26 July 2011

Re-Cap, Part 15: The Night Fever People

Greetings, fans of the Star-Spangled Avenger! Quite a span has past since the last episode of “Re-Cap.” Part 14 was back in May of 2010, over a year ago. Since that, something has happened in the world of Captain America, something important . . .

Like a terrific live-action film! But I’ve gushed about that already.

With the excitement of the movie pulsing in my veins, I’ve returned to the to comics. But here’s a painful truth: even though Cap is my favorite superhero, I can only read so much concentrated comic book material at a time before I burn out. Over the last year I have kept up on the trade paperbacks of the current run with Ed Brubaker, which continues its amazing quality; it is now one of the definite eras of Cap’s history. But in the back-issues, I stalled once reaching issue #200 (July 1976). The ‘70s Jack Kirby artist/writer run—it doesn’t work for me. It pains me to say this about one of the greatest artists in the medium, and a former judge of the Illustrators of the Future Contest, but I am not enjoying these comics. The art is great, because Jack Kirby is rarely less than stellar. But his stories are silly and/or weird, the dialogue melodramatic, and so many of the interesting subplots and supporting cast that developed during Steve Englehart’s great run have vanished. Worst of all, although Jack Kirby can still draw Captain America like nobody else, the stories Kirby puts him in don’t suit him at all.

Once I got through the eight-issue slog of the “Madbomb” story, I didn’t feel like charging on to the rest of it yet.

But I’m back. The movie has infected me with fresh Cap-mania, so I’m going to power through the rest of Kirby’s run. Then I will go read his Devil Dinosaur comics and feel better about him. (I did promise at one point to review all those issues, right? Eventually, eventually, True Believers.)

25 July 2011

Captain America: The First Avenger Is Marvel’s Best Film Yet

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)
Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Chris Evans, Hugo Weaving, Tommy Lee Jones, Hayley Atwell, Stanley Tucci, Toby Jones, Sebastian Stan.

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

How much a geek am I? After my first screening of Captain America, I stood up and thrust both my hands in the air with balled fists and screamed “Hail HYDRA!” Yeah, they may be the bad guys, but they have a great rallying cry.

I have waited since I was twelve years old for a big theatrical Captain America movie. (That 1990s straight-to-vid quickie directed by Albert Pyun does not count.) Ever since I was old enough to read comics on my own, Cap was my favorite superhero. I have spent an enormous amount of time on this blog with my series “Re-Cap,” following the chronological history of the Captain America comic book. All that Captain America: The First Avenger needed to do was not mess up Joe Simon and Jack Kirby’s star-spangled hero and I would be happy.

Now I’m ecstatic. I unabashedly love this movie. It is the finest product yet to come from Marvel Studios and one of the best superhero movies ever made. I’m going back to see it a second time the moment I can. (In fact, by the time you read this, I probably will already have seen it a second time; I watched the first show on Friday morning.)

21 July 2011

Book Review: Dan Barry’s Daughter

Dan Barry’s Daughter (1923)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

Spoiler Surgeon General’s Warning: Since this novel is a sequel to The Seventh Man, which I reviewed earlier this week, any discussion of its plot will hint at the conclusion of that novel. Although I will try to avoid direct references, indirect inferences are impossible to stop.

Dan Barry’s Daughter was serialized in six parts in Argosy/All-Story (June–August 1923) and published in hardcover from Putnam the next year. Argosy/All-Story serialized the three previous “Whistling Dan Barry” novels, The Untamed (1918), The Night Horseman (1920), and The Seventh Man (1921). That last novel appeared to bring the saga to a definitive close, but a flood of letters from readers demanded more. Faust found a way to continue the story: he moved time forward sixteen years to make Joan, Dan’s tiny daughter and the hinge of the conflict of The Seventh Man, into the main character.

Dan Barry’s Daughter shows the author’s fatigue with the series; he felt he was finished with it, and in places the novel struggles to get its chase-suspense plot moving. When centering on Joan Barry, the novel excels, but when mapping out the adventures of its more standard “man-on-the-run” half of the plot, the novel feels scatter-shot and overly dependent on convenience and coincidence.

18 July 2011

Masterpiece: The Seventh Man

The Seventh Man (1921)
By Frederick Faust writing as Max Brand

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

Prelim: The Seventh Man is in the public domain and available for free from Project Gutenberg in a variety of e-book formats. If you want a hard copy, there is a paperback print-on-demand edition available from Phoenix Rider; I do not know what the text quality is on it, but it’s only $5.99. Bottom line: no excuse not to give the novel a try.

Last year, I posted three articles about Frederick Faust, a staggeringly prolific author of Western fiction and other genres for the pulp magazines. Writing under the pseudonym “Max Brand” and eighteen others pen names, Faust was a one-man writing army that dominated the Western fiction field from the end of World War I until his death as a journalist on the Italian front in World War II. Readers responded positively to the three articles, the first covering Brand’s general career, the next analyzing a collection of his early Western short fiction, and the third examining his rare foray into science fiction, The Smoking Land.

But the response that interested me the most was my own. Those are among my favorite posts I’ve put up on Black Gate in the three years I’ve held this Tuesday spot. It isn’t that I feel proud of the writing and research on them. It’s that they made me realize what an anchor Frederick Faust is in my own writing, and how much I learn from him every time I read one of works. Reading Faust and researching his life and his letters is like coming home to a place that I don’t realize is “home” when I’m away from it.

So I’ve returned to the topic, and I’ve brought one of Faust’s great novels with me, The Seventh Man (1921). So far, I’ve only examined the Western through his short stories, but Faust’s major impact on the genre is in his novels.

13 July 2011

The “Acolyte of Black Spires” dance—with optional soundtrack!

I should have posted this a bit earlier, but Author Services did a break-down of the complete Writers of the Future 2011 Ceremony into individual videos, so you no longer have to speed through to a specific point to view my segment of the evening.

Click play, and you’ll go directly to the interpretive dance for “An Acolyte of Black Spires,̦” followed by me blubbering on stage.

Now here’s some geek fun. I like to play the track “Final Dream” from the Dune score by Toto over the dance. It fits perfectly to the dance’s movements, and it’s also a piece of music on my “Ahn-Tarqa” mix that I use as inspiration when writing about the continent. I’ve always associated the theme with the Shapers. If you want to synch up the two, start playing the video below of “Final Dream,” and at the 0:10 mark, begin the video for the dance above (with its sound turned off).

12 July 2011

Masterpiece: The Sword of Rhiannon

The Sword of Rhiannon (1949)
By Leigh Brackett

Cross-posted to Black Gate.

I committed a major heresy, in public and on record, against the sword-and-sorcery community when I stated on the audio of a podcast that, in the realm of “sword-and-sorcery” fiction, I prefer Leigh Brackett over Robert E. Howard. I understand why most sword-and-sorcery readers cannot go with me on this. Howard is, after all, the Enthroned God of the genre. And, strictly speaking, Brackett did not write fantasy or historicals. Her specialty was action-oriented science fiction with heavy fantasy influences, the sub-genre of science-fantasy known as “planetary romance.” (Sometimes called “sword-and-planet.” I hate that term.)

I love Robert E. Howard’s work; it’s foundational for me. But, it’s “not that I love Howard less, but that I love Brackett more.” To that extent, I want to promote the sheer awesomeness that is Leigh Brackett whenever I can. And in her 1949 novel The Sword of Rhiannon, she reached what I believe is her apex: a planetary romance set across an ancient version of Mars, crammed with sword-swinging action, pirate-style swashbuckling, alien super-science, a hero as flinty as granite, an alluring and surprising femme fatale warrior, and an overarching theme of redemption, loss, and futility that ends up pushing what sounds like a standard adventure into a work of intricacy and overwhelming emotion.