is definitely Spider-Man like never before as he becomes very aggressive when dealing with the criminal element. His angry drive and determination is such a shock that he sends his deadliest enemy running off practically fearing for his life. Things also take another turn when the Green Goblin returns to settle the score and things end up going in his favor.

The major running storylines taking place such as “The Master Planner” story arc is definitely Spider-Man at his best; this storyline is what puts the “super” in hero, as he does everything in his power to protect and save family. He is very selfless and full of courage, and this is just some of the things that make him so great. The final major arc Spider-Man vs. The Green Goblin, results in one of Marvel’s most famous battles, and it was no doubt Spider-Man’s most important battle by this point.

There are some other good stories taking place with Spider-man engaging in another forgotten, but very fun slugfest with the Molten Man. I will never understand why these confrontations would never make it to most people’s “greatest battles” list, because like the Scorpion, Spider-Man is usually forced to take it to the Molten Man, and I can’t think of a single boring brawl between them.

While Spider-Man’s life is no doubt interesting; Stan Lee continues to make Peter’s life equal or close to it. This batch of stories features the first appearances of Harry Osborn and Gwen Stacy, and I love the rocky start here because it all plays into the now legendary “Parker Luck”. The minor flaws come in two forms; filler stories that really aren’t as good as everything else, but they serve their role as nice cool down stories though. The second is that Lee straight up rehashes how he handles his main characters love interests. There is way too familiar of a feel across Spider-Man, Iron Man,  and Thor books. It’s quite clear that Lee had very little imagination handling these, with Captain America being handled the best in this department when looking back.

John Romita follows up Steve Ditko’s artwork very well with how he handles the action. The way Spider-man maneuvers in battle is something I never get tired of seeing; but the highlights are definitely the brawls with Molten Man, along with the fights against Dr. Octopus and Green Goblin. His character designs especially for the females are really good, and he gets Gwen Stacy down as the girl any man would want to be with. I especially like the fusion with Lee’s storytelling as his pencils captures most of the drama perfectly, and the closing of The Master Planner storyline is the best example.

This volume doesn’t end in a cliffhanger to leave one salivating for the next volume, but with the good stuff found here it really didn’t need it. I definitely recommend this volume as a must buy to anyone whom has either been following these stories or reading them for the first time.

Lasting psychic wounds of counterinsurgency and torturing

 

THE WOUND by Laurent Mauvignier

 

 

hommes

$15.81 at Amazon

[Rating: 4.8/5]

Pros: searing

Cons: searing

 

Laurent Mauvignier’s 2009 Des Hommes (Some Men, translated by David and Nicole Ball as The Wound) is a haunted and haunting novel. Mauvignier was born in 1967, after France gave up compelling Algeria to remain a subordinate part of the country (in the Evian Accords of 1962).

The novel open in rural France ca. 2002 at the retirement party of Solange, Her derelict/drunkard (but not homeless) brother Bertrand, a veteran of the French army in the Algerian conflict, now generally called “Feu-de-Bois” (wood smoke) embarrasses her and outrages his other siblings by giving her an expensive jeweled brooch. Family dynamics (dysfunctions) will be revealed over the course of the four parts (afternoon, evening, night, morning) of the novel—with the longest part (night) heavy on flashbacks. The narrator, who was also drafted and sent to Algeria, Rabut, is Bertrand’s cousin and not lacking in a guilty conscience and PTSD sleep disturbances.

Rabut wishes he was not related to Bertrand, and, still more, was unfamiliar with the atrocities committed by and against the French in Algeria. What emerges with Faulknerian indirection (if in simpler syntax) is a searing portrayal of racism, torture, and the insecurities of counter-insurgency (with an invisible enemy easily mistaken for visible noncombatants), along with an awareness that occupation of France (by Germany) was resented and feared much as the French counterinsurgency in Algeria was.

Rabut has a cache of photographs he took in Algeria (he has taken no photos since his return), just as Mauvignier’s father (who served 28 months in Algeria did). Mauvignier told Julian Bisson (in an interview published in France Today): “My mother used to show me pictures my father took in Algeria, where he was stationed for 28 months. In these photos there was no sign of war, or of the violence my mother would talk about. They were almost like holiday pictures, with smiling kids, nice landscapes, sun, the city of Oran. But when my father committed suicide, the question began to gnaw at me: Did the Algerian war have something to do with it? If so, who will speak about what has been silenced? What is it that has been silenced?”

It does not take much imagination to transfer the story from rural France and Algeria to the rural US and Iraq (and only a bit more to the rural US and Vietnam). Rabut and, even more so, Bertrand fail to suppress memories of atrocities (committed by both sides) in which they were involved and knowledge of France’s abandonment of the Arabs and Berbers who fought in the ranks of the colonial army (I would especially like to forget knowing of one form of retaliation against “collaborators” that Rabut recalls!).

The book is not a very easy read, not because of its syntax, but because the reader must put the pieces of what happened (and is happening in the 24-hours of the present day) together. Nick Flynn (who worked in a Boston homeless shelter into which his father came: recalled in a memoir filmed at “Being Flynn” and in the memoir of the making of the movie, “The Reenactments”) has some insightful things to say in his foreword. I don’t agree with him that “the books that come the closest to The Wound’s energies are J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians and Albert Camus’s The Stranger.” The murder of an Arab in Camus’s native Algeria of the latter has some similarities, but not the tone or structure; the one of Coetzee’s novel is more similar, with torture figuring centrally, and a similarly open ending. In awarding Coetzee the Nobel Prize for Literature, the prize committee categorised Waiting for the Barbarians “a political thriller in the tradition of Joseph Conrad, in which the idealist’s naiveté opens the gates to horror.” Though Conrad’s narrators were more detached from the stories they related, Conrad is plausible a forerunner of Mauvignier in my view.

I’ve already opined that its indirect revelation of traumas reminds me of Faulkner (and his famous statement “The past is never dead. It’s not even past” applies to the aftereffects of the Algerian counterinsurgency as well as to slavery, the US Civil War, and Jim Crow). The novel has reminded others of the movie “The Deer Hunter” (with Bertrand having a despair similar to the character played by Christopher Walken, Rabut more of a survivor, like the character played by Robert DeNiro).

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Les Hommes won the Prix Virlo and the Prix de librariries, and the English translation was aided by French Voices.

 

Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple – They don’t just go out for dinner and a movie.

Superman/Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple (The New 52)

Price: $19.07

(4/5)

Pros: Good development, action, and build up to later stories looks good

Cons: Carry over story elements may put off some people, some things could have been better

Superman and Wonder Woman are sent on a patrol where they attempt to stop a serious storm out at sea. They’re soon separated and Wonder Woman encounters a very powerful being whom is capable of easily overpowering her. Superman returns to take her to his fortress and hopes to identify what she came up against. He isn’t the least bit happy with what she shows him. -summary

One of the biggest gripes comic fans had with the New 52 was the developing, romantic relationship between Superman and Wonder Woman which began in the pages of Justice League. I never had a problem with it because seeing the two like this opens up plenty of doors, and it jells with what DC wants with this reboot. Superman and Wonder Woman Vol. 1: Power Couple focuses on their budding romance as well as sets the stage for some future storylines. This TPB collects issues Superman and Wonder Woman issues 1 – 7.

This  storyline was actually the best read about these two at this point. Wonder Woman’s book which mainly focused on some serious world building took some time for me to get into. There were some very nice ideas introduced but story progression was too hit and miss for me. Superman’s two books ranged from mediocre to outright dull; as far as I’m concerned Superman was fairly boring to read. This is simply not the case here though.

Charles Soule whom is climbing towards being one of my favorite writers at this time does a very good job making both of the characters lives interesting inside and outside of costume. The relationship is handled very well as they consistently ask certain questions. Despite them being two of the most powerful people on the planet; they’re personalities and backgrounds couldn’t be anymore different, and Soule delivers in a gripping way. Some of the issue with them is that Wonder Woman, whom is an Amazon but also learned that she is a god wants to go public with their relationship. Superman wants to keep it secretive to not worry the public. There’s more than enough going on here to hold interest, and the two make a wonderful couple.

For those whom probably brushed this book off thinking it’s all about the drama; I’m happy to say that there is some pretty good action to take place. Superman identifies Wonder Woman’s assailant and he learns that the Phantom Zone dimension may be breaking. One of its criminals, the Kryptonian general Zod, manages to free himself and later his lover Faora; and together they engage in a big brawl with Superman and Wonder Woman.

The action and drama are paced really well; but there are still a few issues going here such as things just feeling rushed, and although the book ended with an amazing cliffhanger. The ending to the conflict felt too stale for me. It didn’t deliver enough punch, at least not what I was hoping for. Also, there are certain story topics that crosses over from Wonder Woman’s title which is actually unexpected since her book distanced itself from the DCU. People are going to wonder how she became the new God of War and why are the amazons snakes. These things are only addressed across Wonder Woman Volumes 1 – 4.

The book’s final highlight is definitely Tony Daniels’ artwork with Sandu Florea and Barry Kitson dishing out the inks. I think it’s best to ignore the criticisms in this category, because some of these people ripping the art are praising Humberto Ramos’ Superior Spider-Man art, and that’s just something I can’t take seriously. There are some brutal, hard hitting action filled moments that also continues the character development. The character designs are very good looking and consistent despite some fill in artist; there are also some nicely done, vivid, and well detailed backgrounds.

Overall, this is a solid book and I came into this with high hopes anyway, and my disappointment is minimal. In any case, even if Superman’s books have been unreadable for some I still recommend coming into this. It is among the New 52’s good titles.

“…you don’t have to believe in CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST for it to get you…”

CRYPTID: THE SWAMP BEAST on History Channel

See it at Amazon or on the History Channel Website

(3/5) decent

Pros: Enjoyable as a horror miniseries

Cons: This just in: it ain’t real

“Throughout the United States, there are legends of strange and unidentified creatures stretching back hundreds of years. This program is a legend brought to life. It is told through dramatization, eyewitness accounts, and expert interviews.”

…so begins History Channel’s Cryptid: The Swamp Beast, a six-episode series run in the spring of 2014 that’s somewhat different from any of the other monster-related programming that’s been clogging up cable television for the past few years. Instead of following a “crack team” of investigators as they inevitably are hunted down by a mysterious (and imaginary) off-camera creature, Cryptid plays sort of like a version of True Detective or even True Blood in which the main villain of the piece is a mythical being known as the Rougarou. Sometimes associated with the legend of the Bigfoot-like “Skunk Ape,” the legend of the Rougarou originated in the Cajun bayou, with the creature usually being identified as a blood-thirsty, shape-shifting creature similar to a werewolf that can assume either human or animal form.

YIKES
Yikes!

Working from the basic folktale surrounding the Rougarou, the writing team of Cryptid (James Asmus and Collin Armstrong) weave a tale of several interconnected characters on the hunt for an unknown creature or person responsible for a series of deaths in southern Louisiana. The first episode of the program introduces these characters, namely an animal control specialist named Luc Baptiste, his two assistants Jules and Tammany D’Entremont (who are cousins), and a local sheriff’s deputy named Patrice “Trio” Lambert. After the discovery of a mutilated cow, Baptiste and his crew are sent in to investigate, eventually placing trail cameras and traps in an effort to either identify or hopefully capture the animal responsible. Things get more bizarre after a tourist’s phone is recovered deep in the swamp. When video footage is pulled from the phone, it seems to capture the moment when its unfortunate owner was attacked and presumably killed by an unknown entity. As the show progresses, more and more suspicion in relation to the killings is placed on the Jagneaux family (often hilariously presented as the virtual incarnation of evil and “a damn nasty bunch”), a local clan of stereotypical, shotgun-toting bayou folks who may or may not know more about the situation than they are letting on, and the hunt for the rampaging beast becomes more and more intense as it becomes apparent that not only the animal control team, but also the local citizenry are in ever-increasing danger.

so what exactly are we looking at here...
…so what exactly are we looking at here…

Admittedly, when I first caught the debut episode of this show back in February of 2014, I was somewhat less than impressed. Marketed and presented in a way that made it seem like a representation of actual events, it quickly became clear that Cryptid was nothing but a (possibly too) slickly-produced fabrication that owes more than a bit to The Blair Witch Project and any number of other so-called “found footage” horror films. That said, the fact that there’s a thread on the imdb.com message boards in which a user excitedly explains that he has “proof” the show is phony is indicative of the fact that many viewers are all to willing to buy anything they see on TV. I’d offer that the viewer who at all believed this program was a representation of real events after about a half hour of the first episode really needs to start evaluating his level of gullibility.

blurry photos
Blurry Photos? Must be a monster!

In all honesty, the program does a decent enough job of creating the illusion of authenticity. The main body of the show is presented from a first-person’s point of view, presumably photographed by a film crew who just happens to be tagging along with the animal control or police personnel whenever something important happens. As is the case with many programs of this nature (Finding Bigfoot being perhaps the most obvious example), the various characters often speak directly to the camera in an effort to explain or narrate their own story. In between the notable story developments, brief montages are inserted in which sensational newspaper headlines flash on screen while “locals” tell various folktales about strange occurrences in the swamp. More amusing than anything else due to their outlandish nature, these segments do add to the flavor of the program since they frequently feature images of how life works in the bayou. Though this show appears to have been produced with the cooperation of the state of Louisiana, it doesn’t do much to show the best side of the state. As seen here, the Louisiana bayou looks like an absolute dump, full of nearly impenetrable wetlands and lots and lots of rubbish and trash. Director Ty Clancey also presents occasional asides in which various scientists and experts explain various aspects of the story. These segments are obviously included to add some semblance of “credibility” to an otherwise ridiculous program.

Meldrum Check
Meldrum Check: 43 minutes into the first episode, noted Bigfoot believer Dr. Jeff Meldrum makes his first (of several) appearances in the series.

Ultimately, one’s appreciation of this program will come down to whether he’s willing to view it as entertainment: as a fictional television miniseries with horror movie overtones, Cryptid actually isn’t too bad. The main actors in the program do a fairly credible job: Britt George as main character Luc has a commanding presence throughout the show, while the marble-mouthed Jimmy Lee Jr. is believable as his spooked Cajun assistant Jules. Meanwhile, Rachel G. Whittle tags along as Tammany, the obligatory plucky female, and James Ricker II plays the increasingly worried local deputy. As tolerable as these performances are however, the supporting cast is laughable. Many of the show’s more outlandish claims are literally hammered home through sheer repetition from an apparent authentic local “folklorist” named Jami “Captain One-Eye” Burns who indeed has only one good eye. Apparently, this disability is supposed to make him more credible as an “expert” in bayou myth and legend – and it’s also supposed to make his doom-laden monologues more ominous, thus adding additional intensity to the show’s script.

Main cast
The main cast (here, we have Jimmy Lee, Jr. facing us on the left and Britt George on the right) isn’t bad – it’s the supporting players who are iffy.

The miniseries format makes this program more compelling than the typical episode of Alaska/Swamp/Mountain Monsters in which the (undeniably goofy) set up takes all of three minutes. The use of some rather wild, way-out-there locations certainly helps sell the situation in Cryptid, especially when combined with the “expert” testimony reinforcement, and several segments in the show are genuinely creepy (scenes in a grimy abandoned sugar mill and the surrounding cane field are highlights). The show’s first-person format additionally allows some of the more questionable special effects to be masked by shaky camerawork, and the use of eerie sound design and jarring musical accents only adds to the suspense, particularly in later episodes. Even if the program is pretty innocuous when compared to the mean-spirited modern horror films, there are some isolated moments of gore and nastiness here and the frequently disorienting atmosphere is a plus.

what is lurking out there?
What is lurking out there?

On the downside, nothing can entirely make up for the level of goofiness that exists throughout the series. Numerous segments of this show simply push the envelope of absurdity too far – when a nerdy “cryptozoologist” named Quinton Schuster (who’s main purpose seems to be to exclaim that he “has tons of equipment”) shows up for no good reason other than to provide a throwaway character for the titular creature to aggressively pursue or when Tammany visits the most unrealistic scientific lab in the world, many viewers will be cracking up rather than gasping in terror. It’s also increasingly hard to look past the fact that this program is quite literally a collection of scenes pulled from other, better movies and programs: viewers will likely recognize various elements transposed from The Blair Witch Project (stick figures hanging from trees), Jaws (the scene where Hooper pulls the tooth from the Ben Gardner’s boat), and any number of films dealing with violent/bizarre backwater folk among others. Ultimately, though the script is pretty solid and certainly watchable from start to finish, it seems very convenient and obvious, lacking much originality or genuine punch. This is particularly true of the series’ ambiguous ending, which is just plain dumb.

it's still  out there...

All in all, Cryptid is a mixed bag, but one that I think is at least somewhat worthwhile. In my opinion, its main problem was that it was a fictional miniseries marketed as a real deal documentary and played on a channel that is associated with educational programming. People simply weren’t expecting and didn’t quite know how to take something like this, and I think once they figured out they’d been had by a phony show, some viewers were (perhaps rightfully) turned off. Conversely, as the entertainment piece it quite obviously is, Cryptid: The Swamp Beast satisfies, even if it doesn’t so much as attempt to reinvent the wheel. Hell, I’ve got to give the show credit for admitting to including dramatization at the beginning of each and every episode. That’s something none of the other modern monster shows will do, and although Cryptid is far from being perfect or even very good, I’d give it a moderate recommendation as an agreeable time-waster.

jami
“Captain One Eye” says “uhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey (soundtrack): A trip that is overall worthwhile.

Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey

Price: $11.99

(4/5)

Pros: Many songs from the documentary make it, nice enough intro for newbies

Cons: Some songs missing, well rounded metal heads would prefer different stuff

A hardcore headbanger by the name of Sam Dunn went on a journey diving deep into the roots of heavy metal searching for its earliest influences, the one band to be held as the first metal band ever, and what attracted and pushed people away from metal. He completed his journey and released a documentary in 2005 titled Metal: A Headbanger’s Journey. For more information on that see my review here.

The documentary featured several songs by well known and lesser bands such as Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Rush, Diamond Head, and even Blue Cheer. This album collects many of the songs that were actually played but a few were indeed left off for whatever reasons. Perhaps he couldn’t obtain the rights for those songs. I’ll provide the track listing later, but what’s here is definitely good for someone wanting that musical feel from the movie, plus it’s a good start for those wetting their feet in the genre, as the soundtrack covers many of the sub-genres: Black, Death, Melodic Death, Speed, Thrash, and a few others.

The live version of Hallowed Be Thy Name starts things off with the guitars at the forefront with Bruce Dickinson’s vocals soaring over everything. This song opens up the soundtrack right. If the testosterone level isn’t high enough, then Balls to the Wall has the right amount of “grrr” for that with its crunchy guitar opening and headbanging chorus. Black Sabbath’s Heaven and Hell slows things down a notch, but the late Ronnie Dio’s vocals maintains some intensity and that awesome closing still gives me goose bumps.

There are several more noteworthy songs with some of the most memorable riffs grabbing the listener by the neck with Diamond Head – Am I Evil? The riffs in this song are indeed that memorable and the lyrical content matches it really well with a memorable chorus. Rush’s bluesy, progressive, metal number, Working Man is still amazing with its pounding rhythm, solos, and vocals.

I can’t let this review go without mentioning the one song that is the living embodiment of rebellion, Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It.  At least for me the memorable riffs are overshadowed by Dee Snider’s message of not sitting down taking garbage, but instead getting up and doing what you want, this song will always bring out the dirt bag in me; and I have to give a shout out to the evil minded, wicked vocals in Blood Lust. This song is kind of lacking in the technical department, but it’s still very catchy. Needled 24/7 by Children of the Bodom has such an amazing opening with some good riff oriented sections but I feel those mallcore and techno touches hurts that track badly along with some of the childish content and screamo. I was also glad to see Cannibal Corpse -Decency Denied, since I do prefer Corpsegrinder’s vocals over Chris Barnes.

This is a very solid soundtrack overall, but when looking at some of the stuff that holds it back like Lamb of God and Slipknot; I have a feel to rate it lower. However, I’m not going to condemn it for the things I would want here. Instead give it props because it does have a nice portion of songs from the movie, plus it makes a nice introduction to several of Metal’s sub-genres for those very unfamiliar. In closing, I definitely recommend watching the movie, and be sure to pick up this soundtrack together with it, especially if you don’t already own these songs.

Track Listing:

1) Iron Maiden – Hallowed Be Thy Name (live)  2) Accept – Balls to the Wall 3) Black Sabbath – Heaven and Hell 4) Lamb of God – Laid to Rest 5) Blue Cheer – Summertime Blues 6) Rush – Working Man 7) Motorhead – Killed by Death 8) Diamond Head – Am I Evil? 9) Twisted Sister – We’re Not Gonna Take It 10) Venom – Bloodlust 11) Slayer – Disciple 12) Arch Enemy – Silent Wars 13) Slipknot – (Sic) 14) Children of Bodom – Needled 24/7 15) Cannibal Corpse – Decency Defied 16) Emperor – Inno A Satana (live)

 

 

 

 

 

Marvel Masterworks: Captain America Vol 2 – One on one with Batroc and against A.I.M.

Marvel Masterworks: Captain America, Vol. 2

Price: $19.07 

(4/5)

Pros: Some really good action segments and better stories

Cons: Writing issues and some inconsistency

Captain America is prepared to perform one last security check around Avengers Mansion before going to bed. He begins to feel dizzy and soon passes out. He later wakes up and comes upon the ending of a battle, and one of the combatants is an exact replica of him. He captures the man or creature hoping to later find some answers. -summary

Captain America had still been sharing the Tales of Suspense title with Iron Man at this point, and it was no surprise to see that a strong case was made for him to have his own series in which he later got in the form of Captain America #100. These stories were great for their time I’m sure and many of them hold up well even now; at the same time they do suffer from some sloppy writing once in awhile and it seemed as if Stan Lee simply wanted to get these arcs out of the way, and focus on the books his heart were clearly into more; such as The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four, and The Incredible Hulk. This TPB collects Tales of Suspense issues 82 – 99, and Captain America 100.

There are plenty of story arcs that take place and conclude with some nice surprises here and there, to include a villain Captain America saw perish in their last encounter. Things kick off with a pretty good fight against the Super Adaptoid, whom copies the powers of various superheroes to take a deadly fight to Cap. Then Captain America continues his feud with Hydra, which lands him in one of Marvel’s greatest slugfest of all time against Batroc the Leaper; and believe me people, this is some top notch action here.

Captain America encounters the Red Skull again, meets the Black Panther for the first time, and battles A.I.M.’s new and deadly leader M.O.D.O.K which is short for Mechanized Organism Designed Only for Killing. He also works with S.H.I.E.L.D. to help take down various organizations and put an end to terrorist plots. The adventure never really seems to end.

It’s true that the action and intrigue are the stories main selling points. However, Cap’s character development is put under the spotlight as he actually gets frustrated with his sense of duty and wants a normal life. Although he has the Avengers to keep him company, he still feels the need of having a woman and things take a dramatic turn when he falls in love with Agent 13; but Stan Lee handles this pretty much the same as all his heroes at this point, and for some reason I find his handling of Cap and Agent 13 among the least interesting. The stories also have their bit of obvious filler, some weird writing at times, inconsistency, and the deus ex machine plays too heavy of a role to the point of outright silliness.  I get that this is a comic book, but Stan Lee’s more imaginative style of writing ran deeper in other titles.

Jack Sparling, Jack Kirby, and Gil Kane are at work with the pencils. Each of the artists capture Captain America’s graceful footwork and hand to hand skill, but Kirby simply owns with his hard hitting action-fests. The battle with Batroc was brutal and way ahead of its time; the energy and determination embodied everything a comic fan would want to see in a good guy vs. bad guy fight. I would rate this higher than Spider-Man vs. Scorpion in The Amazing Spider-Man #20, and that fight was sick as well. An action fan will indeed feel their money was well spent.

This is a solid collection overall and definitely better than the last volume to me. The action was a huge step up and for me the stories were more fun to read. However, I would still recommend volume 1 along with this book; but for those whom may be a in a situation where they have to choose between the two, then definitely get this one for the memorable action.

 

Silver Surfer: The Coming of Galactus – FF vs. The World Devourer

Silver Surfer: The Coming of Galactus

Price: $35.00

(5/5)

Pros: Epic story, action and character development

Cons: Contains a portion of issue 48, dated artwork for some

While on their way back to NY after a mission, the Fantastic Four notice that the sky now holds two suns. Afterwards, the sky becomes consumed by flames and the entire city is thrown into chaos. Later on, the sky goes through another unexplainable change. The FF are baffled on what is taking place until they’re greeted by the cosmic entity The Watcher. He explains to the Fantastic Four that he’s responsible for the disturbances in his attempt to conceal the Earth from the Silver Surfer; a powerful being whom is the advance scout for the world devourer Galactus. His attempt fails and the Silver Surfer is able to send off a message to his master alerting him of the planet. Galactus lands on the planet and announces that he will drain the planet of all elements and revert it to energy. -summary

The Fantastic Four had quickly became one of Marvels more lucrative properties by this time. The title was known not only for its growing rogues gallery, but for how it handled its sci-fi element. Along with The Amazing Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four was among Stan Lee’s most ambitious projects and one can tell this was one of his babies along with the wall-crawler. There was this feel as if he wanted every story to feel epic, and even though I don’t think he pulled it off often in this series early run. He definitely accomplished this goal with The Coming of Galactus. This storyline which was re-titled as a Silver Surfer story took place in Fantastic Four issues 48 – 50; and it featured the first appearances of Silver Surfer and Galactus.

I will always love the opening to this Marvel Milestone. It begins with an immediate end of the world feel, as the all powerful Silver Surfer speeds through the space ways, then appears on Earth and performs his duty as if no on else is on the planet. Then the mighty Galactus appears treating everyone, even the Fantastic Four like insects beneath his notice; and he quickly proves that he’s far more talk as he brushes off a blow to the ankles by the Thing and Human Torch’s Nova Flame. It quickly becomes clear this is a threat like no one has ever faced.

This story handles its build up very well. There’s always this feel something is coming and the outcome usually delivered. There was plenty of imagination and good action for this time period. In addition the characters are developed well enough, with the Silver Surfer eventually breaking his mold, plus Reed Richards and Thing’s bickering remains entertaining. This is one of those earlier stories I still don’t find a chore to read.

Jack Kirby’s legendary artwork was definitely getting better by this point, but for some reason it always felt like he brought his best to this book. I’m guessing it had more to do with Lee’s enthusiasm and simply having a lot more to work with. The energy wielding battles are definitely a spectacle and get enough time to develop across these short issues. There is quite a bit of detail during its sci-fi elements which is something the FF books usually did well. It can make a reader new to them want to see more. Unfortunately, the artwork does have a dated feel that can put off more modern readers, but this is by far easier to get through when compared to the first ten issues for example.

While this is a great short story arc on its own packed with some good action and overall amazing storytelling. I would recommend Marvel Masterworks Fantastic Four Vol. 5 TPB instead and simply skipping this book. This can be a good introduction to the FF, but the TPB is the best choice as one will get a much better feel of the FF’s world. Bother with this book only if you’re a serious FF completest.

Marvel Masterworks – The Fantastic Four – Vol 6: Doom + Cosmic Power = Doomsday.

Marvel Masterworks – The Fantastic Four – Volume 6

Price: $16.88 

(5/5)

Pros: Amazing all around. Dr. Doom vs. FF and Thing vs. Silver Surfer

Cons: Minor pacing issues

Thing wanders the streets of NYC in a state of depression  because of his grotesque appearance. Either due to instinct or some unseen force, he’s drawn to a mystery man whom wants to kill Reed Richards for personal reasons. He tricks the Thing then proceed to carry out his plan. -summary

After the Coming of Galactus story line that took place in Fantastic Four issues 48 – 50 which featured the first appearances and conflict with The Silver Surfer and Galactus. The Fantastic Four title began to really get good. The stories were interesting and fun before that point to be fair, but by this time they were moving with a full head of steam and it’s no wonder Marvel’s First Family was indeed the best team book out there. This batch of stories continues with the greatness and manages to provide reasons on why Dr. Doom was Marvel’s premier villain and why the cosmic powered charged Silver Surfer deserved his own title in which he eventually earned. This TPB collects The Fantastic Four issues 51 – 60 & Annual #4.

This group of stories contains plenty of content worth going crazy about, and is easily the best Fantastic Four trade at this point. First the reader will be treated to a pretty exciting story where a man jealous of Reed Richards soon learns what kind of man Reed really is, and the flow of the story along with its unexpected ending should be one of the high points of Stan Lee’s writing career. When I first read it more than 25 years ago it didn’t mean much to me, but now I can appreciate it as a brilliant work of art. Later on the Black Panther makes his first impressive appearance and the super villain master of sound known as Klaw, will be introduced later in a really good battle against the FF. Afterwards due to a huge act of jealousy, Thing battles the Silver Surfer in one of Marvel’s greatest battles of all time.  Then the FF are forced to battle a supremely powerful Dr. Doom, as he returns deadlier than ever.

These stories are not only awesome because they’re so action packed, but also due to Stan Lee’s character development. He makes these first appearances something to remember. In regards to older characters, despite his stubborn attitude that can make someone want to punch him. The Thing is someone a reader can’t help to feel sorry for because it seems all too obvious he will never be human again, which provides a real good reason behind his inferiority complex; but once this book makes it to issue 57 which takes up the remaining issues with a conflict against Dr. Doom, he simply steals the show and proves to be evil incarnate. The Silver Surfer also delivers a nice, showcase of power capable of making mere mortals tremble.

The only flaws these stories may have comes with the frequent appearances of the Inhumans, whom are trapped in some form of dome. Even if I considered myself a fan of the Inhumans, I think Lee milked their dilemma for far too long.  It gave off the illusion there was progress but it really felt like it was dragging feet, and this thing could have been wrapped up issues earlier. At times it hurt the pacing and it did distract from the climax.

Jack Kirby was also carrying out writing duties for Thor in Journey Into Mystery and his art was really good there, yet these stories are written around the same time and his work feels more complete. The sci-fi element has some nice moments as Reed Richards attempts to visit sub space. Plus the imagination in the action panels are something else. The issues featuring Klaw would have someone believe he was at least capable of being a  B-list villain; plus the battles with Black Panther, later on Dr. Doom, and even Human Torch vs. The Original Human Torch are simply amazing. The Torch battle features the two engulfed in flames in the backgrounds. It just looks great.

It’s really hard for me to even think about lowering this book’s rating even due to the minor pacing problems, because every issue is very good overall. The action, artwork, dialog, and overall heart put into it is hard to ignore. I definitely recommend this TPB to comic fans for its excitement, and also due to how newbie friendly it is.

 

An Enjoyable but Unnecessary Chronicle of Pro Wrestling’s Worst: WRESTLECRAP by R.D. Reynolds

WRESTLECRAP: THE VERY WORST OF PRO WRESTLING by R.D. Reynolds/Randy Baer

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See it at Amazon 

(3.5/5) decent

Pros: Perfectly enjoyable and easy to read; nostalgic value

Cons: Doesn’t quite live up to its billing  – imagine that!

Spotlighting the all-around worst the world of professional wrestling has to offer, the Wrestlecrap website was launched in the year 2000 and has gone on to achieve increasing notoriety and recognition over the years despite some sweeping changes and periods of inactivity. The site’s main claim to fame may be its annual “Gooker Award” (named after the infamous GobbledyGooker) in which the year’s most asinine gimmick, storyline, or event is recognized, but co-founder R.D. Reynolds (the wrestling pseudonym of Randy Baer) has also branched out to author several books based on the content of the site.

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Tugboat – the wrestler who thought he was a boat – yes, just about anything goes in the whacked-out world of pro wrestling…

Though it may sound like an all-encompassing examination of pro wrestling’s low points, Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling (published in 2003 by ECW Press – which has no connection to the wrestling promotion of the same name) is, in fact, something slightly different. Though it does chronicle numerous wacky and/or jaw-droppingly awful personalities and situations from pro wrestling’s history, the book devotes a substantial amount of its pages (I’d estimate almost half) to the period of the so-called “Monday Night Wars” when Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation (now called the WWE) went head-to-head with Ted Turner’s World Championship Wrestling – in large part through their respective Monday Night Raw and Nitro television programs which played weekly in the same time slot.

who's who
A veritable who’s who of Wrestlecrap!

Focusing on this period of wrestling history can either be viewed as a good or a bad thing. On the plus side, this era will be fondly remembered by fans as the time when performers such as Goldberg, Steve Austin, The Rock, Mick Foley, and Triple H really came into their own while more established names like Bret Hart, Hulk Hogan, Sting, and Shawn Michaels solidified their Hall of Fame statuses. Additionally, the late 1990s were indisputably the period in which pro wrestling achieved its highest level of mainstream fame: before this period, the sport had been largely viewed as a lowbrow entertainment with minimal mainstream appeal. The period of the “Monday Night Wars” did nothing if not demonstrate just how popular pro wrestling had the potential to be, and I suspect many readers would enjoy and appreciate Reynolds’ text for the nostalgic value alone.

wtf
You really have to wonder about some of the things that fly in a wrestling ring…

On the downside, while it’s convenient to focus on subjects that readers probably would be familiar with, there’s more to the history of pro wrestling than just the period from the early 1990s until 2001. Even if Wrestlecrap provides a different perspective on this period of wrestling history, there’s no escaping the fact that I, being a seasoned and longtime wrestling fan who came of age as it were in the late ’90s, didn’t learn much of anything from this book. Maybe my main problem with the choice of subject matter to focus on is that less than a year after Reynolds released this first Wrestlecrap book, he would release another – this one devoted exclusively to the “death” of WCW. As such, there’s a ton of crossover between the two books, a fact which (when combined with Wrestlecrap’s very minimal coverage of non-WWF and non-WCW promotions) only further accentuates the notion that the book doesn’t honestly provide the all-encompassing examination of the stupidity and excess of pro wrestling that its title hints at.

no caption needed
No caption needed. If you have to ask, you’ll never know.

Potentially problematic as it may be though, there are still many reasons why a fan of “sports entertainment” would want to give this book a looksee. As mentioned, it offers up a ton of nostalgia, much of which is of the “I completely forgot about that…but it’s completely hilarious” variety. It’s very clear that Reynolds has the same love and appreciation of pro wrestling that many of his readers would possess, and his book is perfectly written in a manner to appeal to that crowd. Though easy to read to the point where I might even say that it appeals more to dim-witted readers, the tone and writing style seen here is precisely what the material calls for: I’d hardly expect a book dealing with this subject to be a scholarly piece full of ten dollar words. That being said, there are a handful of noticeable grammatical and spelling errors present in the final text, and some of the language used in this book might turn off some readers. Inexcusable though the errors are, I have to emphasize that the crowd who would read a book dealing with pro wrestling in all likelihood not only wouldn’t notice subtle errors, but also wouldn’t be turned off by the occasional instance of colorful word choice and raunchiness.

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The Undertaker versus … a hairy, nude man?

The book’s main selling point is obviously the humor inherent in the subject, and Reynolds emphasizes the comic value of the material at every opportunity. Generally speaking, the tone text seems to “laugh with” not “at” the wrestlers/performers involved in the situations – after all, pro wrestling is nothing if not completely absurd through and through. On occasion however, the author does seem to head down a path that’s somewhat tasteless and the whole of the book could probably be labeled as being “sophomoric.” Again, I think this is more or less par for the course in a book of this nature; in any case, I wound up chuckling to myself quite regularly while reading.

zombie!

Accompanying the text are a handful of photographs, including a section of full-color prints. Though I might have liked additional images just to see who and what the author was referring to at various points throughout the book, I think there was a nice assortment and amount of pictures here. It’s certainly fortunate that, with the aid of youtube, a reader can virtually “re-live” any of the goofy gimmicks and storylines discussed herein. Overall, Wrestlecrap: The Very Worst of Pro Wrestling is an enjoyable read from cover to cover even if it’s something I’d be more inclined to apply a somewhat mediocre rating to. 268 pages in length and featuring a font size that looks large to my eyes, it’s probably not the best or most comprehensive pro wrestling book out there: it’s one that ultimately is content to poke fun at the goofiness of the sport rather than tell the reader anything he didn’t previously know. Still, while it probably wouldn’t be something that the average reader would have an interest in, the book (which includes a forward written by the late John Tenta, best known for wrestling under the name “Earthquake”) comes highly recommended to the fan of sports entertainment.

The more things change, the more they stay the same…
alex
bryan

Led Zeppelin II – Better all around song structure on this sophomore release.

Led Zeppelin II

Price: $4.48

(4/5)

Pros: Better overall sound with a few stand out performances

Cons: Lyrical content gets annoying fast for me

In 1969 immediately after the release of their debut album. Led Zeppelin were hard at work recording their sophomore album on the road in which they managed to release the same year. There is obvious progression that can be heard across this release through better complicated strong structure and just overall writing. While this second album is not as ear splitting catchy as their debut; it has another identity altogether and is enjoyable in its own right.  In fact, I enjoyed their debut album a lot more at one point, and this took several repeated listens for me to grow more appreciation towards it. Some people consider this their best album. At this point in my life it’s still not my favorite and perhaps never will be.

Personally I don’t think this album rocks as hard as their debut though, but the bluesy character found through out is pretty tough not to enjoy. The classic and most well known opener Whole Lotta Love opens up with possibly Jimmy Page’s most recognizable riff. There’s some good song structure with that spacy break and nice drumming. Speaking of the drumming, John Bonham has his moments as well, and the song Ramble On displays this, as I find it to be one of their better and more creative songs here. The drums are incredibly light and sound similar to a pencil eraser tapping against a notebook, then later on he gets harder on the kit that blends well with the bass parts. This is one of my favorites for sure.

Lemon is a number that definitely has the most provocative lyrics on the album; but I choose to listen to this a lot more for the technical guitar work, prominent bass work, and catchy soloing. Heartbreaker stands out for its heaviness due to that bass and guitar fusion, with some good soloing as well. They rock pretty hard here; and I love how this blends directly into Living Long Maid. This slightly sped-up, rock-poppy number couldn’t be anymore lyrically simple but it’s really catchy.

There are a few other well crafted songs on here with the closer Bring it On Home ending this thing off on the right note; this one is very bluesy with a nice melodic use of the bass and harmonica, and leads into a hard rocking finish.

The only real flaws for me on this album is the actual content which once again focuses on something to do with a woman; either it’s Robert Plants love for one or how rotten they can just be. I understand this type of content is something found in blues, but if it wasn’t for Plants vocal range in making this stuff cool, with stand out performances for me on songs like Thank You, Bring It On Home, and a few others, along with the band’s overall unit cohesion that allows me to block out the actual lyrics. I wouldn’t care for this album much.

In closing, Led Zeppelin II is a really good follow up that shows the band were progressing as a cohesive unit. Of course there are songs I like more than others, but it was due to repeated listens which leads me to say there’s nothing I actually dislike. Definitely recommended to those whom love classic rock. The album was also re-mastered and re-released last June along with the first four albums. It would be a good idea to grab them if you don’t already own them. I do recommend picking up the debut album Led Zeppelin I as well.

 

 

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