Friday, May 26, 2023

Between Books - Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1


Sometimes I think it’s fashionable to question the writing skill of Stan Lee. Many want to credit him for his marketing and promotional skills, but not his writing. We all know that The Fantastic Four changed the comics industry. But often the credit goes to Lee’s co-creators and not Lee. But for me, I have often argued that Lee was someone who was creative and artistic and partnered with other fantastic creatives to make great things.

Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1 collects the first thirteen issues of the 1960s comic written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby and Dick Ayers. The stories depict the fictional United States Army Commando Nick Fury and his band of seven Howling Commandos. They are sent on secret missions in the European Theater of Operations, once to the Pacific. The missions are generally the same, something fantastical for non-superheroes to complete. And generally, Fury and his Howlers win the day (okay there are more volumes) through teamwork and fierce dedication to duty.

The stories are as good as any military action movie not based on a true story. Lee deals head-on with issues of class and race which were prevalent in the discourse of the 1960s. He does not hide from it but instead gives a very traditional conservative military landscape for these issues to be played out. And in the heat of battle, as one would expect, right often wins out. And while Kirby may have framed the action, we cannot forget that these messages were scripted with words given by Lee and are very consistent with his other writings on social issues.

There is a reality to this writing. This is a war story, not a superhero one. And yes, Captain America and Bucky do make a co-starring appearance. Yes, Baron Strucker is a villain, but he is one on par with Sargent Fury, not Captain America or future Agent Nick Fury. This volume reminds us that while Marvel is known for superheroes, we cannot forget comics including multiple genres including military, horror, and romance, formats that Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all familiar with. A constant complaint about comic stories is that they often lack weight. If you are not Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben, you can be killed and return again. But here, characters are killed, and we know they have passed. As a reader, you can feel the grief. Lee and his artists crafted tales they felt were real.

I have an unpopular opinion. Jack Kirby draws really ugly people. Often in comic books, this doesn’t work for me because superheroes are well pretty. Kirby’s art works perfectly here. This Fury is ugly. He is a dogface, unpretty, and not yet Marvel’s super spy. Dino Manelli, the pretty boy in the group and former actor, looks very different from the gruff squad leader. And of course fan favorite Dum Dum Dugan looks differently than both of them. Kirby’s art works perfectly for me, and Ayers when he picks it up matches pencil to pencil. They created a group of separate models that differ and do not merge.

I’d say don’t sleep on Marvel Masterworks Presents Sgt. Fury and His Howling Commandos, Volume 1. I found a kindle version for less than a dollar. Kindle Marvel collections often are put on deep discounts. Lee, Kirby, and Ayers were all veterans of World War II and clearly were passionate about telling the story of Fury and his men, giving it more realism than one expects from a Marvel title. The collection also reminds us why Lee and Kirby really were the masters of their industry, especially when collaborating together.

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Monday, May 15, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha



That’s how it started. I opened up the Kindle edition of Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha and saw it was a script, not a book and I could not do it. I returned the book immediately and requested the audiobook immediately! This was a good choice.

Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann provides us with a narrative of a moment from the High Republic that other books have hinted at. The battle was a moment where the Path of the Open Hand challenged the Jedi’s ability to make peace in the Forever War, many Jedi were lost, and the Order was at a low point. The audiobook provides a dramatic account of the incident, complete with total audio production. The story covers a few days on Jedha as the Republic attempts to sign a major peace agreement, and the Path of the Open Hand attempts to strike silently at the prestige of the Jedi. The manipulations of the Path create a full-out battle on the world that we best know from Rogue One. There is a lot of action and fighting to keep the listener entertained.

No Yodas appear in this adventure.

I grew up loving audio shows. I had a volunteer experience where I could listen freely to old-time audio shows like The Shadow. And while I had read a script version of a Star Wars book/audio presentation in the past, I simply could not do it again. I needed the version as it was intended to be, an audio presentation with all its narration, acting, audio cues, and sound effects. And I was happy that I went to the story as it was meant to be. It was entertaining. It did its job, even being a tale from the High Republic which I am not in love with.

I do grumble a little bit about the Forever War…it’s lasted all of five years! That oddly does not feel like forever. Even in our world, the Forever War seems to have lasted a natural amount of time. I would have preferred a name like the War of Water and Sand! I just think the name was a little misplaced especially in a galaxy where the creators could have made it last 100 years or more.

This story also shows the Jedi to not be all the powerful and beloved space wizards we may expect. At Jedha, the Jedi are just one of many brands of Force users. Not everyone trusts the Jedi. This makes the manipulations of the Path even more believable. This is likely my favorite story point as we see Jedi vulnerable to galactic opinion.

I am a fan of audio productions. And Star Wars: The Battle of Jedha by George Mann is produced well with a professional cast and plenty of sound effects to keep a listener engaged. The voice actors help you care about these Jedi who you know nothing about due to voice inflection and acting. I support not reading this book and listening instead as the actors and production allow you to hear the script notes versus reading them and imagining what it should like instead. This entry is likely my favorite of the early High Republic stories, due to the well-executed production of the sound team to support Mann’s writing.

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Monday, May 8, 2023

Between Books - Agent Carter: Season One Declassified

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified has sat on my shelves for years wrapped in plastic. I popped it open wondering if this volume would better inform my one viewing years ago.

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez walks readers through the first season of the 2015 ABC Marvel series. The book frames the question of how a Marvel One-Shot evolved into a series. Then Rodriguez provides an episode guide for each of the eight stories. And then finally, the book ends with production notes including special effects, wardrobe, hair and makeup, and other production services that lead to the final product of our home screens. The text is adorned with numerous striking color set photos and production art.

I am conflicted about this volume. Visually, the photos and art really pull us into Agent Carter's world. I find quotes from Hayley Atwell to be fun and delightful. But there are only, yeah just only, eight episodes. And while this is the same size as the other MCU art of books, it does feel a little thin. Television does have less production time than a movie, so there is a lot less art. Also, the book feels more publicity than behind-the-scenes secret sharing. The quotes and interviews provided to Rodriguez feel like publicity. And while there are a lot of set photos they feel like they have tossed every publicity shot onto the pages.

If anything, the thing that is frustrating to me is the book’s production. For example, 99.9999% of the photos have no captions. And since I have not watched this show in five years, I may have forgotten who some secondary characters are. Also, I have no idea who the producers, directors, showrunners, and other production staff are. There are pictures where a director may be speaking to Atwell, but please don’t ask me who that nameless man is!

Agent Carter: Season One Declassified by Sarah Rodriguez gave me a flashback to when Agent Carter was on TV and Disney+ didn’t exist yet. It was fun to remember and I found myself arguing to myself that I needed to have a rewatch soon. I guess that’s the win, it is a publicity book that convinced me I need to watch a series I have already seen. But I don’t feel like I unlocked the code of Agent Peggy Carter and her corner of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 


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Friday, April 28, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm


In Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence stuff happened. Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm launches from the earlier book’s stuff with worlds we don’t know, heroes we’ve just met, Jedi we barely know, and an enemy that we’ve never seen on film or tv.

Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm by Lydia Kang continues the second phase of The High Republic. Newly married Phan-tu Zenn and Xiri A'lbaran hope for peace for their warring worlds of Eiram and E’ronoh. Still, an unseen enemy works against the young heirs to the thrones of their worlds and they are separated after an attack against the potential peace. Xiri and a group of Jedi travel to Dalana to confront the Path of the Open Hand for their role in the potentially world-killing threat. We of course know that the Path of the Open Hand are really the big bad. On Dalna, numerous Jedi, politicians, and lost young people coverage for a massive battle where the Jedi may not have the advantage.

I did like this volume more than the earlier offering. I think there were numerous reasons. First, I had met the main cast before and had developed feelings about them. And with them being all newer cast members they were all at risk at every moment, so we have the tension that Kang likely wished to create. Second, Kang was able to avoid a trap other authors have been asked to take on, mentioning Yoda without actually showing Yoda. And in this case, we are able to see actions from both Yoda and Yaddle, two Jedi that are well-known to Star Wars fans. And I really do believe that having some familiar characters who we know will escape this battle is beneficial to the entire story

Also, this story is action packed It feels like the whole second half of the book is action. This fact provides a payoff for Star Wars: The High Republic Convergence. It is finally faster more intense action.

Honestly, I am still not in love with The High Republic! Sorry, it’s not for me. But this installment is likely my favorite volume to date. I do feel like Kang in Star Wars: The High Republic Cataclysm did succeed in providing a book that was packed with action and generally kept my interest.

Maybe I am a sucker for Yoda doing a thing instead of being talked about as a wise warrior who is so far off-screen that we know we will never see him swing a lightsaber. I have a feeling I am not the only one with that opinion.

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Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Between Books - The Official Walt Disney Quote Book



Book cover for The Official Walt Disney Quote Book with a portrait of a smiling Walt Disney.

“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all the troubles and obstacles have strengthened me.” Walt Disney

That just has to inspire you as a Disney fan, even when you have a bad day!

We know the story. We know how it started and ended. And we know there was a lot of adversity.

The Official Walt Disney Quote Book by the Walt Disney Archives provides us not a story but quotes such as the one above to inspire our spirit, jumpstart our imagination, and provide us insights directly from Walt Disney. The book is divided into 21 chapters around themes such as films and animation, the Disney theme parks, television, animals and nature, family, life, wonder, and more. The quotes are a page or less in eye-catching fonts on pages embellished with pictures from Walt Disney’s life. While there is no index, as topics are easy to look for in their chapters, the Walt Disney Archives staff does provide an original source for all quotes and images.

This book is honest. It is a quote book, and there is no story provided. Though the themes of the chapters do provide some thematic cohesion that keeps readers from feeling like they are jumping from topic to topic to topic and I quite like it. The title is part of the Disney 100 campaign, with Disney Editions making it very visually attractive with its hardcover adorned by Walt Disney along with good use of fonts and images on the page. The text can easily serve as a thought jogger as one considers Disney and non-Disney topics.

I do have another Walt Disney quote book printed in the 1990s for the parks, which I have not reviewed. That edition is smaller and softcover. And honestly, it does not look as good on the shelf. It also has 100 plus chapters, which are really headers with multiple topics on the page and not thematic but in alphabetic order. That version may make it easier to find a topic, but it lacks the idea of moving together a story.

Is The Official Walt Disney Quote Book by the Walt Disney Archives for everyone? Probably not. It is however attractive visually and I like having it where I can quickly grab it when I need a Walt Disney quote. Yes, I could get those in an internet search too, but it doesn’t feel as satisfying as flipping the pages myself. Often times inspiration for me is easier to find on a page in my hand than a screen in front of my face.

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Wednesday, April 12, 2023

Between Books - Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars

Book covering of Star Wars Jedi Battle Scars showing the 4 crew members of the Stinger Mantis with a large image of an Inquistor in the background.

Cal Kestis…never heard of him!

Okay, maybe I heard about him with they started selling his lightsaber in Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge. I saw the excitement. I recognized the actor/model from Gotham. But I had no interest because I’m not a gamer and have never played Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order.

Also, many of you may have suggested that Star Wars books and I go on a break because the Old Republic has made me really grumpy.

But hey, I read these so you don’t have to…you’re welcome!

Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs follows former Jedi Cal Kestis and the crew of the Stinger Mantis about a decade after the fall of the Jedi and Order 66. Kestis and his crew are drawn into a caper to acquire a super secret super powerful piece of technology before the Empire can get it. Leading the empire’s attempt to collect this item is an Inquisitor who is also seeking to kill or turn Kestis and his Jedi master. As the crew plans and executes their plan, we are pulled into all the emotions of the crew.

I am familiar with Star Wars. I know the general story of the Empire and the Jedi refugees post-Order 66. I know what Inquisitors are, I’ve seen them in comics, animation, and live-action. I even feel the pain of former Jedi as they hide from the Empire. So while I was not familiar with Kestis, there are enough context clues around me to put me into the story without me saying I know this world but this isn’t right and gosh now my head hurts. Basically, I think unlike the Old Republic the pre-knowledge from being tied to the already well-built Star Wars era makes this functional for me. So yeah, look at me not railing against this and being really mad. I was entertained!

This book is a caper. It is Star Wars: Firefly with Maggs (and the video game designers maybe) giving us a ship and a well-designed crew of misfits that many of us can see likable traits in. With my brain not hurting, I was able to slip into the story and just let it do its job, tell me a story. I was also willing to get to know the characters better.

Kestis wasn’t even my favorite character. It was Merrin the Dathomir Nightsister. Again, I think it helps that we’ve met Nightsisters before in Ventress and have been pre-delivered the background of these non-Jedi force users. Merrin gives us very “human” emotions of grief, trauma, and multiple versions of love. In fact, we see with Merrin a Star Wars character who does something I rarely believe happens in this universe, display intimacy.

Boom, Star Wars Jedi: Battle Scars by Sam Maggs did the job. I was entertained! To me, that’s really the job of a Star Wars book. It is escapist fiction and works best when I get pulled into a fun adventure. Here, I also get the bonus of some real emotional character reflections that make me feel like this crew is, well, real.

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Thursday, March 30, 2023

Between Books - The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder

Book cover for The Story of Disney 100 Years of Wonder with shilloutes of Disney characters ringed along the edges of the book.

No hologram Walts here my friend!

The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder by John Baxter, Bruce C. Steele, and the Staff of the Walt Disney Archives is a companion book to the Disney100: The Exhibition which began traveling the world in 2023 to coincide with the Walt Disney Company’s 100th year. The book is broken into topics that include the foundation of the company, adventure, innovation, the parks, sound, and others. Since the book is topical, each chapter generally covers large spans of the company’s century of history and multiple subtopics. Each chapter comes across as an essay with a variety of supporting color images and interstitials that highlights historic people or moments.

This text is trying to capture in a visually pleasing way 100 years of history. This is a drinking from the firehouse situation. As a reader, you will get deep on nothing. But you will glance off a lot of Disney creations as they get namechecked for their historical contributions. It does at times feel like films and tv get more space than parks, but the parks-specific essay is in the last half of the book. If one was to teach a course on Disney history, The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder could serve as the textbook. But other texts would be required to ensure that students could learn deeply on specifics. The images are visually wonderful, as one would expect from the Disney Archives.

I do find it interesting how Bob Chapek is managed in this book. The book was being completed during the time that Bob Chapek’s tenure began to sour and eventually Bob Iger returned as CEO. Chapek is thanked for his interviews…but he’s never mentioned in the text of the book. But Bob Iger is really prominent as he adds color to the company’s history. I speculate that much of the real estate given to Iger speaking as the company’s leader may originally have been reserved for Chapek. And with him leaving the company, he was replaced and removed from the history. Disney can be very controlling of their history’s image. And I wonder if, like Michael Eisner, who is mentioned once, we will see Chapek have a historical return in a few decades, especially for his work in home video.

The Story of Disney: 100 Years of Wonder
by John Baxter, Bruce C. Steele, and the Staff of the Walt Disney Archives is a celebration of 100 years. It is visually appealing with text that varies between historical examination and marketing speak, as one would find in D23 Magazine. And that is not shocking with contributors that are often asked to fill this assignment of informing fans about and marketing Disney products.

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