Saturday, January 14, 2023

John Severin: Two-Fisted Comic Book Artist

John Severin: Two-Fisted Comic Book ArtistJohn Severin: Two-Fisted Comic Book Artist by Greg Biga
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title indicates, this is a chronicle of Jovial John Severin: birth, death, and everything in between.

Like a lot of guys my age, I first stumbled on John Severin in Cracked. It wasn't until decades later that I saw his EC stuff and learned of his vast output over the years. Anyway, the book starts with John Severin's birth and is loaded with photos and art, from John's early stuff printed in Hobo Times all the way to his final professional jobs in his 80s.

Every time I run across some Severin work I haven't seen before, my esteem for the man grows. After reading this, I have Severin esteem leaking out of every orifice. The war comics, the westerns, Kull, Cracked, the man could draw anything and seemed like a good guy to boot.

My favorite piece of art in this is probably the restored American Eagle stuff but it's all great work. I might have to break down soon and get that Blazing Combat hardcover since Severin has a few stories in it.

I'm not sure what else to say. The name on the cover is John Severin and that's what you're getting. Four out of five stars.

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Friday, January 13, 2023

The Woman Who Would Be King: The MADUSA Story

The Woman Who Would Be King: The MADUSA StoryThe Woman Who Would Be King: The MADUSA Story by Debrah Miceli
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was never that into women's wrestling back in the day but Madusa always seemed legit. I don't usually take on ARCS anymore but ECW Press hit me up and I couldn't refuse.

There's a lot of dark stuff in this. Madusa grew up in a rough home with an unaffectionate mother, raped by her alleged father at a young age, and was in trouble a lot as a teen. Her life turns around for the most part when she gets involved in wrestling, first with Ed Sharkey, then the AWA, then Japan, WCW, and finally the WWF. Things weren't always great there either.

The last big Madusa moment I remember was when she threw the WWF Women's title in the trash on Nitro. The WWF acted like a victim but they already told her they weren't renewing her contract and scrapping the entire women's division at the time so it's not like she had a lot of options.

From there, Madusa finishes up in WCW and becomes a monster truck driver for over twenty years. She was married a couple times, had some medical issues, and finally got inducted into the WWE hall of fame.

BUT WAIT! There's more. Madusa eventually learned the identity of her real father. He'd passed years earlier but she now has half-siblings she never realized existed! So there's a happy ending.

Madusa doesn't really pull any punches but doesn't go out of her way to get sued either. I feel like she could probably fill another book with a look of shady shit that went down with the Kliq. The stuff she does reveal was dark enough, like Eddie Gilbert being on pills constantly and the Kliq shitting in her bag to teach her a lesson.

I didn't realize how long Madusa was driving monster trucks. Time flies once you're in the steady job grind, I guess. The monster truck stuff was weirdly interesting to me. The Japan stuff was probably the most interesting to me. Like I said earlier, I wasn't that into women's wrestling but I'd like to track down some of her Japanese stuff. She seems like a bad ass.

Four out of five stars.

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Thursday, January 12, 2023

The Charlton Companion

The Charlton CompanionThe Charlton Companion by Jon B. Cooke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I've long been fascinated by Charlton Comics, the second tier comic company that finally went under not long after I really got into reading comics. This book contains everything you want to know about the operation and then some. There are tons of cover shots but more interesting are all the quotes from people who worked there.

From the founder's prison stint and probable mob connections to paying the lowest page rate possible, I'm surprised it lasted as long as it did. I can't imagine running my own printing operation and shooting for putting out as much passable material as possible instead of a handful of quality titles but I'm not in the printing business either.

On the other hand, the creative freedom compared to Marvel or DC had to be a big attraction. Still, Santangelo seems like the shifted prick this side of J. Jonah Jameson. Imagine having flood insurance on your building, collecting on it, and still cutting your employee's page rates IN HALF to compensate for damages. Dick Giordano's assertion that Charlton was more interested in saving five dollars than making five dollars pretty much sums up the Charlton philosophy.

A lot of pros cut their teeth at Charlton, like Steve Ditko and Denny O'Neil, so they had some value. On the other hand, imagine cluttering up your printing area so much with old engraving plates that no one could get past them while you're waiting for scrap metal prices to go up?

I've strayed far from whatever point it was I was trying to make. This is a great look at a shitty operation that somehow remained open for decades and spawned a lot of great talent. Five out of five stars.

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Sunday, December 25, 2022

Fairy Tale

Fairy TaleFairy Tale by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

So my wife was listening to the audio book for this and wanted to talk to me about it so I wound up with a homework assignment.

The book started slow, with Charlie Reade looking after his injured elderly neighbor, Mr. Bowditch. For the first 200 pages, that's pretty much all the book is, though I enjoyed it. The rest of the book is Charlie going down the hole and getting involved in the affairs of another world.

Overall, I liked the book. King has lost none of his Shine over the years in the technical writing department. Charlie was a well crafted character, although I had a strong "Hello fellow kids" vibe from him at times. I think a degree of that is to be expected when a septuagenarian writes a teenager.

Radar getting old was a perfectly understandable motivation for Charlie to go down the hole for me. There was good dramatic tension at times and for once, I didn't feel like people sat around talking for hours and hours knowing that the world was about to end.

The meat of the book was a good fairy tale influenced fantasy story. I think the good guys got off a little light, though, as I have in many a book since Stephen King got hit by that van years ago. A lot of cool stuff went down but I get waiting for that final kick in the balls that never came.

Fairy Tale was a good read but I don't imagine I'll feel compelled to read it again any time soon. 3 out of 5 stars.

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Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Player's Handbook (D&D Fifth Edition)

Player's Handbook (Dungeons & Dragons, 5th Edition)Player's Handbook by James Wyatt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I haven't played D&D since they brought out 3.5 edition way too soon after 3.0 and said piss on it. I've been eyeing this book from afar for a couple years and jumped on it when it got marked down to around 16 bucks for Black Friday.

I don't know when I'll ever get to use this with no gaming group and an autistic three year old running around but I enjoyed thumbing through it. Obviously, it's an RPG manual so I didn't read EVERY page but I read enough to digest the mechanics.

The book was organized fairly well, although explanation of advantage/disadvantage before they were repeatedly mentioned would have been nice instead of saving it for the abilities chapter. The art pretty good but not anything I feel compelled to get tattooed on my back. There's even a nice appendix of recommended reading material in the back.

Everything about this edition seems to be geared toward simplifying things and spending less time making characters and more time playing, which I love. So many hours of potential gaming have been lost when somebody can't decide what skills to take, etc.

There aren't as many skills and feats are optional so character creation is sped up quite a bit. I like that race, class, and background all contribute to a character's skills, languages, starting equipment, etc. I thought 3.0 had too many choices and this reins things in a bit. Hell, there's even a quick build if you really don't want to put much thought into character creation.

I was skeptical about the new Warlock class but it's different enough to be interesting now, a spellcaster who gets their powers from a pact with an extradimensional creature is right up my alley. The monk feels more like the 1st edition monk than anything else but also has some cool features as you advance. While I'm on the subject, the way characters have ability choices as they advance is pretty cool. Wizards and Sorcerors now have a d6 hit die instead of a d4 and rogues are now d8s. That should make for fewer deaths at low levels.

I'm not crazy about what Tieflings have become since 2nd edition but I guess it's not that big of a deal. The new Dragonborn race has potential for abuse but seems interesting enough. I'm sure there are more optional races and classes than you can shake a yew wand at in later supplements but I'll have to wait until those drop into my cheapness zone.

Four out of five stars.

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Monday, November 28, 2022

Don't Call Me Chico

Don't Call Me ChicoDon't Call Me Chico by Tito Santana
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don't Call Me Chico is the biography of WWF wrestler Tito Santana.

One of my early wrestling memories is Randy Savage cheating to win the Intercontinental belt from Tito Santana so I had to snap this up.

Tito seems like a class act so you'd think his story wouldn't be that interesting but not so. Tito, aka Merced Solis, grew up the son of migrant workers and became a wrestler after his would-be football career hit the rocks. He knew Tully Blanchard from college and Tully was his foot in the door.

Tito is pretty humble when it comes to telling his story but has a good sense of humor so the book is pretty engaging. It talks about Tito's stints in George, Texas, the Bill Watts territory, Japan, the AWA, and finally the WWF. Tito wasn't a big partier with a wife and kids at home but there are still some great road stories in here.

Did anyone like working for Ole Anderson? I thought it was interesting that one of Tito's early names was Richard Blood, the real name of Ricky Steamboat, given to him as a way to connect him to Steamboat after he left the territory. I also thought it was interesting that when Jimmy Snuka had some legal woes, Santana got tapped to replace him high on the card on house shows before he was even a regular in the WWF. Tito also gives his account of backstage events such as Danny Spivey handing Adrian Adonis' ass to him and various ribs.

It gets a little sad after the Strike Force run when the WWF was running out of things to do with him. The Matador gimmick is covered. It's interesting to think about the WWF pushing into Mexico instead of Canada and pushing Tito Santana instead of Bret Hart.

The end has a silver lining, though. Tito got out of the business before it destroyed his life and left with enough money to start a new life as a teacher that also owns a hair salon.

Like all wrestling books, there's stuff that wasn't mentioned that I wouldn't have minded hearing about, like Tito teaming with Pedro Morales or Tito teaming with Danny Spivey. There were a good amount of road stories but I'd always read more. I really liked that the pre-wrestling chapters were interesting and not Tito patting himself on the back, though he doesn't seem like the type to do that anyway.

Four out of five stars.

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Friday, November 25, 2022

On the Savage Side

On the Savage SideOn the Savage Side by Tiffany McDaniel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Born into a hell of addiction and prostitution, can twins Arcade and Daffodil Doggs escape their fates and live a normal life?

I loved Tiffany McDaniel's previous two works, The Summer That Melted Everything and Betty, so I dropped everything when this showed up in my mailbox.

On the Savage Side contains everything I expected: characters with odd names, flowery prose, and soul crushing despair. Arc and Daffy meander through a hell created long before they were born, soon becoming mirror images of their drug addicted prostitute mother and Aunt Clover.

Born out of the unsolved murders of the Chillicothe Six, On the Savage Side is a statement both about the power of women and their place in a world made by men. Arc and Daffy are caught in a whirlwind spawned long before they were born, disposable women in a factor town. There's an undercurrent of hopelessness and powerlessness to the story. Poor Arc and Daffy never had a chance.

Even though I started reading this the night before Thanksgiving, I was finished before breakfast on Black Friday morning. The plight of the Chillicothe street girls was a gripping read. As they were pulled out of the river one by one, I wondered if any of them would be alive at the end.

Speaking of the ending, it's not cut and dry and I could see that disappointing people. However, this isn't one of those airport thrillers so anything goes. There's no unnecessary romantic subplot and no one gets carted off to jail. There's only grim finality. I'm reminded of Jim Thompson and Flannery O'Connor once again, both in the prose and the final fate of some of the characters.

Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, October 30, 2022

Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America

Ringmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of AmericaRingmaster: Vince McMahon and the Unmaking of America by Abraham Riesman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ringmaster chronicles the rise of Vince McMahon, from his early life in poverty to working for his father to taking the WWF national and beyond.

I thought Riesman's book about Stan Lee was great so I got myself on the ARC list when the call went out. I read it in three long sittings.

First off, the Unmaking of America portion of the title is sensationalistic. Sure, Vince and Trump are friends and the McMahons worked to get pro wrestling deregulated and Vince manipulates the media but that's about all the Unmaking there is.

The format is similar to Riesman's Stan Lee book. Vince's early life as Vinnie Lupton is detailed, both from Vince's words and from the people who knew him, generating some conflicting stories. Vince didn't meet his biological father, Vince McMahon Sr, until he was 12 and took his name sometime after.

I've been a wrestling fan off and on for most of my life so I knew a lot of stuff about Vince's early days in the wrestling business but not nearly all of it. I didn't know the McMahons owned a hockey team or Vince was involved in Evel Kineval's Snake River Canyon jump, for instance.

Vince running the other promoters out of business is a well trodden road so there aren't a ton of pages spent on it other than the Georgia Championship Wrestling timeslot debacle. The sex scandals were detailed, like Vince allegedly raping female referee Rita Chatterson and all the ring boy unpleasantness. The death of Nancy Argentino was also detailed, forever derailing whatever Vince had planned for Jimmy Snuka in the longterm.

Once the first Wrestlemania hits, things are in full swing, including drug scandals, Vince and Hogan falling out, The Ultimate Warrior being a dick, Vince's various trials, and all that stuff. Vince's stint as a heel in the USWA was covered, something I've always wanted to know more about.

From there, the late 1990s and early 2000s are covered, Montreal Screwjob, Monday Night War, and Vince eating his two biggest competitors.

So what did I think? This wasn't exactly the book I was picturing, focusing primarily on Vince McMahon the person. I wouldn't have minded more backstage stuff or road stories but that's how I feel about most wrestling books. My opinion of Vince McMahon hasn't changed. I don't think he's a genius and the last good idea he had was turning heel in 1997. I also don't think he's a particularly good person. He does keep the wrestling business going on a national level, though.

It's a very well researched book. Riesman didn't skimp and consulted multiple sources on almost ever morsel of information. I don't feel like Riesman had an axe to grind and explored everything fairly. There was a lot more Bret Hart material, which is a plus in my book, and even that wasn't just shots at Vince. Like I said, I would have liked more backstage stuff but that's not the book Riesman was writing.

Anyway, this is an interesting look at Vince McMahon and his rise to power. Like the Stan Lee book, if you think Vince McMahon is a benevolent wrestling genius, you probably won't enjoy finding out about the realities of his rise to power and all the stuff he swept under the rug. Four out of five stars.

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Sunday, July 24, 2022

The History of EC Comics

The History of EC ComicsThe History of EC Comics by Grant Geissman
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

As the title indicates, this weighty tome tells the story of EC Comics. It's ordinarily expensive as fuck but Taschen had a sale, bringing the price down to expensive as shit so I was able to justify my purchase.

I already have Grant Geissman's Foul Play: The Story of EC Comics so I wasn't sure how much to expect in the way of overlap. Turns out, very little, surprisingly.

The History of EC Comics is a treasure trove of EC lore and artifacts, starting from MC Gaines at All-American Comics, and flowing through EC's humble beginnings, heyday, and dying years after the hysteria of the 1950s. Clearly a labor of love, the highs and lows of EC are explored in great detail.

Since this is a coffee table book, the visual presentation is a big part of the package and The History of EC Comics does not disappoint in that aspect. There is a cover gallery of every EC cover ever, a few stories are reproduced in their entirety, and there is original art galore.

I have to wonder about how American comics history would have went if EC hadn't given up on the New Trend books after Seduction of the Innocent had everyone clutching his or her collective pearls. Have comics ever really recovered from being spayed and/or neutered?

The History of EC Comics is a stunning look at one of the early high points of American comics. Five out of five stars.

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Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Wrestling at the Chase

Wrestling at the ChaseWrestling at the Chase by Ed Wheatley
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Wrestling at the Chase by Ed Wheatley is a coffee table book about Wrestling at the Chase, the legendary wrestling program that aired in St. Louis from 1959 to 1985.

I'm a wrestling fan from way back and have hazy memories of watching Wrestling at the Chase during its dying days. My in-laws gave me this for my birthday, unlike other relatives who don't like to buy me books for some reason.

Anyway, this book chronicles Wrestling at the Chase and the St. Louis Wrestling Club. Obviously, it covers much of the same ground as Larry Matysik's Wrestling at the Chase book. Since this is a coffee table book, the history of Wrestling at the Chase is explored at a much higher level.

In addition to a broad overview of the history of the St. Louis Wrestling club, Wheatley presents profiles of wrestlers important to the St. Louis wrestling scene during its heyday, like Dick the Bruiser, King Kong Brody, Lou Thesz, Harley Race, and Ric Flair.

What the book lacks in depth it makes up for in photographs. The book is jammed with photos of wrestlers, buildings, merchandise, vintage ads, flyers, and everything else connected with the wrestling business, even some of Sam Muchnick's notes.

Sadly, Wrestling at the Chase ended the same way here as it did in Larry Matysik's book, eventually run out of business by Vince McMahon's expansion in the early to mid 1980s.

I prefer Larry Matsik's book but this coffee table presentation is a good addition to any wrestling fan's collection. 3.5 out of 5 piledrivers.

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