June 29, 2015

Showcase Presents: Strange Adventures Vol. 1

Hang on a second, some of this doesn't make sen--THE END.

Strange Adventures Vol. 1 presents the book's run from issues #54-73. There are about four stories per issue, which means that they're all really short, coming in at six pages or less.

This wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing. There are plenty of DC stories from the same time period with good short stories. However, Strange Adventures doesn't even seem to try in terms of narrative. Here's what the process feels like:

WRITER: "Hey, I've got the start of an idea!"
EDITOR: "You have twenty minutes to get the full final copy on my desk."

Almost every single story is a half-thought idea that really doesn't go anywhere. It seems like they threw whatever was left over from other books into this one. The fact that writers come and go every single issue makes the case even stronger.

Somebody was paid to come up with this "idea."

I wanted to like this book so bad. I love the goofy Silver Age stories, but there was absolutely no substance to any of these. The only good thing about any of them are the titles. Just by reading some of those, there is so much wasted potential:

The Gorilla who Challenged the World
The Day the Sun Exploded
I Hunted the Radium Man!
The Invisible Masters of Earth!
The Super-Athletes from Outer Space!
The Man Who Remembered 100,000 Years Ago!
I Was the Man in the Moon!
The Man Who Discovered the West Pole!
The Flying Raincoat!
The Talking Flower!
The Man Who Couldn't Drown!
The Man with Four Minds!
Raiders from the Ultra-Violet!
The Man Who Ate Sunshine!
The Skyscraper that Came to Life!

All of the stories end abruptly and unexpectedly. There are so many questions unanswered, and there's usually one panel that desperately attempts to cram in the "explanation" of the entire plot. But there is no plot. Just a huge waste of time. I walked away from each story feeling one of three things:

  1. Very mild amusement
  2. Anger
  3. Total indifference

Of course! How could I have been so blind?

The only counter-argument I find of why these stories are so lame is because they were written for young children. But even if I were eight years old, I would still be pissed at the total incoherency and lack of effort. The artwork doesn't offer much either. All of the people look the same, in the same static poses, never really doing anything.

Pictured: Logic, apparently.

Let me walk you through a story. I can do it quite fast, since there's nothing there to begin with:

1. The government is seeking defense against foreign guided missile attacks
2. An inventor creates a ray that will create a force field around a city
3. He tests it out. Inexplicably, gems rain from the sky, and people collect them
4. The gems exert telepathic commands, controlling people to take over the city
5. The inventor disables the evil gem by shooting his ray (in reverse) directly at it

I just want to punch someone.

Seriously, that's all there is to it. It's just so stupid. There are blind attempts to clumsily explain why shit is happening, but they never actually clarify anything. In fact, they usually just make it worse. Just thinking about it makes me mad.

There can be no other explanation.

Since this book runs smack-dab in the middle of the Atomic Age, nearly every story includes invasion by aliens, some kind of good/bad radiation, or the intense power of America's A-Bomb/H-Bomb. The very thinly veiled Soviet Union fear runs rampant.


Bottom line? Skip it. Just skip it. I am incredibly surprised that not one, but two volumes of Strange Adventures are included in DC's Showcase Presents TPBs. Why, when there are so many other worthwhile things?

June 19, 2015

33 ⅓: Koji Kondo's Super Mario Bros. Soundtrack

Ultimately a letdown.

According to their website:

33 ⅓ is a series of short books about a wide variety of albums, by artists ranging from James Brown to the Beastie Boys. Launched in September 2003, the series now contains 100 titles and is acclaimed and loved by fans, musicians and scholars alike.

This volume is slightly different in that it covers Koji Kondo's work on the original Super Mario Bros. (NES). While I vehemently agree that this work deserves to be broken down to its components and analyzed, the author goes out of their way to unnecessarily lengthen the book, and it's quite tedious at points.

Schartmann definitely has the musical knowledge and know-how to effectively dissect this musical work, and it shows. His analysis is spot-on and quite engaging. I thoroughly enjoyed that part of the book. Unfortunately, it takes nearly 50 pages to reach that point. Out of the 150 page count, only a third is applicable to the title. The rest is tangents attempting to make connections to unrelated or irrelevant material. There's too much speculation and trivial guesswork going on that's not even related to the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack in the first place.

The author himself states that Kondo is tight-lipped about his process and influences, but Schartmann attempts to guess anyway, because why the hell not? This often leads to a bunch of material that is neither engaging nor important. Schartmann will even end long tangential thoughts with a statement like, "Unrelated, but interesting nonetheless." Sorry, but it really isn't.

Any factual information about Kondo is pulled from other sources, and if you're buying this book, you most likely already know the information.

I didn't pick this book up to read Schartmann's personal thoughts, philosophy, and assumptions. I picked it up for a detailed analysis of the Super Mario Bros. soundtrack. He delivers it beautifully, but the book easily could have been crunched down to a third of its current size.

Also, there's quite a bit of music theory thrown at you. If you do not understand basic score reading, chord progression/identification, form, and notated rhythm, you're best off passing on this one.

Here is the criteria for being able to fully enjoy this book:

  1. Fan of the NES
  2. Fan of Super Mario Bros.
  3. Fan of the music from the game
  4. Trained in essential basic music theory and analysis

That last point really destroys most of the potential audience, which is a shame. It really does a great job  of scrutinizing the game's music, and I truly enjoyed that part. I just didn't want a bunch of personal jargon to go with it.


June 12, 2015

Showcase Presents: Jonah Hex Vol. 1

"...he did have two companions: one was death itself...the other...the acrid smell of gunsmoke."

Jonah Hex Vol. 1 includes stories from All-Star Western (which was later renamed Weird Western Tales) #10-33. The Hex stories run from 1972-1976. Oddly, there are several Outlaw stories included as well.

The character of Jonah Hex was created by John Albano and Tony DeZuniga. The early stories are written and drawn by both of them respectfully. Hex is a staunch antihero. He's on the side of good, but just doing the good deed isn't motivation enough. There's usually some cash involved too, and he will never discuss with anybody lame things like "feelings." He's rough, gruff, and tough. His entire character and background plays out like a Greek tragedy, and are incredibly well-written. It is one of my top Showcase Presents volumes so far.

The early stories pick and choose from Hex's adventures. There's no solid timeline of events. This is totally fine, because each standalone story is great. All you need to know is presented up front. Hex is a bitter loner, master gunman, and bounty hunter with a past that he's not in the mood to talk about. There are many classic Western themes throughout this volume. If you've ever seen a "classic Western film," you can expect to find similar characteristics in these stories. And like most of those stories, bad things happen to good people. There's just no way around it. It makes all of the stories that much more tragic and real.

Thinking this literally right before she's murdered by a knife-wielding maniac.

At issue #22, Michael Fleisher takes over writing duties. He immediately starts to throw backstory and extended story arcs everywhere. It isn't necessarily bad, but it's too much too fast. He also, unfortunately, takes Albano's dialogue accents to the absolute extreme. Eventually it's toned down to tolerable levels, but for a while some of it's near unreadable.

Everyone. All the time.

There are several stories with human rights motives. They include Native Americans, women, and African-Americans. Hex is on their side, although he usually has to hide it since every white guy around him is heavily armed and on the opposing side. The stories really capture the untamed frontier that was the West. Even though people were "civilized," it didn't stop some of them from doing anything to get ahead or make a quick buck. It's a great snapshot of post-Civil War America at its best and worst.

The level of violence is quite high. There's a pretty high body count per story, and the main antagonist in each adventure usually gets what's coming to him/her. It could be anyone from a gang of outlaws to a corrupt judge. It's this sense of impending justice that made the Albano stories so good (plus that Hex usually has one last quip before he kills them). But it's not like Hex comes out on top. He is usually cast out from the town even though he just saved all their sorry asses. He never finds a place to settle down (if that's even something he wants), and even if he seems to, some event occurs that would make it impossible. Just when things start to look up for Hex, you can count on something smashing him back down.

Art duties fall mainly to Tony DeZuniga, who does beyond outstanding. Others that carried the art torch include Noly Panaligan, George Moliterni, and Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez. It's all great. The action is presented wonderfully, and the variety of layouts and amount of detail really set this apart. I feel like the original coloring would have obscured some of the intricate line work, so I am more than okay with this being in black and white.

There's a great level of humor pervading almost the whole volume. Even though many of the stories are serious in nature, there's still room for a joke or two.

As stated earlier, the end of this volume includes the complete Outlaw adventures. I know they're still Western stories printed around the same time, but it's a little odd. I would guess their inclusion is to satisfy DC's "Over 500 Pages of Comics!" boast. These stories are quite forgettable, especially compared to the prior Jonah Hex adventures.

Bottom line? Absolutely worth checking out, even if you don't particularly care for Westerns. And you can find it relatively inexpensive, unlike some Showcase Presents volumes. I am pumped for Volume 2.