Saturday, September 13, 2014

Video Find: Rolling Stones Gather Moss (British Pathé News 1964)

Pop reviews: Marvel's Complete Invaders; Jack Kirby - A Personal View

What I've been watching, hearing, reading, etc.

I probably shouldn't admit this, but much of what I know about World War II, I learned reading Roy Thomas comic books.

I was a big fan of Marvel's "Invaders" in the 1970s and DC's "All-Star Squadron" in the 1980s, both scripted by Thomas, and both featuring iconic superheroes battling Axis troops and assorted Nazi baddies.

On both books, Thomas was a whiz at keeping the action flowing, but also managed to work in a lot of history. Never breaking the flow of the story, but adding richness to the period detail, he'd include little footnotes about historical events; define military jargon, 40s slang and German phrases, and share a wealth of information about Golden Age comics to boot.

So, it's been fun revisiting some of those stories over the past week or so via "The Complete Invaders," a recent 500-page paperback that collects the first chunk of Roy's run in full-color.

The reproduction is great and the stories hold up well. With Captain America -- along with the Human Torch and Sub-Mariner -- in their ranks, I'm sure the "Invaders" likely appeal to fans of the first Cap movie and it's WWII setting.

There's no deep digging into character here, as compared to other 1970s Marvel stories - just some routine squabbling amongst the key characters when they aren't busy knocking Nazi's skulls together. But there are some great plot twists and incidental characters, such as "Brain Drain" - Nazi genius that's essentially a pair of floating eyes and disembodied brain in a glass bottle - and the first appearances by Nazi vampire Baron Blood and Brit superhero Union Jack.

It reads well in collected form, too, with stories holding your interest and building from issue to issue. It makes you recall how good Marvel was at this sort of thing back in the Bronze Age, and how disjointed and padded out most  single-issue comics are today.

I remember many fans taking issue with comic strip vet Frank Robbins' art on this title, but I love it. His line is jagged and heavy. His figures and faces are cartoony. And he takes liberties with dynamic foreshortening that might give even Jack Kirby pause. But the art just works. It has a 40s feel and Robbins' visual storytelling and flow of action is superb.

A second volume rounding up the 1970s run is due out in December.

I'm a fan of Kickstarter as a concept and have donated to a few projects here and there, but I think Jeremy Kirby's new book about his grandfather, Jack, is the first actual product I've received as a result.

"Jack Kirby: A Personal View" is just that - a collection of family photos depicting America's most influential comic book artist at home and relaxed. There's not a wealth of biographical detail or Kirby artworks on display, but the photographs tell a story remarkably talented, hardworking and family-loving man.

Along with the photos, there's the text of an original play/screenplay Kirby wrote - a family melodrama, not a tale about superheroes or fantastical gods. It's interesting to read Kirby's dialogue and see his plotting in text. Much of the writing is quite good and the dialogue is more natural that that used in his self-scripted works of the 1970s and 80s, though the plot is not terribly strong.

The book should be of interest to the growing number of comics and Kirby scholars out there.

Pop Artifact: Batman paddle ball game

Today's Best Picture Ever: Elvis Presley

Pop review: Sgt. Pepper - in mono, on vinyl 2014!

If you follow this blog and - particularly - my new Glass Onion Beatles Journal, you know I'm nuts about the Fab Four. Yet, I've refrained from spending a car payment on the new box set collecting the band's mono recordings on vinyl LPs.

It's not because I don't want these LPs. I'd just rather get them one at a time. It's easier on the pocketbook in the short-term, plus individual LPs are easier to pull off a shelf when you want them. I suppose I could just shelve them without the box. But then I'd have a big empty box sitting around.

But, anyway: Mono - how come?

Beatles collectors will tell you there are substantial differences between the albums mixed in mono and their stereo counterparts. It's not known if normal people can detect these differences, but they do exist.

Sometimes there are variations in how the vocals sound, or when songs end, different guitar solos, etc.

There also are quite noticeable difference in songs off Sgt. Pepper and the "White Album" that contains animal noises and other sound effects.

The mono version of "Back in the U.S.S.R.," for example, features more use of the jet plane sound effect than in the stereo version. On the mono "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)" there's talking at the start of the track and more hooping and hollering by Paul before the fade into "A Day in the Life."

Mono partisans also talk a lot about how those versions sound "punchier," more direct, with richer bass, more prominent drums, etc., than the stereo mixes. And, depending on the songs in question, I think that's true.

And, finally, some fans make a fairly convincing case that the mono mixes are truer to the Beatles' intentions, since the band tended to invest their time on these mixes while leaving the stereo mixes to producer George Martin and his recording engineers.  This was mainly due to the fact that, up until the late 1960s, most listeners listened in mono.

So, yes, mono. But weren't all those mixes already released several years back on CD?

Yes, they were. And they sound great. But these new LPs still hold allure. For starters, they were mastered direct from tape - all in analog with no digital fiddling. They are closer to the sound of the records that came out in the 1960s, but on better vinyl and with more fastidious mastering.

I went with Sgt. Pepper as my admittedly unoriginal first choice mainly because I love the mono mix, which is quite different from the stereo and figured it would be a good test for how well EMI/Apple did with these new LPs.
The answer, in short, is "fantastic."

The pressing is immaculate, with no surface noise, and the 180-gram vinyl is sturdy and flawless.

The music sound great, too. There's a very natural sound to the instruments and, especially, the vocals. You can hear lots of detail and nuance. There's great clarity, but without the dry, sometimes sterile, sound you sometimes hear on CDs.

The packaging is also notable. The famous cover is printed on durable, glossy stock. The paper cut-outs of Sgt. Pepper, etc., are printed on heavy card stock in vivid, faithful color.

EMI even tossed in a replica of the original inner sleeve, featuring a wavy pink psychedelic design created by the Dutch collective, the Fool. The actual LP, however, is in a new plastic-lined paper sleeve to protect it from scratches.

From this LP at least, it looks like Apple/EMI did everything just right. Which makes me wanted to hear more of these things soon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

See three video teasers for Star Wars: Rebels

Video Find: Sam Cooke performs "You Send Me"

New pics: Doctor Who "Listen"

Some images from this week's episode of "Doctor Who."

Today's Best Picture Ever: Marilyn Monroe and Ella Fitzgerald

Pop Culture Roundup: The Clangers; Keith Richards; Mel Brooks; iPod Classic; James Bond

Monty Python's Michael Palin will narrate "The Clangers," a revival of a beloved 1960s British TV program.
The CBeebies programme will air in the UK next spring.

"The world of the Clangers is delightful and irresistible," Palin said. The original show first aired in 1969 on BBC One.

The clangers communicate with unusual whistles while the narrator comments on the events that take place in their universe.

Palin added: "It's a real pleasure and a great privilege to be a part of its return to television."


Keith Richards chats about his new children's book. Yeah. Really.
My publishers first came up with this idea. They said, "There's certain chapters about your grandfather that could make a great children's book." Children's book? This is not my line (laughs). ... And just about that same time my eldest daughter ... she said, "Guess what?" And I know that look in a woman's eyes. "Don't tell me you're pregnant, which means fifth grandchild." ... I thought, "Hey, there's something to be said for this" and I've always wanted to give my ole grandfather Gus, bless him, a little more memorial than he's had.


Comedian Mel Brooks wore a fake fingerprint during tribute ceremony in Hollywood this week, leaving 11 fingerprints in the concrete outside the TCL Chinese Theatre.

He also kept his shoes on when leaving his footprints.

The big news from Apple this week? Forget about phones and watches, the beloved iPod Classic is being discontinued.

I still use mine all the time. As a music player it holds a zillion songs (mine is 160GB) and sounds much superior to what you can hear on a phone, especially if you upload tunes in a high-quality or lossless format.


One man's ginormous James Bond collection.

Fab Friday: Beatles Fan Club welcome letter

Visit The Glass Onion Beatles Journal for more on the Fabs!

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: The new Doctor Who

Putting a new face on "Doctor Who" is always a risk. And this time out, the show's creators have taken an exceptional gamble.

Not that Peter Capaldi is a bad actor - he's fantastic. Check out "In the Loop."

But his face is much different from that of his immediate predecessors.

Capaldi's older for a start: 56 compared to Matt Smith's 31, and not nearly as cute a cuddly as Smith or David Tennant before him. Plus, he's got gray hair, a scrawny frame and an owlish countenance.

It's a more severe look, to be sure. But the new Doctor has undergone a slight personality shift to match it.

Still goofy and funny much of the time, this Doctor also tends to be more grim and temperamental. There's a fresh edge to him that's mysterious and keeps you on your toes.

In many ways, actually, he reminds me of Tom Baker's Doctor, which isn't a bad thing at all.

Baker could be silly, absent-minded and sometimes bumbling, but also quite stern and serious. He was fun, but his mood could switch on a dime.

Not that we haven't seen a grumpy Doctor before. William Hartnell was short-tempered and irritable right out of the gate. But the Timelord hasn't been this old, or this testy, in quite a while.

I think the change is much-needed and good. The series needed a shift to stay fresh. And I like that Capaldi's Doctor seems to signal a back-to-basics approach.

The most recent episode, "Robot of Sherwood," for example, had a real 1960s/70s "Doctor Who" vibe to it. Filmed on location in England, mostly outdoors, it looked and felt like something from the earthbound Jon Pertwee era.

The plot was straight-forward, too, unlike the mind-twists of last season, with all its focus on the Doctor's own confusing mythology.

This was just the old-school setup: The Doctor and his companion materialize someplace and address whatever big problem they find on hand. In this case, a real life Robin Hood fighting alien robots. What more do you need?

There was plenty of witty dialogue and some nice suspense and action scenes to boot.

And it was nice to see current companion Clara Oswald, played by Jenna Coleman, emerge as more of a real person.

Up until now, Clara has never had much of a personality - a problem that stems from her introduction last season as "the impossible girl" - not a real human but a being that incarnated several times throughout history in order to save the Doctor from peril.

This season, though, the focus is on Clara the human and Coleman is given much  more to do with part. She's a fine actress with a flare for comedy. "Robot" provided her with some great lines and she was the Doctor's equal - if not more so - in helping to save the day.

A potential love interest for Clara, introduced in the previous episode, "Into the Dalek," also bodes well for the character.

So, yes, changing things up is always a risk, but I think these changes will do "Doctor Who" good.

Video Find: Jackson 5 Alphabits cereal ads

See the new cast of Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Just posted by Marvel.

From left to right, B.J. Britt as Agent Antoine Triplett, Chloe Bennet as Agent Skye, Iain De Caestecker as Agent Leo Fitz, Ming-Na Wen as Agent Melinda May, Clark Gregg as Director Phil Coulson, Nick Blood as Lance Hunter, Henry Simmons as Alphonso "Mac" Mackenzie, Elizabeth Henstridge as Agent Jemma Simmons and Brett Dalton as Grant Ward

New Creature from the Black Lagoon, Son of Frankenstein action figures from Diamond Select

These have started showing up in toy stores and are available for pre-order on Amazon.

Pop Artifact: Irwin Batman Batcycle toy

Today's Best Pictures Ever: Roger McGuinn and David Crosby

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Preview of DC Comics December variant covers by Darwyn Cooke

I read little DC Comics' current output, but love the art of Darwyn Cooke. Here's a display of some of the variant covers he's producing for DC titles this December.

Cooke has provided the covers for He-Man: The Eternity War #1, Harley Quinn #12, Superman #37, Teen Titans #5, Batman & Robin #37, Catwoman #37, Green Lantern #37, Sinestro #8, Wonder Woman #37, Action Comics #37, Grayson #5, Justice League United #7, Supergirl #37, Aquaman #37, Batgirl #37, Detective Comics #37, Justice League Dark #37, Superman/Wonder Woman #14, Batman #37, Batman/Superman #17, Flash #37, Green Lantern Corps #37, and Justice League #37.

That's a lot of work. Sorta makes me wish DC would just turn Cooke loose on a regular title where he could play freely with the DC Universe.