This was supposed to be a road trip column, but that didn't work out.
We had an unexpected influx of cash last week-- no big windfall, just a lot of little ones like royalty payments and magazine checks and so on that added up to enough of a hunk of found money that even on our super-tight budget, we were able to entertain thoughts of a day or two out of town. Plus it was the last week of school and with the kids all off for the summer I had actual free time.
Woohoo! We started thinking about places we haven't been for a while, visiting our old friends down in Oregon, new routes we hadn't tried...
But then we got sick; some miserable bronchial cold thing that knocked us both flat. My wife got hit especially hard. The sum we'd designated for road-trip cash evaporated quickly. We ended up blowing most of the wad on clinic co-pays and prescriptions for Julie. Sigh. She is much improved and it was money well spent, but nevertheless we were feeling a bit of frustration at the unfairness of the universe.
So we reacted as mature adults would. Retail therapy.
We decided we deserved SOME sort of prize for being grownup about everything, and there was still enough cash left over that we did a little shopping for treats. We had dinner out, we got Julie a new phone and some DVDs she'd been coveting....
...and I knocked a few items off the Amazon wishlist. Here's the rundown.
Sons of Heaven (Bad Times volume 5) by Chuck Dixon. The blurb: The fifth book in the epic Bad Times series! Millions were dead. Millions more would join them. The Rangers step back into the bloodiest civil war in history all at the orders of a man they’d rather see dead. Somewhere in an empire tearing itself to bloody shreds lies a secret worth killing and dying for. Lee, Chaz, Jimbo and the rest are willing to do the former and struggling like hell to avoid the latter. The fifth book in the epic Bad Times series by Chuck Dixon. Military action in a time travel scenario that blends realistic action with high concept science fiction for a tale populated with unforgettable characters and unique situations. This is the next chapter in the eon-sprawling adventure of a team of U.S. Army Rangers lost in time and damned by fate.
What I Thought: First of all, I thought what I always think when I invest in a new Chuck Dixon novel-- it's a damn crime I can't have more Dixon-scripted Batman and/or Lone Ranger comics, but if that ship has sailed, these are a pretty satisfying substitute. He has another series of action-adventure novels, Levon Cade, that's also very cool, but nothing in Mr. Dixon's current output makes me smile as wide as Bad Times. The concept alone just makes me happy -- time-traveling former Army Rangers fighting cavemen and Roman gladiators and anybody else in the past that needs their prehistoric asses kicked. Bringing machine guns to a dinosaur fight. HELL yeah. How can any action fan not fall in love with that idea at hello?
That said-- this book is every bit as compulsively entertaining as the previous four, and Dixon is clearly having a great time playing with classic time-travel paradox ideas. I recommend these books unreservedly, especially for those folks that are, like me, missing Dixon's presence from Marvel and DC comics; and likewise, anyone out there feeling a little bereft at the Gold Eagle 'men's adventure' paperback publishing operation shutting down. Bad Times is very much in the vein of something like Mack Bolan-- except there's four of them and they travel through time. There's just no part of that idea that's NOT awesome.
Tarzan, Lord Of The Jungle: The Complete First Season from Filmation Studios. The blurb: TARZAN LORD OF THE JUNGLE Season 1 swings into your home in this classic collection. Journey deep into the lush, mysterious jungle, filled with wonder, beauty...and peril! When threatened by Vikings, poachers, UFOs and other evil intruders, Tarzan summons his strength and intelligence- and his loyal animal friends- to help him restore harmony to their beloved jungle home. Watch all 16 episodes and let TARZAN LORD OF THE JUNGLE thrill the members of your tribe.
What I Thought: I've been waiting for a legitimate DVD release of this show for what feels like forever, and so have most of my friends who are Wold Newton enthusiasts. Yes, it was super cheap and it has all the problems that you see in other old Filmation cartoons-- the re-used footage, especially, becomes glaringly obvious when you watch them all in a row. But the backgrounds are stunning (full disclosure; many were painted by my old studio-mate, Barbara Benedetto) and like a great deal of Filmation's output (Star Trek, Lone Ranger, Flash Gordon, etc.) it's not about the budget; they put it all into the writing. I love Tarzan-- that is, the original, the Burroughs novels-- and this is as close as anyone got to putting the real thing on film. (Although the trailers for the new movie coming soon look quite promising.) The pilot was a pretty straight-across adaptation of Tarzan and the City of Gold, and further episodes were damn close to what Burroughs did in the later books-- lots of lost cities and rescuing civilians who blunder into them.
If it's a bit formulaic, well, so was Burroughs. I admit it's a bit disconcerting to see everyone being so, well, not-savage compared to the novels, but that's what we had to live with after Peggy Charren and her bluenose activists got done messing with Saturday morning TV. The amazing thing is that, even with its micro-budget and censorship restrictions (seriously, no one was even allowed to throw a punch on an adventure cartoon in the 1970s) how much this series still managed to evoke the real thing. I bought it mostly because I found it for seven dollars and I thought it would be fun to take to my middle-school Cartooning Class, but I admit it's been great to revisit these myself.
Suicide Squad volume 3 from John Ostrander and Luke McDonnell. The blurb: Creators John Ostrander, Luke McDonnell, Bob Lewis, and Karl Kesel continue their legendary run in SUICIDE SQUAD: ROGUES, collecting issues #17-25 and ANNUAL #1 of the celebrated 1980s series. The Squad will go on….. Or will it? Forget the terrorists occupying American soil, the guerrilla factions killing each other off, or the aliens invading Earth. It’s the war at home that may spell the end of Director Amanda Waller and Task Force X. Waller’s “Suicide Squad” of incarcerated super-villains and troubled agents has worked effectively under the radar—until now. No one, not even her staff in the Belle Reve metahuman prison facility, trusts “The Wall.” Plus, rising tensions among ever-changing Squad members mean that they’ve become a bigger threat to each other than to their opponents. And when government officials with presidential aspirations discover the existence of Task Force X, Waller is forced to do whatever it takes to keep her team from being exposed to the world—even if it means crossing the thin moral line that separates her from the disposable villains recruited for her impossible assignments...
What I Thought: My personal Golden Age for Marvel was the 1970s... but over at DC, it was the eighties. Even before the Crisis shook everything up in 1985, you had Marv Wolfman on the Titans and Green Lantern, you had Gerry Conway and Doug Moench writing really terrific Batman stuff over some career-best artwork from Don Newton and Gene Colan, and you had Alan Moore's Swamp Thing. After the Crisis, well, there was a revived Question and the revamp of Superman and best of all, there was this new kid John Ostrander suddenly tearing it up on Legends and Suicide Squad and Manhunter.
If I am less than enchanted with the current DC lineup, well, I can't stay mad because they are doing all these great new collected editions of that stuff. I am especially delighted to see Ostrander's Suicide Squad and Spectre series getting this treatment because I somehow missed them the first time around. For some reason, I was getting both Suicide Squad and Justice League International when those started but they fell off the pull list somehow. Not sure why now, because the Suicide Squad stories reprinted in these books are just brilliant. I don't care about the upcoming movie or any of the revivals since then-- this version, the one where Amanda Waller is large and mean enough to challenge Batman, and the Squad is Captain Boomerang, Rick Flagg, Deadshot and a couple of players to be named later-- that's the Squad I want to read about.
As far as I'm concerned, this iteration of the Suicide Squad isn't just the 'real' one-- it's the only one. I have been trying to keep up with these collections as they come out-- wallet vote, I want DC to keep doing them till we get the whole run-- and I'm glad I was able to pick this one up sooner than I'd originally budgeted for. But it would have got here eventually in any case.
Damage Control: The Complete Collection by Dwayne McDuffie, Ernie Colon, and others. The blurb: Galactus ate your apartment building? The S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier crashed on your car? Aliens destroyed Manhattan...again? Call DAMAGE CONTROL! Meet the Marvel Universe's No. 1 cleanup crew, the guys and gals with the bulldog badge who work tirelessly to put New York back together after every super-hero battle - from giant robots, to the devastation wreaked by the Acts of Vengeance, to the coming of the cosmic clean-freak Edifice Rex! Not disastrous enough? How about their biggest challenges to date: Dr. Doom's unpaid bill and the aftermath of World War Hulk! COLLECTING: DAMAGE CONTROL (1989A) 1-4, DAMAGE CONTROL (1989B) 1-4, DAMAGE CONTROL (1991) 1-4, WWH AFTERSMASH: DAMAGE CONTROL 1-3; MATERIAL FROM MARVEL AGE ANNUAL 4, MARVEL COMICS PRESENTS (1988) 19, IRON MAN ANNUAL 11
What I Thought: I missed a lot of the later stories collected here, and though I don't think anyone ever beat the sheer delight of the first couple of mini-series, the new stuff's pretty good too. The fun of the Damage Control concept was basically the same thing as we saw in series like Marvels or Gotham Central-- regular folks colliding with superpeople -- but played for laughs. It's a little uneven but I got it cheap and it's nice to have it all in one place.
Red 2 with Bruce Willis, Anthony Hopkins Mary-Loise Parker, John Malkovich, Helen Mirren, Catherine Zeta-Jones, and others. Dean Parisot, Director. The blurb: A very safe sequel bet with a cast of friendly, recognizable, and bankable stars, RED 2 is a breezy romp of global espionage and superhero superspies where the wealth of violence is played for laughs and the sly grins stay firmly planted on the faces of everyone involved. As fans of 2010's RED will fondly remember, the hero characters are from the AARP generation, which is also what drives the primary conceptual joke and defines the title acronym: Retired, Extremely Dangerous. In round two, former secret agent Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is drawn out of retirement (again) by his former cohort Marvin (John Malkovich, acting Malkovich-crazy and loving it) to service a plot that involves a Cold War-era nuclear bomb hidden in Russia and the international effort to retrieve it. Frank is now romantically partnered with RED's sweet Sarah (Mary-Louise Parker, also a comic delight), who wants to follow him into the fray and turns out to be pretty good at the dangerous game of spycraft. Also returning from not really being retired are the icy MI-6 assassin Victoria (Helen Mirren) and the lusty Russian spy chief Ivan (Brian Cox). Their priceless scene together captures a bucolic picnic where automatic weapons and silk stockings are the main course. New to this edition is Katja (Catherine Zeta-Jones), Ivan's best operative and a former flame of Frank, and Han Cho Bai (Byung-hun Lee), a Korean hit man on Frank's list partly because he's been ordered to kill him, but mostly because he's mad that Frank stole his private jet. Everyone's motives are purposely muddled, but they all put aside personal grudges and professional kill orders to join forces against the doomsday device.
What I Thought: We loved the first one, we loved this one. I'm not nearly as enamored of the comics that inspired this film franchise, but the movies take all the good parts of the comic and turn them up to eleven. I never knew I had been waiting my whole life to see Helen Mirren wielding a grenade launcher and doing the John Woo patented two-gun slo-mo shot until these movies came along, but now that it exists I can't get ernough of it.
Julie loves these films too; we saw both of them in the theater when they first came out, so adding the sequel to the shopping list was for her as well as for me. Plus, we waited long enough that it only cost a couple of bucks.
Tales of the Batman: Alan Brennert by Alan Brennert, Jim Aparo, and others. The blurb: The Dark Knight stars in this new collection of tales written by Alan Brennert from THE BRAVE AND THE BOLD #178, #181, #182 and #197, DETECTIVE COMICS #500, BATMAN: HOLY TERROR #1 and more, guest-starring Deadman, Black Canary, The Creeper, Hawk and Dove and more.
What I Thought: I have to admit that this was something I pre-ordered before we had our little windfall, I'd already budgeted for it.
Here's why. What I said above about DC's reprint program earning them total forgiveness from me for whatever bonehead thing they do with their current books? Well, that goes triple for these Tales of the Batman hardcovers. Each one that comes out I think, "That's my desert island Batman book," and then comes the next one that's even better. We started with Don Newton and Gene Colan, then raised the ante with Archie Goodwin and Len Wein, and now this one. This volume showcases the amazing Alan Brennert, the guy that wrote less than a dozen Batman stories for DC but they were so terrific that one or another of them is always cited whenever talk turns to the best Batman stories anyone has ever done. Now, finally, every last one of them is between two covers in this great hardcover.
Of course this one reprints all the classic Brennert tales that have been included in every 'best of Batman' collection like "To Kill A Legend" and "The Autobiography of Bruce Wayne" But this one also will include other, not-as-familiar gems like the Black Canary story from Secret Origins #50....
And what might be my favorite Brave and the Bold story ever, "Interlude on Earth-Two," where Batman has to confront a parallel version of Gotham City where history did not go well for Bruce Wayne, and an adult Robin is overtly hostile about it. All while racing the clock to try and stop the Earth-2 Hugo Strange.
That era might have been the last time we saw a Batman who wasn't an asshole, who was capable of learning things and changing his mind, and who wasn't a jerk to everyone around him. Brennert wrote that Batman better than just about anyone else, and I'm thrilled to have this book full of his adventures. Especially with the odd non-Batman one-offs thrown in. It's officially out in a couple of weeks and you should treat yourself-- I did.
So there you go. Not as much fun as a real bookscouting road trip, but cheaper. If we had to stay home, well, we did all right for entertainment, I think.
See you next week.