Saturday 18 July 2009

Lives Without Dull Moments

Each of the books reviewed this week have "normal" protagonists with lives filled with an unrealistic degree of non-stop action.

Indiana Jones and The Tomb of The Gods collects the four-issue mini-series of the same name. The mini-series came to its conclusion in March.

Since most people have a basic idea of who Indiana Jones is and what he does, an explanation would be almost unnecessary.

However, most doesn't equal all.

Indiana Jones is an archaeology professor by day, adventurer by night. He first appeared in the 1981 film Raiders of The Lost Ark. In that film, along with most of his other movie and television appearances, the character was played by Harrison Ford.

With events set during the same year as those that took place in Raiders of The Lost Ark, 1936, Indiana Jones and The Tomb of The Gods has Jones and his colleague Marcus Brody chasing after the stolen pieces of a key to the aforementioned tomb. As with other Indiana Jones stories, the adventure incorporates plenty of globetrotting.

Indiana Jones and The Tomb of The Gods has exactly the sort of story anyone would expect from Mr. Jones' keepers. It's a book about running. Indiana Jones runs from the bad guys, then he runs after them. Such plot point dance steps are repeated as many times as necessary.

The formula doesn't render the book as a completely bad thing. After all, it worked for 4 movies. Unfortunately, despite their obvious relationship and similarities, comic books and motion pictures are unique forms of communication. What works for one of them doesn't necessarily work for the other. This is such a case.

The book also contains two sequences that annoyed the hell out of me.

The first one is a reworked event from Raiders "" Indiana escapes from a mob via airplane. The second sequence was too unbelievable to even be entertaining "" a great white shark destroys his already half-sunk boat ... But he doesn't get killed!

Next on this week's list is Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers, Book 16 in Titan's series of Modesty Blaise reprint books. Once completed, the series will contain the entire comic strip that ran from 1963 until 2002.

The Lady Killers presents three story arks that were originally printed between May 27, 1980 and August 27, 1981: Dossier on Pluto (about dolphins), The Lady Killers (about a feminist terrorist group), and Garvin's Travels (about kidnapped friends). As a bonus, it includes previously "lost" strips that were not included in earlier volumes. The lost strips were printed between 1963 and 1970.

More like James Bond than Indiana Jones, Modesty Blaise is a rich 28-year-old woman with an almost passion for destroying the plans of evildoers. She mostly intercepts villains in the name of the Queen but sometimes for whomever else require her services (example: C.I.A.). She can easily defend herself but her occasional boyfriend Willie Garvin is usually assisting her.

The story arks presented in The Lady Killers are like the sort of adventures Bond's known for. The protagonists prevent villains from succeeding by using consequence-free violence. With that in mind, it's almost a guilty pleasure of a book.

It's interesting to note that the British comic strip's non-American origins are very obvious due to the quantity of panels containing nudity. If such things don't exist in 99.9 per cent of modern US comic strips, they certainly didn't in 1980. However, if they do exist, the newspapers running them probably censor their content.

It should be noted that, not unlike other fictitious action characters, Indiana Jones and Modesty Blaise are difficult to relate to on the physical level. No, I'm not referring to their muscular physique but rather the amount of rest they take. They always seem to be bouncing from one adventure to another one. If they were real people, it would be time for a burnout and/or a long vacation.

Despite their flaws, Indiana Jones and The Tomb of The Gods and Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers are still good examples of escapist entertainment.

Indiana Jones and The Tomb of The Gods gets 5 out of 10, while Modesty Blaise: The Lady Killers rates a 6 out of 10.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009

True Crime, True Fantasy

This week, we begin with a historic look at an unsolved crime from the early days of Hollywood.

Famous Players, by writer/illustrator Rick Geary (born: 1946), examines the 1922 murder of William Desmond Taylor (1872-1922).

The multi-talented Taylor (born: William Cunningham Deane-Tanner) began his career as an actor but gradually worked his way up the ranks and became a director and producer.

It must be noted that his filmography contains an interesting Maritime connection. He directed the first of the two theatrical film adaptations of Anne of Green Gables. As of this writing, the film, released in 1919, is considered to be "lost" without any prints left in existence. The second theatrical Anne of Green Gables film adaptation was released in 1934.

As for the crime, in a nutshell, a servant found Taylor's bullet-punctured body on the floor of his bungalow on the morning of February 2, 1922. As we modern people would expect from that era, the police did an absolute crappy job at protecting the crime scene. Curious neighbors arrived before the police did and weren't told to leave. Some of Taylor's business associates removed items that were never to be seen again. Such bad police work explains why his murder was never solved!

Despite such police stupidity, the case was still investigated and numerous people were considered as suspects. Among the suspects was Mary Miles Minter, a 20-year-old actress Taylor had been romantically involved with. Incidentally, she played the lead in Taylor's Anne of Green Gables.

Eventually, the case was closed but remained unsolved.

Famous Players is a history book using sequential images as its means of communication.

It covers the case in a fact-based informative way. Geary presents the story in a manner similar to how photojournalist would cover a news event except that he's presenting history and, perhaps, could be identified as a sequential journalist. He even provides a map representing Los Angeles of that era.

To examine the case from all known angles and possibilities, Geary clustered the information in logical but non-linear ways. As an example, the dead body's discovery is described in the second chapter but Chapter 4 focuses on what's known about Taylor's life.

Famous Players is a very interesting graphic novel that will likely appeal to the tastes of, not counting general comic fans, people interested in either film history or true crime.

Next book on this week's list is the category of fantasy.

All-Star Superman Volume One, by writer Grant Morrison (born: 1960) and illustrator Frank Quitely (born: 1968), reprints the first half of the 12-issue comic series All-Star Superman (January 2006-October 2008).

It has an easy-going, relatively light overall story with somewhat self-contained chapters (which were originally the individual issues).

Lex Luthor pulls criminal strings from jail in a way that poisons Superman. While keeping his health problems to himself, the Man of Steel reveals his true identity to Lois Lane"¦. and gives her an ultimate birthday gift. Although All-Star Superman Volume One is a beautiful and entertaining book, it does have a few flaws.

The first problem is the inclusion of Samson and Atlas. Even if the presence of the two characters were totally unnecessary, they would be at least tolerable if their scenes didn't have the worst pieces of dialogue in the entire book.

Example: "I swear by the everlasting snows of Olympus, Lois Lane, you're practically dripping allure in yon clinging garment." - Atlas

Its second problem is how Lex Luthor is presented. He comes across as a big joke and constantly reminded me of Stewie from Family Guy. Therefore, even within the parameters of fantasy, I couldn't at all take him seriously.

Famous Players: 3/3, Publisher: NBM, Available: August 2009.

All-Star Superman Volume One: 2/3, Publisher: DC Comics.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. E-mail: © Bernard C. Cormier 2009.

Retrospectives On Two Teams of Two

Both of the books reviewed this week have more in common than simply reprinting old sequential art. In their own way, they each focus on a different creative team.

With an introduction by Simon and essays by Mark Evanier, the book acts as a sampler for people unfamiliar with the work of the legendary team. More than 25 stories and other material, originally published between 1940 and 1966, are reprinted within eight chapters. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific genre: superheroes, science fiction, war, romance, crime, western, horror, and humour. Other material includes photos, cover art, and a rare two-page illustrated article on Lenny Bruce from Sick(Vol.1)#2 (October 1960).As anyone can tell after reading its title, The Best of Simon and Kirby is a retrospective of the collaborative comic book efforts of writer Joe Simon (born: 1913) and illustrator Jack Kirby (1917-1994). Together, the two men made their mark on not only comic books but also pop culture in general, as both a team and as individuals. They are best known as the creators of Captain America, Bucky, and Red Skull.

As expected, some of the stories are better and/or more historically significant than others. Most comic fans will likely enjoy or, at least, appreciate the importance of the inclusion of a few Golden Age Marvel and DC superhero stories.

The most notable of these is "Captain America and The Riddle of The Red Skull" which is the first appearance of the villainous Red Skull. Originally printed in Captain America Comics#1 (March 1941), it's also a curiosity due to the hero's decision to not prevent Skull's death during the climax when he had the chance. (It doesn't really matter because Red Skull was revealed to have faked his death in a later issue anyway).

However, the best overall story within the book is "Weddin' At Red Rock!" from Western Love#1 (July 1949). For a western comic from the 1940s, it has a refreshingly good twist ending.

Of course because humour routinely evolves with society, some "serious" stories have become somewhat humorous by modern standards. "Trapping New England's Chain Murderer!", from Headline Comics#24 (May 1947), is a good case in point. When a murderer confesses to police officers, he says, "I killed 'em!! Killed 'em all!! When I don't get reefer, I go crazy"¦. CRAZY!" (It's a good thing the hippies in the 1960s weren't like that"¦)

For the record, identifying The Best of Simon and Kirby as a sampler is justified because Titan Books is already planning at least six follow-up books.

The other creative team featured in a book this week is Hewlett & Martin in the pages of The Cream of Tank Girl.

Although they're much more contemporary compared to Simon & Kirby, Jamie Hewlett (born: 1968) and Alan C. Martin's collaborative heyday together, primarily consisting of Tank Girl, ended over a decade ago when they got busy doing separate projects. In Hewlett's case, he co-founded music group Gorillaz with Damon Albarn (Blur).

Written by the duo for the 21st anniversary of her first appearance in Atomtan#1 (1987), The Cream of Tank Girl focuses on the behind the scenes rise and fall of the character. In it, the duo doesn't hide their blame on her diminished popularity on the 1995 film adaptation, Tank Girl.

As they point out: "You can't polish a turd".

The book's a great retrospective with all sorts of Tank Girl material: photographs, covers, scripts, etc. It even includes their impressive unreleased G-rated follow-up comic strip The 16s.

Although Tank Girl has resurfaced with miniseries and books in recent years, The Cream of Tank Girl could sadly be almost seen as an obituary for the character.

The Best of Simon and Kirby: 2/3

The Cream of Tank Girl: 2/3

Publisher of both books: Titan Publishing Group Ltd.

Bernard C. Cormier is, among other things, a freelance writer and broadcaster. He can be reached at , or by e-mail at © Bernard C. Cormier 2009