Friday, February 5, 2016

Monkees to release new album

It has been announced The Monkees will release a new album in the Summer of 2016, titled Good Times! Like The Monkees’ first two albums, and their ill-fated 1987 album Pool It, the new album will feature tracks written specifically for the band by some of the music world’s popular songwriters, including Rivers Cuomo (Weezer), Ben Gibbard (Death Cab for Cutie), Andy Partridge (XTC), Noel Gallagher, and Zach Rogue (Rogue Wave). Unfortunately, as of now, nothing new from vintage Monkees song writer Bobby Hart. In addition, some incomplete songs from the 1960s will be augmented and remixed, including "Love to Love" featuring the late Davy Jones' vintage vocal, and the album's title tune "Good Times" from a Harry Nilsson demo. The album cover art and a partial track listing has been unveiled, a release date is set, but amazingly nothing has actually been recorded yet.  Micky Dolenz commented, "[Rhino executives] John Hughes and Mark Pinkus both said they wanted us to make a new album, and they spelled out the exact kind of album that would go down well with the 50th anniversary and with our fans...I realized that the whole indie rock scene is all about recapturing that 1960s jangly guitar sound of the Monkees... One reason we don't have a final track listing yet is because once we put the word out all these people said they wanted to get involved... My job is just to come in and sing lead vocals. It's no different than the old days when we had to get everything done in three-hour sessions... Frankly, we don't even have a recording schedule right now!"
Even more amazing is that the album, despite not being recorded yet, is already racing up Amazon's best seller's chart!

I am having mixed reactions to this news. While I love the idea of a new Monkees album to celebrate the 50th Anniversary, this album sounds like it could easily end up being Pool It II. On the other hand, if more care is taken with the song selection and backing tracks, it might be as great as the 1986 tracks "That Was Then This Is Now" and "Anytime Anyplace Anywhere".  I remember when their 1996 album  Justus was released. I thought it was great, a far superior effort than Pool It.  I was actually shocked when I was lurking Monkees threads on the Hoffman Forums to learn many Monkees fans hated Justus as much or even more than Pool It. For better or worse, Good Times! at this point will not have that pure Monkees-as-a-group vibe that Headquarters and Justus had.  I just hope the songwriters and musicians contributing to this album have a better sense of The Monkees than the crew who worked on Pool It did. One other thing that kind of puzzles me is the inclusion of remixed and augmented tracks from the 1960s. I'm sure "Love to Love" is included because it was written by Neil Diamond, and it is a way to include a vocal from Davy.  Or perhaps they will get Jimmy Fallon to do the vocal.  But that song in question has been released several times since the 1980s, and frankly isn't one of the better Missing Links from the vaults. I would much rather see them finish incomplete tracks like "She's So Far Out She's In", or have a definitive Monkees version of "Different Drum".  Or for Davys' vocal, an augmented and remixed "My Share Of The Sidewalk", that maybe mixes the second, breezier backing track from the Instant Replay deluxe box set into it.  And that brings up another concern.  How much involvement will Mike Nesmith have? As of now, he is only slated to contribute one song, a newer composition titled "I Know What I Know".  But in true Nez cryptic style, when this news broke, he posted the video to his song "Rio" on his Facebook page, which has the appropriate lyric, "It's only a whimsical notion to fly down to Rio tonight, and I probably won't fly down to Rio, but then again, I just might."

I remember when The Monkees had their big resurgence in the mid to late 1980s. I truly believed that they should have covered "The Curly Shuffle".  I had a gut feeling, had they done so, it would have been a top 10 hit for them. There has been an unspoken link between the Monkees and the Three Stooges where that both properties were produced by Columbia Pictures and were filmed on many of the same sound stages. There are even several props used in the Three Stooges' two-reelers that were also used on the Monkees' TV series, most notably the bunny pajamas the Stooges and Peter Tork wore. On a more subjective side, The Stooges two-reelers and The Monkees TV series are similar in that I could and do watch them over and over and never get tired of it.  I still believe The Monkees should cover "The Curly Shuffle" on Good Times! albeit not so much as an intended hit single like it could have been in the 1980s, but more along the lines of the album's novelty track, a la "Gonna Buy Me A Dog" and "Your Auntie Griselda".  But what do I know?  I'm just a fan.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Review: Batman '66 meets the Man from UNCLE #3

The third issue of this miniseries has some highs and lows. THRUSH continues to use Batman's B and C and a couple D list villains as agents, and the mysterious ringleader is revealed as Corvid.  But who exactly Corvid is has yet to be revealed.  The second half of this issue seems like filler. Via a video conference between the Batcave and UNCLE HQ, a brief history of UNCLE and THRUSH is given, and then a recap of a heist earlier in this very same issue. The heroes and the agents then meet face to face to plan their next move, and Batman unmasks! Writer Jeff Parker slips a little this issue.  Two-thirds of the book are drawn by David Hahn then Pasquale Qualano steps in for the final few pages.  The change in art style isn't quite seamless, but it's not very jarring either. This issue earns a C.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Review: Batman '66 Meets the Man from UNCLE #2

Before I get to this issue, I just have to make a comment about the cover.  It is very striking, and perhaps one of the best covers I have seen from the DC Batman '66 franchise. By regular cover artists Michael and Laura Allred, they based it on David Mazzuchelli's iconic Batman Year One promotional art, and the Man From UNCLE logo.  On to the story itself, written by Jeff Parker with art by David Hahn. It picks up with Batman interrogating the captured Penguin, who turns out to be merely a pawn... or is he?  At UNCLE HQ, where some kind of promotional film is being shot by an Agent Donner (Richard, perhaps?), recreating the first season "long opening", the agents soon discuss the escape of several B and C list villains, and Batman in Gotham City. They produce Bruce Wayne as a possible suspect, and plan to attend a party he's throwing to launch his new aerospace project.  As it turns out, Mr Waverly and Alfred are old colleagues. The Gotham villains, now THRUSH agents, crash the party, and we get our first team up of the UNCLE agents with Batman, Robin, and Batgirl.  I wonder when or if agent April Dancer will join the party?  Parker's script continues the excellent level begun in the previous issue, and Hahn's art is very slick and clean. As for the reason some of the likenesses are less than perfect as I mentioned in my previous review, Mr Hahn himself supplied a comment in my previous post:  "For legal reasons, we could not use the exact likenesses of McCallum and Vaughn, so my take with the art was to get them close, but not exact likenesses."  So, thank you, Mr Hahn for supplying that bit of insider information. It is greatly appreciated. One other thing I want to comment on.  I have been watching  The Man From UNCLE on Me-TV, airing on weekends. Currently they are near the end of the third season, coincidentally as this miniseries is being published. The third season was known for becoming more Batman-like, but the most striking similarity is that Nelson Riddle did the musical score for that season, and many of his cues are similar to to his Batman score.  It is quite something to be watching The Man From UNCLE yet hearing distinctive Batman musical cues.  This issue exceeds the expectations the first issue set, and earns a B+.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Review: Batman '66 Meets the Man from UNCLE #1

Batman '66 meets the Man from UNCLE.  This is a great concept. The first issue of this miniseries, written by Jeff Parker, sets things up nicely. In a unique narrative, Parker has Batman and Robin and UNCLE agents Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin in separate story lines.  Needless to say they will cross paths soon, but its nice to start the story with two separate story lines than to jump right into a team up.  Batman and Robin chase an escaped Penguin, a great pick for this miniseries, seeing that UNCLE's adversary is THRUSH.  Meanwhile, the UNCLE agents are after a new THRUSH agent, Olga Queen of the Cossacks.  The inclusion of this weak third season villain is the low point of the issue.  There is a nice nod when Solo introduces himself using the alias "Ross Webster", the Morgan Edge-like character actor Robert Vaughn played in Superman III.  The art by David Hahn is acceptable, but at times misses the mark on the likenesses of Vaughn and David McCallum. The format of the story is closer to the Man from UNCLE TV series, which itself partially inspired the creation of the Batman TV series. In return, at the height of "Batmania", UNCLE took on a campier Batman tone. Since Warner Brothers owns the UNCLE franchise, via their buyout of Ted Turner who got the rights from MGM when they were selling their back catalog due to bankruptcy, I always wondered why WB didn't hand the property to DC to incorporate into their Universe. Indeed, Marvel's SHIELD was created as a rip off of UNCLE, so it would seem natural for DC to incorporate the original into it's universe.  It certainly would make more sense than its own lesser-grade spy agencies like Spyral or Argus.  All in all, this is a good start to what should be a great miniseries. The first issue earns a B.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Review: Batman '66 #30

The old phrase "save the best for last" rings true with Batman '66. This final issue is by far the best of the series. Written by Lee Allred and drawn by Mike Allred, everything about this issue is perfect. In many ways, it reads like it should have been the first issue, not the last. In a pseudo-sequel to the 1966 feature film, the Allreds very cleverly reconstruct, or maybe deconstruct, the TV series' opening credits sequence.  Penguin, Joker and Catwoman have teamed up, taking over a vacated movie studio, to teach all of Gotham's arch-criminals to perfect their craft. Noticeably missing is the Riddler, essentially blackballed for his compulsion to leave clues for Batman. Again, this would have fit as the premiere issue so much better, explaining why the Riddler was all but absent from this comic book series.

 A highlight is the "window cameo", featuring none other but the 1950s TV versions of Perry White, Jimmy Olson, and Lois Lane. The George Reeves version of Clark Kent also appears at the end of the story along with several other reporters, including Vicki Vale, and... Holy Moley, a certain boy radio reporter from station WHIZ!  Since the on going Batman '66 series is going to be replaced with various miniseries (the first of which, Batman '66 Meets The Man From UNCLE, will have issue #1 published next week), hopefully these cameos will be the foundation for a Batman '66 Meets Superman '52 miniseries, and a Batman '66 Meets Shazam '74 miniseries, the latter as I speculated before, has precedent in the 1979 Legends Of The Superheroes TV specials. Kudos to the Allreds for producing a perfect issue of Batman '66. This issue earns a well deserved A+.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Batman '66 #29

The penultimate issue of Batman '66 opens with a story featuring second season villain Ma Parker and her clan. The story, be Jeff Parker is sparse, but fairly enjoyable. The art by Dean Haspiel is typical of this series, somewhat rushed looking. Ma Parker has a motherly moment, where she helps Batman rescue two of her kids who can't swim when they fall into a lake after a car crash.  It stands out as a more unique moment.  Overall this story earns a C+.
The second story, a sequel of sorts to the first, features Catwoman. Parker gets more in this story, and overall is better written. Robin and Batgirl are captured by Croc, Grundy, and Killer Moth, who escaped from prison when Ma Parker broke her boys out.  Batman captures Catwoman, but when he finds out from a couple of kids, one of whom is wearing a weird green hood that stands out, about the capture, Catwoman volunteers to assist him in going after the trio. Parker gets in some introspective moments on the Batman-Catwoman relationship as they capture the trio and rescue Robin and Batgirl. For the first time in too long a time, Jonathan Case returns to do the art, and turns in an excellent job.  This story earns a B+, making the total grade for this issue a B.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Review: The Darkseid War - Shazam

So I guess I have to do a review of The Darkseid War: Shazam. As readers of this blog know, I am not a fan of the rebooted New52 Shazam. Frankly, I'm not a fan of the New52, period. The rebooted character has changed more than just his name from Captain Marvel to Shazam.  He's really a different character, to the point I think it would have been better all around, if Geoff Johns took that one extra step, and gave new names to Billy Batson, Dr Sivana, Freddy Freeman, and Mary Batson.  There's not much of a plot in this issue.  It's more or less one giant introduction to the new gods who will now give Billy his power in the wake of Darkseid's death. Why Darkseid's death was able to change Billy's pantheon, I have no idea.  I dropped Justice League -the only title the New52 Shazam appears in- from my pull list a couple months ago because I got tired of seeing this character in a couple panels each issue, just standing in the background and reacting to the main characters, like one of the lesser Bowery Boys.  That, or, he usually plays the role of Cyborg's idiot sidekick.  To paraphrase Green Arrow, "Geoff Johns, you have failed the World's Mightiest Mortal".  So, if this new pantheon is permanent or just for this Darkseid storyline, either way there's not much in this issue.  Written by Steve Orlando, I do give him credit for making Billy Batson the main focus of the story, even if it is just a "meet and greet". He still has the obnoxious New52 personality, which the Wizard Shazam comments on.  Or is his name now Mamaragan, one of the new pantheon, even though "Mamaragan" sound like someone is calling for Nancy Reagan. Apparently Darkseid's father is now one of the pantheon too, Zonuz. Kind of like the upcoming movie. Zonus is good news.  Really, who came up with these names? Ate? Yeah, I went to Burger Clown. Anapel? Is there a pail missing? H'ronmeer?  Come on, that's gotta be from a Three Stooges routine, with the Maha. S'ivaa? What?  All this book lacked was the Snap song "The Power" playing over and over, until the reader is driven insane. And guess what?  The story continues in JL #48, which I won't be buying, because I'm sure Shazam will just stand in the background like Benny Bartlett, and he'll have one line of dialogue directed at Cyborg that will include the word "badass".  The art in this issue is by Scott Kolins, and he does a good job, even if it's a bit generic, and Shazam has a downgraded costume. To contrast this issue with the spectacular Thunderworld Adventures and Convergence Shazam is more than frustrating. This issue earns a D-.