Sunday, April 15, 2018

If looks Could Kill (Aka Teen Agent) 1992 starring Richard Grieco and Gabrielle Anwar

Back in the day 21 Jump St was one of the coolest shows and Richard Grieco was one of the coolest actors.  He was soon spun off onto his own show Booker. I'm not sure if this was his first movie but it's a cracker of a movie.  Like Austin Powers and Kingsman that followed this movie takes many, many queues from the James Bond films with several nods to other spy and action films.

The basic plot is high school student Michael Corbin has failed French and he must go on the French Club trip to Paris if he is to graduate.

At the same time British Secret Agent Blade is killed investigating the deaths of several European finance ministers.  As the British are concerned that they have been comprised so they asked the CIA to send a replacement agent.  They send Michael Corbin.

Not the same Michael Corbin as the high school student but there is much confusion as the agent is killed and the high school student gets the first class flight and the James Bond set up with gadgets and a cool car.

There is some fun with the French Teacher escorting the class which also happens to the code name of a cold war double agent.  The French club is on a bus and every stop they get a new driver as competing factions try to stop The French Teacher and a gang of mercenaries.

Corbin muddles through often accidentally surviving assassination attempts, setting off  missiles while trying to wind down his windows. By the time he realises what is going on, he becomes competent enough to save the day.

I remember watching this movie with my uncle and he called it "Jimmy Bond gone wrong"

It was a blast to watch this again it's a fun pulpish spy romp with a Bondian villain and henchmen.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Pulp Heroes: Sanctuary Falls (2017) by Wayne Reinagel

I don't know what to make of this novel.  It's a huge sprawling epic of a novel which completes the story started in The Khan Dynasty and More Than Mortal and I ultimately did enjoy the story but as I said in my review of those two novels Reinagel really needs a strong editor to look over his work.  While the repetition of sections wasn't in this novel, there were massive infodumps that almost made my eyes bleed. Reinagel has done his research and it shows in the story but I don't need the entire history of the atomic program in America and The Soviet Union to explain how an atomic bomb was stolen or the entire political career of James Forrestal.  Every time I saw one of these infodumps it took me out of the story.

Two of the chapters - 15 and 16 felt completely unnecessary to me.  Chapter 15 started with Lester Dent walking down the street and looking up at a lit window, where Stan Lee is closing up Timely Comics after Martin Goodman discovered Lee's inventory stories (which did happen) and reflecting on the Golden Age of Comics.  The next chapter has Lester Dent and Walter Gibson discovering that their magazines Doc Titan and The Darkness (Reinagel's stand ins for Doc Savage and The Shadow) had been cancelled and Dent reflects on the history of the Pulps.  While both chapters serve to highlight that this is the end of an era both chapters took us away from the main story.

The story ends with ten epilogues wrapping up some of the side plots. With some of these epilogues, it felt like Reinagel didn't trust his readers to recognise the characters he was referencing, I understand this as a fan of obscure characters I have been guilty of making references to characters that very few people know and there can be a tendency to want to explain everything and over explain it.

The story was really good I liked the idea of Doc Titan, The Darkness, The Scorpion and The Guardian all coming to a problem from different angles and teaming up to work on the problem but it felt like the first half of the novel was bogged down with side plots. Like I said in my review of The Hunter Island Adventure, Reinagel is much better when he is more focused.  One thing he did do in this story was not to utilise the full supporting casts of all the main characters, making use of Doc Titans aides meaning that there were less characters to follow in the bulk of the action and the final showdowns had two teams of four characters rather than a cast of thousands.  

Sunday, April 8, 2018

The Secret Diary of Bettie Page (2017) by David Avallone (writer) and various artists

Bettie Page is a fascinating woman, one of the top pin up models.  She has been the subject of comics, a biopic (The Notorious Bettie Page starting Gretchen Mol) and a heap of photos and drawings.  I once heard that she was listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the most photographed person in the world, I cannot verify that.

Like many of my age, I discovered Bettie Page when Dave Stevens used her as the model for The Rocketeer's girlfriend Betty Page.  Stevens then created a revival of Bettie Page which gave her royalties.  There were several comics from Dark Horse in the 90s some with art by Stevens and others by Jim Silke.  Other comics of a more salacious nature.  Needless to say Bettie Page has a significant pop culture presence so a new comic isn't a surprise.  The idea that she was a secret agent in the 50s is in an interesting idea.

This miniseries has eight issues (and a six issue story in Playboy) all written by David Avallone with different artists. Issues 1-3 have art by Colton Wortley, with Esau Figueroa and Bane Wade sharing the duties for the last five issues.  Joseph Michael Lisner did the art for the Playboy story (which can be found here. Lisner provided covers for all the issues.

The eight issues are split into three parts. Issues 1-4 cover the events leading to Bettie's recruitment.  Issue 5 covers training and a small mission that pays homage to 50s drive in moves and issues 6-8 is the mission in Cannes. Personally, I would have gotten to the spy stuff sooner.

Issue 1 was a little confusing it starts with Bettie at a photoshoot in New York. The FBI raids the shoot and Bettie escapes down the fire escape.  At the bottom of the escape, just standing in the street is Rick Chaplain.  Chaplain helps her down and offers her a job.  A job in Los Angeles, where he proceeds to drive her.  I live in Australia but I know that LA and New York are a long way apart.
The whole set up seems off and a really bad way to get to her to Los Angeles.  I mean there wasn't even the opportunity for her to pack, Bettie is seen driving in the outfit she was wearing at the photoshoot.  Lucky it was the start of the shoot.

In LA, Bettie gets the lead role in a sci movie "Invasion of the Space Commies" while working as an assistant for Chaplain.  Seriously, the story could have started with Bettie in LA for auditions.  Hell she could have met Chaplain on the plane and it would have made more sense than what we got.

The story could have been tighter but it was far from the most disappointing part of the story.  Bettie Page Queen of the Pin-Ups this was a story begging for 'good girl' style art.  The Dark Horse stories had Dave Stevens and Jim Silke artwork.

See the source imageSee the source image

And Dynamite delivers for the covers with Joseph Michael Lisner doing all eight issues and Scott Chandler on variants.  Issue one had twenty odd variants including photo covers with and one by  Terry Dodson homaging Dave Stevens.


If only the interior art matched these covers, I found Colton Worley's  art to be muddy.  It looked like he was using photo references but it didn't work, In issues 1 and 2 Worley inked his own work but issue 3 had Esau Figueroa inking but the inking only made the effect worse:


Figueroa drew issues 4, 6-8 with Bane Wade drawing issue 5 and inking issue 4.  I found the art did not improve with the changes in artist. Dynamite as I mentioned did a six page stand alone with Lisner on art for Playboy magazine, which co-incidentally was the memorial issue for Hugh Hefner.  Lisner's artwork was the only one I liked. I'm not sure why the artists changed but I did not realise that the change had taken place until I was writing this.

This was an interesting idea, that could have been awesome.  I was on board, this hit my sweet spot. Bettie Page, spy hell yeah.  The art was my biggest problem, the muddy interior art drew me away from the story - look I can appreciate different styles but certain styles work better for different characters and stories. Any story on Bettie Page cries out for strong good girl art, people reading it based on the name are expecting a book about a pin up queen.  The covers promised us this and the interior failed to deliver.

I was so critical of the art that until I started to reread issue 1, I had not really noticed some of the story flaws.  If you spend half your story getting her to be a spy it is too long and then spend an issue on a side story (a cool and interesting diversion into the 50s giant creature features) not having her spy I'm going to feel a little cheated. The set up did tie into the spying in the last three issues but the whole thing could have been handled better.

I would not recommend this comic.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Pro Se Presents October 2011: The Hunter Island Adventure by Wayne Reinagel

Originally published

After reading Pulp Heroes: More Than Mortal and Pulp Heroes: The Khan Dynasty I saw that Reinagel had written this shorter piece focusing on the female pulp sidekicks, Pam Titan (an analogue of Pat Savage from the Doc Savage Series), Cassie Greyson (an analogue of Nellie Gray from The Avenger), Megan Meriwether (Margo Lane from The Shadow) and Whitney Van Pelt (Nita Van Sloan from The Spider). Set between The Khan Dynasty and More Than Mortal , the four heroines are on a cruise taking the place of Simon Blake The Guardian who was suddenly called away on a case.
The four women are kidnapped and taken to Hunter Island where Simon Blake was to be put one the trial and hunted for the rape and murder of Judge Armstrong’s wife and daughter. Reinagel quickly lets us know that Hunter Island was formerly known as Ship-trap Island (from Richard Cornell’s The Most Dangerous Game) making this a follow on from that novel. One of the hunters is Lord James Roxton, the son of Lord John Roxton from The Lost World and the other Professor Challenger stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The women arrive at a time when there is some dissent between some of the hunters and the leaders Armstrong and Roxton. The mutiny sees the women on the run and hunted by the mutineers.
None of the women are fainting damsels in distress and react just as capably their male counterparts (in some cases they are more effective than their male counterparts simply because the hunters underestimate the women).
I really enjoyed this novel, The Hunter Island Adventure is not as epic in scope as More Than Mortal and The Khan Dynasty but that is not a bad thing as I felt that this brought a better focus on the plot with a smaller cast of characters.
(One of the problems I had with More Than Mortal when Doc Titan and The Guardian’s teams joined forces I had trouble recollecting who was who from what team although that might be more on my dodgy memory.)
The four women are written as four different characters with different skills and knowledge who seem to be genuine friends who interact often with a light hearted banter and girly gossip. Not surprisingly this relationship is consistent with what we see in the two other adventures.
The Hunter Island Adventure is a good rollicking adventure and well worth reading. 

Sunday, April 1, 2018

Mr Holmes (2015) starring Ian McKellen

Based on the novel "A Slight Trick of the Mind" by Mitch Cullen.
Watching the Hobbit trilogy, I realised that Bilbo was played by Martin Freeman who played Dr Watson in Sherlock and Gandalf was played by Ian McKellen who played Holmes in this.  I had the idea of the Gandalf and Bilbo Mysteries.

I have seen many, many Sherlock Holmes films over the years and I've enjoyed several of McKellen's films. (Okay the X-Men and Middle Earth films).

The idea of an older retired Holmes in his 90's trying to recall the details of his last case is an interesting one.  The idea that the Holmes' mind will ultimately betray him is a scary one because dementia like all diseases doesn't discriminate. I'd heard that the author Mitch Cullen wrote his novel to help deal with his father's dementia.

Holmes in this is the most human in this movie I have ever seen. This is Holmes looking back on his last case the one that caused him to retire to beekeeping.  Holmes realises that he can logically deduce problems and give them a logical solution but people aren't necessarily logical and the last case ended badly and ended in the death of someone involved in the case. This lead Holmes to fall into a funk and eventually become estranged from Watson.

Holmes is unable to emotionally relate to people and later hear a horrible piece of advice given to someone that causes a third plot line.

This movie really brought a tear to my eye.

I have to give full credit to McKellen for such an emotional performance for a character who is not normally associated with emotions.  Another great feature is the makeup where we can visibly see the difference between "younger" and older Holmes.

There is a great Easter Egg at one point Holmes goes to the movies to see a movie based on one of his cases (in this instance based on Watson's write up of his last case) the actor playing Holmes was Nicholas Rowe who had played Holmes in 1985s Young Sherlock Holmes (also known as Young Sherlock Holmes and the Pyramid of Fear) which was a pleasant surprise to see him revisit the role thirty years later even though sadly there was no dialogue.