Category Archives: Reading

The Claws of the Cat, the Tail of the Tigra

Marvel’s TIGRA: The Complete Collection is an awkward book to review as it has so many different series bundled together, going in so many different directions.

It starts with The Claws of the Cat #1, a 1972 attempt at a feminist superhero. Greer Grant was a bright young college student who fell in love with cop Bill Nelson, married him and put her education and any career plans on hold to be Mrs. Bill Nelson; that’s what her husband wanted, after all (this was a familiar scenario for women in those days). When Bill died of a gunshot, Greer had no skills to support herself but eventually wound up working with Dr. Tumulo, a scientist researching on ways to enhance human ability. Despite the interference from her financial backer, Donalbain — he wanted his bimbo mistress to undergo the treatment — Tumulo put Greer through it as well, endowing her with greater speed, strength, intellect and an empathic ability. When it turned out Donalbain had some very bad ideas for the treatment, Greer donned the costume he’d designed for his mistress (she died due to her lack of training) and ended his plans as (drumroll) the Cat!

It was a good story followed by three much less engaging issues with C-lister foes (Commander Kraken and Man-Bull, for instance) and one team-up with Spider-Man in Marvel Team-Up. That might have been it but Tony Isabella began writing for Marvel a couple of years later and wanted to add more women to the lineup. He hit on the idea of transforming Greer into a literal cat — Tigra the Were-Woman (“were” in “werewolf” actually means man so this name meant “Tigra the Manwoman.” Oopos)! It turns out Dr. Tumulo was part of an ancient race of Cat People. When Greer is fatally injured by Hydra agents hunting the doctor, the Cat People put Greer through a mystic ritual transforming her into one of their own, whom they named Tigra after a legendary warrior of their people (Steve Englehart would later retcon a lot of this. It got confusing).

After defeating Hydra, Tigra had a brief run in Marvel Chillers and popped up in several guest-star bits. The Chillers run by Isabella was good, pitting her against a team of Scavengers called the Rat Pack, Spidey’s old foe Kraven and pairing her up with Marvel’s Native American hero, Red Wolf. The team-ups are variable in quality.

I was puzzled why Marvel included a 2002 Tigra miniseries with all the Bronze Age stuff, but it turns out the four issues go back to the Were-Woman’s roots. She discovers Bill may have been murdered by vigilante cops, members of a secret society that’s into gunning down crooks without inconveniences like a trial. Going undercover as a rookie (at this point she could shift back and forth from her Tigra identity) she tries to root out the truth. If the plot is unclear in spots, it’s overall good, though the assurances the vigilantes are totally not like most cops rings a little hollow in the days of Black Lives Matter.

Overall this volume was nothing I needed to have, but I’m happy that I do have it.

#SFWApro. Covers by Marie Severin (top) and Ed Hannigan, all rights remain with current holders.

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Graphic novels about golems and more

THE GOLEM’S VOICE by David G. Klein is set in 1943 Prague, as pre-teen Yakob becomes separated from his family as they’re deported to a concentration camp. Wandering into the synagogue of Rabbi Judah ben Loew, Yakob reanimates the Golem and uses him to protect a small band of refugees in the nearby woods. Meanwhile, a German commander seeks to capture the Golem, learn its secrets and exploit its power for the Reich. This is okay, but suffers from having too many deus ex machina moments (ben Loew’s spirit intervening to move the plot along).

THE SCENT OF MAY RAIN (done as a Kickstarter) by Mark O. Stack and Ray Epstein with Kaylee Rowena on art worked a great deal better; it’s also unusual in having a new golem rather than resurrecting the Golem of Prague. In 1920, a Jewish professor brings a female golem to life because his little girl needs a mother. She’s bound to serve and obey, but at the same time she has her own independent spirit, which leads to her becoming the superhero Amazon in WW II (an obvious hat tip to Wonder Woman being born from clay). But what does she truly want for herself? A lesbian golem freedom fighter/mother stands out from the pack, and it’s actually good as well as unusual.

THE TERRIFICS: Meet the Terrifics by Jeff Lemire and various artists was DC’s attempt to riff on the Fantastic Four (I believe this came out when Disney didn’t have film rights to the FF so like the X-Men the comics pushed them aside). Mr. Terrific, Phantom Girl, Metamorpho and Plastic Man are bound together as a team when energy from the Dark Multiverse makes it impossible for them to stay far apart. Can they work together? Can they find a solution? Who is this Tom Strong sending them warnings (I must admit I feel sorry for Alan Moore at seeing yet another of his creations brought into the DCU)? I wasn’t blown away, but I’ll buy V2 eventually.

SUPERMAN’S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN: Who Killed Jimmy Olsen? by Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber is a frustrating book. The premise is that Jimmy — largely the same goofball as the Silver Age, though with a wealthier family — has become the Daily Planet’s financial lifeline due to the insane online traffic generated by his nutty adventures. Then someone kills him, but why? Is it the wife he acquired during a drunken party in Gorilla City? Luthor? Can he survive long enough to find out?

It’s a great premise and the plot is fun, but the execution suffers. Fraction’s writing is way too cute and this bounces around in time to the point Pulp Fiction looks linear. AQUAMAN: Deadly Waters by Steve Skeates and Jim Aparo collects the final run of Aquaman’s Silver Age serie. Aquaman gets trapped in a subatomic universe, meets Deadman, fights off aliens, thwarts a deranged millionaire and battles a reckless superhero in Detroit, all with some wild art by Aparo, who seems to be channeling Ditko in some of the subatomic scenes. I really dislike that Mera gets to do nothing but wring her hands and worry (as I’ve mentioned before, Dick Giordano sidelined her as soon as he became editor) but overall this was a good volume (courtesy of my bro, as a Christmas gift). Steve Skeates subsequently adapted an unused Aquaman script for another comics company and gave the last Aquaman issue a sequel at Marvel to boot.

#SFWApro. Covers top to bottom by Rowena, Curt Swan and Nicholas Cardy. All rights remain with current holders.

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More “you think YOU’RE having a bad day?” covers

First by Mort Meskin—Then by Bob Brown —And Dick Dillin—And Dillin again —George Roussos—And Gene Colan —#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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A little research reading

Edited by Michael Stein, ALIEN INVASIONS!: The History of Aliens in Pop Culture caused me a sliver of anxiety as it covers similar terrain to Alien Visitors; fortunately it’s different enough from what I’ll be doing I don’t think it’ll kill my market.

This is a big-picture book running from 19th century pre-War of the Worlds stories of alien visitors through the silents, the pulps, comics and movies of the 1950s on to the more recent works such as Arrival. This would be more useful to someone starting from scratch — even before Alien Visitors my knowledge of this subject was well above average — and some of its conclusions (the Invaders From Mars sucking people into the Earth to enslave is a metaphor for Commie propaganda!) are just daft. It also suffers from the lack of an index which makes it inconvenient when looking for something specific such as Algol. More lavish in its illustration than I’ll be able to afford, though.

I recently started work on a paper about golems in specfic, to be published in an academic book on the subject. As part of that project, I read THE GOLEM OF HOLLYWOOD by Jonathan Kellerman and his son Jesse Kellerman. Back when I read a lot more mysteries I always enjoyed the older Kellerman’s work but this book is a mess.

The story gives us two alternating and apparently unrelated narratives (I don’t think anyone will be surprised they tie together eventually). One concerns Jacob Lev, an alcoholic former homicide cop demoted to traffic detail. To his surprise he’s suddenly transferred to Special Projects and assigned to investigate a head found without a body. It turns out the head belongs to an infamous serial killer, so who did him in? In the other plotline we follow Asham, the sister of Cain and Abel, torn between which of them to marry. Eventually, she dies and bizarrely becomes the soul force poured into the Golem of Prague. Who is still around, in a much-mutated form — rather like a comic-book shapeshifter “Mai” can become an oozing wave of mud or a swarm of giant beetles.

Compared to this mess, Marvel’s Golem was Watchmen. At 500 pages the murder investigation is unbelievably tedious and the Bible stuff isn’t much better — do we really need such a cumbersome origin for the Golem of Prague? The ending is a mess, even given it’s explained in the sequel. The only thing I liked was that Jacob’s a high-functioning alcoholic, still drinking but able to do this job. I’ve read a lot of fiction where becoming alcoholic Monday means you’re living in the gutter by Wednesday; some alcoholics manage to keep the balls in the air a lot longer.

The sequel, THE GOLEM OF PARIS was marginally better for making sense of the mythos: Special Projects is actually run by Nephilim who use Mai as their executioner. Only now she’s out loose so they need to destroy or contain her again, particularly as the Russians are now hunting her for their own use. Better, but not good — this is another long book with another uninteresting murder mystery. I’m just glad there’ve been no more sequels since this one.

#SFWApro. Cover by Ernie Chan; all rights to images remain with current holders.

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Let’s look at some covers!

Barye Phillips gives us Moonraker.Virgil Finlay gives a George Allan England reprint a neat cover—And here’s one by Powers.Here’s a striking pulp cover by Rudolph Belarski.And I’ll wrap up with this pulp cover by Jack Binder.#SFWApro. Rights to all images remain with current holder.

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Books read from various series

PEACE TALKS: A Novel of the Dresden Files by Jim Butcher is a disappointing return to the series after six years away. Part of the disappointment is that there’s no warning this and the upcoming Battle Ground are one large story in two volumes, which makes the Big Menace showing up midbook and the abrupt, unresolved ending unsatisfying (it doesn’t feel like a cliffhanger as much as just chopping the book in two at the middle).

The novel starts out great as everything goes wrong for Harry (except his love life, because he and Murph are finally getting it on). Lovecraftian entities are hunting him. The White Council wants to expel Harry, leaving him vulnerable to anyone with scores to settle. Cops are investigating some of Harry’s past actions. The Fae Mab has ordered Harry, as her Winter Knight, to provide three services to a vampire queen, no matter what she asks. And all this while Harry’s working security for a conference of the supernatural world’s powers, none of whom get along well. And then Harry’s vampire brother Thomas suddenly attacks and almost kills a leader of the svartalfar.

As Thomas has no rational reason to do this, I’d expect the plot to be exposing whoever manipulated/pressured him into the attack. Instead we veer into a caper story like the previous novel Skin Game, with Harry and Thomas’ sister carrying out an elaborate plan to rescue Thomas from magical jail without collapsing the peace conference. I lost interest.

Oh, and the gimmick of Harry having “conjuritis,” where he constantly sneezes up random materializations, feels like something from a Bewitched episode.

By contrast JENNING’S LITTLE HUT by Anthony Buckeridge actually improves on the previous book in the series. Jennings and his friends have taken up building huts on a stretch of school property dominated by a pond and a lot of mud — but it’s conditional on them not getting too messy or into too much trouble. Needless to say, Jennings and Darbishire have problems with those conditions …. Will Mr. Carter notice Jennings walking around all day with a pane of glass? Will Sir Richard Grenville stop the Spanish Armada? Will Atkinson figure out why one Old Boy thinks it’s 1895? I enjoyed this.

ADVENTUREMAN: The End and Everything After by Matt Fraction and Terry Dodson (who provided the cover above) is the start of a series, and on paper sounds like something that would work for me: a Doc Savage pastiche (though with a more diverse team of aids) plunged into an adventure straight out of Grant Morrison’s Doom Patrol run. Claire Fallon and her son Tommy are fans of the old Adventureman pulp stories, which appear to end with Adventureman and his team defeated. After a woman drops off a mysterious never-before-seen volume about Adventureman (equivalent to Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life), Claire suddenly notices Adventureman’s legendary skyscraper HQ standing where an undistinguished tenement should be. And she seems to be growing bigger and stronger and smarter …

The art on this is great, but the story is lacking. It has all the right pieces for a great yarn, but the magic is just lacking, as if there’s no sincerity to the story (that’s a subjective interpretation, not an assessment of Fraction and Dodson’s state of mind). Still, I’ll check out V2 just to see if it improves.

#SFWApro. All rights to image remain with current holder.

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I put in the hours, but the work did not flourish

Just as I planned last week, I skipped watching movies for Alien Visitors in favor of getting the writing done … only not much got done. A rewrite of the introduction, which is an important chapter — it’s a capsule the history of ETs in print and in popular belief, coupled with an overview of film and TV versions — but I’d really hoped for more.

Unfortunately this was one of those weeks when the doggy care was very demanding. Our visits to rehab are once a week instead of twice, but they’re around 2 PM or so for the next few weeks, so that takes a bite out of the day. Wisp has been in a lot, demanding petting (she gets it) and throwing my morning routine off. The lunch walkies after Monday were all mine; Wednesday, for whatever reason, I was completely wiped out. I’ve no idea why — it’s not like double walks are anything new — but I was not in peak condition to write that afternoon. And last night and the night before, Wisp woke me up around 1 or 2 AM when she decided she was lonely. On the plus side, she’s coming up into the spare bedroom (I sleep there when the dogs get too fidgety for me to sleep in our queen-size bed) when she wants me. She rushes away as soon as I move — she gets very nervous if she’s far away from the doors downstairs — so perhaps eventually she’ll come up and sleep next to me or something. That would be a lot easier. But yesterday and today I was wiped out.

And this morning she was hyper-fidgety. Rush in, get a quick pet, rush out again into the cold and rain. Decide she doesn’t like it, come back. Rinse, repeat. I know, cat, but it’s not typical for her. At the moment she’s snoozing on the couch again. I had Trixie on the other side of me so I could pet them both, but Trixie sulked and went to the other couch. I really hate feeling that she feels neglected (especially when I was making a point not to neglect her).

So not much Alien Visitors. I might have squeezed some in during my morning viewing while I exercise and eat, but I wound up bingeing and finishing DC’s Swamp Thing, now streaming on the CW website. I don’t feel bad about it (I’ll have a review up soon).

On the plus side, I did turn Undead Sexist Cliches into a print manuscript on Amazon and ordered a copy. I’ll go over it for any final errors/changes and then I’ll be done. Well, once I get a cover. I intend to try Draft 2 Digital‘s print-on-demand service too, but they require a cover before I start. I’ve been very pleased with their ebook service so I want to see if their paperback publishing works better than using Amazon’s kindle POD service.

And I got started on another project, contributing an article on golems in fantasy and comics to an anthology on Jewish specfic. Truth is, the only reason I made my hours this week is because I pushed to finish Jonathan and Jesse Kellerman’s The Golem of Hollywood — dreadful book (reviews will follow) but definitely relevant.

And I did do plenty of Leafs which is more money in the bank. That’s always welcome.

And now the weekend. I’m ready.

#SFWApro.

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Valentine’s Day approaching, so romance covers!

Kicking off with this Nick Cardy cover and it’s searing, agonizing question.Then Jay Scott Pike showing the dilemma of the woman torn between settling and becoming an old maid (just look what a crone she is!).John Romita catches a moment of romantic confusion.Ric Estrada delivers a very 1960s cover.Here’s a cover with a warning, but will the protagonist listen? Art is uncredited.And a poster for a romantic movie I’m very fond of.#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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The Witch Mountain Saga

Alexander Key’s ESCAPE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN has been remarkably successful on screen. A 1975 and ’78 Disney film and sequel, a TV movie remake, a TV pilot Beyond Witch Mountain, and 2009’s RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN. While the book is good, I suspect it’s the success of Disney’s 1975 version (above average for their live-action films of that era) that explains the Mouse constantly revisiting the property.

The protagonists of the 1968 novel are Tony and Tia, pre-teen orphan survivors of a shipwreck they barely remember. Now that their foster mother has died, they’re warehoused in a miserable orphanage. It doesn’t help that they have freaky powers such as TK and telepathy and that Tia talks in a voice only Tony can hear. Things get worse when a mysterious figure named Deranian claims custody of the kids as a relative. They know he’s lying but who will believe them?

Fortunately there’s Father O’Hara, a priest who believes them and deduces Deranian’s agenda: He’s a Soviet agent who intends to get control of the kids and exploit their powers. O’Hara helps them escape but Deranian is very competent, the law’s on his side and he has all his spy network’s resources to draw upon. The kids follow clues to what they think might be a relative or a friend of the family out in the country near Witch Mountain, but it’s not an easy trip, particularly when the locals get a glimpse of their powers and declare a witch hunt.

It all ends well, of course. The kids learn the shipwreck was a spaceship, part of an evacuation fleeing their doomed planet, reunite with the other castaways at Witch Mountain and convince Deranian they’ve left Earth by flying saucer. Even with their powers and O’Hara’s help, it ain’t easy.

The 1975 Disney movie is considerably lighter in tone. The orphanage seems to be a fun place and the bad guys — parapsychologist Deranian (Donald Pleasance) and his millionaire boss (Ray Milland) — are the kind of bumbling foes kids in Disney movies were always running rings around in those days (like I said Saturday, this was not a high point for Disney creatively). And Eddie Albert as O’Hara (not a priest) is another stereotype, a crusty old dude who only needs custody of the two adorable moppets to thaw into a lovable guy. Still, it’s way better than The Cat From Outer Space. “Do you know what the word ‘castaway’ means?”

Three years later the kids RETURN FROM WITCH MOUNTAIN to get a taste of life in the big city (which hardly seems like anything an alien colony would consider important). When Tony displays his powers he attracts the attention of wealthy Bette Midler and her evil scientist Christopher Lee, who quickly enslaves Tony with his mind-control tech. Can Tia and a gang of cuddly but street-smart kids rescue her brother? Although the cute factor gets dialed up, the villains are more memorable (Lee’s plan is to have Tony push a nuclear plant to go Three Mile Island unless the government pays up big) and there’s a spectacular TK battle between Tony and Tia at the climax.  You’re the worst kind of gambler — you use other people’s money and want to keep all the winnings for yourself.”

RACE TO WITCH MOUNTAIN (2009) is a surprisingly good reboot that raises the stakes — rather than refugees seeking new life, Earth is facing an invasion from the doomed world unless two alien teens can make it back home with evidence that Earth-based research can save their planet from eco-collapse. Against them is an assassin the warhawk faction has sent to ensure the war goes ahead and DHS agent Ciaran Hinds, who wants the teens as science experiments so he can duplicate their powers (it shows the “bogeyman” principle I mentioned in Screen Enemies of the American Way, that these villains are interchangeable  — a Commie spy, a millionaire, an American operative can all serve as the bad guy here).

But not to worry, when the kids hire a cab driver it turns out to be Dwayne Johnson, ex-con and former underworld wheel man, trying to stay straight. Not that he believes these weird kids or that he’s going to stick his neck out for them, hell no … Carla Guggino plays an expert in extraterrestrial life and Garry Marshall is a UFO paranoia crackpot.

Key’s premise reminds me (and I’m not alone) of Zenna Henderson’s stories of “The People,” aliens who fled their dying world, crashed on Earth and are slowly gathering in their lost ones to the valley where they settled. THE PEOPLE (1972) is a low-key adaptation of the short stories, with Kim Darby as a teacher trying to figure out why this community seems so weird and William Shatner as a local doctor wondering the same thing. A quiet, gentle film — too gentle for some people, but I like it. “Can’t you see that the time of fear is ending? That’s why you were sent.”

#SFWApro. All rights to images remain with current holders.

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Vienna, the Shadow and maybe some magic: books read

FIN-DE-SIECLE VIENNA: Politics and Culture by Carl E. Schorske looks at the Austrian capital in the late 19th century as the liberal consensus that had dominated the previous few decades began to collapse, leaving politicians, thinkers and creators looking for alternatives. Schorske writes this as a series of essays on key thinkers: architects, Freud, Zionist Theodor Herzl, Gustav Klimt, novelists and anti-Semites, all trying to figure out what society should be doing and what their place in it was. The individual profiles are interesting, but they don’t give me a sense of the big picture.

After Walter Gibson revived the Shadow in the 1960s paperback The Return of the Shadow Dennis Lynds took over for a brief series run. In THE SHADOW STRIKES, the Master of Darkness investigates the death of a Yugoslavian immigrant working with a Communist refugee group — was it an accident? And if not, who stood to gain by it? This lacks Gibson’s spark and shows an Ian Fleming influence — international intrigue, Commies and a fairly vivid torture scene; it’s much talkier than the original pulps with the Shadow talking his theories out with others rather than plotting alone in his lair.

Edward Eager’s  THE WELL-WISHERS reunites the protagonists of Magic or Not for another round of good deeds that might or might not be helped by the wishing well, whether it’s saving a local apple orchard, battling bullies or helping a black family move into the neighborhood despite protests (it says a lot about the times that Eager avoids spelling out They’re Black, but I’d imagine even kids would figure it out). Atypical for Eager, this takes place during the school year rather than the summer (which even the kids comment on); I’m not sure why but it works much better for me than the previous book did.

A reference in the Eager book got me to look at E. Nesbit’s THE WONDERFUL GARDEN wherein three siblings spending the summer with an eccentric uncle stumble across a book of flower-based magic. When a young boy runs away from his Dickensian guardian and hides out with them, the magic seems to help — but is it just coincidence? While there are some touches that I like, this is a dull Nesbit that lacks the charm of some of her other non-fantasy stories such as The Story of the Treasure Seekers.

THE VISION AND THE SCARLET WITCH collects the miniseries by Bill Mantlo and Rick Leonardi, which I read to tie in with Wanda/Vision, as well as the Steve Englehart/Don Heck special where the couple tied the knot. The story of Wanda and Vizh settling into the suburbs for a life as ordinary people — needless to say, it’s not as ordinary as they hope — fluctuates wildly in quality. The first issue pits the couple against a stock Evil Druid type (druids rarely come off well in comics). The second issue, dealing with Wanda’s supposed father (it’s complicated), the 1940s Whizzer, is  lot more interesting; the third, dealing with the Vision’s two sort-of siblings Wonder Man and the Grim Reaper much less so. The fourth, in which Wanda learns the truth of her relationship with Magneto (before Marvel retconned that out), is back to good. The Englehart story is great, but as the climax of a year-long story arc, I can’t imagine it makes much sense standing alone (I missed the preceding issue back in the day and I was confused by some details).

#SFWApro. Top cover by Gil Kane, bottom by Rick Leonardi. All rights remain with current holders.

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