Book Review: Weird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible Golf

Book Review: Weird Golf: 18 Tales of Fantastic, Horrific, Scientifically Impossible, and Morally Reprehensible Golf by Dave Donelson

Disclosure: I received this book through a Firstreads giveaway in the expectation that I would review it.

Weird Golf

To make where I’m coming from clearer, I’m not a sports fan, and in specific not a golf fan. I’ve played just enough golf to know the game doesn’t appeal to me as a player, and I don’t believe I have ever watched an entire match on TV. However, I’m a big fan of “strange sports stories” which blend a real-life sport with fantastic elements.

As you might gather, this is a single-author anthology which is exclusively about golf. Thus, the changes are rung by introducing different unusual elements, not all impossible. It’s double-spaced for easy reading.

The best single story is “Grand Slam”, where a veteran golf writer (much like the author) realizes there’s something more unusual than most about an up and coming golfer. The ending’s very predictable, but the research is good.

Mr. Donelson appears to have been his own editor/proofreader, as there are a couple of “relies on spellchecker” errors.

And then there is the story “Superhero Grudge Match”, in which Superman and Batman compete to join a pro-am golf tournament. I was very surprised to not see a fanfic disclaimer, or an indication that Mr. Donelson got permission to use the characters for his book.

It really felt like the writer hadn’t done the research on the comic book characters nearly as well as he’d researched Pebble Beach. The story references some current events that might have made the business pages, but the Batman and Robin combo used were clearly the ones from the 1960s TV series. The characterizations are closest to the Silver Age “World’s Finest” comic books, in which Superman, Batman or both suddenly start acting dickishly for reasons given at the end of the story. Except that this time they’re dickish for the sole purpose of winning a golf game.

Notably, though both heroes end up cheating during the match, neither of them uses the skills/powers that would allow them to be freakishly good at golf. As a comic book fanfic reader, I have to say it’s not very good.

I would only recommend this book to people looking for a gift their golf-mad relative probably doesn’t have already. It’s a light read, suitable for rainy days and waiting for tee times.

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Volume One

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents The House of Secrets Volume One edited by Joe Orlando

House of Secrets started its publication history in 1956 as a “weird menace” title.  You couldn’t really do horror comics as such under the Comics Code, but  short tales tinged with the supernatural where evil was punished and good rewarded?  Sure.  It also had a number of psuedo-superhero types, like Mark Merlin, Prince Ra-Man and Eclipso.  The last of these, (“Hero and Villain in one man!” went on to be a player in the DC universe, and has his own Showcase volume.  The Silver Age run ended with #80 in 1966.

The House of Secrets

After a three year hiatus, it came back as The House of Secrets.  The Comics Code had eased up some, and it was possible to do horror comics in the mainstream again.    #81 started by introducing an actual House of Secrets, which seemed to be both intelligent and malevolent, killing its then-owner in the first story of the issue.   A new caretaker was hired, the pudgy and rather cowardly Abel, who loved to tell scary stories.  (His nastier  brother Cain did the same over at the House of Mystery.)

Each issue, Abel would introduce a few short tales of horror, often having a small adventure of his own in between.  The quality of the stories varied widely from trite to quite good.  A particularly well-received story was “Swamp Thing” in #92.  It was so liked that the main character was slightly updated and given his own series, which went on to become famous.  Another standout is “The Ballad of Little Joe” in #86, about a puppet that comes to life.  What makes that story special is that one of the “villains” is clearly a philosopher at heart, rather than the conqueror his culture wants him to be.  “You can twist form–but can you ever change a man’s love?”

Then there’s “There are Two of Me…and One Must Die!” in #91, which puts a new twist on the stock DC plot of spotting the fake person by a tiny clue.   I do have to say that reading a bunch of these stories in a row  can make them a bit samey, and they’re mostly quite tame by today’s horror standards.

The art ranges from workmanlike to excellent–the lack of color does not hurt most of the stories, and in some cases enhances the feel.  (The four-color process sometimes detracted from the mood of stories.)

I would recommend this volume to DC fans of a certain age, and those looking for horror stories that are spooky, but not too horrific.  I’ll leave you with one of the epilogues…

“Silence sounds like green vines creeping…dry boards scream like blind men seeking…for these are the signs…of secrets lurking…”

 

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash by Cary Bates & Carmine Infantino

Flash

Barry Allen, the Flash, is finally moving on from his wife Iris’ death, and is about to marry his new love, Fiona Webb.  But on the day of the wedding, Flash learns that Iris’ murderer, Professor Zoom has escaped imprisonment.  In the desperate struggle that follows, Zoom announces his intention to kill Fiona just as he did Iris.  Barry stops Zoom–permanently.  But was it an justifiable act of defense, or a deliberate killing?  That’s up to a jury to decide!

This mid-80s epic is not one of the best Flash stories.  The creative team was tired and it really shows.  One issue in particular is half reprints from older stories apparently to give the writer and artist a break.  But it does treat the issue of a masked vigilante killing a criminal with all the seriousness it deserves, before this became the standard operating procedure for superheroes in the Nineties.

The lack of color in this reprint hurts the story several times, not only because Zoom’s costume is identical to Flash’s with a palette swap, but in that recurring villain Rainbow Raider’s entire gimmick is color (and by this time the writer had stopped having people redundantly mention the colors of things.)

Which is not to say that this story is entirely without merit.  There are some interesting subplots, such as the mystery of Nathan Newbury, and the ambitions of a pompous defense attorney who sees Flash’s trial as a meal ticket beyond compare.  A couple of Flash’s villains put in notable appearances (and the final issue’s villain notes that he’s ,kind of sort of doing Flash a favor, which was foreshadowing for Crisis on Infinite Earths.)

Barry makes a couple of mistakes early on that compound his trouble.  First, he still hasn’t told his bride to be his secret identity, which leaves Fiona with no reasonable explanation when Barry Allen disappears permanently.  This causes a mental breakdown that renders her useless or worse than useless for the remaining two years of the story.  (And then shuffled offstage before the actual ending.)

The other is his decision that he must fight Professor Zoom alone, even actively telling the Guardians of the Universe to keep any other heroes from helping him.  This leads directly to killing Zoom being the only way to stop him, precipitating the entire trial plotline.

Again, not the best Flash story, and a bad place to start reading about the Barry Allen Flash.  (And a worse place to start reading about the Wally West Flash, who’s barely in these issues and whose spotlight is the aforementioned reprint issue.)  But for fans of the Barry Allen Flash on a budget, this is most of the end of the run in one low-price package.

For a volume with the beginning stories of the Barry Allen Flash, see this review: http://www.skjam.com/2013/02/27/comic-book-review-showcase-presents-showcase-volume-1/

Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire

Comic Book Review: Batman Deathblow After the Fire by Brian Azzarello and Lee Bermejo

Full Disclosure: I received this book as a Goodreads Giveaway on the premise that I would review it.
Cover of Batman/Deathstroke
Those of you who’ve been following my reviews for a while will know that I’m a longtime Batman fan. Not so much though as regards Deathblow, one of the many Nineties antiheroes Image pumped out back in the day. He’s an agent of International Operations (I/O) who, well, kills people.

This is not a promising basis for a team-up, and Mr. Azzarello wisely doesn’t try to make it one. Instead, Batman picks up the trail of a pyrokinetic terrorist that the now-deceased Deathblow had encountered a decade before. The story cuts between the two eras, piecing together the murky circumstances through the triple-crossing wires of espionage agencies.

Even with a good writer, Michael Cray, the Deathblow used in this story, never rises above the Nineties cliches he’s mired in. Batman is done pretty well, and Alfred is a delight. Commissioner Gordon makes a cameo to give Batman a clue. The villain has a bit more depth than is evident through most of the story, which leads to a neat little last page twist.

Lee Bermejo’s art is kind of blocky, which makes for some nice covers, but is less effective in the story itself. For this deluxe edition, he presents some sketches and alternative covers, with notes on each.

To be honest, I think this book is only getting the deluxe treatment because the author has gone on to do better work. This is one I recommend checking out at the library if you can.

 

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark)

Comic Book Review: Demon Knights Vol. 1 (Seven Against the Dark) by Paul Cornell, Diogenes Neves & Oclair Albert

demonknight

When DC Comics rebooted their mainline universe in 2011, this left them free to rearrange the past of that universe .  To fill in part of that timeline, we have this title.

After a brief moment at the fall of Camelot, we see the town of Little Spring, a relatively peaceful village that just so happens to be host to seven ill-assorted strangers.  It’s a close call as to whether these strangers or the encroaching army of the Questing Queen is more of a danger.  Nevertheless, it falls to this ragtag band of misfits to defend Little Spring until it can be relieved by Alba Sarum.

The “heroes” of this story don’t much like each other, and several of them aren’t very heroic at all.  But like it or not, they have to work together…or do they?

This is one of the more successful reimaginings of the New 52.  Paul Cornell does good banter, and blends what we “know” of various characters with new information in interesting ways.  Several mysteries are set up, only a couple of which actually get movement in this volume, which contains the first seven issues of the series.  Also, kudos to Mr. Cornell for a relatively diverse cast, and not pretending it was only white able-bodied men who did anything important in the Middle Ages.

There’s quite a bit of gory violence, and some dark themes–I would recommend this for older teens and up.

 

 

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