Category: Featured

Brainiac On Banjo: Should Hope Reign In Burbank?

Brainiac On Banjo: Should Hope Reign In Burbank?

Hope for the best, expect the worst! Some drink champagne, some die of thirst. No way of knowing which way it’s going. — Mel Brooks, Hope For The Best (Expect The Worst)

When Warner Bros Discovery revealed James Gunn and Peter Safran would be running their all-new DC Studios (as if there’s more than one), many of us lifted their faces out of our own puke in the hope it was the dawning of a new day. Well, with luck, it will be… although you can’t really blame us for taking a wait-and-see attitude.

I certainly appreciate and trust James Gunn. I love his work on the Guardians of the Galaxy and Peacemaker, and his The Suicide Squad was great fun. Better still, he treated my oldest friend and honored collaborator John Ostrander right, and that means so much to me I’d throw Gunn’s bail.

What I do not trust is, in order: 1) The “Hollywood” bureaucracy. 2) Warner-anything merging with anybody, be it Time Inc, America Online, AT&T or Discovery. Each merger made things worse for creators and end-users alike. 3) Warner Brothers Discovery in particular, and particularly how they turned the ridiculously overpriced HBOMax into a ridiculously overpriced, frustrating, mindless, and ultimately useless turd rapidly floating downstream into the sewer. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Should Hope Reign In Burbank?”

With Further Ado #236: Double Fisted Action and Few Laughs

With Further Ado #236: Double Fisted Action and Few Laughs

January is a great month for reading, wasn’t it? February is too. So, here’re three wonderful books that you should know about.


The Big Bundle
By Max Allan Collins

It’s so good to start the year off with another Nate Heller thriller. Like so many in this series, this mystery is brilliant. It’s hard to believe, but about 35 years ago I stumbled across Max Allan Collins’ first story featuring Heller. I had enjoyed the Ms. Tree strip, written by Collins and illustrated by Terry Beatty and Collins’ Batman adventures (although not everyone did.)

Nate Heller is a fictional detective, a hero yet a flawed person full of many regrets, who typically gets involved with the biggest cases and personalities in the last 50 years. Collins has written stories where Heller gets involved with the gangsters who ‘created’ Las Vegas, the Lindbergh kidnapping, Marilyn Monroe’s death, Huey Long’s assassination and more. And just when you think Collins has exhausted all the good stuff, the next novel comes roaring back.

The latest historical adventure, The Big Bundle, has a lot of roar in it. This one focuses on the Greenlease kidnapping in the 50s. I didn’t know anything about this one, and I don’t know much about St. Louis’s history, despite visiting the city a couple of times. My trips there were nothing like Heller’s, though. He gets into it all in a way that turns what you thought was going to be a casual read into a “I can’t put this down” book.

These Heller books are meticulously researched with juicy details. I found myself pausing to run down little rabbit holes along the way. For example, Heller rides the historical landmark Angel’s Flight. It was described in such a way that I had to learn more about this narrow gauge funicular railway. When I’m reading, I usually like to leave my cellphone in the other room, but with this Heller mystery, I had to keep it handy for additional research. Collins tends to introduce me to so many fascinating places, events and people.

As a writer, Collins always finds innovative ways to describe people and settings. This is a crime thriller to be sure, but I often pause at the clever descriptions. For example.

The hero walks into a diner and Collins gives the reader something to think about and to remember:

”The bedraggled adults in booths and at tables were like predictions of how the town’s teens would turn out.”

Or earlier in the novel, as Heller meets a key character:

“In his mid-thirties, my host was of average height and weight with a squared-off head and a rounded jaw, his forehead so high it was like his features had slipped down too far on his oval face.”

After reading a novel like this, my pal Mike Gold used to always make the joke “If you only read one Max Allan Collins novel this month, make it this one.” The gag still holds up and it’s truer than ever.

Title: The Big Bundle
Author: Max Allan Collins
Publisher: Hard Case Crime (Titan)
Hardcover:‎ 304 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 1789098521
ISBN-13: ‎ 978-1789098525


Levon’s Prey
by Chuck Dixon

Back in the day, it seemed like you could “always” pick out a Chuck Dixon comic story because it would open in the middle of an action scene. That wasn’t always the case, but it seemed like it. And despite that, I always loved Dixon’s writing for his nuanced, tight-lipped characters more than his action scenes. He’d always get to the heart of the matter and then present it all in a way that you’d not forget anytime soon.

Levon’s Prey is the latest in long series. It’s subtitled as “A Violent Justice Thriller”, and that’s truth in advertising. It’s actually the second latest, as I’m one book behind. The 11th, Levon’s Range, was published late last year.

I almost wish the books were published in the old paperback format – so you could put them in your back pocket and carry them with you. They are each a quick and compelling read – the kind that make you smile, make you worry and make you cheer on the good guys.

And as a father of daughters, I especially can relate to Levon. Although I’m not nearly as tough as Levon. Not by a longshot.

Title: Levon’s Prey
Author: Chuck Dixon
Publisher:‎ Rough Edges Press
Paperback: ‎ 174 pages
ISBN-10: ‎ 1685491219


The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle
by Wayne Federman

Auburn Public Theater hosted USC’s Professor Wayne Federman recently. As an expert in comedy and standup, he gave a greatly abbreviated version of his USC course to a local crowd. It was fascinating. I liked it so much I wanted to fly to LA and figure out a way to audit the course. And I don’t even consider myself a stand-up enthusiast.

His book, The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle, was eye-opening. I didn’t realize how little I knew about Stand-Up. Oh, I guess I’m pretty good with understanding the radio comedians, and guys like Steve Martin were where it was at for me and my gang back in the day. I think I bought my brother a Steve Martin LP for Christmas one year because I wanted to listen to it.

Federman, who as you can imagine is hilarious onstage, keeps it light, bright and fascinating. This was an enjoyable read and never once did I have the urge to ask, “Is this on the final?”

Title: The History of Stand-Up: From Mark Twain to Dave Chappelle
Author: Wayne Federman
Publisher: Independent Artists Media
Paperback: 180 pages
ISBN-13:‎ 979-8706637026
ASIN:‎ B08YRP1R2G

Pour a glass of your favorite beverage, put your feet up and enjoy a little reading.

 

Brainiac On Banjo: Mad Archie of the North Star?

Brainiac On Banjo: Mad Archie of the North Star?

Given current population statistics, if you live in a comic book, and you do not happen to be a Green Lantern or a Flash, chances are you are a Hulk or a Spider-Person. Add the Batman, Shazam and X-Men families, and the odds are overwhelming you belong to a personality cult.

Or… you can be an Archie. There’s a lot of them, too. Forget about the teevee show — forget about all of these characters media madness; I’m only talking about comic books here. Action Comics #1051, which dropped last week, gave us the bird’s eye lowdown on the 21st Century-of-the-week Superman family: there’s now about a million characters with the big S on their chests. The words “unique” and “special” have been replaced, as far as comics are concerned, with “redundant” and, stripped of that which makes these chapters distinctive, “boring.”

Except for Archie. There’s only one Archie, but he and his supporting cast members exist simultaneously in at least a dozen different forms. Amusingly, the creators manage to keep these varieties both unique and interesting. For example, we’ve had the New Look Archie, the married Archie (to both Betty and to Veronica, but separately — for better or worse), the Archie(s) that are more or less in the vein of the Riverdale teevee show, the Archie horror line stocked full of vampires, werewolves and other Universal movie ex-pats, and the Archies from both previous as well as future eras. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Mad Archie of the North Star?”

With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review

With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review

Before we “cut the cord” for TV, we really enjoyed spending a chunk of New Year’s Day watching The Twilight Zone Marathon on the SyFy channel. They show episode after episode. There’s something special about being immersed in Rod Serling’s alternate realities for more than just the usual ½ hour episode. There’s a creepiness, and a paranoia and sense of reflection that ensnarls your brain. You begin to look at the world a little differently.

If you are like me, you almost expect Rod Serling to be standing off to one side, in your living room or kitchen, smoking a cigarette, and intoning some clever little summary that usually ends with the phrase “The Twilight Zone”.

Reading Jason Starr’s thriller, The Next Time I Die, is like spending a few hours in the Twilight Zone. It’s compelling, thought-provoking, more-than-a-little creepy and wickedly delicious.

As this thriller is published by one of my favorite imprints, Hard Case Crime, it’s more mystery/noir than science fiction. And that works fine. Like the best Film Noir thrillers, there is a sense that you, as the reader, are plunged into a nearly out-of-control situation and you’re hurtling along at 100 mph. Continue reading “With Further Ado #234: The Next Time I Die – Review”

Brainiac On Banjo: The ComiXology Kamikaze

Brainiac On Banjo: The ComiXology Kamikaze

When I look over my shoulder, what do you think I see? Some other cat looking over his shoulder at me. And he’s strange, sure is strange. – Donovan Leitch, “Season of the Witch.”

When it comes to the digital world, sometimes all those zeroes and ones just don’t add up. Let’s look at ComiXology, what I once considered to be a genuine revolutionary force in the medium.

In the history of paper publishing going all the way back to papyrus, it’s often been a crappy way to make a living. Oh, sure, some folks have been enormously successful, but on the same hand some folks win the lottery. Expenses are high and nobody knows what the market wants. Paper is getting hard to find (soon we will have to make a choice between having paper and having oxygen and trees), and places to buy the finished product have run thin. “Book browsing” and impulse purchases have become 21st Century rotary dial telephones.

We needed an alternative way to get comics. In 1981, Marvel Comics published Dazzler #1 and made it available only to the then-growing number of dedicated comic book stores, and that showed us there just might be life after the newsstands and candy shops. To make a long story short, around that same time I turned to theatrical producer Rick Obadiah and said “hey, you know, we could do this.” And that’s the shortest origin story for First Comics ever told.

Things went pretty well until the overwhelming number of distributors bellied up after exclusive distribution deals kicked in. As those distributors were coughing up blood, the “smaller publishers” (meaning just about everybody except Marvel and DC) started getting paid late, if at all. Again, I’m making a very long story short. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: The ComiXology Kamikaze”

With Further Ado #233: Cheesy, Cheap & Charming – The Silver Surfer in a 1962 Charlton Comic

With Further Ado #233: Cheesy, Cheap & Charming – The Silver Surfer in a 1962 Charlton Comic

I recently rescued another treasure from a bargain box. It is Space Adventures #44 (Feb. 1962). It’s published by Charlton Comics. They always seemed to be a B-level (at best) publisher, but that doesn’t mean that some of my very favorite comics weren’t published by Charlton. In many ways, this issue is typical of Charlton – cheesy, cheap and charming!

(I’m really looking forward to reading Charlton Companion by Jon B. Cooke, in fact. Cooke is an outstanding historian and author. You can never go wrong reading anything he writes.)

Judging a Book by Its Cover

The cover copy above the logo proclaims that this issue of Space Adventures is “New! Different!”, but that might be an overstatement. From the vantage point of 60 years later, it almost seems like it should be magically changed to read “Nostalgic! Predictable!”

The cover features repurposed artwork from two interior stories. The heroic figure, “The Mercury Man” is miscolored, unfortunately. Come to think of it, the scary looking aliens are miscolored too. Continue reading “With Further Ado #233: Cheesy, Cheap & Charming – The Silver Surfer in a 1962 Charlton Comic”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne”

Dear Dwayne,

I know you prefer to be called by your full moniker,  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, but I want to speak to the person behind that particular mask. Put the eyebrow down. Send your posse on a 20 minute break. Place your phone on airplane mode, and place it face down on the table in front of us. It’s just you, me, and the millions (AND MILLIONS) of my fans reading this. Cool? Cool. 

You need to stop it. Seriously. C’mon, man. You know what I’m talking about. Really? You’re going to make me say it out loud? Fine.

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

We loved when you dabbled your toe into acting. That turn as your own father in That 70’s Show? Great. Playing an alien version of yourself in Star Trek: Voyager? Uhhh… let’s come back to that.. And hey… your first trip to Saturday Night Live? Pitch perfect. Seriously. Better than any “sports stars” they featured prior. You then took the summers off in 2000 so you could become the Scorpion King (which, I assume was why you were on SNL). Like many fans… I actually went to the theater to catch your first starring role. Because it would either be good, or we’d have something to replace that one flick where Hulk Hogan made a dude crap himself.

And hey. It was fine. 20 something years later? I can’t recall a single scene, line of dialogue, or action sequence. But I do recall you fighting the late Michael Clark Duncan, and thinking it was cool. 

After that? I really want to commend you. You started taking interesting roles. Get Shorty. The Rundown. Walking Tall. Southland Tales. Were you “generic badass tough guy” in most of them? Sure. But the scripts were smart. And because of it, you looked smart. Not just catchphrases and stuntman body slams. Versus previous wrestler-turned-actors — Hulk Hogan, Roddy Piper, and Jesse Venture — you seemed to have more depth, better comedic timing, and pathos (when called for).  Continue reading “So Long and Thanks for the Fish, Man #079: “Dear Dwayne””

Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!

Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!

The reading today is from the book of Punter, Chapter 9, Verse 17: “All we have to fear, is me.” – Firesign Theater

Presuming climate change doesn’t do us in first, Americans are about a decade way from abandoning the concept of the continuous media vehicle. In English, that means the idea of television (and radio before 1962) had lengthy “seasons” and, if successful, would return for a following season.

Of course, this was well before streaming became a thing.

Unlike the rest of magazine publishing, the comic book medium also was a continuous media vehicle: numbering was consecutive and rarely split into “volumes” of, say, twelve monthly numbers per year. Nobody cares what consecutive issue numbers were applied to Time Magazine in August 1975, but if you ask the issue number for the X-Men cover-dated that same month there are enough comic book enthusiasts who know the answer to that – #94, for those who came in late – to fill Yankee Stadium. At least the #94 that was in use in August, 1975. Around that time, the late, legendary comics retailer Joe Sarno pointed out in an interview if you put consecutive numbering on something, some people are going to collect it. Continue reading “Brainiac On Banjo: Streaming Ahoy!”

With Further Ado #232: Ms. Tree – Success Is No Mystery

With Further Ado #232: Ms. Tree – Success Is No Mystery

I never grew out of Superheroes, but I did grow into detective fiction. I’m not sure when it was (maybe middle school?), but mysteries and detective stories were my favorite literary genre. And while I’ve always been all in on comics, there was never an overwhelming amount of traditional detective/mystery/private eye comics.

Oh, there were a few that pulled me in, and I enjoyed them all. I particularly remember Mike W. Barr’s Maze Agency, Jonni Thunder and those Jason Bard back-up stories in (appropriately) Detective Comics. And the long running Ms. Tree was also always a favorite.

This character, and series, were created by two folks who would become favorites of mine. Max Allan Collins is a Mystery Writers of America 2017 Grand Master ‘Edgar’ winner, although I knew him better as the Dick Tracy writer and the guy behind the Nate Heller novels. Terry Beatty is a fantastic artist and today many folks know him as the inker of the Eisner Award-Winning Batman and Robin Adventures series and the World’s Finest graphic novel. Continue reading “With Further Ado #232: Ms. Tree – Success Is No Mystery”

With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer

With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer

I didn’t realize that Hogan’s Heroes, The Longest Yard (with Burt Reynolds) and The Godfather were all connected, but The Offer, a fantastic series on Paramount+, helped me understand the big picture behind it all.

I still like the original Star Trek series (TOS) quite a bit. So, when Paramount+ announced they were producing a series about the crew of the Enterprise before Kirk, Spock and the old gang, I was all in. I initially thought that’s the only show I’d use my Paramount+ subscription for.

Now, one of the podcasts I listen to is The Inglorious Treksperts. It’s a celebration of classic Star Trek, hosted by industry professionals who grew up loving Star Trek. These professionals talked about how much they enjoy this series, The Offer, but made point to say that many of the facts got stretched in the making of this show. That’s ok by me, and good to keep in mind. (And after watching Babylon on the big screen last month, this seems like a tame documentary!). Continue reading “With Further Ado #231: Don’t Refuse This Offer”