Mary Tamm: 1950 – 2012

It is a strange feeling, learning that someone you grew up watching on television has passed away.  Such is the case with Doctor Who, which I have avidly followed since I was eight years old.  Recently, several past regular actors from the show have died, namely Nicholas Courtney, Elisabeth Sladen, and Caroline John.  Unfortunately, a fourth name has now joined that list: Mary Tamm, the actress who portrayed Romana during the Sixteenth Season of Doctor Who, passed away on July 26th after a year and a half long battle with cancer.  Tamm was 62 years old, too young an age by my estimation.

Prior to her involvement with Doctor Who, Tamm appeared in the 1973 film adaptation of the Frederick Forsyth novel The Odessa File.  In 1977, she was approached by Doctor Who producer Graham Williams to play Romana, a female Time Lord who would embark with the Doctor, then portrayed by Tom Baker, on a season-long quest to locate the six segments of a cosmic artifact known as the Key to Time.  Tamm was drawn to the part by the promise that Romana would be the Doctor’s equal, independent and intelligent.

Romana was certainly a distinctive figure.  Brimming with knowledge and confidence, she was a posh, sophisticated woman with an incredible sense of fashion.  During her season on the show, she sported a series of stylish ensembles, carrying herself with elegant dignity.

Mary Tamm as Romana in the Doctor Who serial The Androids of Tara
Mary Tamm as Romana in the Doctor Who serial The Androids of Tara

In addition to her undeniable air of cultivation, Romana was also actually more intelligent than the Doctor himself.  However, being much younger than him, and having just come from a sheltered existence on the Time Lord world of Gallifrey, it could be argued she was naïve as to the actual dangers of the real world.  One of the aspects of her relationship with the Doctor would be her university education versus his “street smart” knowledge of the universe gained from centuries of travels.  I found this to be interesting source of both drama and humor.  However, this dimension of their characters’ interchange would actually contribute towards Tamm’s decision to depart from the show.

By the end of the Sixteenth Season, Tamm felt she had taken the character of Romana as far as she could.  In a 1991 interview with Doctor Who Magazine, she explained “I realized that I was never going to be on a level with the Doctor intellectually and the fact that Romana was a Time Lord graduate didn’t help her. She had all the text book knowledge but none of the Doctor’s experience and application.”  She added “I felt the role wasn’t stretching me enough as an actress and therefore I was not prepared to tag along with Tom Baker for another nine months just feeding him lines.”

Tamm was “instrumental” in convincing the powers-that-be to hire actress Lala Ward as her replacement on Doctor Who.  At the start of the next season Romana regenerated into her new form, although Tamm was unfortunately not on hand to film the transition.

After her time on Doctor Who, Tamm went on to a long & successful career in British television.  In recent years she returned to the world of Doctor Who, performing in several of the Companion Chronicles releases from Big Finish.  Earlier this year, she was reunited with Tom Baker for a series of full cast audio plays set between her final television story, “The Armageddon Factor,” and her regeneration, in effect a Season 16.5, so to speak.  These are scheduled to be released by Big Finish in early 2013.

One of my favorite Tom Baker serials is from the Key to Time season, namely “The Pirate Planet” which was written by Douglas Adams shortly before he found fame as the author of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  “The Pirate Planet” may not have been the strongest story in terms of its treatment of Romana that season, or in spotlighting Tamm’s acting abilities (that would undoubtedly be the also-excellent “The Androids of Tara” by David Fisher) but it’s a marvelous adventure.  Among its strengths is the interplay between Tamm and Baker.  I’m looking forward to re-watching that story again soon.

Despite her short time on Doctor Who, Mary Tamm made an indelible impression on the show.  Even though she was not able to stretch the boundaries of the role of the Doctor’s assistant as far as she had hoped or wanted, I think she was certainly one of the actresses who helped to lay the groundwork for more assertive, independent companions to appear on the show in the future.

Putting the Squeeze on Coney Island

I’ve had this blog for a few months now, and I realized that I haven’t written anything about music.  I actually do listen to a lot of music.  It’s just that I find it a difficult subject to speak about.  If you’ve read my comic book reviews, you may have noticed that I focus on plot and characterization, but not nearly as much on artwork.  I sometimes find it a struggle to intelligently write about the elements of illustration and storytelling.  Likewise, along those lines, it’s very difficult for me to explain precisely why I like or don’t like certain music.  So don’t expect to see too many music reviews here!

Anyway, this summer there’s been the 34th annual Seaside Summer Concert Series going on at Coney Island.  Usually the shows are held on a Thursday night, which is a bit of a problem for me, because it takes a long time to travel to Coney Island from where I live.  So if I have work the next day, it’s not a great thing for me to have to try to make my way home from there after the show, and then be at the job a few hours later.  I just seem to need more sleep than most people.  So I hadn’t gone to any of the concerts this year.

Last week, for some reason, the concert was on a Friday night instead of a Thursday.  Since I didn’t have work the next day and could sleep in, my girlfriend pestered me into going.  I have to admit, I wasn’t too enthusiastic about the line-up: Squeeze and The Romantics.  I knew a couple of songs by each band, but I would definitely not classify myself as a fan.

When we got there, I wasn’t too impressed.  It had been raining most of the day, and now the weather was very overcast & breezy.  Hardly any people were there.  Row upon row up empty chairs sat before the stage, looking quite forlorn.  If I had been in either of the bands, I might have taken one look at that scene, gotten back in my trailer, and hit the road.  Yeah, it was that bad.  It was like something out of This Is Spinal Tap, when the band hits rock bottom, and ends up playing to a crowd of a dozen people at an amusement park.

But apparently the show must go on.  The Romantics came on first, and did a decent set.  The only two songs I knew were “Talking in Your Sleep” and “What I Like About You.”  But I enjoyed it.  Like I said, though, I felt bad for the band having to play to a nearly-deserted venue.  People started to slowly trickle in while The Romantics were playing, and even more came during the intermission.

I was half-expecting these new arrivals to be scared off by Brooklyn borough president Marty Markowitz, who took to the stage to talk incessantly, rattling off all sorts of nonsense in between name-checking every single corporate sponsor.  That’s politicians for you; they love the sound of their own voice.  But people stuck around, and by the time Squeeze took to the stage, there was actually a halfway-decent crowd.  Still lots of empty seats, but nowhere near as bad as before.

Okay, I was really impressed by Squeeze.  The thing is, I thought that I only knew a couple of their songs, namely “Black Coffee in Bed” and “Tempted.”  Those are two decent tunes, although “Tempted” has unfortunately become one of those horribly overplayed numbers, so I didn’t think that I’d even want to hear it.  But the band did a really great live version of it.  And, surprisingly, it turned out I knew more of their songs than I thought.

Back in the mid-1990s, I used to hear “Pulling Muscles (From the Shell)” on the radio all the time.  I thought it was by some alternative band whose name I could never find out.  I had no idea that it was actually a 15 year old song by Squeeze.  Even more surprising was when the band launched into “Cool for Cats.”  That was a jaw-dropper.  I love that song.  I had no clue that Squeeze sang it.  My exchange with my girlfriend during the show went something like this:

“Wait, Squeeze did this song?”

“Yes. You never knew that?”

“No, I thought that it was by some British band.”

“Squeeze is from England, Ben.”

“Oh! I thought they were from the South or Midwest or something.”

*Ahem!* Shows how much I know.  Anyway, as I said, I really enjoyed the Squeeze set.  They did a fantastic job, and I’m sorry that they ended up performing to such a sparse audience.  Not sure they were happy about fireworks going off at the Brooklyn Cyclones baseball stadium next door, either!  Hope this whole experience doesn’t dissuade them from returning to New York in the future.  I’d like to see them again.  (I’m actually listening to their greatest hits CD as I type up this blog entry.)

Looking over the concert line-up for the rest of the summer, I saw that there were a couple of other shows I’d like to catch.  But they’re on the regular Thursday dates, though.  Joan Jett and the Blackhearts I saw in Central Park several years ago.  So, if I miss them, at least I was able to catch them in the past.  No, the one that really bummed me out was that next Thursday at Coney Island they’re going to have Dennis DeYoung from Styx, Lou Gramm from Foreigner, and Bobby Kimball from Toto, all on one stage.  When I saw that, I disappointedly cried out “Awwwww, man!”  I would really like to catch that show, but I have work the next day.  What a bummer.

That said, if the Pet Shop Boys ever end up playing at Coney Island, I don’t care what day of the week it is, I am so there!

Comic book reviews: Magus, by Jon Price, David Norton & Rebekah Isaacs

In the “better late than never” department, here are some thoughts on Magus, a five issue miniseries published by 12-Gauge Comics in 2011.  The series was co-created by Jon Price and David Norton.  Price wrote the first four issues, with Norton co-writing the conclusion.  Rebekah Isaacs provided the artwork for the entire series.

Thousands of years ago, magic and the supernatural were everyday, commonplace phenomena, and all human beings had the ability to use mystic powers.  Unfortunately, over time, humanity began to abuse its magical abilities, using them to wage war and amass power.  Eventually, to save the world, the source of magic was sealed away, and 99.9% of human beings lost the ability to access it.  Over time, magic slipped into myth, and people came to regard it as superstition or fairy tales.  Of the very tiny number of humans who were still able to tap into the source of magic, they were guided in the use of their abilities by a society of Guardians.  A second group, the Brotherhood, regarded magic as a sickness, and they hunted down any magic users they could find.

In the present day, the seal holding back the mystic source is finally beginning to crumble, with more and more humans gradually beginning to develop supernatural abilities.  The Guardians hope to find the cause of the seal being fractured, and try to prevent it from completely collapsing, which they believe will plunge the world into chaos.  Meanwhile, the Brotherhood is simply interested in eradicating every new magic user they can locate before the general public becomes fully aware of magic.

Magus #2
Magus #2

The premise of Magus developed by Price and Norton is pretty cool.  I like the idea of a world very much like our own where one day magic suddenly starts to appear all over the place.  A series that explores how different people react to these astounding occurrences really has a lot of potential.  It occurred to me that in a lot of genre television, you have a need to maintain the status quo from week to week, and after a while it really stretches suspension of disbelief.  For instance, in shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Charmed or The X-Files, there was weird phenomena occurring on a regular basis, but the general public never seems to notice.  Or, to use one of my favorite shows as an example, in Doctor Who it seems like roughly every other serial some new group of aliens is trying to invade Earth but, once again, no one seems to remember all those bug-eyed monsters marching through the streets of London.  So it’s a cool idea to have a book like Magus that does look at how drastically and violently everyday existence might be upended when mystical episodes began occurring across the world.

The characters created by Price and Norton are an interesting, compelling group.  This first story arc, “From the Ashes,” is really to establish them, and their roles in relation to the breaking of the mystic seal.  As well as set them up for future storylines.  There were also some unexpected plot twists.  After reading the first two issues, I thought I knew where aspects of the story were heading, or how certain characters were going to develop.  But in the next three issues, things went in a completely different manner.  So there definitely isn’t a great deal of predictability to this title.

The artwork by Rebekah Isaacs on Magus is very nicely done.  Isaacs is definitely one of the best new talents to emerge in the comic book biz within the last few years.  I first became aware of her work when she illustrated DV8: Gods and Monsters, which was written by Brian Wood.  Isaacs’ artwork was so completely different from J. Scott Campbell, Humberto Ramos, or Al Rio, i.e. the typical style I so closely associated with DV8 as a whole, so much so that I bought that miniseries hoping to find a very different take on the characters & concepts.  I really enjoyed the work Isaacs did on DV8, which is what led me to pick up Magus.

It’s quite clear that “From the Ashes” is intended as the first of several story arcs by Jon Price and David Norton.  They clearly have a plan for where to take their characters.  Although, given how unpredictably dramatic the first Magus storyline was, I wouldn’t hazard to guess where they mean to go with them.  This is definitely a good thing, because this seems like the kind of series that would not get stale or predictable.  I really hope that in the future Price and Norton have the opportunity to return to Magus with a new miniseries, as I am certainly keen to see what happens next.  And if Magus does return, I also hope it will have Rebekah Isaacs once again providing her wonderful artwork.

I don’t know how widely distributed Magus was.  I was fortunate enough to find copies of the issues through Midtown Comics, either in their NYC stores or on their website.  12-Gauge Comics also has the issues for sale on their website.  I definitely think it’s worth the time to look for Magus online, because it really is a high-quality, entertaining series.

Comic book reviews: Captain America vol 6 #11-14

Back to talking about mainstream comic books for a bit.  I previously decided that, after over two decades of following it regularly, I was going to drop Captain America from my reading list.  Since then, I found out that current writer Ed Brubaker will be ending his nearly eight year long run on the series in a few issues, with Captain America volume six issue #19.  So I made the decision to stick it out and see how he wraps things up.

Brubaker’s penultimate story arc, “Shock to the System,” continues his ongoing subplots concerning Codename Bravo and the Hydra Queen, who have systematically been taking a wrecking ball to Steve Rogers’ life while simultaneously undermining the public’s already shaken faith in the government.  Bravo and the Queen are relegated to behind-the-scenes players in this arc.  Truthfully, I don’t mind, since I haven’t warmed to either character.  Instead, taking center stage is government agent Henry Peter Gyrich and a new vigilante Scourge, assassinating supervillains who have been placed in a witness protection program.  And the mysterious Scourge turns out to have ties to Captain America.

I might have been more impressed with this arc if it wasn’t for the fact that the central conceit, namely “Hydra brainwashes Gyrich to recruit a new Scourge who happens to be an old friend of Cap” hadn’t already been done before a number of years ago by Fabian Nicieza in the pages of Thunderbolts.  Consequently, some of “Shock to the System” felt like a retread.

Captain America vol 6 #14
Captain America vol 6 #14

I was also, once again, underwhelmed by Brubaker’s decompressed writing style.  So much of the time, Brubaker has done quality work on the Captain America series, but at the end of each arc I couldn’t help saying “That was really nice, but maybe it could have been told in one or two fewer issues.”  Well, I had the same reaction to “Shock to the System,” which felt like a nice three part story padded out to four issues.

I don’t know, perhaps I am being too critical of Brubaker in this respect.  The entire trend of decompressed storytelling, of writing for the “trade paperback,” has become so much of a house style at both Marvel and DC.  Pretty much every writer utilizes it.  For me this is frustrating, because Brubaker is generally a very good writer, but that practice of decompression serves as something of a liability to his stories.

On the plus side, “Shock to the System” did see the return of two long-time supporting characters from the Mark Gruenwald years, one of whom I am a big fan of.  It was nice to see both of them back, and Brubaker uses each of them very well.  Okay, true, one of them does end up dying.  But it was well-done and dramatic.  Brubaker really made it a tragic event, rather than merely a throw-away death.

The strongest aspect of Captain America #s 11-14 was actually the artwork by Patrick Zircher, or, as he seems to be calling himself now, Patch Zircher.  I’ve written before that he started out penciling New Warriors back in the 1990s, doing good, solid work.  Well, he’s definitely improved & grown as an artist, becoming even better over the years.  His artwork on “Shock to the System” was extremely well done.

So, five more issues of Captain America remain until Ed Brubaker’s departure from the title.  I don’t know how he is going to bring closure to all of his plotlines in that remaining amount of time.  I’m hopeful that he doesn’t have to rush things and/or leave some of his subplots unresolved.  It’s true, I’ve been underwhelmed by Cap volume six.  But on the whole, Brubaker’s work on this series has been very good, and I would love to see him go out on a high note.

Comic books I’m reading, part four: graphic novels

As I mentioned in Part Three of this series, I’ve increasingly been picking up more and more “independent” comic books.  And that includes graphic novels.  I recently read a very good graphic novel, The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City, published by Tor.  There are also several other books that I purchased in the last few years that I never had an opportunity to read until now.

The Battle of Blood and Ink is written by Jared Axelrod and illustrated by Steve Walker.  I met Walker at the New York Comic Con a few years ago.  At the time, he had just illustrated another book, The Sons of Liberty, which had been written by Alexander & Joseph Lagos.  I thought it was a pretty good read with some nice art.  So when I heard that Walker had a new book out this year, I picked it up.

I guess The Battle of Blood and Ink would be described as a steampunk adventure.  It is set in Amperstam, a flying city.  The protagonist Ashe is the publisher of The Lurker’s Guide, the city’s newspaper.  Ashe uses The Lurkers’ Guide to attempt to expose what she sees as the oppressive activities of Amperstam’s government, embodied in the form of the icy Provost.  Ashe also has a case of amnesia concerning her childhood, as well as a set of mysterious tattoos on her arms.  These are things she has brushed to the back of her mind, but she soon finds that they have great significance, both for herself and Amperstam.

The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City
The Battle of Blood and Ink: A Fable of the Flying City

Jared Axelrod’s writing very much reminded me very much of the work of one of my favorite authors, Chris Claremont.  Like Claremont, Axelrod has two strong, independent female characters in the lead, in this case Ashe and her adversary, the Provost.

Axelrod also utilized one of Claremont’s favorite tropes, the examination of identity.  Are we who we really are, or are we living the roles that society has shaped us into?  Ashe comes from Amperstam’s underclass, and her fiery independence & fighting spirit are in many ways a direct response to this, a rebellion against her social station, an act of defiance against the city’s elite.  However, when Ashe is offered the opportunity to join that social stratum, to live a comfortable life with her friend & admirer Cardor, she hesitates.  Would she still be Ashe?  Or instead would she be someone who had been molded into being by Cardor, transformed into the woman he wants her to be?  Likewise, the at-first seemingly villainous Provost is a much more complicated being once examined.  The city’s ruler perceives herself as a servant of duty.  Every choice the Provost has made has been, she claims, for the good of Amperstam.  She sees it as her responsibility to make the difficult choices that others are unwilling to make, no matter how heavily they may weigh on her conscience.  Obviously her motivations do not make some of the Provost’s decisions any less iniquitous, but Axelrod explains why she does what she does, and how she feels an obligation to pursue the course of action that she has.

In regards to Steve Walker’s work on The Battle of Blood and Ink, he has really grown as an artist since The Sons of Liberty.  He has a style that could be described as Charlie Adlard crossed with Jamal Igle.  Walker obviously put a tremendous amount of time & thought into designing Amperstam, its inhabitants, geography, architecture, and technology.  A few of his preliminary sketches are on display in the back of the book.  The upshot is that Amperstam is in many ways a fully realized city, with different neighborhoods and socioeconomic groups.  Walker also renders very exciting action sequences, both on the streets of Amperstam, and in the skies above the city.  There are a few instances where the action could have used somewhat more clarity.  But on the whole Walker is very good at storytelling.

So I would definitely recommend purchasing a copy of The Battle of Blood and Ink.  It’s an exciting read with superb artwork.

Anyway, delving into that big pile of previous unread graphic novels that were starting to stack up in my apartment, what else has been occupying my time?  There was a trio of intriguing, original works that I finally took the time to sit down and read.  Here are a few brief thoughts on them.

World War 3 Illustrated editor & contributor Sabrina Jones created Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography.  Duncan was, to quote the foreword by Lori Belilove, “the mother of modern dance and the muse of modernism.”  I had what might be considered a very passing knowledge of Duncan before having picked up this volume, but from I knew she was an interesting figure.  Indeed, reading it, Jones tells the story of a very talented, free-spirited, revolutionary, eccentric woman, one who had a tremendous impact upon the world of dance throughout the globe in the early 20th Century.  Jones’ biography is a cursory look at Duncan’s life & achievements.  But she provides a detailed bibliography for anyone seeking further information on the legendary performer.  Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography stands out for Jones lovely, flowing line work, which really brings across in still images a feeling of fluid motion & grace.

Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography
Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a book by Josh Neufeld that was inspired by his work volunteering for the American Red Cross in Biloxi, MS.  Neufeld became acquainted with a number of individuals whose lives were affected by Hurricane Katrina.  He kept in touch with them, and recounted their stories.  A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge is a very sobering look at what happened during one of the worst natural disasters of the last decade, told from the points of view of the people on the ground.

I really enjoyed this book, because it really cut through the inaccurate sensationalism that often plagued the reporting of events in New Orleans, and told it as it really was.  This was a very eye-opening read.  It was a great look at how humanity, under the worst circumstances, is sometimes able to rise to the occasion and be the best it can, with unlikely true-life heroes materializing where you least expected them.  Neufeld’s artwork really captures the grim devastation of Hurricane Katrina, and the subsequent flooding.  His people, with their expressions & body language, have very palpable emotions.  It was a really engaging read.  Hurricane Katrina is definitely a weighty topic to explore, but Neufeld does it in a thoughtful, respectful manner, letting his subjects’ lives unfold on their own, telling their own stories.

A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge
A.D. New Orleans After the Deluge

The final book I read recently was Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli.  I will be up front on this one: it is not a casual read.  There is a tremendous amount of depth, symbolism, and philosophy to Mazzucchelli’s work.  On the surface, the book looks at the disintegration and rebuilding of the life of an architect.  Asterios Polyp is an acclaimed university professor who has designed numerous revolutionary buildings.  Actually, that is to say, Polyp has drawn them on paper, but none of them have been physically constructed.

The book is very much concerned with questions of identity and reality.  If a building has not been built, can it be said to really exist?  Likewise, there is much about Polyp that seems abstract and theoretical, that he is an idea for a person, that he is not really living a life so much as going through the motions of what he thinks his life should be.  Polyp is obsessed with the fact that he had a twin brother who died at birth, and he contemplates that perhaps he is living the life his brother might have if he’d survived.  Polyp goes so far as to videotape all of his activities at home to create a “video doppelganger” to stand in for his missing twin.

Asterios Polyp
Asterios Polyp

I am not going to pretend to understand much of what Mazzucchelli explored with this graphic novel.  It is very apparent that Asterios Polyp is intended to be re-read and contemplated.  What I do know is that Mazzucchelli spent some amount of time on creating this book.  No choice of line work, layout, color shade, or font appears to have been left to chance.  Even the unusual dust jacket size was a deliberate decision on Mazzucchelli’s part.  In a way, he can be regarded as the architect of this book, his designs as meticulous as those he assigned to the works of Polyp within the book.  Did Mazzucchelli intend that, as well?  Is he, in the creation of this work, mirroring his fictional protagonist?  By even creating this book, is Mazzucchelli blurring the line between reality and fiction?  Once again, I cannot say.  But it really does make you think.

Comic book reviews: Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

Okay, so I was originally going to do a write-up on Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in an upcoming post on graphic novels that I’ve been reading.  But then I realized it didn’t quite fit into that category.  Written & drawn by Simon Fraser, The Mines of Charybdis originally appeared as a weekly web comic on ACT-I-VATE in 2009, and subsequently appeared in print as an eight part serial in the Judge Dredd Megazine.  In 2011, Fraser released a limited edition trade paperback collection of the story, and I was fortunate enough to score a copy of that.

The Scottish-born Fraser is probably best known for co-creating with Robbie Morrison the swashbuckling Russian rogue Nikolai Dante in the pages of 2000 AD.  Fraser has worked on a number of other features for that famed British anthology, including flagship character Judge Dredd.  Among his other works was an excellent comic book adaptation of the Richard Matheson novel Hell House done with Ian Edginton at IDW.

Lilly Mackenzie is Fraser’s creator owned series.  Lilly is a sexy space adventurer, seemingly bubbly and carefree, but with a dark family past.  Her best friend is Cosmo Judd, a brilliant scientist who happens to be a midget, and so is consequently underestimated by many people.  Cosmo carries an unrequited attraction to Lilly.

Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis

The Mines of Charybdis sees Lilly attempting to track down her long lost, ne’er do well brother.  The trail has led to the brutal mining world of Charybdis.  The planet is surrounded by an EMP field, meaning that all electronic equipment does not work.  Settlers and prisoners are sent down in unpowered space capsules, where they are expected to spend the rest of their lives.  The only way of launching the mined ore & minerals back into space is via a mass accelerator.  Due to the enormous acceleration needed to escape the planet’s surface, this would kill any human beings attempting to travel on it.

In other words, Lilly and Cosmo need to find a way to sneak onto a planet with no advanced technology, find Lilly’s brother in a desolate wilderness, and then come up with some sort of method of escaping the planet that won’t leave them pulverized.  The problem is pretty well summed up in an exchange between the two, when Lilly asks “Can’t we just, I dunno, improvise something,” and a disbelieving Cosmo shoots back “Improvise? Improvise what? Physics? Maybe Newton, Einstein and Sinclair got it wrong?”

Of course, Cosmo eventually does come up with a plan to get down to Charybdis safely and, in turn, theorizes a brilliant, yet incredibly dangerous, method of possibly getting the pair of them off the planet.  Possibly, because even if he can get it to work, there’s still no guarantee it won’t end up killing the pair of them.  And before they can even attempt this, they have to locate Lilly’s brother while dealing with any number of desperate thugs and crooks who are imprisoned on Charybdis.

Fraser does a superb job of blending two often disparate aspects of science fiction, namely space opera and “hard science” speculative fiction.  He appears to have conducted a thorough amount of research into physics to have devised Cosmo’s ingenious scheme.  Fraser also adds in what you might consider to be high-octane, adrenaline-packed action sequences, with Lilly doing some major ass-kicking.  And at the same time, he makes sure to really develop his characters, to show the depths of their personalities.

It’s unfortunate that economics only allowed Fraser to release the collected edition of Lilly Mackenzie & The Mines of Charybdis in a limited print run, because it is an excellent story, one I highly recommend.  But you can read it in the pages of Judge Dredd Megazine #298 to #305.  Those may be difficult to locate here in the States (you can always try to find them on Ebay or something) so if not, then definitely go to the ACT-I-VATE website and read it there.  Fraser’s sequel, The Treasure of Paros, is also online, along with various other excellent series by a number of talented creators.

The ACT-I-VATE Primer

In 2009, IDW published The ACT-I-VATE Primer, a hardcover anthology featuring 16 new stories.  Among the creators whose work is featured in The ACT-I-VATE Primer are Dean Haspiel, Roger Langridge, Pedro Camargo, Molly Crabapple, Tim Hamilton, and Mike Cavallaro.  Fraser’s contribution was “When Lilly Met Cosmo,” a prequel tale that reveals how Lilly Mackenzie and Cosmo Judd first met.  It’s a good story in an excellent collection of material, and I highly recommend purchasing a copy.

Comic books I’m reading, part three: independent titles

It’s the Fourth of July, American Independence Day, and so today I’m going to do a rundown of what independent comic books I’ve been reading recently.  For the purposes of simplicity, I’m just going to consider anything that is not Marvel or DC as an independent.  And I’ll be covering graphic novels in a later post, because otherwise this one is going to be way too long!

I’ve already written an in-depth review of The Grim Ghost before, but I wanted to mention it again.  Written by Tony Isabella, with artwork from Kelley Jones & Eric Layton, for my money The Grim Ghost was the best superhero comic book of 2011.  This six issue miniseries published by Atlas Comics unfortunately ran into some distribution problems with the final issue.  As I’ve heard it, Diamond Distributors decided to cancel (or, as they would say, “re-solicit”) the shipping orders for a number of small companies at the end of last year, so that they could focus their resources on sending out the copious amounts of DC’s New 52 titles that were being ordered by comic shops.  That’s the problem when it comes to dealing with a monopoly, folks, you’re at the mercy of decisions like that.  Anyway, I was eventually able to obtain a copy of #6 by ordering it online from the Atlas Comics website.  It was a great conclusion to a fantastic story.

Grim Ghost 2 cover

As I’ve posted before on this blog, I’m currently following Erik Larsen’s long-running Savage Dragon and his revival of Supreme, both published by Image Comics.  Larsen is one of my favorite comic book creators, a total fountain of colorful characters & imaginative ideas, and I really look forward to seeing what he does next on each of these titles.

Additionally, there is another pair of books from Image, written by Joe Keatinge, that I’m reading.  The first is the re-launch of Rob Liefeld’s Glory, which Keatinge is doing with Ross Campbell.  The other is a brand new series, Hell Yeah, with artist Andre Szymanowicz.  That one is really interesting, as it looks at “the first generation raised in a world where superheroes exist,” to quote Keatinge himself.  The protagonist, Benjamin Day, learns that across myriad alternate realities, other versions of him are being murdered.  The identity of the killer is revealed within the first few issues, so it’s not a whodunit but rather a “whydunit,” so to speak.  Keatinge’s writing is very riveting, and I cannot wait to find out what happens next.  The artwork by Szymanowicz is very well done, having the feel of something out of Heavy Metal.

Steve Mannion is an artist with this incredibly wacky, zany, sexy art style.  His work is somewhat reminiscent of EC Comics, both Wally Wood’s sci-fi spectacles and the offbeat humor of Mad Magazine.  I first discovered Mannion’s artwork when he drew an utterly baffling, but nevertheless very funny, issue of Captain America about twelve years ago.  Mannion went the self-publishing route for a while, but in recent years he’s had his books coming out through Asylum Press.  His signature character, Fearless Dawn, has been featured in several books.  The most recent have been Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp and Fearless Dawn in Outer Space.  I haven’t had an opportunity to pick up the second of these yet, but The Secret of the Swamp was an insane riot, just lots of crazy fun.  Mannion continues to grow as an artist, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp
Fearless Dawn: The Secret of the Swamp

Over at IDW, there are a few licensed titles I’ve been picking up.  The main one is G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, written by Larry Hama.  That’s the series which continues the continuity from the original comics published by Marvel back in the 1980s and 90s.  It seems like Hama is having a lot of fun writing this book, and it’s definitely an exciting read.  I’ve also been picking up some of the Doctor Who books, which do a good job of capturing the feel of the series.  Right now IDW is publishing the improbable but entertaining Star Trek / Doctor Who: Assimilation miniseries, which has beautiful painted artwork by J.K. Woodward.  This one is more of a natural fit than you might think, as the Borg are really pretty much the Cybermen with a bigger budget.  So it makes sense to combine those two cyborg menaces, and then have the crews of the Enterprise and the TARDIS come together to confront them.

IDW is also publishing Godzilla.  I bought the first few issues of their initial title, Kingdom of Monsters.  That had nice art, but the writing just never clicked for me, and I ended up selling them on Ebay.  I was much more impressed with the five issue miniseries Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths, written by John Layman, with artwork by Alberto Ponticelli.  That was an incredibly deft blending of the kaiju genre with a noir hardboiled crime story.  Layman wrote some very compelling human characters.  Ponticelli’s art was stunning, offering stunning giant monster action sequences, as well as more human moments.  Gangsters & Goliaths was published last year, but it has been collected into a trade paperback, which I highly recommend picking up.

Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1
Godzilla: Gangsters & Goliaths #1

I got the first two issues of the new X-O Manowar series published by Valiant.  So far so good.  The writing by Robert Venditti is very well done.  He appears to have done a great deal of research into the historical era that the initial story arc is set in.  The artwork from Cary Nord & Stefano Gaudiano is quite impressive.  I really enjoyed the original Valiant books in the 1990s, so it’s nice to see them return.  X-O Manowar is definitely a great initial title for their reboot.  Hopefully I will have the funds to continue picking this one up.

I certainly cannot close out an entry on independent comic books without mentioning Love and Rockets by Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez, published by Fantagraphics Books.  Since around 2001, I gradually began reading Love and Rockets through the collected editions.  And within the last four years, I’ve really got into the series, as my girlfriend is a huge fan of the works of Los Bros Hernandez.  Having someone I could discuss these stories and characters with really made them come alive for me even more so than in the past.  As I have written previously, the Hernandez Brothers have both created large casts of interesting, multi-faceted, nuanced, compelling characters.  I often find myself talking with my girlfriend about these characters and the plotlines they are involved in as if they were real people & events.  And, of course, both Jaime and Gilbert are incredibly talented artists who not only draw amazingly beautiful women but also know how to tell a story through pictures.

Love and Rockets: New Stories #4
Love and Rockets: New Stories #4

For the last few years, Jaime & Gilbert Hernandez have been releasing Love and Rockets as a giant-sized, hundred page annual publication.  Love and Rockets: New Stories #4 came out last autumn, which hopefully means the next edition will be on sale in a few months.  In New Stories #4, Jaime continued the story of Maggie and Ray’s on-again, off-again tumultuous romance, as well as the tragic tale of Maggie’s brother Calvin.  Jamie’s story had a really dark, heartbreaking occurrence, followed by an ending that seems deliberately ambiguous.  It reminded me of his classic tale “The Death of Speedy,” where Jaime left it up to the reader to decide exactly what had happened at the conclusion.

In his half of the book, Gilbert appears to be continuing his recent practice of creating graphic novel adaptations of the B-movies that his character Rosalba “Fritz” Martinez has acted in.  Fritz’s niece Killer (at least, I think that’s how they’re related… I’d love if Gilbert would put together a family tree for his characters, there are so many of them) follows in her aunt’s cinematic footsteps in New Stories #4, starring in a very strange vampire story.  There seems to be a great deal of subtext and symbolism to Gilbert’s recent stories, and they no doubt benefit from repeated readings.  I think that at times his work is perhaps too obscure.  But at least it does require you to think it through, and work to interpret it.

This is an aspect that both Gilbert and Jamie’s work possesses, that their stories are not something you can just breeze through.  There is a very substantive quality to their works.  Love and Rockets is not the easiest read out there, but it is worth taking the time to try and figure out what the Hernandez Brothers are attempting to articulate through their stories.  In other words, they really make you think, definitely a good thing.

There are obviously a great many more really good independent comic books currently being published besides the material I’ve covered in this blog post.  Unfortunately, financial and time constraints prevent me from picking up more of the books out there.  Just remember that those books do exist.  They may not be as easy to find as the latest big events from Marvel or DC.  But it is well worth it to take the time to seek out all the great stuff being published.  The creative future of comic books really doesn’t lie with the Big Two any longer, but with the creators working on new & exciting projects released through the smaller independent publishers.

Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor

Last week, for my birthday, my girlfriend and I went to Jahn’s, a restaurant & ice cream parlor located in Jackson Heights, Queens.

The original Jahn’s opened up way back in 1897.  By the mid-20th Century, Jahn’s had locations all over New York City, as well as Long Island, New Jersey, and Florida.  Unfortunately, within recent years, only two Jahn’s ice cream parlors remained, the Jackson Heights one, and a location in Richmond Hill.  And in 2007, the Richmond Hill Jahn’s closed.  All of the old fashioned period décor was bought up by a collector in the Midwest.

So the last remaining Jahn’s is the one in Jackson Heights.  There was a fire at that location a few decades back, so regrettably the look of the place is more 1970s than turn-of-the-century.  Putting aside the minor issue of appearance, Jahn’s is a fabulous place to visit.  The food is, I will admit, your typical diner fare, i.e. good but nothing especially outstanding.  No, really, the reason to visit Jahn’s is the ice cream.  They have a huge menu of delicious sundaes.  And the serving sizes for the ice cream are huge.

My girlfriend, who grew up in Queens, introduced me to Jahn’s a couple of years ago.  We’ve been there a few times.  Usually we go for a light lunch or dinner, followed by ice cream sundaes.  This time around, I got a pizza burger, and my girlfriend had a quiche.  Then it was time to dig in to the ice cream.  Afterwards, we were stuffed.  It was a nice way to spend my birthday, having sundaes with my girlfriend.

I didn’t bring my camera along with me, but below are a few photos from a prior visit.  My girlfriend took a few pics with her cell phone camera, so I’ll probably post those later on Facebook.

Jahn’s is located at 81-04 37th Avenue, Jackson Heights NY 11372.  It is well worth a visit, especially on hot summer days like these.  The ice cream sundaes are the perfect way to beat the heat.

Jahn's Ice Cream Parlor
Jahn’s Ice Cream Parlor


Ice cream sundae menu
Ice cream sundae menu


Ice cream and french fries
Ice cream and french fries