Saturday, June 30, 2007

Score One for Patterson

I remember reading James Patterson's first couple of books back in the early 1990s. He was riding the wave or serial killer crime novels started by Thomas Harris's Red Dragon. I remember finding them readable but nothing to write home about. Jump forward to this year, when I decided to try reading a couple of Patterson's more recent novels, mainly because I wondered why he seemed to be hitting the New York Times Best Seller List almost every week. So I picked up a couple of his recent mysteries and found them little different from his earlier books, making me wonder what's the hubbub, bub?
But someone recommended I try his Young Adult series Maximum Ride. Loosely based on a the concept of two of his adult novels (The Beach House and Where the Wind Blows) but not actually related, Maximum Ride:The Angel Experiment follows the adventures of six genetically altered children whose human DNA has been combined with avian (bird) DNA to produce kids with hollow bones, super human muscle tissue, and wings. In other words, they can fly.
THIS book is a corker, breathlessly paced and full of action, monsters, escapes, rescues, battles, and such, all told at a headlong narrative pace. The kids are fun characters and the whole thing is a lot like a comic book. In fact it's sort of like the original X-Men, but in this case all of the team are the Angel. I read the book in two sittings and definitely recommend it to kids and adults. It gets a little violent at the end and there are some scenes that might disturb readers who are under 10, but otherwise I think it's pretty kid safe. I hope the two sequels hold up.

Friday, June 29, 2007

With Apologies to Terry Pratchett

One of the Yahoo Groups I belong to is a group that discusses fantasy fiction. There I am known as Thongor, named for Lin Carter's Conan knock-off. Over the years, whenever things get slow at the group, one of the other members and I have been writing the continuing adventures of a couple of inept fantasy heroes, somewhat in the tradition of Terry Pratchett's DiscWorld series. Low comedy and bad puns ensue. Below are a couple of examples or my posts, done just today. The rampant adverb abuse and wonky dialogue attributions are intentional. Everything else is just goofy.

"This ale has gone flat," Thongor said, draining his mug in one
final swallow.
"What did you expect?" said Priest. "We've been here drinking for
four hours. Let's go watch a movie or something."
Thongor shook his head, causing his horned helmet to slip to a
jaunty angle. "No, no. You wanted the whole barbarian experience.
This is what we do. We guzzle ale in disreputable taverns until we
can't see straight. A little later we'll start a brawl. Then we'll
rescue some scantily clad wenches from lascivious sorcerers. Maybe
fight a giant spider. Stupid sorcerer's always seem to have giant
spiders lurking around."
"Couldn't we just skip right to the rewards from the grateful
rescued wenches?" Priest suggested hopefully.
"Nope. Simply isn't done. Oh well, might as well get that brawl
Thongor rose somewhat unsteadily from his stool and staggered
across the dimly lit tavern to a table where three dangerous looking
mercenaries were seated. Without preamble he grabbed the edge of the
table and flipped it over, sending mugs of ale and partially devoured
joints of beef flying.
"You son of a dog," cursed one of the mercenaries, a burly man
with shaggy red hair. He lurched from his chair and struck Thongor a
resounding blow, sending the barbarian backpedaling to the bar.
"Now we're talking," said Thongor. "Here, Priest. Break a chair
over that guy's head. Always have to break at least one chair."
Thongor lunged back toward the three mercs and kicked the closest
one in the stomach. He grabbed another by his tunic and threw the man
in Priest's direction. Priest broke a handy chair over the man's head.
"Say, that's kind of fun," said Priest.
"Find a bottle and smash it on someone's skull," Thongor
suggested. "Can't call it a proper brawl without a smashed bottle or
The remaining mercenary picked up a bottle and smashed it over
Thongor's skull. Thongor grimaced and punched the man in the face
twice. "I wasn't talking to you," he said as the man toppled.

"Now what?" said Priest.
"Hmmm," mused Thongor. "Usually the rest of the tavern would have
joined in by now and the brawl would rage out of control. Then the
night watch would show up and we'd slip out in the confusion,
laughing heartily. This place is kind of quiet though."
"Say," said Priest, "You're not just trying to make some last
minute posts so we don't drop below our all time
monthly low of six posts, are you?"
"Priest, I'm shocked," exclaimed Thongor. "I assure you this is a
completely legitimate adventure and not a cheap way of shoring up our
post quota."
"Okay. Good. Hey, where's that music coming from?"
A staccato tune with plenty of sax and kettle drums had suddenly
begun to play. Thongor pointed toward the door where an extremely
well endowed woman was making her way into the tavern, her hips
swinging in time with the music. Her hair was raven black and fell to
the small of her back. Her scant garments of silk and copper bangles
did little to disguise the lushness of her form.
"Oh my stars and garters," said Priest.
The newcomer walked right up to the two heroes and struck a pose,
hipshot before them. She tossed back her extravagant mass of ebon
curls and pursed he full, scarlet lips. She said, "My sister has been
kidnapped by the evil sorcerer Zolthang. I need a couple of strong
men to rescue her."
"Oh yeah!" said Thongor. "We'll be knee deep in giant spiders by

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Running a little behind this morning. Pour organic raisin bran and low fat milk into a solo cup so I can eat as I take care of various things. Make sure cats have plenty of food and fresh water. Amelia feels she needs a surreptitious kitty treat. Bruce drags his favorite shoe lace in so I can whirl it around a bit before I go.
I forgot I'm out of razor blades so my jaw is stubbly. Folks at work will just have to deal.
They've moved the mail boxes at the apartment to the front of the complex. I need to mail something so I wander up, still munching raisin bran. It is already warm and muggy outside. Summer in Georgia. Chance of rain next couple of days, someone has told me. Water from the sky? Never happen.
I ride in with the window down, the heavy, humid air made cooler by speed. Ground fog in the lowlands where highway 92 crosses highway 5. I stop at Dunkin Donuts for coffee, drop my empty solo cup in a trash bin as I leave the parking lot.
Work is dark. Only one other car in the lot. Check my watch. Couple of minutes later than normal, but of course not actually late. I am never late.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Cat Report

So far things are going much more smoothly with the visiting felines this time. Amelia was up for some head scratching this morning, which may be a new record for her in terms of acclimation. (The fact that I've been slipping her Pounce kitty treats when Bruce isn't looking probably doesn't hurt.) Bruce is totally acclimated but he was within about fifteen minutes of arriving at my place, so there ya go.

Man of Letters

Cliff called me Monday evening to let me know that my copy of the Collected Letters of Robert E. Howard Volume One had arrived and was waiting at the Dr. No's. I had a previous commitment so I couldn't drop everything and zoom over to the store and get it, but boy I wanted to. I've been waiting for that book for about six months.
So yesterday I left work a couple of hours early, purely so I could pick up the book and actually have a chance to read some of it before the weekend. I wasn't disappointed. Within the first twenty pages or so I'd already learned a couple of things I didn't know about Robert E. Howard, and begun to get a better feel for his personality. The letters begin in 1923, when Howard was only 17 years old, and not yet a published writer. Though parts of these letters to friends are concerned with the day to day mundane events of Howard's life, large chunks are already devoted to story fragments, poems, and musings on subjects that will eventually emerge as major themes in Howard's fiction.
Whenever I truly love a writer's work, I usually end up trying to learn all I can about the author. Thus, my bookshelves are stuffed with biographies and literary studies of writers like Raymond Chandler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Dashiell Hammett, Jane Austen, Charles Dickens, John D. Macdonald, Ross MacDonald, Ellis Peters, Fritz Lieber, Mark Twain, Sir Walter Scott, William Morris, etc, etc. I have collections of the letters of many of those writers as well. Not surprisingly, I have usually found that reading the correspondence of a writer gives one a better sense of the person. In letters the writer is just a person talking about things that interest him or annoy him or just make him happy. Kind of like what you see on blogs. (I will warn you that an amazing amount of time and space is given to the discussion of dress fabrics in the letters of Jane Austen...)
Howard is something of a special case for me, in that I identify with him more than most other authors. Though our births are separated by almost 60 years, I found that we have a lot in common. Howard was born and raised in a small southern town. He was misunderstood and to some degree ridiculed early on because of his bookish ways. Raised in an environment of rednecks and country boys, he learned to talk the talk just to get by, but he was ultimately unsuited to that world. Boy can I identify. Howard was outwardly gregarious and easy going, inwardly he tended toward brooding and emotional turmoil. Oh golly, not me, no. He eventually became a weightlifter and studied boxing, becoming a large and powerful man. I had an advantage there, having always been a big guy, but of course I did become a weight lifter and a martial artist. A former girlfriend once said I had the soul of a poet and the body of a Neanderthal.
Anyway, I have often wondered if my fascination with Howard's most popular creation, Conan the Cimmerian, can be attributed not just to the charisma of everyone's favorite barbarian, but also to sharing a similar background and temperament to Conan's creator. Or maybe I'm just projecting. In any event, I'm looking forward to delving further into Howard's letters. There are two more projected volumes in the series, so there is much to be gleaned in the upcoming months.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Return of the Devil Cats From Mars

Well, it's really just Bruce and Amelia, but Devil Cats from Mars is a much better post heading. Trish is off to San Francisco for a week to serve her country in the Air Force Reserves, so her two cats are once again living with me. I swear that Bruce has doubled in size since he was here a mere eight days ago. Kittens grow fast I know, but he's like a small cat now. He also seems to be a darker shade of gray. Trish dropped them off fairly late yesterday evening and both of them slept all night. Remains to be seen if Amelia will have her usual couple of days of grumpiness. I'm hoping that since they were just at my place a week ago, maybe she'll settle down more quickly. Bruce had no problems at all and happily hopped into my bed and sacked out in the crook of my arm, purring like a small tractor.

Monday, June 25, 2007

"You can't teach a hammer to love nails, son."

Colonel Hunter Gathers

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Klark-Ash-Ton and Two-Gun Bob

This weekend I'm reading another of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels, The Narrows. But in between shots of high octane crime fiction I've been reading some short stories too. Last week I picked up The Door to Saturn, which is the second volume of Nightshade Book's collections of the short stories of Clark Ashton Smith. Smith is probably the least known of the "big three" writers from Weird Tales, though he actually published more stories in the magazine than his two better known colleagues, Robert E. Howard and H.P. Lovecraft.
In some ways Smith's work is almost halfway between that of the other two men, in that many of his stories read like Lovecraft's without the element of cosmic horror or like Howard's without the presence of a super hero like Conan or Kull. A lot of his stories have some science fiction elements as well. I wonder sometimes if he failed to reach the popularity of the other two men because of his versatility. It's hard to classify Smith's work and many, perhaps most readers like to know what they're likely to get from a particular author.
Anyway, in addition to Smith, I also re-read the Conan tale, A Witch Shall be Born. It's not one of my favorites because Conan only appears in maybe half of it. The story concerns the evil witch Salome and her attempt to usurp the throne of her sister Taramis and a large chunk of the narrative is told from Taramis' point of view. Much of Conan's involvement takes place off stage.
BUT this is the story which contains the famous scene (appropriated for the awful Conan film) where a crucified Conan kills an attacking vulture with his teeth. That scene still has a lot of visceral impact some 73 years later. (Yes, the story originally appeared in 1934.) It's one of the reasons that Conan remains the baddest of the bad in fantasy fiction, even after all this time.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Bad Boys, Bad Boys...

I'm going on a ride-along with the Alpharetta Police Department tomorrow. My pal, and former karate student, Brian is now an officer with the Alpharetta PD, so he got permission for me to go on patrol. I have to wear a bullet proof vest and sign a form that says I won't sue if I get killed. Works for me. So if you were planning on breaking the law in Alpharetta, don't do it tomorrow.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Brock Sampson Rules

Well, he does.

Comforting Thoughts

Beth has suggested comfort reading for a blog topic and I, ever helpful, have jumped right in. What, you may ask, is comfort reading? Well it's like comfort food, except it's reading. Familiar, favorite books that you can go back and read when you're feeling blue or out of sorts. Makes you feel better just to read them.
For me, the ultimate in comfort reading is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. They never fail to cheer me. Holmes is the ultimate problem solver. The ultimate proof that reason can triumph over chaos. It doesn't matter if the Black Pearl of the Borgias is missing or if someone has stolen the Bruce Partington Plans or even if a loyal son has apparently bludgeoned his father to death. Holmes will sort it out and in the end the guilty will be punished and order will be restored.
See, that's the thing about Conan Doyle. He believed, at least early in his career, that order was the norm. That the world was basically a good place and that crime and evil were aberrations and once they'd been dealt with, things would go back to being the way they were supposed to be.
Then there's just the atmosphere and the setting of the Holmes stories. Holmes and his stalwart companion Dr. John H. Watson are constantly dashing about Victorian era London, hailing Hansom cabs and taking the steam driven Underground trains to crime scenes. I love the Victorian age. The clothing and the customs. I love the way people talked in that peculiarly circumlocutory way. "This is a case not without its singular points of interest." Mostly I just love the literature of the time. Doyle and Wells and Kipling and Stoker.
As I said, it makes me feel better just to read the stories. To spend time with the eccentric, brilliant Holmes and the loyal and brave Watson in a world where the careful application of deductive reasoning can still win the day.

Cop Shows, Talking Pigs, New Gods and Old

Rest of the weekend was pretty quiet. I read my way through the Kirby Fourth World book, marveling once again at the power of Jack's art. Best thing about the Fourth World collections is that the comics are being reprinted chronologically, so you read a couple of Jimmy Olsens, then a Forever People, then a New Gods, then back to Jimmy, them Mr. Miracle, and so on.
I watched the first episode of The Bill and found it fascinating. Basically a Hill Street Blues type show set in a small police precinct in London. Really made me want to go back to London. Maybe soon. My passport renewal is away, so at least I'll be ready if I get a chance to go.
I watched a couple of episodes of Hercules. I'm almost done with the fourth season. Interesting thing about that season is only about half the episodes actually have Kevin Sorbo in them. He had some serious medical issues that year and as a result the writers were faced with the difficult task of writing a bunch of Hercules episodes without Hercules in them. They made good use of the supporting cast, giving Michael Hurst, Bruce Campbell, the late Kevin Smith, and others chances to shine. Last night's episode was "Porkules" where Hercules is turned into a pig. Sorbo appears briefly at the beginning and the end of the episode, but then the rest of the show, he's a pig. Basically a Hercules take on the movie Babe, with the ever helpful Herc saving a bunch of farm animals from slaughter.
Fourth season also has an interesting two parter (Armageddon Now) where Xena's arch enemy Callisto travels back in time to prevent Xena's army from killing her family. But first she kills Hercules's mother so that Herc will never be born. That turns out to be a mistake, since without Herc to reform Xena, the unrepentant warrior princess actually conquers the world. There's a creepy scene where Empress Xena orders a rebel crucified for speaking out against her rule. The rebel is Gabrielle.
I read a bit of the Michael Connelly book and started another book that will supply a subject for the next installment of my Department of Lost Barbarians.
That's pretty much it. Happy Monday.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Sunday So Far

Took my parents out for breakfast this morning, in honor of Father's Day. Gave my dad a Gift Card to Movie Stop. He and mom like to go there and buy cheap DVDs. We had a nice talk. I told them of my adventures keeping Trish's cats. Mom caught me up on family stuff. I brought mom a book of short stories by Steven Saylor. She brought me some Fanta Orange Zero.
I splurged and had some pancakes. I've dropped 44 pounds and almost four pants sizes. Figure I can have some pancakes.
On the way home I swung by Borders. Picked up a DVD set of the British cop show, the Bill. I'm a sucker for London based TV shows. Also got another Michael Connelly paperback.
Now I'm home, with the windows open and the ceiling fans whirring. Not too hot out there yet and due to the drought conditions, the air is remarkably humidity free. I think our humidity is hiding out in Chicago. The cats have gone home, so I'm torn between missing them and enjoying the quiet.
Anyway, that's my Sunday so far.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Don't Overlook This One

Having just read Michael Connelly's The Closers, I was intrigued when I heard about his newest Harry Bosch novel, The Overlook. This one was originally written as a 16 part serial for the New York Times, then collected and slightly expanded for novel publication. It's shorter than Connelly's other books by about half, but boy did he cram the mystery, suspense, and conflict into this one. And I have to admit, he fooled me with one of his gambits. I figured out most of what was going on, but I missed one very important clue. When Connelly turned that card over, I actually looked up from the book and said, "That was slick. Nicely done."
Though I've read literally thousands of mysteries over the years, and seldom encounter one nowadays that I can't solve, I still get a kick out of being fooled by a nice bit of misdirection. (I once solved one of Anne Perry's massive doorstop mysteries on page 14 of a 500 page book.)
There's far more here than a clever whodunit though. L.A. Homicide Detective Harry Bosch gets sent to investigate an execution style murder high in the Hollywood hills. Things get complicated quick like. The victim is a doctor who had access to dangerous radioactive materials and it looks like he was forced to gather a large quantity of cesium, a radioactive substance that can be used to make so called 'dirty' bombs, before he was killed. Bosch has barely begun his investigation when the case is taken over by the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and a gung ho L.A. special anti-terrorist unit. The clock is ticking as Harry tries to solve the murder and find the missing cesium. At only 225 pages, I read this one at a sitting. It's better that way, I think. A well plotted suspenseful ride. Recommended.

Grab it, Chum

This week DC Comics released the first of four volumes collecting Jack Kirby's Fourth World series. It has apparently become a runaway best seller for DC. That doesn't surprise me. Jack Kirby has long been recognized as a primal force in the comics industry and even now, thirteen years after his death, his prodigious imagination can still sell comic books like nobody's business.
In a very literal sense, Jack Kirby IS comic books. Without him, there might not even be any comics today. Don't believe me? Here's a short list of characters Kirby created or co-created. Captain America. The Fantastic Four. The Hulk. Thor. Iron Man. The X-Men. (Yes, the X-Men) The Silver Surfer. He also had a hand in the creation of Spiderman. And those are just some of the better known characters. I could fill this blog screen with the names of the heroes, villains, and concepts that Kirby created for comic books. (Oh and remember Romance Comics? True Love, My Date, True Romance, etc. Guess who created those. Yep.)
But more importantly, Kirby is the driving visual force behind comics as we know them today. Much of the visual shorthand still used by current comics creators can be linked to Kirby. The way they draw energy blasts, explosions and impact. The way cityscapes are rendered. The gigantic, fantastic banks of machinery. Even down to the way superheroes pose and leap and thrust their hands toward the camera. All of these things were pioneered by Kirby.
Now admittedly I'm biased. Kirby is my hero. He is my all times favorite comics artist and the guy I most tried to emulate when I was learning to draw. (I can still do a pretty mean Kirby art imitation when called upon.) As the saying goes, he was a god to me. I'll talk more about Kirby in later posts. There's plenty to say. Funny thing is, though it was the Fourth World Omnibus that set this post in motion and sent me down memory lane, I pretty much missed out on the Fourth World titles in their original run. in fact, the first Jack Kirby comic I ever bought was the final issue of his run on Jimmy Olsen. Yeah, Jimmy Olsen. Red hair. Bow tie. Jeepers, Mr. Kent. Not on Kirby's watch.
I actually remember buying Jimmy Olsen issue 148. I still have it. In fact it's here on the desk as I type this. Summer of 1973. A drugstore diner on the southern end of Canton Georgia, next door to a men's clothing store owned by my maternal grandfather. Both places are long gone now. I remember seeing the cover, a dynamic illustration by Neal Adams, another comics legend, showing Superman attempting to save Jimmy Olsen and a bunch of guys I didn't know from a steel cage hanging on a massive chain. It wasn't like any image of jimmy Olsen I'd ever seen before. I bought it on a whim.
The story followed Jimmy, Superman, and a bunch of kids called the Newsboy Legion through the second half of an adventure inside of a gigantic Volcano. They fought robots. They got zapped by a 'brain blasting' machine. There was talk of DNA, clones, atomic weapons, world domination. Superman diverted a lava flow with his bare hands and threw a rock at supersonic speed through a line of robots, disabling them all. He leaped and flew and fought in a very un-Curt Swan kind of way. Yow.
I didn't know it at the time, but I was looking at the end of one of Jack Kirby's dreams. After years of growing dissatisfaction with Marvel Comics, Kirby had jumped ship in the early 1970s to DC, where he was offered the chance to create, write, and draw his own series. What he produced was a trio of titles about what he termed the Fourth World. The titles were New Gods, Forever People, and Mr. Miracle. In addition to creating these, he also took over Jimmy Olsen, the poorest selling of the Superman titles, and added it to the Fourth World mix. Kirby's original intention was to create comics first epic mini series. The three Fourth World books were meant to have a finite run, building over the course of several years to an epic finale, and would then be collected into books. Sound familiar? It's one of the primary publishing models for comics today, where monthly books are produced in mini-series like arcs that are latter collected into hardback and trade paperback volumes.
Unfortunately for Jack, he was, as ever, ahead of his time. The powers that be at DC treated the Fourth World books like any other monthly comics. Reportedly, when the books sales figures weren't as strong as DC might have wished, they canceled the Fourth World books and Kirby left Jimmy Olsen. He remained at DC for a couple more years, producing new series such as The Demon and Kamandi the Last Boy on Earth. Eventually he returned to Marvel before ultimately leaving the comics business to work in animation. If you were a child in the 1980s you probably saw characters designed by Kirby on cartoons like Scooby Doo, Super Friends, Goldie Gold, Thundarr the Barbarian, and others.
But here's the thing. Over the next three decades, writers and artists of comics would return again and again to the concepts and characters Kirby created in the Fourth World titles. John Byrne's famous run on the Superman titles was steeped in Kirby concepts. He brought back the Newsboy Legion, New Genesis, the DNA Project, and most of the Fourth World characters. The Superman titles almost became Fourth World books for several years. Over at Marvel, Jim Starlin had done his own take on Kirby's New Gods, creating a character called Thanos, modeled on Darkseid, the main villain of the Fourth World. DC has tried at least twice to start new versions of the New Gods and Mr. Miracle, and Darkseid is perhaps the most powerful villain in the DC universe.
It doesn't end there. Many people have noted the similarities between the New Gods and a certain epic space movie series. Darkseid and Darth Vader. Hmmm.
Anyway, I'm glad to see the Fourth World material available again and it will be nice to be able to have them close at hand on a bookshelf rather than stored away in comic boxes. And it means that a whole new audience has a chance to see some of Kirby's most amazing work. Jack's Back. And that's a good thing.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

A Random Memory

Weird what bubbles to the surface of your mind while driving in to work. This morning I was thinking of a concert my brother and I attended in the mid 1980s. The concert was for Dave Edmunds (Crawling From the Wreckage, Bad is Bad) but it was the opening act, a group called Concrete Blonde that stole the show. Neither Doug nor I had ever heard of them and we were amazed as their lead singer and bass player, a small punk-ish girl who was barely taller than her bass, roared her way through a selection of songs including Hollywood, God is a Bullet, and True. Very raw sounding band with a tremendous amount of energy. I went out and bought their album the next day and wore the cassette tape out listening to it. They had one mainstream hit in the late 80s, a song called Joey. No idea where they are now. I ought to see if I can get a CD of that album.
A side note to the memory. The 'concert' was actually in a club, not a large venue. I don't recall the name of the place but it was one of several small music clubs on Peachtree Street, not far from Lenox Square. Anyway, it was a pretty rowdy place and a fight broke out as we were leaving the show. It got out of hand pretty quickly with many somewhat inebriated patrons joining the melee.
Now my brother, never one to miss out on a good fight, was vastly amused by all this. I, having led a slightly more sheltered life, was a bit more impressed. We continued toward the door and were almost out before the fight reached us. A guy came pinwheeling toward us. I half expected Doug to clock him, but no. He just slipped to one side, caught the guy by the back of his shirt and spun him back into the crowd. After that we were on the street and walking away as sirens wailed in the distance. Ah, memories.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Amelia is sleeping in the corner. Bruce is sleeping literally on my feet. There are far worse things than an apartment full of sleeping cats.

The Second Coming of Roy Thomas

Been a couple of weeks since I mentioned Savage Sword of Conan. I've been steadily working my way through them, though, reading the entire run. I'm coming up on the end of the series, now reading the last 40 or so issues, the ones that actually revived my interest in the series and started me on my quest for the full run.
See, issue 190 was when Roy Thomas returned to writing the series after being off the book for almost a decade. Roy had been the original writer on the Marvel Comics color Conan the Barbarian Comic and on Savage Sword as well. After he left, both comics lost a lot of their zip in my opinion. Few of the other writers that Marvel brought on either the color book or the black and white mag really seemed to get the idea of Robert E. Howard's Conan. Instead they tended to treat the character much like Sinbad, or some other standard fantasy hero. They didn't quite seem to grasp the dark nature of REH's work. Thomas, on the other hand, managed to write quite a few original stories that fit very well into the established world of Conan as well as adapting REH's work. Without Roy Thomas, Marvel's Conan franchise lost its focus.
Thomas spent the next several years working for DC, First, and other comic companies before finally returning to Marvel in the early 1990s. He took over the writing chores on Savage Sword of Conan with issue 190 and wrote the book until its final issue, 235. During that time he made a good effort at undoing a lot of the damage done by writers like Michael Fleischer, and attempted to return Savage Sword to its glory days. Thomas, always skilled at adapting the works of other writers, returned to his habit of adapting Robert E. Howard's stories in between original adventures. He also got permission to adapt various Conan novel pastiches by writers such as Leonard Carpenter and L. Sprague Decamp. He wrote text features and solicited articles by REH scholars, just as he had in the old days. He even brought back inkers like Tony Dezugnia and Alfredo Alcala to work with veteran Conan artist John Buscema.
In many ways it was old home week for fans of the Marvel series. Thomas brought in characters from his original run on the book like Red Sonja and Zula. He wrote sequels to earlier stories like Red Nails and the Treasure of Tranicos and added a back up feature with REH's other barbarian hero, Kull. He also wrote one of my favorite two-parters of all time, a two issue team up of Conan and REH's puritan adventurer, Solomon Kane.
In the end, none of that seems to have been enough. Savage Sword was cancelled 45 issues after Roy's return. Not sure what the reasons behind that were. Most likely falling sales and the cost of keeping the license to the character. I'll have to look into that.
Anyway, I'm rolling up on the end of the series, and enjoying the ride. Kind of hate to see it end.
( PS. The only other writer who had a good, if uneven, run on Savage Sword was Chuck Dixon. Dixon excels at tough guy characters and he seemed to have a lot of fun writing Conan. More about him another time.)

Friday, June 08, 2007

And Speaking of Cats...

You ever see a small gray cat attempt a Triple Lindy off of a couch into a full Styrofoam cup of Diet Coke? I have. Not pretty...

Thursday, June 07, 2007

The Bruce and Amelia Show

I was awoken this morning by a small kitten industriously licking my nose.
"What are you doing?" I asked.
"Mew," he squeaked, and switched to licking my jaw line.
My friend Trish is out of town and her cats, Amelia and Bruce, are crashing with me. Amelia, who is about five years old, has stayed with me many times before. Bruce, a kitten Trish adopted from the Atlanta Humane Society about a month ago, is making his first visit to my place. Obviously he feels right at home.
The visit got off to a bit of a rocky start. Amelia is a Bengal, one of those cats that's as close to being a wildcat as a cat can be and still be considered a domestic animal. She's a beautiful cat. Brown and gray, with black markings. But she is not a friendly kitty. You can only pet her if she approaches you. You cannot pick her up. Independent. I got no problem with that. But, whenever Trish leaves her, Amelia usually has about two days where she's mad at the world and grumbles and growls and hisses to herself like she has feline Tourettes syndrome. She also meows and howls a lot. That extended to four days this visit, because every time I thought she was coming around, Bruce, who believes the world is a 24/7 play party, would attack her and send her off again. Last night, when I got home from Dr. No's, Amelia actually came over to get petted and she slept all night without getting up to howl at the injustice of being deserted in Kennesaw.
Bruce is the polar opposite. This is a people guy. Wherever you are is where he wants to be. If I am seated, he is in my lap. If I walk, he is underfoot. When I go to bed, he is curled up beside me. And he likes to lick my nose. Very affectionate kitty. Luckily for him, I'm not as jumpy as I used to be, and I don't sleep with a gun at hand. (Well there's one within easy reach, but that's another story.) He's a Russian Blue, with enormous green eyes and squeaky meow.
Anyway, they're with me until June 16th. Always takes me a couple of days to get used to having something living in the apartment. Yesterday I thought I'd forgotten to bump the AC on when I left for work. Since it was going to be in the 90s that afternoon. and it gets very hot in my apartment, I went home at lunch to check on the cats. The AC was on, of course, and Amelia was sleeping on top of a box in one corner and Bruce was playing with his scratching pad in another. Just another day for The Bruce and Amelia Show

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hmmm, I had to cinch my belt in another notch today. Haven't weighed in a couple of weeks but I figure I've got about another inch and it's new pants yet again. That'll probably be as far down as I go. I'll be the size I was when I left high school. Now keep in mind, I was 6'2" and 235 pounds when I left high school, but still, that ain't bad.

Friday, June 01, 2007

At Patiences End

Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End is too long, has too many subplots (but no real plot), is too long, rambles badly, and, oh yeah, it's too long. The series has hit the point of diminishing returns for me. I really liked the first one, was okay with the second one, and unfortunately, didn't care much for the third one.
There's some fun stuff. ILM does the usual bang up job of the special effects. Keira Knightley is quite the hottie. Johnny Depp is his usual impressive self. Keith Richards does indeed make a cameo.
But overall the movie just seems, in the words of Jack Burton, to go nowhere. Fast. There's also some pretty questionable moral base for the actions of the supposed heroes, which doesn't set well with me, but I'd have to take the movie way too seriously to discuss that, and I don't. Did I mention it's too long? I found myself checking my watch pretty frequently in the last hour of the movie.
There were a couple of middle age ladies in the audience today who were obviously all about the Depp, and they giggled and cooed whenever he made a face or said something clever. I think that pretty much sums the movie up. If you like to see Depp do his thing, you'll probably have a good time. If you were hoping for a story that makes any kind of sense, well, you should probably pick another movie. This one could have used some serious editing.