Sunday, September 30, 2018

Review: 'Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing without an Eraser'

Comic writer/artist Mike Grell is best known for his work on Green Arrow, but he had an eclectic career that also saw him pitting Batman against a vampire, introducing the first African American member of the Legion of Super-Heroes, doing work on Aquaman, Brenda Starr, and Green Lantern, while also cooking up such original creations as Dawnstar, Sable, The Warlord, and Shaman's Tears.

Grell gets to tell his own story through the extensive interviews with Dewey Cassell in Mike Grell: Life Is Drawing without an Eraser. His candid personality and willingness to pore over his career will fascinate fans, while there is also extensive color and B&W artwork depicting his muscular men and chronically underdressed women. I would have liked a little more than one page about his specific artist process, but it's still a very thorough sit down. A few interviews with colleagues such as Paul Levitz, Dan Jurgens, and Denny O'Neill flesh out the story with extra perspectives.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Farewell, Marty Balin

Susan Joy Balin, the wife of Jefferson Airplane founder Marty Balin, has just released a statement that her husband has died at the age of 76. Although the cause of death is not yet known, Balin has had health problems in recent years, which came to light when he sued Mount Sinai Beth Israel Hospital for malpractice last summer due to allegedly shoddy care following a heart operation in 2016. Apparently, it left him with paralyzed vocal cords and cost him a thumb and part of his tongue, though there is no word yet about whether or not his death is connected to those issues.

Marty Balin didn't just found the best band to emerge from the mid-sixties San Francisco scene; he was also one of its key voices both in front of the mic and at the writing desk. His fluttering vocals swooped out of the group's stellar three-part harmonies like a bird of prey. He composed such indisputable classics as "It's No Secret", "Plastic Fantastic Lover", "3/5 of a Mile in 10 Seconds", "Share a Little Joke", and "Comin' Back to Me", and co-wrote others such as "Today", "Volunteers" and "Blues from an Airplane". He also stood up to the Hells Angels at Altamont even though he probably knew he'd take a whipping for it (and he did). Marty Balin was tough, but his sensitivity was well apparent in his beautiful voice and songs. He'll be missed.

Review: The Action's 'Shadows & Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968'

The Action was one of the best R&B bands the swinging UK produced, and to those who might have thought Townshend’s feedback waves or Steve Marriott’s elfin screaming were too extreme, The Action were probably the best. They were the slick Motown to The Who and Small Faces’ vicious Stax, yet despite having one of the era’s best vocalists in silken throated Reg King, The Action never achieved an iota of the success of their more popular peers in the Mod scene. Why that may have been has been theorized over before, so let’s just focus on the scant but wonderful music The Action produced during their few years, because that music is collected quite completely on Shadows & Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968. 

This set spreads The Action archive over four discs. They basically only recorded 31 songs properly during their four years, and these tracks are most succinctly collected on Edsel’s Ultimate Action comp, which covers their Mod early years, and Rolled Gold, which collects the more psychedelic demos they cut in 1967. In essence, vintage mono mixes of the Ultimate Action era features on disc one of Shadows & Reflections, stereo mixes appear on disc two, the Rolled Gold era occupies disc three (with several extended versions of tracks making their debut here), and an assortment of oddities (demos, audition recordings, BBC sessions, Ready Steady Go recordings, alternate takes, and alternate mixes created for the Edsel comp) make up disc four (the other discs are also supplemented with BBC sessions, backing tracks, alternate takes, and demos). 

However, we’re not just hearing the same thirty one songs over and over in different configurations, partly because Shadows & Reflections provides a slightly wider focus than the strict Reg King era. There are a few so-so songs from when The Action went by the name The Boys at the very start of their career and some demos recorded in 1968 that are surprisingly strong despite the absence of Reg King. The BBC sessions supply neat performances of soul standards the band never cut in the studio, such as The Miracles’ “Going to a Go Go” (with some nasty guitar work that sounds like steel rending), Kim Weston’s “Take Me In Your Arms”, and The Olympics’ “Mine Exclusively”, and more radically, a late-career interpretation of John Coltrane’s “India”. The sound quality is sometimes dodgy but the historical value is exceptional.

I can’t really comment on the sound of the proper recordings since I only received MP3s for review purposes. However the quality of the informative, 45-page booklet included with Shadows & Reflections and the set’s overall completeness and attention to detail are clear under any circumstances, and The Action are a band well deserving of such belated love.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: 'Kubrick’s Music—Selections from the Films of Stanley Kubrick'

Stanley Kubrick’s work is often more like world’s you visit than movies you watch. The galactic emptiness of 2001: A Space Odyssey. The grimy yet candy-colored near-future dystopia of A Clockwork Orange. The cavernous, ice-encrusted hotel of The Shining. The opulent dream vision of NYC in Eyes Wide Shut. The oil painting landscapes and chiaroscuro interiors of Barry Lyndon. Even the desolate suburbs of Lolita are inhabitable environments that engulf you, shutting out any trace of our real world for two or three hours. Kubrick put an absurd amount of thought into how to best create these fully dimensional worlds visually, but he put a great deal of thought into the sounds swirling between their borders as well. He’d spend hour upon hour researching music, and the fruits of his labors are clear to anyone who cannot separate the visuals of great spacecraft tumbling through the cosmos without hearing “The Blue Danube Waltz” or a tiny car traversing a treacherous path swarmed by foreboding forests without hearing Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s “Dies Irae”.

Much of the music to which Kubrick bestowed additional dimensions can be heard on El Records’ Kubrick’s Music—Selections from the Films of Stanley Kubrick. This set is both fascinating and frustrating. It is frustrating because so many essentials are not present. The Shining’s sprawling soundtrack is largely reduced to the jazz-age tracks Kubrick used to stir the ghosts of the Overlook’s bloody past. “Dies Irae” only appears within Berlioz’s “Symphonie Fantastique”, a stirring piece of bombast far removed from The Shining’s brooding tone. Carlos and Elkind’s chilling synth production is not present. The same is true of the synthesized music from A Clockwork Orange: the pieces only appear in traditionally orchestrated versions. While we get an eerie prelude by Ralph Vaughan Williams that Kubrick considered using in the stargate sequence of 2001, we do not get the more transformative and disturbing Ligeti piece he ultimately used in the film. While pop songs are present in the use of Vera Lynn’s “We’ll Meet Again” (Dr. Strangelove), Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” (A Clockwork Orange), and a non-soundtrack song Sue Lyon sang on the B-side of the “Lolita Ya-Ya” single, none of the great pop songs used in Full Metal Jacket appear. In fact, that film, as well as Killer’s Kiss and The Killing, is completely unrepresented.

However, some of these issues also point to one of the more fascinating aspects of Kubrick’s Music since we get to hear much of what inspired Kubrick to use the music he ultimately used, and the inclusion of discarded ideas such as the Ralph Vaughan Williams prelude makes Kubrick’s Music a sort of enlightening look at Kubrick’s musical sketchpad. So while this is hardly a definitive collection of Kubrick soundtracks, it is an educational one, and with such great pieces as John Coltrane’s “Greensleeves”, Nelson Riddle’s “Lolita Ya Ya”,  Rimskey-Korsokav’s “The Sea and Sinbad’s Ship” (incidentally, a piece shut out of the original Clockwork Orange soundtrack), and several movements from Ludwig Van’s glorious “Ninth”, there is quite a lot of gorgeousness and gorgeousity made flesh to slooshy, o my brothers.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Review: 'Rock and Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers'

Who would you select if tasked with choosing “The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers”? Once I was through grumbling about that measly number, I wouldn’t select a lot of the ones who make it into Meredith Ochs’s new book Rock and Roll Woman: The 50 Fiercest Female Rockers. To the writer’s credit, she makes a strong case for even the ones who made my eyes roll while perusing the table of contents. Ochs’s colorful prose and infectious love for her subjects nearly brought me to the precipice of reconsidering the artistry of Gwen Stefani or Sheryl Crow.

As you may have already sussed, it wasn’t Ochs’s main concern to just pick the coolest or finest female artists; she wanted to represent a wider spectrum from the unquestionable legends (Aretha, Chrissie, Janis, Debbie, Tina, Patti) to the critical darlings (Siouxsie, Sleater-Kinney, Kathleen Hanna, PJ Harvey, Kim Gordon) to somewhat cultier figures (The Slits, Fanny, Poison Ivy, L7) to totally mainstream MOR types (Linda Ronstadt, Melissa Etheridge, Alanis Morissette, Crow, Stefani). In doing so, Ochs comes a bit closer to telling a more satisfying story of female artists fighting their way into every basic nook of the infuriatingly male-dominated Rock world. She also unifies these disparate artists through a feminist lens that makes even relatively apolitical artists, such as Kim Deal, seem like righteous soldiers in the cause.

Of course, with just 50 artists, Ochs cannot help but make the slightest indent in the surface of a rich, versatile vein of Rock music. With any luck, she’s already toiling away on a second volume that doesn’t leave out Darlene Love, Kristin Hersh, Liz Phair, Kate Bush, Carol Kaye, Tanya Donelly, Leslie Langston, Holly Golightly, P.P. Arnold, Meg White, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega, Sharon Tandy, Martha Reeves, Bjork, Kelley Deal, Julee Cruise, LaVern Baker, Nico, Kate Pierson & Cindy Wilson, Mary Timony, Juliana Hatfield, Carol van Dijk, Nina Persson, Angie Hart, La La Brooks and the Crystals, The Supremes, Gaye Advert, Cat Power, Mary Weiss and The Shangri-Las, Louise Post and Nina Gordon, Elizabeth Fraser, Team Dresch, Nina Simone, Courtney Barnett, Neko Case, KatieJane Garside, Donna Summer, Justine Frischmann, Dorothy Moskowitz, Laetitia Sadler, Patty Donahue, Wendy Melvoin and Lisa Colman, Rebecca Gates, Sandy Denny, Lene Lovitch, Mo Tucker, Shirley Ellis, Cynthia Robinson, Bilinda Butcher, Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Leslie Gore, Nancy Sinatra, Linda Thompson, Luscious Jackson, Linda Hopper & Ruthie Morris, Mama Cass Elliott, Mary Wells, Dale Bozzio, Carla Thomas, Petra Haden, Poly Styrene, The Raincoats, Fay Fife, Yoko Ono…

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review: 'John Waters: Indecent Exposure'

Wait a minute. John Waters is an artist? A rather multifaceted artist? I consider myself a fan, but this is news to me. That Waters is not just the uncontested King of Trash-ola but also a photographer and collaborative sculptor who has been the subject of his own art show is a revelation. The works displayed in that show at the Baltimore Museum of Art (of course) are featured in a new book called John Waters: Indecent Exposure.

So what should you expect from Waters’s non-cinematic art? Oh honey, you know what to expect! You’ll laugh! You’ll die from shock! You’ll puke! You’ll see the faces of Hollywood stars projected onto butt cheeks (Rear Projection, 2009)! You’ll see a disturbing 3D tableaux involving an infant with Michael Jackson’s adult head crawling toward a tyke with Charles Manson’s deranged coconut (Playdate, 2006). You’ll see some of cinema’s most iconic moments subtitled in pig Latin (Pig Latin, 2008)! You’ll see a Jackie O doll dolled up as Divine (Jackie Copies Divine’s Look, 2001)! You’ll see Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot (Twelve Assholes and a Dirty Foot, 1996)!

So like Pink Flamingos and Polyester, Waters’s museum-worthy work delights in scatology, celebrity, and hilarity. One does not usually expect to laugh out loud when viewing fine art, so prepare yourself for that shocker too.

Waters’s work will be a gas for those with a taste for bad taste, which makes the presentation in Indecent Exposure a bit frustrating. While his photos of his TV screen and weird sculptures completely lack pretension, the layout and text content of this book sometimes succumbs to that vice. The images are often shrunk down to postage-stamp size to make room for vast vistas of empty, white space, which is a crime that too many art books commit. 

As for a series of analytical essays, the only writer who really taps into the spirit of Waters’s work is Robert Starr, whose “Queering the Pitch” is both enlightening and funny. The others feel inappropriately academic. Initially, I wondered how Waters, himself, would react to such pieces. Would he roll his eyes at them or revel in them as scrumptiously kitsch? Based on the lengthy interview with the artist that wraps up the text side of Indecent Exposure, I think Waters may unironically approve. Here he reveals that there is actually serious, artistic consideration behind works depicting title cards of the shitty movies that were supposed  be screened on the planes destroyed on 9/11 or a picture of a flower that squirts viewers in the face if they get too close to it. The interview is also very valuable for what it reveals about Waters’s artistic process, such as the fact that he conceptualizes his sculptures while Tony Gardener, the guy who created killer-doll Chuckie and the fake breasts Selma Blair wears in A Dirty Shame, sculpts those uncanny likenesses of Jackson, Manson, and the rest. Needless to say, the interview is the biggest kick textual kick in Indecent Exposure

Monday, September 17, 2018

Review: 'The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies: 365 Films to Scare You to Death'

In 2006, monster authorities James Marriott and Kim Newman published the first edition of The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies: 333 Films to Scare You to Death. With our current decade slouching toward its conclusion, Marriott and Newman have updated their guide to a neat 365 films, so it can serve as a demon-a-day calendar for horror freaks with plenty of spare time.

The additions are all limited to the eight years that have passed since The Definitive Guide to Horror Movies was last updated, and like the rest of the book, the addendums consist of the essential (instant cult smashes A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night, The Babadook, It Follows, Get Out), the awful (V/H/S), and “How’d this get in here?” non-genre pictures (A Field in England). The new material also commits some glaring oversights. How did great stuff such as Black Swan, The Skin I Live In, Kill List, and The Cabin in the Woods not make the cut? Surely there must be a better explanation than “We needed to make room for The Human Centipede 2.”

For those who’ve never read any edition of Marriott and Newman’s tome, it consists of half-page reviews written with an analytical eye and a blob of cheeky wit. Finding 365 great movies in any one genre is pretty tough, and the write ups are not always favorable, so don’t get too bent out of shape about the inclusion of crap such as Last House on the Left, Friday the 13th, Sleepy Hollow, and Saw. Seven guest critics join the main writers, yet the guests are the only contributors whose reviews receive bylines. It would have been helpful if we’d known which of the others were written by Newman or Marriott since there are sometimes conflicting opinions about certain films (for example, the introduction to the chapter on 1930s films is way more complimentary toward Tod Browning’s Dracula than the specific review of the film is).

It also would have been nice if the expanded format extended before 2010 so that absolute essentials such as Gojira, The Stepford Wives, Gremlins, 28 Days Later, and Shadow of the Vampire could finally take their rightful places in this book. The older entries haven’t even been updated for this new edition, so an insert about made-for-TV horror peters out in 2007, missing the rich vein of today’s scary small-screen choices and the piece on Suspiria indicates that the final chapter of Dario Argento’s Three Mothers Trilogy has yet to be released when Mother of Tears came out all the way back in 2007. There’s also no introductory chapter for all the new entries for 2010s films.

While no one ever pleases all fans with movie guides such as these, Marriott and Newman get it righter than most. If you already own 333 Films to Scare You to Death, 365 Films to Scare You to Death may be worth a double dip, and if you don’t, you’ll probably want to add it to your Halloween wish list… and be sure to check back here on Psychobabble this coming Halloween season, because I’ll be putting my copy to good use.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Review: 'The Cure: A Perfect Dream'

Best known for their gloomy worldview and cobweb-coiffed front man, The Cure do not seem like an expected topic for one of Sterling Publishing’s slick, coffee table-style Rock biographies. Yet much about The Cure is unexpected. Mixed amongst the dirges were near-bubblegum confections such as “Just Like Heaven” and “Friday I’m in Love”, and for a band that seemed consciously designed for cult status, they’ve sold millions of albums and stadium-seat tickets. So unlikely stars The Cure may be, but they are stars nonetheless and perhaps not such a bizarre choice for a jolly old pictorial history such as Ian Gittins’s The Cure: A Perfect Dream.

Fortunately, A Perfect Dream isn’t really that jolly, because that would be dishonest to The Cure story. Theirs is a history with all the demon-wracked turmoil of “From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea” or “Give Me It”. The group was beset from within with substance abuse, legal, and interpersonal issues. Robert Smith was a sometimes-cruel control freak. Lol Tolhurst was regularly a victim of that cruelty yet often unable to contribute anything to the band because of his constant inebriation. Even those adjacent to the band could be rather difficult, such as Siouxsie Sioux, who dismissed Robert as “Fatboy Smith” when he decided to quit being a part-time Banshee to re-commit himself to The Cure, or Ross Robinson, the nu-metal producer who helmed The Cure and sounds like an absolute dickhead.

A Perfect Dream certainly isn’t a sanitized version of the Cure story, but it does have a whiff of redundancy considering how heavily Gittins leans on quotes from Tolhurst’s recent autobiography Cured and the old biography Ten Imaginary Years. His writing is generally crisp, but he has a tendency to lapse into pretentiousness when analyzing the music. To their credit, those analyses steer clear of hero worship, but they can also be a tad confusing. Why after giving Pornography a veritable track-by-track drubbing does the author conclude that it is “oddly addictive?” Despite such issues, A Perfect Dream still works as a pithy biography that refuses to pull punches and provides plenty of color images of some of Rock’s most photogenic freaks.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Psychobabble’s Perfect Monkees Box Set Recipe!

The Monkees were once a punch line to every joke about inauthentic, cheesy pop for toddlers. In a century in which pop is no longer a pejorative, few care about the manufactured manner in which Mike, Micky, Davy, and Peter were assembled, and many now know about their victorious struggle to wrest control of their music. Today, The Monkees are more respected than they ever were in the days when they outsold The Beatles and the Stones.

As all of you Psychobabblers know, Psychobabble loves The Monkees, but that doesn’t mean their back catalog is unimpeachable. The fact that an uncountable multitude of writers, producers, and musicians contributed to The Monkees’ output means that some really bad stuff was recorded (see “Teen Tiny Gnome”, the juvenile junk allegedly responsible for Boyce & Hart’s ousting as main Monkees producers) and released (see “The Day We Fall in Love”, the sappy pap regularly regarded as worst Monkees track of all time). Frankly, The Monkees never released a perfect album. Even the wonderful Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn, & Jones, LTD. contains one “this does not belong” track, both because “Hard to Believe” was not as edgy as its LP mates (on which the cutesiest sounding track is about a “Hell’s Angels gang bang.” Gross.) and because it was not made with the democratic band input that went into the other tracks. I’ve tried to maintain the chronology of when the tracks were recorded as much as possible, though Instant Replay is still a bit of a chronological hodgepodge in keeping with the original album’s semi-compilation format.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Review: Vinyl Reissue of Matthew Sweet's 'Altered Beast'

When critics fell over themselves to praise Matthew Sweet’s breakthrough, Girlfriend, they tended to focus on the music’s sweetness: the glimmering jangle of his overdubbed guitars, the comforting retro-ness of his Beatles and Byrds references, the classic concision of his songs, the lushness of Fred Maher’s production. So when Sweet followed that big hit with the deliberately messy and acidic Altered Beast, a lot of the critics were baffled. Perhaps they hadn’t been listening close enough to the underlying nastiness of Girlfriend tracks such as “Thought I Knew You”, “Does She Talk?”, and “Holy War”. If they had been, Altered Beast would have seemed like a more logical progression as Sweet builds on the bitterness of such songs with production to match. Yes, Richard Dashut is best known as Fleetwood Mac’s smash-era producer, but Sweet didn’t hire Dashut for his pristine work on Rumours. Sweet was more interested in channeling the sloppy derangement of Tusk, and just as Tusk was more fascinating and challenging than Rumours, Altered Beast is—in this reviewer’s perhaps unpopular opinion—a similar improvement over Girlfriend. 

The polish flakes away as rusty guitars roar, well-deep drums bash, and Sweet sneers and spits. “Dinosaur Act”, “Devil with the Green Eyes”, “Ugly Truth Rock”, “In Too Deep”, and especially “Knowing People” are straight-up mean, and their loathing feels more authentic than the mass of Sweet’s grungier contemporaries because of his pop rep. It sounds like he was willing to burn down his critical good will for the sake of getting something toxic off his chest. He did make room for some of the more soothing pop styles of Girlfriend, though “Life without You”, “Time Capsule”, “What Do You Know?”, and “Someone to Pull the Trigger” do not skimp on the despair. So while the production sounds messy, the vision is actually quite focused, and for my money, Altered Beast is Matthew Sweet’s underappreciated peak.

Intervention Records’ 100% analog audiophile edition of Altered Beast—the second release in its trilogy of Sweet reissues—doesn’t clean up that messy sound; it just presents its with startling clarity, authenticity, and sonic might. Guitars are remarkably present whether grinding out on “Dinosaur Act”, shimmering on “Time Capsule”, or booming from a bottomless pit on “In Too Deep”. Details reveal themselves. Until now I’d never really noticed that weird percussive touch on “Someone to Pull the Trigger” that sounds like Sweet brushing his teeth.

Intervention’s vinyl is presented as a double album with bonus tracks on Side Four, which shifts the natural side divider—that goofy audio clip from Caligula—to the middle of Side Two (an even weirder Caligula clip hidden at the end of the original CD edition is left out entirely). Bonus tracks are stronger than those on Intervention’s recent edition of 100% Fun. They include what may be Sweet’s best non-LP tracks—the corrosive “Superdeformed” from the No Alternative compilation—and all B-sides from the “Ugly Truth” and “Time Capsule” singles (though not the “Devil with the Green Eyes” single), as well as “Bovine Connection” from the extended Japanese edition of Son of Altered Beast. The American edition of that E.P. will presumably be the next installment of Intervention’s Matthew Sweet vinyl campaign, which remains the vinyl reissue campaign to beat in 2018.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Review: 'That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound: Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde'

Nashville will always be the home of country, yet Rock & Rollers such as Paul McCartney, The Beach Boys, Neil Young, Mike Nesmith, The Byrds, and R.E.M. all recorded there. This pop gravitation toward Music City started in earnest when Bob Dylan cut Blonde on Blonde there in 1966. If there’s an artist who tends to lead his peers around like a Pie-Eyed Piper, it’s Bob.

Dylan’s time in Nashville is the focus of Daryl Sanders’s That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound: Dylan, Nashville, and the Making of Blonde on Blonde. At 200 pages, the book is a quick read, kind of like what a 33 1/3 book would be if the series banned its writers from pretentious tangents and navel gazing. Sanders keeps the narrative focused, describing the circumstances behind the writing and recording of each of the album’s fourteen luxurious rough gems. There’s light analysis (Sanders notes that “Just Like a Woman” is “intentionally sexist” without daring to explain why Dylan would want to write such a thing) and pretty extensive biographies of the great Nashville session men who brought Rock’s first double album to life.

Sanders could have pumped a bit more life into Nashville, itself. He plainly states the significance of having a Rock musician record in the Country Capital, but there’s only spare sense of the abrasions of two worlds colliding. The Nashville Cats think it’s a bit weird that Dylan’s songs are longer than three minutes, and some bluegrass-playing studio visitors sneer at bluesy stuff like “Pledging My Time”, but the only thing that really shines a light on the town’s friction is a short but scary anecdote in which Al Kooper discusses being chased around town by a clan of Good Ol’ Boys. Yet for a tidy rundown of session facts spiced with quotations from a lot of the guys involved in them, That Thin, Wild Mercury Sound hits the spot.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Review: 'The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy'

The Kids in the Hall were brilliant partly because they weren’t afraid to mine such sinister stuff as murder, alcoholic dads, cancer, empty promises, taxpayer-screwing, head crushing, and half-chicken sexual predators for laughs. Their personal stories weren’t particularly funny because many of their most transgressive bits were rooted in the five guys’ personal stories (well, maybe not the head crushing and chicken lady stuff). So make no mistake—The Kids in the Hall were hilarious, but The Kids in the Hall: One Dumb Guy (coming on October 23) is not. Tragedy and interpersonal clashes are recurring elements of Paul Myers’s new book about the revered comedy troupe.

While John Semley’s 2016 book This Is a Book About The Kids in the Hall achieved a light tone despite the often-heavy material (right down to that author’s generally misguided attempts at cracking his own jokes), Myers takes the material much more seriously. That seriousness also includes involving all five original Kids in the storytelling, and Dave Foley, Bruce McCulloch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson are quoted extensively throughout, as are former collaborators such as Diane Flacks, Lorne Michaels, and the perpetually toweled Paul Bellini, and comedy peers such as Bob Odenkirk, Judd Apatow, Mike Myers, Andy Richter, Fred Armisen, Paul Feig, Thomas Lennon, Dana Gould, and in one of the final interview exchanges he’d give before his death in March 2016, Gary Shandling. Consequently, One Dumb Guy is not as much fun to read as Semley’s book, but it feels like a more fleshed out and official version of the story.

Monday, September 3, 2018

Review: 'Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume 3'

The classic newspaper strips collected in IDW’s Star Wars: The Classic Newspaper Comics Volume 2 hit their stride as writer Archie Goodwin got a complete handle on the films’ plot threads and the characters’ voices and recently-recruited artist Al Williamson mastered their likenesses. The third and final volume of this series continues those highs with more tales set between Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. They find the rebels evacuating their base on Yavin 4 and finding a temporary new home on Hoth, and Obi Wan Kenobi making his first ghostly appearance to Luke. We also find out why General Dodonna never made it to Hoth.

One of the more ingenious decisions in creating these strips was to limit the action to the period between the second and third films even though almost half of these strips were published after the release of Return of the Jedi. This saved Goodwin from having to come up with a lot of crazy situations to keep the Rebels engaged after their defeat of the Empire or leaving Han Solo on ice for three years. Goodwin devised ways of introducing characters such as Admiral Ackbar (debuting in newspapers six months before his cinematic debut), Jabba the Hutt, Bib Fortuna, Boba Fett, and Dengar in ways that are respectful to what happened on screen (less respectful to Kenner, Dengar goes by his originally-intended name: Zuckuss). The final strip brings us right up to the initial events of The Empire Strikes Back…complete with a cornily on-the-nose declaration from Darth Vader.

Story-wise, the only downsides are the irritating tendency to sideline Princess Leia (Williamson’s ability to write her bickering with Han Solo is spot-on, though) and the superfluousness of the Sunday strips, which tend to offer nothing but redundant exposition. The Sundays’ full-color art is nice, though, and it looks particularly grand on IDW’s authentically non-digitized pages. Once again we get a lovely hardcover presentation with an informative, extended introduction by Rich Handley and a neat ribbon bookmark. Best of all are the stories and art, which may amount to the finest non-canon Star Wars stories of all.

All written content of is the property of Mike Segretto and may not be reprinted or reposted without permission.