Sunday, November 05, 2017

Marvel Essential: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 4 by "Stan Lee, John Romita, Sam Rosen & Friends"

(pb; 1969, 1989 and 2005: Collects The Amazing Spider-Man #66-89, & Annual issue #5. Note that issues #66-68 are also republished in the previous graphic novel, Volume 3.)

From the back cover

"After being bitten by an irradiated spider, young Peter Parker learned he had gained the proportional strength and agility of a spider. Combined with a keen "spider-sense" that warned him of danger, Peter became the hero we all know and love...Spider-Man! In this great volume, Peter will face some of his greatest challenges and overcome some of his most harrowing foes. Adventure at its best, true believer!"


Overall review

Volume 4 is a fun, action-oriented and youth-angsty read. There is less melodrama than usual in these issues – “frail” Aunt May still dotes too much on Peter, and he still does dumb things (even for someone his age) that make little sense. Also, there is the issue of the oh-so-sexist issue #86 with Black Widow, and the occasional, silly filler issue (e.g., Annual #5). This is a worthwhile graphic novel, if you can overlook the above elements, as the artwork – as always – is top-notch.

Story arcs

"The Madness of Mysterio” and “To Squash a Spider” (#67-68): Spider-Man gets shrunk and tries to elude death in a trap-rigged mini-amusement park.

Crisis on the Campus” (#68) – “The Speedster and the Spider” (#71): Spider-Man is publicly accused of being in cahoots with the Kingpin, who tries to steal an ancient and priceless tablet. This leads to skirmishes with the cops and Quicksilver (who is trying to acquit himself and his wife, the Scarlet Witch, of unrelated false charges).

"The Parents of Peter Parker” (Annual #5): Peter accidentally discovers what really killed his parents – and what they were. Red Skull, from the comic book Captain America, makes an appearance. This storyline and inclusion of Red Skull feels silly and shoe-horned, the admixture of two unlikely elements. Still, there is plenty of action.

Rocked By the Shocker” (#72) – “In the Blaze of Battle” (#77): More mayhem ensues, centered around that ancient tablet, issues #68–71. The Shocker, whose last appearance was in issue #46,  takes the tablet, with the intention of ransoming it. Before long, others are caught up in the conflict between Spider-Man and the Shocker: the Maggia (mobsters), including the hard-punching Man-Mountain Marko; Dr. Curt Connors, a.k.a. the Lizard; Johnny Storm, a.k.a. the Human Torch. . . This is Man-Mountain Marko’s first appearance in the Spider-Man comics. The Lizard last appeared in issue #45.

The Night of the Prowler” and “To Prowl No More!” (#78–79): A desperate, down-on-his-luck window washer (Hobie Brown) turns his hand to thieving via a costumed alter ego, the Prowler. When his path crosses Spider-Man’s, they fight for a brief time. Also, Peter Parker stews about Gwen Stacy, whom he mistakenly thinks has dumped him.

On the Trail of the Chameleon!” (#80): Spider-Man battles the Chameleon, who steals an expensive painting. The Chameleon was last seen in issue #2.

The Coming of the Kangaroo!”(#81) A misunderstood man with the ability to leap about like a kangaroo finds himself at odds with Spider-Man.

And Then Came Electro!” (#82): Electro, out of prison and working as an electrician, battles Spider-Man on live television. Electro is aided in his vengeful desire by Daily Bugler publisher J. Jonah Jameson, whose laser-focus hatred of the web-slinger once again comes into play. . . Electro was last seen in comic’s first annual Spider-Man issue.

The Coming of the Schemer!” (#83) – “The Secret of the Schemer!” (#85) Two events reawaken the violent impulses of Wilson Fisk (a.k.a. the Kingpin) – first, the news that his wife, Vanessa, has discovered that their son (Richard) is likely dead; and second, the clamorous appearance of the Schemer, a new mobster-esque villain whose main aim to take over the criminal empire that Fisk abandoned, after the debacle involving a priceless, ancient tablet (issues #68–71). 

Beware. . . the Black Widow!” (#86): Spider-Man crosses paths with the ex-Avenger and ex-agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Of course, a minor fight takes place before they finally talk and sort out their misunderstanding.

Even by the standards of the late Sixties, there is an underlying sexism that exists within the boy-centric tone of the Amazing Spider-Man universe. All of the female characters – “frail” Aunt May, Mary Jane Watson, Gwen Stacy (with their catty rivalry) and the Black widow – are all, in one way or another, reliant on a man or his approval. Black Widow is an egregious example of this, as three characters (including Black Widow herself) refers to the ex-Avenger as a “copy” of Spider-Man, with her huge identity crisis. (Black Widow, with her powers, battle style and outlook, is not derivative of the web-slinger.) I have not noted this in earlier reviews of The Amazing Spider-Man because few, if any previous issues, were so in-your-face sexist (to my knowledge).

Unmasked At Last!” (#87): Peter, feverish with a mystery illness, reveals his alter ego to his friends at a party. He seeks  medical help. Hobie Brown, once the Prowler [#78–79], makes an appearance.

The Arms of Doctor Octopus!” and “Doc Ock Lives!” (#88–89): Doctor Octopus escapes from prison, hijacks a plane and creates general havoc – often while battling Spider-Man, of course. Be warned that this last issue-chapter of Vol. 4 ends on a cliffhanger situation.

Followed by Marvel Essential: The Amazing Spider-Man Volume 5.

Friday, November 03, 2017

The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø

(hb; 2005, 2009: sixth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series.Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

From the inside flap

"A 14-year old girl is raped at one of the Salvation Army summer camps. Twelve years later, at a Christmas concert in a square in Oslo, a Salvation Army soldier is executed by a man in the crowd. A press photographer has caught a suspect on one of the photos of the concert. Beate Lønn, the identification expert, is confused by how the face can change from one photo to the next. Inspector Harry Hole’s search for the faceless man takes place on the seamy side of the city, among those who seek eternal – or just momentary – redemption. And the gunman has not yet completed his mission."


Review

Redeemer is an excellent, hard-to-put-down police procedural/suspense book, one with lots of effective, character-centric twists and nuanced revelations (relating to the ongoing storyline about Tom Waaler, dealt with in The Devil'Star, and corruption within the police department). It is a novel worth owning. Followed by The Snowman.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Y is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton

(hb; 2017: twenty-fifth book in the Kinsey Millhone mysteries)

From the inside flap

"The darkest and most disturbing case report from the files of Kinsey Millhone, Y is for Yesterday begins in 1979, when four teenage boys from an elite private school sexually assault a fourteen-year-old classmate—and film the attack. Not long after, the tape goes missing and the suspected thief, a fellow classmate, is murdered. In the investigation that follows, one boy turns state’s evidence and two of his peers are convicted. But the ringleader escapes without a trace.

"Now, it’s 1989 and one of the perpetrators, Fritz McCabe, has been released from prison. Moody, unrepentant, and angry, he is a virtual prisoner of his ever-watchful parents—until a copy of the missing tape arrives with a ransom demand. That’s when the McCabes call Kinsey Millhone for help. As she is drawn into their family drama, she keeps a watchful eye on Fritz. But he’s not the only one being haunted by the past. A vicious sociopath with a grudge against Millhone may be leaving traces of himself for her to find."


Review

Y is a dark and plot-promising read. While it is not terrible, it is marred by its overlong, chatty and predictable execution. For readers who need every little thing and character described and spelled out for them, bingo, this is a book custom written for them! For the rest of us, Y is a lesser entry in a series that started out as excellent, engaging and tightly-woven, and has slowly gone downhill from there. If you must read it, this is best borrowed from your local library, unless you are a spell-it-out reader.  

Insane Tales From the Dead, Vol. 1 issue 2 edited by Doug Randazzo

(pb; October 2014: graphic novel - comic book. Published by Caustic Comics. “Introduction” by Mike Howlett )


Overall review

Insane is a good collection of illustrated, horror-centric works that recall the bump-in-the-night humor, gore and morality of EC/Creepy comics while updating those underground elements with fresh-twist terrors and raw, artist-varied artwork. Once again “hosted” by The Grim Faced Pale One (a.k.a. the Grim Reaper), Issue 2 is more mainstream and less sexually explicit than Insane’s first issue. Issue 2 is worth owning.

Review, story by story


 1.Call of the Wolf” – Silvano and Doug Randazzo: While driving back from a Halloween convention, a man’s car breaks down in the middle of nowhere. That proves to be the least of his problems when a monster shows up. Good, familiar read.


2.Sub Alien”– John Schumacher, Doug Randazzo and Micheal Joseph: Excellent, clever and funny story about two stoners who are visited by four aliens on a heavy metal mission.


3. Torture” – Doug Randazzo and Chris Laskowski: Visually- and grammatically-detailed vignette about a slow, sadistic killing, sans whos and whys. Solid exploration of its titular theme.


4.Who Gives a Nut?” – John Schumacher and Doug Randazzo: A suburban housewife feeds birds and squirrels in her backyard, unaware that a predator lurks nearby. I love the subtle, nature-based horror of this work, as well as how the visual aspects add plot details to it. Excellent piece.


5.Tales From the Cesspool – S**twrecked”– Mark K. Allen and Doug Randazzo: Gross, imaginative and ridiculous story about the aliens and the end of our world. This is a good, fun work, if you are not squicked out by fecal humor.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut Jr

(pb; 1963)

From the back cover

"Dr Felix Hoenikker, one of the founding 'fathers' of the atomic bomb, has left a deadly legacy to the world. For he's the inventor of 'ice-nine', a lethal chemical capable of freezing the entire planet. The search for its whereabouts leads to Hoenikker's three ecentric children, to a crazed dictator in the Caribbean, to madness. Felix Hoenikker's Death Wish comes true when his last, fatal gift to humankind brings about the end, that for all of us, is nigh."


Review

Cradle is an incisive, puzzle-build and brutal satire that targets blind patriotism, religion, militarism, human nature and the end of the world. It reads a bit overlong in parts, but it gets its points across in an effective if sometimes-chatty way. Despite this minor nit, Cradle is an excellent, distinctive and milestone read from a distinctive author.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Neon Golgotha by Michael Faun

(eBook/Print; 2017: novelette)

From the back cover

"Welcome to Hotel Neon Golgotha! A first-of-its kind “home away from home!” In these five freestanding life-stories, each taking place in New York City, we get to meet Laurent, Joel, Flynn, Amanda, & Barbara, whose deplorable circumstances has driven them to a hotel named Neon Golgotha. Each room in the hotel is perfectly designed for its guest's eccentric traits, and is sure to satisfy their outlandish inclinations... Murder! Incest! Sexual sadism! Mutilation! Lavish in decor, Hotel Neon Golgotha offers spectacular live shows (though not for the faint of heart!), tailor-made personal experience packages, and much more. Make your overnight stay perfect – from the welcome Champagne flute, to a visit to our Roman spa, and why not a trip down memory lane?"


Review

Neon is an entertaining, vivid sex-, violence- and drug-fueled short work. This hotel-hub novella is not for the squeamish. Its forty-eight pages, in heady fashion, detail the horrific deaths and subsequent Hells of various characters as they arrive at the Hotel Neon Golgotha. Readers who are expecting a typical characters-meet-up-and-figure-a-way-out trope should be warned that Faun does not incorporate that storyline here. It is Neon Golgotha that brings things together, not its guests.

Friday, October 13, 2017

The Devil's Star by Jo Nesbø

(2003, 2005: fifth novel in the Inspector Harry Hole series.Translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett.)

From the inside flap

"A young woman is murdered in her Oslo flat. One finger has been severed from her left hand, and behind her eyelid is secreted a tiny red diamond in the shape of a five-pointed star - a pentagram, the devil's star.

"Detective Harry Hole is assigned to the case with his long-time adversary Tom Waaler and initially wants no part in it. But Harry is already on notice to quit the force and is left with little alternative but to drag himself out of his alcoholic stupor and get to work.

"A wave of similar murders is on the horizon. An emerging pattern suggests that Oslo has a serial killer on its hands, and the five-pointed devil's star is key to solving the riddle."



Review

WARNING: Possible plot spoilers in this review.

Like Nemesis, its direct prequel, Star is an excellent, reader-hooking and suspenseful novel. Star has less tale twists than Nemesis, but that does not detract from its entertainment value. This plot pretzel reduction leaves more room for the resolution of an ongoing subplot about Hole’s investigative crusade against his corrupt professional rival (Tom Waaler), an investigation sparked after Waaler’s murder of Ellen Gjelten, Hole’s partner (in The Redbreast).

T
his, like other books in the series, is worth owning. Followed by The Redeemer.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Vic Valentine: International Man of Misery by Will Viharo

(hb; 2017: seventh book in the Vic Valentine series. Published by Thrillville Press.)

From the back cover

"Vic Valentine, Private Eye is back in business -- as a dog walker. A really, really bad one. While drunk in a dive bar one rainy Seattle night, one of his canine clients tied up outside goes missing. The twisted trail leads him from Vancouer to Minneapolis to Houston to Mexico City and then all the way down to Costa Rica. Along the way he encounters nefarious businessmen, dangerous drug dealers, tropical cocktails, flesh-eating zombies, voracious vampire women, and a luscious Latina bombshell that may or may not turn out to be the long lost love of his life."


Review

International is a dark, delightful pulp novel. In it, Viharo weaves wild elements and sub-genres into an addictive, fleet-footed and hallucinogenic read: sexploitation, P.I. intrigue, conspiracies, zombies, dog-centered writing, vampires, divine(?) intervention (hello, Ivar!) and – as promised – international travel. Of course, all of this is punctuated with Viharo’s recurring characters, quippy-sometimes-silly humor, and an awareness of life’s underlying melancholy. 

What makes International one of my favorite Viharo books is how, over the course of seven books, he has evolved Vic’s character by making him wiser, even as Vic continues to embrace his inner freak-up.

As is often the case with Viharo’s works, this a heady brew, excellent and timely work, one worth owning. If you have not read earlier Vic Valentine novels, International works as an entertaining, stand-alone read.