Monday, March 30, 2015

Between Books - Mondo Marvel Volume One November 1961-December 1962

Mondo Marvel Volume One November 1961-December 1962 by Paul Brian McCoy collects the author's thoughts on his experiment of reading all of Marvel's superhero titles in chronological order.  This volume takes readers from November 1961 and Fantastic Four #1 to Journey into Mystery #87 with McCoy providing very brief summaries and commentary on the early Marvel stories primarily written by Stan Lee with art by Jack Kirby.  Among the stories discussed are the early adventures of the Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Thor, Hulk and Ant-Man.

The bulk of the book is McCoy's observations about the issues.  They are blunt and realistic.  There are some light profanities in his commentary.  The commentaries remind me of the type of discussions often heard on podcasts and on blogs (which is where this project started).  The summaries of each story are very light with me at times questioning what the plot of the discussed issue was about, and that is with me having read some of these tales.  I will say that having sat down and read this that McCoy has helped uncover the trend Lee's writing relying on aliens and Communists.  And that in the first year of Marvel superheroes that the Marvel universe was very underdeveloped.

The book itself is a breezy easy read which a reader can jump in and out of.  I read it on several different devices during down times in my day.  If I had sat down to read it at once it would have likely taken me an hour to read.  This Kindle book sells for 99 cents.  And that is fairly priced for what it is, a light commentary on the first year of Marvel superheroes.  I myself read it for free in the Kindle Unlimited program, which is my preferred price point.

Mondo Marvel Volume One November 1961-December 1962 provides a window to one comic fan's thoughts on Marvel's earliest heroes.  The text is fun as McCoy gives his unfiltered opinions of some of the craziness in Lee and Kirby's early stories and all the aliens and Communists, and sometimes alien Communists, that the legends could dream of.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Cap's Comics - Disney Kingdoms Big Thunder Mountain #1

Regular Cover
A goat munching on dynamite!

A miner enjoying the bath!

Strolling the streets of Rainbow Ridge!

Yes, you have entered the world of Big Thunder Mountain!

Disney Kingdoms Big Thunder Mountain Railroad #1 written by Dennis Hopeless with art by Tigh Walker takes the reader to the Arizona Territory of 1878.  Abigail Bullion travels from the East after the death of her mother to join her father as his oversees the family's mining operation.  But Big Thunder Mountain locating at Rainbow Ridge is not producing gold in the same quantities as the past.  Some speculate that this means they should dig deeper.  But Chandler, a young and handsome miner, speculates that the mountain is telling them to stop digging deep.  Abigail explores her new home and sneaks herself into the mine so she can see the source of the family's finances.  But while in the mountain an incident occurs that leads readers to question who is that masked man?

Brian Crosby Connecting Variant Cover
Overall I think the creative team puts up a solid effort.  Hopeless has written several titles for Marvel in the past.  But I will admit that most of his titles I have read in the past were superheroes.  So I was I was a little worried that he would not pull off a Western story, especially since the genre is not a personal favorite.  And I will admit he succeeds with this issue feeling different than his work I have read previously.  I do think this is more text heavy than Figment, but I never felt it to be too wordy.  and best of all, he provides a story around the back story we already know for the roller coaster.  Walker's art feels like you are brought into the old West.  Though my favorite moment may have been his first appearance of Mr. Bullion, who I think most looks like his inspiration Tony Baxter (the designer of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad) in his first frame. 

Tom Raney Variant Cover
Abigail is a strong role model for young ladies.  She is somewhat non-complaint to her parents, which is a concern for the parent in me.  But she is clearly strong-willed and determined.  She demonstrates that she is teachable as she explores Rainbow Ridge.  And she seeks knowledge.  I personally think she is lead character that both boys and girls can relate to as she has qualities that everyone should admire.

Phantom Group Variant Cover

But as Bob Iger reminds us, Disney must remember the boys too!  And I think that Chandler is going to grow into a character that boys, and again girls, can admire.  He appears to be concerned with doing an accurate job while also being kind to the environment.  And he is truthful.  But if this young man does not serve the bill as a boy role model, I am fairly sure that the unknown masked man will provide a outlaw attitude that will attract young males. 

It has been awhile since the last Disney Kingdoms release and I have missed having a regular release of a Disney Parks themed comic.  I am not a Western guy, but I do love Big Thunder Mountain Railroad.  And the choice to stick close to the Imagineering back story really worked for me, instead of providing new reveals early.  I look forward to Hopeless and Walker playing in this world and more Easter Eggs tracing the story back to the classic roller coaster. 

Monday, March 23, 2015

Between Books - Amusement Park 9-1-1

I worry that there is something wrong with me. I worry that I should not find interest, I will not say enjoyment, in reading books about accidents and crimes in amusement and theme parks. Yet, there I am sending messages to a friend and sharing YouTube videos of amusement park accidents. But that is not odd right?

Amusement Park 9-1-1: Stories of Death, Debauchery & Disaster from An Amusement Park Near You by Kermit Gonzalo details accidents and criminal activities from amusement parks from throughout the United States. Gonzalo delves into documented incidents from Universal Studios, Sea World, Six Flags, Busch Gardens and regional parks from coast-to-coast. The chapters focus on deaths that occurred on park property, or in some cases near them, and the outcomes of these often well documented events. Often, but not always, Gonzalo outlines what triggered events and the ramifications legally and financially when the crisis was over.

I really did find myself highly engaged with this reading as a Disney fan. Gonzalo intentionally leaves out Disney parks, as they could be a book to themselves. So the majority of stories are new to me and involve parks that I have not visited. The stories rate from the sad to the stupid to the angering. Gonzalo’s analysis helps point out how safe amusement parks are. And pointing out that one should never try to retrieve a hat past a sign that says do not enter! The hat is not worth your life! Staff should not find ways to circumvent machine stops. And inspectors need to be properly trained. The tales also help demonstrate the importance of safety programs and engaged employees.

For Disney fans there is a story of a misbehaving Captain America at a Universal park to help make the Disney connection!

I read Amusement Park 9-1-1: Stories of Death, Debauchery & Disaster from An Amusement Park Near You in Kindle format as part of the Kindle Unlimited program. I was pleased with the borrow but probably would not pay $9.44 solely because it is not a Disney Parks book. The Kindle version costs $4.99, which is a bit high for my tastes, but would still lead me to consider its purchase.

Amusement and theme parks are really safe! But they bring a lot of people together at once and honestly things happen. Amusement Park 9-1-1: Stories of Death, Debauchery & Disaster from An Amusement Park Near You reminds us how close the safety margins can be at times and remind us to not take our safety for granted when we visit a theme park.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Cap's Comics - Star Wars: Princess Leia #1

Some days it feels like Star Wars is letting Disney print money.  Star Wars has returned to its original comic home with a vengeance with not one but four titles by the end of April 2015.  March is all about Princess Leia with her title receiving a two issue debut in March.

The story begins at the end of Star Wars (you might call it Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope) as we witness the immediate aftermath of the Battle of Yavin and Princess Leia's reaction to the destruction of her home world.  The reader witnesses the immediate aftermath after the credits as we hear what Leia said or did not say at the medal ceremony.  As the Rebels prepare to run for a new base, everyone has a shared question.  Why is Princess Leia not grieving?  With nothing to do in the retreat, Leia joins forces with a fellow female Rebel, Royalist and Alderaan refuge Evaan in a personal mission to find her people before the Empire can destroy their culture forever.

Of the three Star Wars titles this is my least favorite.  It is Star I like it and like it a lot more than many things I read.  But Star Wars and Star Wars: Darth Vader are pretty hard to match.  I have really enjoyed those titles that feel like Star Wars to me.  I have recently been reading other Mark Waid titles, and I found this more interesting than the current Marvel NOW! Daredevil run, which Waid has received acclaim for.  But I have enjoyed his work on S.H.I.E.L.D. much more.  My self-observation has been that when Waid writes a character I am emotionally attached to I react more positively to his writing.  Princess Leia is not as "dear" to me as Han or Luke since I always wanted to be one of them.  I found the artwork by Terry and Rachel Dobson to be softer than the pencils and inks of the other Wars' titles.  Though it may honestly fit the female-led story with the softer lines then the hard lines found in the Vader title.  She is a princess after all.

Is she a princess or a queen?  There is the issue of her actual title addressed in the book.  She is no longer a Senator, as the Senate does not exist.  The title princess is the one most used.  But, and I have never thought about this before, she is a queen.  Evaan calls it!  But will Leia live up to a royal legacy?

Leia and Evaan may be the Star Wars female odd couple.  One is royal, the other a pilot.  One is cultured, the other blunt.  One is diplomatic, one is crafty.  I have a good feeling about this. 

Now Star Wars: Princess Leia #1 is not perfect.  I have a friend with a strong opinion that I understand.  It is neither my favorite Waid title or Star Wars book.  But I do love me some comic book Star Wars and I will be back for issue #2.  

Monday, March 16, 2015

Between Books - The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Even More Unofficial Disney Stories Never Told

The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Even More Unofficial Disney Stories Never Told by Jim Korkis provides another installment of this popular series.  This volume, like the others, consists of essays of five to 10 pages in length.  There are four main sections; one on Walt Disney stories, one of Disney film stories, one of Disney parks stories and finally one collecting stories from other parts of Disney history.  Part One on Walt Disney addresses firsthand somewhat recent attempts to characterize Walt Disney as a bigot and anti-women.  Also Korkis examines Walt Disney's World War I service and his smoking habits.  The second section on Disney films also contains a chapter with a more recent hook, the truth behind the movie Saving Mr. Banks.  The Disney Parks section includes an look at the creation of Star Wars 2.0 and the first Disneyland Christmas Parade.  And the final section captures the sad biography of Jiminy Cricket's original voice Cliff Edwards and a remembrance of the late Diane Disney Miller, who Korkis knew personally.  

I think it is fair to say that Walt Disney has received some bad press, and bad biographies, over the last few decades.  But in this volume Korkis appears to go on the offensive against those who would like to put labels on the late Disney.  Korkis provides his readers with the facts to challenge those who would like to label Disney with racist or bigoted titles.  And Korkis does make some strong points, especially about the people that Disney worked closely with.  It is hard to imagine Walt Disney without the Sherman Brothers at his side, two Jewish gentlemen.  This image makes it difficult to call Walt Disney anti-Semitic knowing how much support he provided these two legendary songwriters.  And the Sherman example is just one of many.  Korkis makes it clear that Walt Disney raised up creative people, regardless of race or creed.  Now that is not to say that Disney was a perfect man, he was flawed like all of us.  He did follow the same hiring practices of other studios, leading once to Marc Davis not being hired as an animator since it was believed by a screener that he was a woman.  But Korkis' work helps to breakdown uneducated generalizations. 

I will admit that I really like Saving Mr. Banks.  And having a historical background I understand that movies take liberties with historical facts to make a story that an audience can enjoy.  So I very much enjoyed Korkis' laying out what was false, P.L. Travers did not pull her mother out of a river though the senior Travers did attempt suicide in this fashion, and what was true, Travers did once go to Disneyland it just was not with Walt Disney.  This is the sort of chapter that anyone who enjoyed the movie would likely want to dive into just so they can find out if Aunt Ellie really had the parrot-headed umbrella.  

The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Even More Unofficial Disney Stories Never Told is typical of Korkis' writing style and easy to read.  For Disney fans there are likely plenty of nuggets to keep one entertained.  I for example knew nothing about the short Off His Rockers and though I had heard the name Cliff Edwards I found myself very saddened by reading his life story.  For more casual Disney fans, it would make a nice vacation read...especially if heading off to a theme park and preparing for touring by reading about Disney Parks' attractions.   For either audience it is easy to pick-up, read an interesting tale and then return to later in the day with a completely fresh chapter and topic.  I myself read it in this style.  

The Vault of Walt: Volume 3 Even More Unofficial Disney Stories Never Told by Jim Korkis continues to touch a variety of topics from those you thought you knew to those you have never heard about.  And one expects that volume 3 will be far from the last time Korkis opens his Disney vault. 

Review Copy Provided by Theme Park Press

Monday, March 9, 2015

Between Books - Murder in the Magic Kingdom

Okay, when I read The Ride Delegate I was pretty sure that I was going to dislike the book.  I loved it.  When I saw Annie Salisbury had written a fictional mystery, I was sure the combination of mystery novel and what I was sure going to be a young female, like her, was going to not get me excited.  Would Salisbury get me again?

Murder in the Magic Kingdom by Annie Salisbury follows Fantasyland Coordinator Josh.  Josh moved with his girlfriend Jill to Orlando after graduating from college as she entered the Disney College Program.  Eventually Josh got cast by Disney, but Josh and Jill grew apart.  Years later, Josh finds himself still in Orlando, still working for Disney and still without a girlfriend.  One day he goes home sick and when he wakes up the next day and discovers that he has been implicated in the death of another Cast Member within the Magic Kingdom.  Believing that he was falsely accused, but not remembering his sick day, Josh is forced to investigate the murder and clear himself before it is reported to the police.  Josh unravels a complicated plot that includes Imagineering, the Disney Parks and his own past.

I generally do not read fiction unless it is Disney or comic related.  And mysteries are really not my style.  But I really enjoyed Murder in the Magic Kingdom.  I planned to read the book in the margins of my days, planning to read it over weeks.  Instead I found myself racing through it as I needed to know what happened to Josh next.  And I read it in a few days.  I was surprised how well Salisbury wrote a guy, and a male who does not seem to be as enthusiastic about Disney Parks as Salisbury is in real life.   But for being a fictional figure, Josh has problems that seem real with his concerns about relationships, bills and his professional future.  The setting truly felt familiar being in Disney but new as I read about back doors at Disney Hollywood Studios seen through Josh's eyes.

I am in a current pattern of not reading fiction in physical books.  So I would reach first for the Kindle version, priced really nicely at $4.99.  It is well worth the price for a book that would be an enjoyable summer/vacation read.  Honestly, it may be the first suggestion I have for summer 2015.  Disney fans will really enjoy the read due to the setting and the backstage views of the park.  The book though featuring a murder is appropriate for a tween and older.  And it is written in a clear way that all readers should be able to grasp. 

Annie Salisbury has done it again.  I found Murder in the Magic Kingdom to be an engaging read that I could not put down.  And this was a great surprise because I do not typically enjoy mysteries.  I think a well written character with real world problems and a Disney setting helped make this a strong recommendation for me.  Now I plan to start my review for any new Salisbury book with how much I planned to love it! 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Between Books - Lights

Lights: Imagination, Egos, Mystery, Deceit and 523,814 Lights by Ben Sherman provides a fictional accounting of how the Disneyland Main Street Electrical Parade came into being.  The book follows Ray Lawrence from the Character Department, who is selected to create from scratch a new entertainment offering...a light parade.  The book starts in September 1970, when Lawrence meets with Bernie Gold to brainstorm possibilities for a night parade.  The story follows Lawrence over the next few years as he navigates unions, budgets, office politics and backstabbing as he creates and implements the parade.  The story ends as Lawrence and his crew surpasses the obstacles put into place by Disney executives to successfully launch the parade.  

My confession here is I thought Lights would be very boring.  A fictional book about office politics does not sound exciting at all to me.  Where are the unnecessary explosions?  But actually the book was really engaging and kept my attention despite the fact the action is all very low key and the only stakes are a few jobs.  But I really got caught up into the story as Lawrence tried to do the right thing with employees considering unions, his inability to understand Disney leadership, his casting of dancers, teaching a young man to become Grumpy and finally the inevitable of launching the parade.  Sherman writes clearly and kept my attention despite the subject matter.

The story is based on real events.  And there have been a few times that I have Googled trying to figure out who I think Ray Lawrence could be.  There are some figures that are easy to identify.  Jack Warner is really Jack Wagner, with the fictional figure sharing the same real sound roles with the real Disney Legend.  And I could imagine that the practices and work areas really occurred like that.  There is a supernatural moment that occurs that I would love to know if someone really believed it happened or if it was added to embellish the story.  In the end, I have given up trying to find the specifics and just enjoyed the story.

At $6.50 this book is a little high price wise for my preferences.  I really wish it was closer to the $3 range.  But it is available on Kindle Unlimited as a book one can borrow.  And I do think that is a book that any Disney parade fan will find enjoyable.

Lights is a story of deceit and lies and magic.  As a reader you know that the parade will launch in summer 1972 and run for decades.  But as one worries if Ray Lawrence will keep his job, you leave satisfied with the enjoyable read.