Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Review: Batman '66 meets Steed and Mrs Peel #1

The latest Batman '66 miniseries teams up the Dynamic Duo with the British Avengers, in the form of John Steed and Emma Peel, British secret intelligence agents. The script, by Ian Edginton, is rather simple and straight forward, despite having Alfred suit up as Batman and having a couple call backs to the Tim Burton Batman films. It serves as an introduction to the characters and sets up the premise by having Catwoman, during a routine robbery, foiled by Steed and Peel before Robin and Batfred get to the scene. After she is put into a holding tank at Gotham Police Headquarters, she becomes the object of a prison break kidnap attempt by mysterious Cybernaughts.  The real piece de resistance is the artwork by Matthew Dow Smith. Where as I often complained about the artwork from the Batman '66 franchise taking on a Mad Magazine satire look, Matthew Dow Smith's artwork is exactly what I wanted to see in this franchise. It is stylized, specifically in the backgrounds, while still exhibiting a photo-realism.  It can be described as an epic, big budget version of the artwork from the Batman View-Master booklet. This is some of the best illustrations in this franchise. Kudos to Matthew Dow Smith. This issue earns an A-.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Scotty Moore, R.I.P.

We have lost a legend.  Scotty Moore, one of the inventors of Rock 'n Roll, and Elvis Presley's guitar player, passed away on June 28th 2016, at the age of 84. Scotty, an inventive guitar player, virtually invented Rockabilly licks, helped to create Rock 'n Roll, and helped make Elvis the King.

Winfield Scott Moore III was born Dec. 27, 1931, and began playing guitar at the age of 8.  After a stint in the Navy, and taking a gig in a Country Swing band called the Starlight Wranglers, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips assigned Scotty to evaluate a new kid named Elvis Presley.  Together with Starlight Wranglers' bassist Bill Black, the trio created history by recording "That's All Right".   Scotty remained an integral part of Elvis' band throughout the 50s and 60s, even appearing in some of Elvis' movies.  In Jailhouse Rock when Elvis is by the swimming pool singing "(You're so Square) Baby I Don't Care", you can see Scotty in the background playing guitar, with his sunglasses disappearing and reappearing between different camera angles, a continuity error Scotty got a big kick out of.

After Elvis' 1968 Comeback Special, Scotty retired from Elvis' band, and started a second career as a recording engineer. But he would also often dust off the Gibson to perform on various records and concerts for the rest of his life, often in conjunction with Elvis drummer DJ Fontana and the Jordanaires.  One of Scotty's last appearances was with DJ on the TV series Larry's Country Diner on RFD-TV in 2015.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, let perpetual light shine upon him, may he rest in peace.

Friday, May 27, 2016

Review: The Monkees "Good Times!"

My track by track review of The Monkees' new album, Good Times! produced by Adam Schlesinger. It is the group's 12th studio album, and 3rd for the Rhino label.

"Good Times" - The album kicks off in a unique way. An old demo by the late Harry Nilsson, produced by Mike Nesmith (who also plays rhythm guitar on the track) is layered with new vocals by Micky, and a new lead guitar instrumental.  The curious choice of letting Nilsson sing the second verse solo instead of limiting his vocal to harmony with Micky might be seen as questionable to those fans who feel the late Davy Jones should have had a bigger presence on the album. But overall, this funky tune gets the album off to a great start.

"You Bring The Summer" - This song, written by Andy Partridge, if you go by the lyrics, seems like it would be more appropriate for the Beach Boys than the Monkees. But musically, it sounds nothing like a Beach Boys song. Sung by Micky with backing vocals by Mike and Peter, the first part of the song is a good example of what Micky refers to as "jangle pop". But then the second part of the song delves into a psychedelic fade out reminiscent of  "Auntie's Municipal Court", a Monkees track from 1968. This is a great Summer hummer and should become an annual Summer anthem.


"She Makes Me Laugh" - Written by Rivers Cuomo, this was the first song to be released from the album. To be 100% honest, the first time I heard it, I thought "it's OK... not great, but not a disaster".  But then I listened to it a second time, and a third.  I began to like it more with each listen. I began to take notice of the lyrics... something about them.  Could the song really be about a father and his daughter, rather than a typical boy-girl song? Others began coming to the same conclusion.  I read some on line stories of men with daughters who began to get choked up listening to the song, remembering the good times they shared. This song could very well end up becoming one of the most requested songs at father-daughter dances. Micky's vocal is spot on, and it's so great to hear Mike's harmony with him (which actually gave me goosebumps!).  Peter also pitches in on backing vocals and contributes the banjo on the track. The track also includes an electric 12 string guitar riff, something that has become synonymous with The Monkees, even though in reality, the classic riffs from "Last Train To Clarksville", "Mary Mary", "Pleasant Valley Sunday", and others, were actually played on a 6 string with added reverb.

"Our Own World" - Written by the album's producer Adam Schlesinger (who, by the way, was responsible for "That Thing You Do" from the Tom Hanks movie of the same name), this song has more of a 1970s flavor, somewhat reminiscent of  Sheena Easton's "Morning Train". Micky sings lead with Peter and Mike on backing vocals, and Peter on keyboards. Great song.

"Gotta Give It Time" - Like the title tune, this one is more on the funky end. Written by Jeff Barry and Joey Levine, it features an old, unfinished backing track augmented with some new instrumentation and lead vocal by Micky with Mike and Peter on backing vocals. Another great track.

"Me & Magdalena" - This song, written by Ben Gibbard and sung by Mike with Micky on harmony, slows the pace and changes the tone of the album by being a more reflective song. A kind of slow tempo, bare bones country number, it has received rave reviews by many people.  I'm not as enthused by it as some other fans, but it's still a good album track. Perhaps it could have used some Headquarters type pedal steel guitar accents. (Note: I heard version 2 of this song, which has a stronger, driving beat and fuller instrumentation. I kind of like it better than version 1. I would have put version 2 on the album as it seems to be a better fit with the other songs, and I would have released version 1 as a single intended for country radio airplay.)

"Whatever's Right" - This initially unfinished Tommy Boyce-Bobby Hart tune is a real gem.  Micky brings the goods with his vocal, with killer background vocals by Mike, Micky's sister Coco and Bobby Hart, and Peter contributing some soulful keyboard work. The bridge is nearly identical to the bridge of "Apples, Peaches, Bananas, and Pears". One of the album's highlights, and that's saying something considering how high quality the whole album is.

"Love to Love" - I have to say this might be the album's weakest track. I understand the need to include a track representing the late Davy Jones. I would expect there should be one. But I think "Love to Love" was the wrong track. Not exactly an unreleased track, various mixes have been issued since the 1980s. In fact, the only difference in this mix is Davy's vocal was not doubled as in the other mixes, and Micky and Peter provide some minimal backing vocals. Although it was written by Neil Diamond, and I suspect that is the main reason it was included, it is a weak offering.  What I would have preferred (and perhaps this could be done for the next album) is to take Davy's vocal of "My Share of The Sidewalk", a tune written for him by Mike Nesmith, and remix it to include the breezier and more sweeping backing track from the Instant Replay Super Deluxe box set. Or, for a more innovative idea, take Davy's long forgotten 1970s solo cover of Gilbert O'Sullivan's "Who Was It" and build on that.

"Little Girl" - A completely different song than the Dolenz penned version from the 1969 album The Monkees Present.  This one, written and sung by Peter is kind of bluesy with a mixed tempo/beat. Peter, who is known for not really being the best vocalist of the group, turns in an excellent performance. Supposedly, Peter says he wrote this song back in the 1960s for Davy as a sequel to "I Wanna Be Free", although lyrically it doesn't seem to follow the earlier song's story line.

"Birth of an Accidental Hipster" - Many have stated this Noel Gallagher-Paul Weller penned song is the album's masterpiece. Sung by Mike with Micky and his sister Coco on harmony backing vocals, it starts out a lot like "Sweet Young Thing", but then evolves into something very reminiscent of the Beatles/Sgt Pepper/Magical Mystery Tour in sound and spirit only to again fade out with the "Sweet Young Thing" type rhythm. An amazing track.

"Wasn't Born to Follow" - This Carol King-Gerry Goffin track is another unfinished backing track from the 60s, with Peter adding banjo and his vocal. Great soulful performance by Peter, who has a long history with this song. Apparently he recorded a version with his post-Monkees band Release to be used in the movie Easy Rider (produced by Raybert, the creators-producers of The Monkees), but the version by The Byrds ended up being used instead.

"I Know What I Know" - Wow.  Just...wow.  This track, written and sung by Mike is simply beautiful. The lyrics and melody transcends rock 'n roll or pop music and goes to a whole new level, right up there with Cole Porter or Irving Berlin. One of the best tracks on the album.

"I Was There (And I'm Told I Had a Good Time)" - The closer is a song written by Micky with Adam Schlesinger based on a one-liner Micky has been using for several years. Like "Hipster", this song seems to have more of a Beatles influence, and could be seen as a novelty track (although it's no "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" or even my pick for a Monkees novelty track, "The Curly Shuffle"). Micky plays drums on this bluesy number and exclaims at the end he dropped his stick. A great way to end a fantastic album.  I can't wait for the next Monkees album!

There are three other bonus tracks I should briefly mention.  The best of the three is "Terrifying", a jangle pop tune written by Zach Rogue and sung by Micky, that is almost as good as all the other songs. I wish it would have been included on the album proper. Initially, it was listed as being on the album, but it was later dropped. On the other hand, Peter's "A Better World", written by his brother Nick, is a pleasant enough song, but has a "We Are The World" complex.  Perhaps the weakest of the three is "Love Is What I Want". It has a good production and vocal from Micky, but the problem is with Andy Partridge's lyrics and tune, which has too much of a nursery rhyme sound and cadence to it. The chorus sounds like a rip off of "Red Rubber Ball" by The Cyrcle. Micky singing his classic "Randy Scouse Git" during the fade out is priceless though.




Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Review: Batman '66 meets the Man from UNCLE #6

The final issue of this miniseries begins with our heroes still trapped by the octopus. Hugo Strange then puts them back into brainwashing for several days.  The heroes seem to be moving toward compliance. But then Batman plays a recording he made of the brainwashing sessions where Strange tells the heroes they will be officers in his cause and the villains will be their henchmen.  The villains get upset over this. (Why? Most of them are C and D listers who make better henchmen than supervillians anyway.) One glaring mistake in the script has Mr Freeze referring to himself as Victor Fries.  The 1966 Freeze's real name was clearly revealed as Dr. Shimmel on the series. Batman and the others then bamboozle the villains into an alliance to take down Strange.  As the alliance's plan begins to unfold, Strange brings Batman back into a brainwashing session, and tries to get him to reveal his true identity. (Why not just take off his mask?) But it's Poison Ivy to the rescue, as the plan goes into effect, as Batman turns the brainwashing device onto Hugo, and Solo and Kuryakin take out Hugo's men. But then the villains double cross the heroes as they leave the THRUSH base.  Giving chase via submarines, the villains seem to be escaping until Kuryakin reveals, as a precaution, he let Hugo's giant octopus escape, where it has detained the villains' sub. Jeff Parker's script seemed to slightly run out of steam as the story reaches the end. There is a nice exchange between Batman and Solo, where Solo suggests using the Bat-Submarine's nuclear engine to destroy the THURSH base, but Batman protests as that would kill several people.  There is a sly ending, where Solo and Kuryakin hint that they know Batman's Bruce Wayne mask was a ruse, and that he really is Bruce Wayne. Pasquale Qualano drew the first half of the book, with David Hahn drawing the second half.  Both turned in excellent renderings, with Qualano's half having a slight Neal Adams look. This final issue earns a B-.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Shazam movie update

One of the producers of the upcoming Shazam! movie, Hiram Garcia (VP of Seven Bucks Productions, the company making the film in conjunction with New Line Cinema), in an interview with comicbook.com gives a much awaited update on the project.
"We're a good way into development. We're expecting a next draft soon which I think is really gonna put us in the zone that we're hoping for... the great thing with Shazam for me as a fan, I was always a fan of Superman and his mythology as I grew up. I remember it was Alex Ross's Kingdom Come that was the first time that ever made me look at Shazam just differently. I just knew of Shazam, you know the name, you knew the word, but I thought Alex Ross... He portrayed him and drew him in that epic kind of conflict that him and Superman ultimately had. It just made me look at Shazam in way like this is a bad mf'er."

OK, hit pause. First he refers to Captain Marvel as ShazamCrap.  Bad sign. "You know the name".  Yeah, but it's the wrong name. Then he calls Captain Marvel a "bad mf'er". Uh.... no... just no. Captain Marvel is a hero full of hope and optimism. Batman is a "bad mf'er". Captain Marvel is Americana wish fulfillment. As for the name conundrum, if "Captain Marvel" simply cannot be used, don't use any name.  Diana was never called Wonder Woman in Batman v Superman. Selena Kyle was never called Catwoman in The Dark Knight Rises. We know who Captain Marvel is, so there is no reason to use any name in the dialogue (in the credits, he can be called "World's Mightiest Mortal").  If and when Captain Marvel Jr comes around in a sequel, it just takes a little bit of creativity to work around it.  As the injured Freddy lays dying, Captain Marvel tells him to "say my name", and we cut to a very wide shot where we do not hear what Freddy says, but we see the effect of thunder and lightning.

Garcia continues, "That whole world, as well as Black Adam as you start looking into Black Adam, so our take on that world is first and foremost, movies like that can be grounded and can have real stakes but can still be fun. That's the place we always want it to come from. We have a character in Shazam that is a boy who is in this man's body who is having the ultimate fulfillment that I think all comic book fans and everyone can associate with. Like, what if you wake up one day and you can just do all this great stuff? And then on the other side, you have this force of nature who is really anchored by what he lost in his family and that thread that he's bringing with him throughout this journey. There's a real grounding there. That combination of youth and enthusiasm and being in new to a world and then the place that Adam's coming from. It makes for a great dynamic that not only allows us to have not only real stakes, real story, and real emotion, but a ton of fun in the process. There's no reason that there should ever be a version of this story told that's devoid of that. That's our goal in doing this: following the path of the films that have been coming out and have done such a good job. Marvel has, everyone knows, really locked into that place where they're able to tell you really grounded, rooted stories that have real repercussions and there's a real wake that's left after what's the done but while through the whole process they still acknowledge that, you have a blast while you're watching that. They find the moments where you're constantly having fun and you're able to go on the ride and that's the place we're gonna be playing in." 

OK, this is good. He admits Marvel Studios will have more of an influence than Synder's films. But I'm concerned he wants to ground this film in a form of reality that leaves behind the uniqueness of Captain Marvel's world consisting of evil alien worms, talking tigers dressed in plaid sports coats... a world where a homeless boy not only gets the power to be a superhero, but also works his way up to becoming something of a child celebrity... a world where your mad scientist arch enemy happens to have a hot blonde daughter who has a crush on you.  In other words, I fear Garcia just wants another generic take on Superman done in a Marvel Studios style.

Garcia adds, "I promise you dude, we're not gonna f-- this up! My vision is so clear for this story and this movie. As story tellers, you sometimes get on projects but this has always been a priority. I've been carrying the Black Adam torch for so many years before we finally locked it in and I'm telling you we're gonna knock this thing out of the park. It's gonna be a blast and it's gonna be a dope ride, so get ready!"

Well, dude, I have no doubt your main priority is to get Black Adam right, but my concern is that your dope ride leaves Captain Marvel on the side of the road to hitch hike. You need to get Alex Ross on board as a creative consultant. 

Consider me officially concerned about this project.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

movie review: CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR

As a DC guy, I hate admitting it, but Captain America: Civil War is everything Batman v Superman could have and should have been. From a well written and coherent script, to spectacular and flawless action sequences, to character development, it outshines BvS. The one area where BvS trumps Civil War is in the visual presentation. BvS looked like a live action comic book, where Civil War, like the Nolan Batman movies, has a real world tone, but otherwise directors Joe and Anthony Russo have blown away Zack Snyder.

The plot deals with Captain America's loyalty to his buddy Bucky Barnes, aka The Winter Soldier, to the point it divides the Avengers. The United Nations, after reviewing the collateral damage and political repercussions the Avengers have caused on various missions, want the team to answer and report to a committee. Tony Stark, on a guilt trip, agrees big government is the answer.  Steve Rogers says screw that bureaucratic red tape, the best government is a tiny government.  When Bucky is set up to take the fall for bombing a UN meeting, rifts begin with the Avengers picking sides between Iron Man and Captain America. Eventually, after roller-coaster rides of action sequences, Tony learns Cap was right, Bucky was framed, but then the film's "villain", Baron Zemo,  although "mastermind" might be a more appropriate word, reveals a dark secret to Stark about his parents' deaths.

Unlike BvS, there is a legitimate reason for the heroes turning against each other, unlike Batman's random and often unascertained hate for Superman.  And unlike BvS, there is no ridiculous "hey our moms have the same first name, let's be best friends" resolution. In fact, there is no true resolution to the divide among heroes. It is something that will need to be resolved in subsequent films. Marvel knows how to build these things, where DC seems trying way too hard to play catch up.

The introduction of Spider-Man into this universe is just one of the film's highlights, although the sight of Tony Stark flirting with a very MILFy Aunt May is something I never thought I would ever see. After the dismal Andrew Garfield Spider-Man movies, the Russos have brought Spidey back on track in a stellar introduction. Add to this the introduction of Black Panther, and the introduction of Wonder Woman which was one of the best parts of BvS, perhaps even the MVP of that film, begins to look a little lightweight by comparison. The Russos were also able to balance drama, fun, humor, and action, again besting Snyder.

Going in, I thought this would be an Avengers movie mistitled as a Captain America movie.  Various Avengers do get moments to shine (the previously mentioned Spider-Man, Bucky, Scarlet Witch, and Ant-Man top the list, as does agent Sharon Carter, and the always dependable Black Widow), and in some spots Cap does seem to get lost in the shuffle. There's lots of Tony Stark, but very little of him suited up as Iron Man.  At the end, it does seem like Cap's show. As far as MCU movies go, Civil War doesn't quite top The Winter Soldier, but it comes in a strong second place on the list.  Ten years ago, who would ever have though Captain America would have the two best movies in the MCU?

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Review: Scooby Doo Team Up #16

I'm reviewing this issue solely for the Marvel Family appearance. The script, by Sholley Fisch, is typical Scooby Doo fare, but Fisch scores big by creatively making the entire script a primer for the classic Fawcett continuity. By reading this issue, you essentially get the entire history of the Fawcett Marvel Family without even realizing you are being schooled.
E. Nelson Bridwell would be proud. Not only that, but in this issue, you get an appearance by Fawcett era villain Mr Banjo.  I believe this is his first appearance in a DC Comic.  The art, by Dario Brizuela, is very slick and fluid. It doesn't quite match the character designs used for the short lived 1981 Shazam! cartoon by Filmation, nor does it resemble an Alex Toth Super Friends design by Scooby Doo's parent company, Hanna Barbera. It looks like Brizuela was trying to create a unique Scooby Doo design for the Marvels that still was grounded in C.C. Beck's art.  In that, it was very successful, although I noticed Brizuela followed Cameron Stewart's lead in giving Freddy Moe Howard bangs instead of his more traditional Elvis-looking hair.  At least he's not blond. This issue scores an A.