Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Armchair BEA: Novellas/Short Stories

It's day three of Armchair BEA-- day two for my late-to-the-party self-- so here is today's topic:

Now it is time to give a little love to those little stories in your life. Share your love for your favorite shorts of any form. What is a short story or novella that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves? Recommend to readers what shorts you would recommend they start with. How about listing some short story anthologies based upon genres or authors?

It will come as no surprise to my regular readers that I love short stories. There's something about a bite-size chunk of fiction that really appeals to me, and I really enjoy working in that format myself, which is why my first book was a collection of short stories. It's no coincidence that most of my favorite authors, such as Mark Twain, Ray Bradbury, and Robert E. Howard, were masters of the short story. Today, I'll be talking about one of  Howard's tales of Solomon Kane, The Footfalls Within.

I've covered REH's Solomon Kane work a couple of times before, and as with those posts, this story is found in the collection The Savage Tales of Solomon Kane, which reprint all of REH's Kane work in their original form, unlike the edited versions found in some other reprint collections. The story begins as Kane runs afoul of a group of Islamic slavers, and is captured while attempting to free their captives. Their leader has heard of Kane, and has special plans for him once they reach their destination. The group encounters an ancient structure along the way, and things quickly go downhill from there. This story is a very concise twenty pages, and its relentless pace keeps it moving so quickly you could swear it was half as long. As with most fiction from the early twentieth century, there are a few cringe-inducing lines reflecting the common prejudices of the time, but REH was rather progressive in his views for that era, particularly for a Southerner. (I say that as a Southerner, where I routinely see that some of those views are, sadly, still disturbingly common. Definitely not the majority, however.) That said, this is a rock-solid adventure story with a wonderful pulpy tone, plenty of action, and some solid characterization work on Kane himself. With the religious zealotry and many of the prejudices you'd expect from a sixteenth century Puritan, Kane is certainly not the most likeable of REH's characters, but he is one of the most interesting. Highly recommended for lovers of classic adventure fiction, and these Del Rey REH reprint volumes are the perfect place to dive in!

Armchair BEA: More Than Just Words

I just found out about the Armchair BEA early this morning, and even though I'm a day late to the party, I'm diving in head-first!

There are so many mediums that feature more than just words and enhance a story in a multitude of ways. Examples may include graphic novels and comics, audiobooks, or even multimedia novels. On this day, we will be talking about those books and formats that move beyond just the words and use other ways to experience a story. Which books stand out to you in these different formats?

Personally, I've never been able to really get into audiobooks. I have friends who love to listen to them while driving, and I wish I could do the same, but there are a few things that prevent me from enjoying them. One of the biggest issues is that I read a good deal faster than an audiobook narrator can(without becoming unintelligible, anyway), so it just doesn't feel right. An audiobook that features a radio show-style full voice cast can definitely help alleviate that, but those seem to be few and far between, unfortunately. Additionally, any audiobook that's produced well enough for me to really lose myself in is definitely not one I need to be listening to while driving, as it will divert my attention from the road, and that ain't good. That means I'd need to listen to it at home, and if that's the case, I'd rather just read the book myself. So, I certainly don't hold it against anyone who listens to audiobooks-- some of the arguments I've heard denigrating audiobooks are truly ridiculous--  but they're just not for me.

Graphic novels and comics, on the other hand... regular TMR readers know that those are definitely my thing! I can (and have) go on and on about a plethora of comics that rank among my favorites, and today, I want to talk about one I don't believe I've mentioned here before: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story, by Vivek Tiwary and artists Andrew C. Robinson & Kyle Baker. Despite his role as the manager of history's greatest and most popular band, Epstein typically gets short shrift in recountings of the band's origins and rise to superstardom. However, Epstein was crucial to their success, and that story is told very well here. There are some liberties taken with the facts, of course; this is always necessary for the purposes of effective storytelling. This remains one of the most factually grounded tellings of the efforts of Epstein to help the young Beatles find success, despite the storytelling flourishes.

One of the most impressive things about this graphic novel is how Tiwary absolutely nails each of the Beatle's distinct voices. Each of them "sounds" exactly as he should, and it's so eerily accurate that it is sometimes difficult to believe that the dialogue was not transcribed from extant recordings. the art bears a special mention here, with Robinson handling the bulk of it, and Baker taking on a more fancifully-rendered section recounting the disastrous 1965 tour of the Philippines. The entire tale is whimsical, hilarious, and, at times, quite sad. This remarkable graphic novel is essential reading for any Beatles fan.

That's it for today, but I'll be back with more BEA goodness tomorrow! In the meantime, for more information about Armchair BEA, click the link at the top of the post!

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Thoughts on the "Batman vs. Superman" Batman and Batmobile reveal

So, following director Zack Snyder's tease yesterday, he released a photo today with the tarp pulled off. As a surprise bonus, we also get our first glimpse of the new Batman costume!

As far as what we can see of the Batmobile, it looks awesome. I love the Tumbler from the Nolan movies, but I'm still happy to see a return to a more traditional style of Batmobile for this movie. As for the costume, many people are claiming The Dark Knight Returns influence, and with the short ears and "bloated" bat emblem, I see where they're coming from. I'm not a fan of a short-eared Batman costume personally, though I wouldn't want crazy Kelley Jones-style rocket ears, either. The costumes in the previous movies had a good ear length. The costume also looks as if it may be a return to the rubber suit look; if true, I am definitely not thrilled about that. In the larger version of the photo, however, you can see that the costume is textured, which alleviates that look somewhat. At this point, based on this glimpse, I think it's a decent, but not great, costume. It's particularly disappointing after all the rumors that it was inspired by the art of Lee Bermejo. (As always, those rumors were to be taken with a rather large grain of salt, but one couldn't help hoping...)

All that said, it should be kept in mind that all we have to go on here is one black and white photo in which much of the costume is obscured by shadows. It may well leave a more favorable impression once we get to see it in full. In the meantime, while it's not the exact costume many of us were hoping for, it's not bad, either.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Free Comic Book Day Fallout!

Because I am so damn prompt, here's a roundup of my Free Comic Book Day swag! Here's the whole pile!

Pretty good haul, and not too much money, either. you might notice that two of the figures are missing from that Simpsons Treehouse of Horror set; I got it for $10 by agreeing to split the figures with the guy who sold it to me. I mainly wanted Devil Flanders and Vampire burns anyway, so that worked out well. Nelson was one of the figures I never got around to picking up when the World of Springfield line was still being produced, so I was happy to snag one for $3. Here they are after being freed from their plastic prisons:

And here's an overhead shot, so you can see more of the set's detail. there are details from various THOH episodes, including a zombie from Dial "Z" for Zombie, Witch Marge from Easy Bake Coven, the crazy awesome Snowball II design from The Bart Zone, the evil talking Krusty doll from Clown Without Pity, the gemlin from Terror at 5 1/2 Feet, and Kang and Kodos! Pretty cool stuff.

Getting back to comics, here are the actual free comics I got.

Not quite everything I wanted, but our shop never gets that damn Tick FCBD issue. Ah, well. Still a very nice haul, and there were some "normal" non-free comics on the free table to choose from. I didn't wanna be greedy, so I just grabbed a copy of Batman/Superman #1. I was also very pleased to get another of Archaia's hardcovers; these little books are very nice, and I hope they keep doing them each year. There are a couple of the free comics I haven't gotten around to reading yet. Out of the ones I've read, I have a few favorites. Future's End #0 is a very interesting take on the classic"hero travels back in time to prevent a nightmarish future" plot, with a couple of gloriously twisted moments. This issue definitely got me excited about checking out the series when it continues with a #1 issue this Wednesday. Atomic Robo was decent, but not as good as past FCBD issues. The Bongo Free-For-All is a nice assortment of stories, with a great activity page by the legendary Sergio Aragones. Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck: A Matter of Some Gravity is lots of fun, with two classic stories by the great Don Rosa. The duck comics are always very fun reads, and this one is no exception.

Here's a handful I grabbed for a quarter each:

I have an abiding love for the black & white comic magazines of the '70s and '80s, so that Planet of the Apes mag was snatched up in a blur as soon as Cindy showed it to me. That issue of Sandman is one of my favorites, so it was an instant buy when I came across it. The Fraction/Allred FF series was a fun book(though it began more strongly than it ended), so I was happy to grab this issue. Both of these will likely join the comics I have framed and hung on the wall. Robert E. Howard's Savage Sword is an excellent anthology series that comes out a few times each year, courtesy of Dark Horse Comics. Each issue is a whopping 80 pages, and the stories feature characters beyond Conan the barbarian(though he still shows up too). Howard created a good many interesting characters, and it's really nice to see them get a spotlight in this series.

I also picked up a few recent comics, some of them as recent as this past week.

All of these are series that I enjoy, and I grabbed an issue of each for framing & hanging purposes. Batman Eternal, of course, is the weekly Batman series that kicked off a few weeks ago. It's been a solid read so far, and I liked the overall design of the cover for the debut issue, with the cast spread across Batman's cape. It's a nice, striking image. J. H. Williams III & Haden Blackman's  Batwoman was one of my favorite series until the creative team got dicked around and departed the book last year, and this issue is one of the strongest of their run. DC's Masters of the Universe comic has been a good read after a somewhat shaky start, and this cover by Ryan Sook is just awesome. The fact that it spotlights the green Goddess, a character I've had a soft spot for since I was a tiny little kid, doesn't hurt. Superior Foes of Spider-Man is a great series that focuses on some of the B and C-list villains in spider-Man's rogues gallery. It's pretty much a blue-collar supervillain book, and it's great. (The issue by the regular team are, anyway; it's best to avoid the fill-ins.)

So, that's what I have to show for this year's Free Comic Book Day. We had a blast, as always, and can't wait to do it again next year!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Reminder: Free Comic Book Day is tomorrow!

Tomorrow is the first Saturday of May, and that means the annual orgy of four-colored freebies is upon us once more! You can check out the list of free comics here, though keep in mind that the selection will vary from store to store. If you don't know where the nearest comic store is, you can find out here. As always, keep in mind that these comics are free to customers, but the shop owners have to pay for them, so it'd be swell and decent of you to buy something while you're there. If this will be your first FCBD, it might be helpful to read the brief primer I posted last year.

As usual, we're gonna make a whole day of it. We're fortunate to have two great comic shops in town, so we'll stop in both of them, have some lunch, kick around downtown a while, then go catch Amazing Spider-Man 2 at the theater!

As for the actual comics, here are a few of the offerings I'm looking forward to:

Future's End #0: DC is getting back into the weekly comic game in a big way, with the weekly Batman Eternal launching last month, an Earth 2-based weekly coming in the fall, and this series, which kicks off right here in this free issue. Revolving around a nightmarish potential future timeline, the series will star such fan-favorite characters as Frankenstein and Batman Beyond. With the likes of Brian Azzarello and Jeff Lemire involved,  the talent working on the book is equally impressive. This series promises to be a hell of a ride, and it all begins here!

Guardians of the Galaxy: Marvel's relaunch of this series has been a tremendous success, and the upcoming movie is hotly anticipated. That makes this issue a no-brainer, and it promises to be a great jumping-on point for new readers who want to try the book out.

Bongo Free-For-All: The Simpsons-centric Bongo FCBD issue is always a must-have.

Atomic Robo and Friends: Likewise. This is always a highlight!

Uncle Scrooge & Donald Duck- A Matter of Some Gravity: Presenting some classic comics by Don Rosa, this is sure to be great fun! The classic Disney Duck comics are always a sure bet.

Valiant- Armor Hunters Special: The relaunch of the Valiant universe over the past two years has been quite interesting. It's a solid line of comics that deserves more recognition than it gets, and hopefully this free issue will help bring some new readers to the books.

Dark Horse- Project Black Sky: Dark Horse Comics, best known as the home of Hellboy and many licensed comics, such as the various excellent Conan series, is giving the shared superhero universe thing a go again. I haven't yet sampled any of their new superhero line, and this will be a perfect opportunity to change that.

The Tick: I always wanna get this, but it's never at the shop. Maybe this year...

Of course, that is only a small sampling of the lineup. We always wind up grabbing a few things that catch our eye that we didn't plan on getting. That's part of the fun! So, I hope you all have a great FCBD, and spread the word!