Monday, April 25, 2016


I've discovered a wondrous, wry Western, set in the foreboding but thrilling future: a novel that is epic, intimate and humorous in its vast "robotech" complexities.  

J. Scott Bennett, the novel’s narrator, actually recommended “Fighting Iron” to me, and through his mesmerizing performance, I've gained the immense pleasure of absorbing Jake Bible’s rollicking tale.

Actually, “Fighting Iron” smacks of one of my favorite film trilogies: the Charles Band produced “Robot Jox”; “Crash and Burn”; and “Robot Wars”. Like the trilogy, Bible’s story features giant, manned machines (in the wake of what's called the Bloody Conflict), but takes the post-apocalyptic concept to a richer, more character-driven plane. He creates a world that, for all of its austere outlandishness, is credible yet scary, and along its gutsy path, you're often apt to cringe and grin. 

Bible’s story also reminds me of the “Mad Max” sequels, in that it's populated by weird and greedy overlords. “Fighting Iron’”s hero, Clay MacAulay is, in essence, an expressive variation of Max: a futuristic cowboy, who instead of riding a horse, drives a fifty-foot war machine. His sidekick is an amicable A.I. personality named Gibbons, who helps operate the device, to which MacAulay attaches sentimental value, since he's inherited it from his dear mother. The machine now allows MacAulay to amble about harsh landscapes, and like any cowboy worth his irreverent salt, into dangerous discovery. 

The adventure is also highlighted by a series of feisty females. There's Nasta, a rough but cause-caring flirt; the cantankerous and quippy Fiora; and Bunting, a deadly mech pilot, who intends to give MacAulay a run for his money. However, my favorite of the bevy is the sexy General Hansen: a confounding cross between Max's Aunty Entity and your favorite Penthouse Pet. 

Though some may consider Hansen the novel's most unscrupulous character, she really can't match the villainous Mister: a quick-tempered, old son of a gun, who wants MacAulay and his mech to fight on his behalf in an annual, winner-take-all competition. Hansen also has a stake in the contest, desiring MacAulay and his craft for the same cause, but our hero won't play puppet to either of them. Alas, his resistance only deepens his predicament. 

To season the already crafty plot, MacAulay meets misguided "flower people", land-owning communistas, and a variety of weather-worn allies and henchmen along the way. The fun lies in determining who's good, who's bad and who'll remain alive by the conclusion, and a fine conclusion it is, rivaling even that of John Gatins' "Real Steel" and Guillermo del Toro's "Pacific Rim" in its explosive expanse. 

Indeed, Bible's vivid storytelling makes "Fighting Iron" one of the most satisfying of its kind, but the tale becomes further distinguished by Bennett's engaging tonality. The actor's voice swings seamlessly from humble roughness to amusing, Strother Martin-like drawls. He even renders the women with nuanced grace, accentuating their sarcasm, sensuality and wit, sometimes simultaneously: an impressive feat that few could so convincingly achieve. 

Through Bennett, Bible's escapade plays like a mega-buck movie within one's mind, blessed by the best possible cast. In this regard, the audio presentation stands as the best damn "movie" I've experienced in quite some time, and I've digested quite a few good ones over the past decade or two.

Even if you're not into post-apocalyptic, giant-robot romps, try this one on for size. It's one of those rare treats that upon finishing it, you'll be craving--no, demanding--more: an outcome I only wish more novels could emulate. 

(Bible's book is published by Severed Press and can be ordered through Amazon, along with Bennett’s highly recommended, unabridged reading.)

Thursday, April 21, 2016

I saw the Huntsman's Winter War...

The notion of giving a fairy tale a masculine makeover is rather appealing if you're a guy, or simply one into action/adventure storytelling. Such a transformation proved most successful in Rupert Sanders' "Snow White and the Huntsman". That Eric the Huntsman happened to be portrayed by Chris "Thor" Hemsworth further sealed the virile deal.

It only reasoned that a follow-up would occur, but a quasi-prequel/sequel? Now, that was a tad unexpected, but for all intents and purposes, the essence that made the 2012 epic a hit remains intact in director Cedric Nicolas-Troyan's Brothers Grimm/Hans Christian Anderson inspired chapter, "The Huntsman: Winter's War", and yes, Hemsworth's return works greatly in its favor. In fact, one might argue, if not for Hemsworth, what would be the point?

Nevertheless, Charlize Theron also returns as the sadistic, shape-shifting Queen Ravena, once more anxious of another eclipsing her beauty (like she'd really have to fret), but instead of Kristen Stewart's enchanting Snow White, the competition comes in a prelude, featuring Ravena's sister, Freya, played with chilling pathos by Emily Blunt. 

In this lead-in, the "Mirror, Mirror" entity (Christopher Obi) informs Ravena that Freya's child will rival her beauty, and so the offspring is killed through Ravena's influence and by the hand of Freya's fiance (Colin Morgan). This horrid act turns Freya into a contemptuous, snow-blowing Ice Queen and one who'll spitefully recruit children throughout the land, including young Eric and Sara (Jessica Chastain), to be groomed as her protecting pawns. 

To keep Eric a sympathetic warrior, Craig Mazin and Evan Spiliotopoulos' script treats us to various aspects of his arduous days, both before and after his Snow White jaunt. Chastain's Sara figures into this path, underscoring the heroism and woe, for we know that, regardless of her diligence and conviction, hardship awaits them both. 

Watching the couple's bumpy bond is touching and by good grace, never tart; it also sparks an early defiant streak, since Freya disrupts their love. To remind us of the importance of amorous ties, Snow White's Prince Charming (Sam Claflin) materializes for a time, and another dwarf group joins the crusade (Rob Brydon; Alexandra Roach; Sheridan Smith; and Nick Frost, reprising his role), who spawn their own burgeoning loves. Nonetheless, throughout their journey, they stay steadfast to prevent evil's spread, knowing that the warring sisters will continue to wage their contempt on love, freedom and all things good and kind. (It really comes down to which witch is worse.) 

Such gallantry inspires lots of graceful battling, with Eric often advancing the charges. In image, he's very much a mortal Thor and therefore, the guy we can't help but root for, his presence molding the adventure to his rough guise.  

Of course, parts of the film still invoke a feminine flair, sprinkled with quaint wonders to offset the lumbering CGI beasts. Credit for this enchanting accentuation goes to Nicolas-Troyan, who pulls from his experience as the original film's effects supervisor.

When the ice clears, justice prevails, with the survivors looking toward a better day and one can assume more adventures, but fluid sequels (not collisions of "then and now") are the recommended thread here. 

On this basis, our hero needn't face only fairy-tale icons like Snow White, Cinderella and Maleficent (the latter's tale also produced by executive Joe Roth). Indeed, these characters would be ideal for extended sprees, but perhaps it would be more enticing to see the mighty Huntsman in a Sinbad type sojourn, combating colossal sea and island beasts. On the other hand, a basic Robin Hood knock off, with a few fleeting monsters woven into the plot, might work far better. Truly, any number of scenarios could click, if the producers/writers were to let their imaginations roll. 

Nonetheless, even if the Huntsman's saga remains a two-parter, the gallant Eric will have more than made his mark. Hemsworth can hold his head high, confident that he remains one of Hollywood's most bankable action stars. Doc Savage, anyone?

Tuesday, April 19, 2016


It's time to share some thrilling news...

Airship 27 publisher, Ron Fortier, recently posted a "shout out" on Facebook for my upcoming pulp-hero novel, "Enter--the Persona!" The post includes a stunning sketch from Canadian artist, Art Cooper, which depicts lead characters, Michael Mansford and Stacy Standish, heading to town in a spiffy Packard.

Actually, Cooper has completed a series of nine sketches, which will now be inked and included in my adventure, which pays homage to such '30s/'40s heroes as the Shadow and Green Hornet, as well as the Steve Ditko/Marvel favorite, Stephen Strange. 

The set-up goes as follows: Michael Mansford, an affluent thirty-three-year-old eccentric and owner of Blessed Tidings Cemetery, is told by the caretaker that pagan-like people have been spotted about the grounds during the nocturnal hours. Though the caretaker assures Mansford he has scared off the intruders, the young entrepreneur is inclined to scope the surroundings himself. What develops will forever alter him in body and mind, for he will soon be transformed into the mystical, white-masked crusader called the Persona…

I'm most excited about the publication's continued development and will share additional information as it soon as it comes available!

Sunday, April 17, 2016

SyFy's 12 Monkeys Swings to '44!!!

SyFy's series adaptation of Terry Gilliam's acclaimed "12 Monkeys" (see "Time Travel Time #10": Jan '15), which in its own right is based on Chris Marker's classic short, "La Jetee", enters its second season (April 19), but this time, the adventure is more than an extension of the original. Once things get rolling, the second-season  will lead to (or rather back to) 1944, where the mysterious 12 Monkeys organization will be "using time against itself". 

As to what that means, only time will tell, but the show's principles are at least back: Aaron Stanford as James Cole; Amanda Schull as Cassandra Railly; Emily Hampshire as Jennifer Goines; and Kirk Acevedo as Jose Ramse. As a special treat, Madeleine Stowe, costar of the '95 movie, is also set to appear.

I give SyFy ample credit for permitting the eventual nostalgic stretch, which will distinguish it from the initial season and of course, the films upon which it's based, while (I'm assuming) not getting too far removed from the established concept.

Time-travel tales seem more popular than ever, and it's therefore only fitting that "12 Monkeys" be a prime source to carry the torch. Season 2 will also give us, albeit in a roundabout way, a quasi-sequel to Gilliam's odd vision, and for better or worse, that in itself makes this extension worthy of curious probing. 

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Collectible Time #57: JAKKS 19" Wonder Woman and Hasbro 12" Titan Hero Tech Falcon

Finally found a JAKKS 19" Gal Godot Wonder Woman action figure at my local ToysRUs Express!!!

She's sure a beauty: sculpted so well that she appears to have stepped right out of "Batman v Superman". I must say, this lifelike quality is common among JAKKS figures, whether we're dealing with DC, Marvel, "Godzilla"..."Star Wars".

I'm still hoping for a 31" Godot Wonder Woman, but heck, the scale here is still impressive and for a meager $20, I'm in no position to complain.

And in keeping with controversial, superhero rifts, on the same visit I also purchased Hasbro's Anthony Mackie 12" Titan Hero Tech Falcon figure. 

This particular representation is, of course, part of the "Captain America: Civil War" line. When one presses the panel on Sam Wilson's chest, he unleashes cool, swooshing/zapping sounds and such snappy statements as "Nice one, Cap!"; "It's time to fly"; and "We got them on the ropes". 

The sturdy piece sports five points of articulation, comes with attachable wings, and goes for about $20-$25 at most retail chains. 

Sure pleased to have these super-sharp additions in my ever expanding superhero collection!!!

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

I saw the Justice League vs Teen Titans...

The season is upon us when all good heroes turn adversarial toward one another, whether it's "Batman v Superman", "Daredevil: Season 2"  or the upcoming "Captain America: Civil War", where two avenging teams will slug it out for dominance. In DC animation, the trend also prevails, with such tensions apparent in the recent "Batman: Bad Blood" (see Feb '16) and now in director Sam Liu's "Justice League vs Teen Titans".

As in the case of "Bad Blood", Damian Wayne becomes the hub of the proceedings, which wouldn't be so bad, except that Alan Burnett and Bryan Q. Miller's script resumes the lad as a stubborn, little bastard. It's hard to root for this Robin or any of his causes, when he never learns his lessons and puts others in peril. 

He's especially petulant in the wake of JL's victory over the dreaded Legion of Doom, when a slimy, shadow-casting demon named Trigon (voiced by Jon Bernthal, "Daredevil'"s Punisher) appears, possessing the body of the fleeing Weather Wizard. Robin's interference in this strange event leads the demonic Trigon to escape and later seize control of Superman: a confounding complication if ever there was one. 

As punishment for his recklessness, Batman dispatches his son to the Teen Titans, in hopes its members will teach him the value of teamwork. The Titans, in this instance, include the mystical Raven; the otherworldly (and older) Starfire; the shape-shifting Beast Boy; and the scarab-sparked Blue Beetle. Unfortunately, the arrangement only leads to more tensions and a terrible melee between the Boy Wonder and Blue Beetle. Robin is burned in the process, forcing Raven to heal him. One would think this would at least appease Robin's rage, but instead it just further fuels his snobbery toward the group. 

As the Titans try to fine-tune their purpose, Batman and Wonder Woman jaunt forth to halt the mind-warped Superman, while Cyborg, Flash and Nightwing delve deeper into the action. It's the JL, however, that tackles Kal-El's rescue (with Batman ultimately resolving the situation, with a neat, Bane tie-in). This leaves the youngsters to devour time with a corny, carnival trip, culminated by an excruciatingly long dance number. Soon thereafter, our original champions are transformed into possessed, four-eyed demons (a plot turn that's almost as troubling as Marvel's sadistic heroes-as-flesh-eating-zombie phase). Too bad JL doesn't receive the essential, early assistance the youths could otherwise provide. 

As circumstances darken, the wary kids wind up battling the satanically altered JL, but why? One gets the impression that the conflict could have been averted if the kids had only suppressed their selfish lament and focused on the horrors flanking them. Also, Damian has the chance to redeem himself during the confusion, and what a glorious turning point that would have been, but we just get more of the same quarrelsome turmoil, not only from Robin, but Raven, who's second only to the Boy Wonder in screen time. Yes, the animation is slick and the action sequences epic, but what good are these if the young leads remain muddied and misguided.  

The opposition finally gets squashed, but to get there feels forced and mean, making the recent, live-action, testy team-ups (including the advance "Civil War" footage) seem breezy (and a lot more logical) in comparison. 

I would have preferred another standard JL movie over this crossover, or even a solo Teen Titan story, with Robin and/or Raven leading a succinct charge against a few young baddies, or even some of our older standards, like Braniac, Riddler and Gorilla Grodd. I mean, if something ain't broke, why fix it?

Perhaps we must wait for a more direct "Bad Blood" sequel to see a sensible, streamlined Robin adventure, but even then, it's hard to conjure the faith that such will hit the mark. To remedy the awkwardness, it's either a matter of changing Damian's attitude or purging him from animated sequels all together, but neither seems likely any time soon. 

Sunday, April 10, 2016


I've long held a fascination for Harry Houdini (aka, Erich Weiss), starting with my father's recollections of the great escape artist/magician and then onto the George Pal '53 classic bio-flick with Tony Curtis, as well as the acclaimed '76 television production, "The Great Houdini" with Paul Michael Glaser. I was well aware that these films, like many of the towering tales I had been told, depicted a skewed or exaggerated view of the real-life hero, but that was fine. As an entertainer, Houdini was larger than life, because he made himself that way through his enormous talent and skillful promotion: a most successful elevation that even led some to perceive him as more than mortal. 

Ron Fortier's Airship 27 publication, "The Amazing Harry Houdini: Vol. 1" (currently available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble) capitalizes on the latter idea, with its roots not so much planted in a historical foundation (though fact certainly figures into the tales), but on Houdini's mythic image. 

In most instances, the anthology caters to the sorts of thrills one finds in Houdini's movies and serials, such as "Haldane of the Secret Service"; "The Man From Beyond"; "The Master Mystery"; and "Terror Island". As such, the Houdini we meet in this modern pulp excursion is heroic--no, make that superheroic--and utilizes his exemplary skills to help those in need as he treks across such exciting locations as London, Paris and the Orient Express.

The stories, written by Jim Beard, Roman Leary, James Palmer and I.A. Watson, place young Houdini within, among and against such varied matters as family feuds; unpaid debts; beautiful women; kidnapping; lethal catacombs; questionable spiritualism; murder; and (of all stupendous things) the legendary Spear of Destiny. Iconic characters such as Aleister Crowley, Bram Stoker and Houdini's old chum, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle enter the action, as manager Martin Beck haunts the sidelines, acting as a voice of reason and reluctant supporter of the performer's insatiable inclination to do good.  

For those who appreciate action and mystery, with a little historical context to parenthesize the intrigue, "The Amazing Harry Houdini" will be an absolute joy to read. The stories are also blessed by alluring artwork, including Carl Yonder's colorful cover and moody interior illustrations by Pedro Crus. On the whole, just like an exalted Houdini performance, the book is quite an awe-inspiring event. 

(Also, for those who fancy audio presentations, and Amazon now offer "The Amazing Harry Houdini" as a dramatic reading by Michael Sutherland. Sutherland's deep, rich voice accentuates the adventures to a tee, making the penned escapism even more enthralling.)