May Showers You with 3 New Movie Books

marvelcomicsintofilmYou kids have no idea how good you have it! Avengers fighting Avengers in an all-out superhero melee in Captain America: Civil War? The comics-obsessed, grade-schooler me would’ve cut a bitch to see that! Alas, ’twas the ’70s, when we had to make do with Reb Brown on a star-spangled motorcyclemade for TV, no less! And yet, memories of those “golden years” are what makes McFarland & Company’s Marvel Comics into Film: Essays on Adaptations Since the 1940s such a blast to read. Edited by Matthew J. McEniry, Robert Moses Peaslee and Robert G. Weiner, the collection could just focus on the current Marvel Studios product and have plenty to write about, but luckily casts its net wider, to a point that may put off this generation’s fanboys weaned purely on the Phase One / Phase Two marketing initiatives alone — their loss! Being that kid who had to dream of a world of superhero movies, the standout pieces for me were those by Arnold T. Blumberg, David Ray Carter and Jef Burnham on, respectively, “the First Marvel Television Universe,” the aforementioned early Cap movies (including Cannon’s ill-fated 1990 version) and the “Small Screen Avengers.” That’s not to say other chapters didn’t tickle my four-color fancy, either, whether digging into the Conan the Barbarian franchise, Ghost Rider’s connection to Goethe’s Faust, Japan’s live-action Spider-Man series, George Lucas’ infamously character-misjudging Howard the Duck feature or David Hasselhoff’s turn as Nick Fury: Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. Look, any textbook that unironically compares the Punisher performances of Dolph Lundgren, Thomas Jane and Ray Stevenson clearly is one kick-ass textbook. ’Nuff said.

deathbyumbrellaMachetes, finger blades, butcher knives? So passé. Menorahs, breasts and bongs are really where it’s at. And by “it,” I mean the means used to kill guys and gals in terror-tinged cinema. Co-authors Christopher Lombardo and Jeff Kirschner are like an overly morbid Casey Kasem, counting ’em down in Death by Umbrella! The 100 Weirdest Horror Movie Weapons, released by BearManor Media in the indie publisher’s usual dual hardcover and paperback editions. Separated by category (kitchen utensils, sports equipment, etc.), each tool of execution earns its own description of the gory details, but in setting up each kill, the co-authors actually are providing a full-fledged review of the movie in question, thus making the book more than a mere list. Lovingly written with verve for the viscera, Death by Umbrella is fun and funny as it covers scenes both iconic (Happy Birthday to Me’s shish kebab, which doubled as its poster art) and arcane (Discopath’s slabs of vinyl). Only a few times do the guys pull from outside the genre (Paul Thomas Anderson’s Oscar-anointed There Will Be Blood being the most egregious non-slasher), but we’ll forgive. After all, they can sate your curiosity surrounding DTV trash like Super Hybrid in order to save you from sitting through it.

encycweirdwestPaul Green’s Encyclopedia of Weird Westerns: Supernatural and Science Fiction Elements in Novels, Pulps, Comics, Films, Television and Games — Second Edition obviously aims for a niche-of-a-niche readership, and luckily for it, this reviewer happily counts himself among that group and, therefore, welcomes such a project that others may dismiss as “why bother?” waste. First published in 2009, this McFarland trade paperback moseys into your TBR pile with 47 additional pages so now we can read about more recent items, like the Jonah Hex movie. Green is not a critic — at least not within the confines of this book, which is a true encyclopedia as the title claims. Arranged from A to Z, entries are strictly factual in nature, ranging from one sentence to half a page. Success of these highly specialized reference texts is measured twofold: 1) that it includes every test you throw its way (the indie Western Tales of Terror comic book is here, as is NBC’s 1979 anthology show Cliffhangers), and 2) that it introduces you to obscurities so esoteric, they sound invented (Action Comics #311, the issue concerning “The Day Super-Horse Became Human”). Richly illustrated, most pleasingly with comic-book panels and pages, Weird Westerns errs only in the occasional questionable inclusion: Avatar, Mr. Green? —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Preacher

preacherJournalist and biographer Ted Thackrey, Jr.’s fictional debut of the late 1980s introduced the enigmatic character known only as The Preacher (not to be confused with the long-running comic book character of the same name created by Garth Ennis). Now Thackrey’s novel THE PREACHER is back in print in a handsome trade edition.
 
The former priest who lost an eye while serving in the Special Forces in Vietnam now makes his living as a professional gambler, known at high-stakes poker games across the country as The Preacher. Then his annual tour of poker is interrupted when a friend and former seminary schoolmate summons him to the small dusty town of Farewell, New Mexico.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Second Coming

5000kmManuele Fior’s 5,000 KM PER SECOND is a literary work of sequential art. It’s a thoughtfully composed, decades-spanning not-quite love story of its main protagonists, Lucy, Piero and his friend Nicola. Set in Italy and Norway and Rome, this is — despite the title — a quiet and subtle, but emotionally complex graphic novel about a relationship. The title underlines the difficulty of lining up your life with another, and how time and distance can cause it all to slip through your fingers if you don’t grab a firm hold when you can.

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Tommy Red

tommyredAfter eight crime novels depicting contemporary East Coast mobsters, it’s tempting to wonder if author Charlie Stella can bring anything new to the setting and characters.

But if Stella’s latest TOMMY RED, published by Stark House Press, is any indication, he has far from exhausted the potential of these troublemakers. While the basic story elements of this new novel seem familiar, the depth of Stella’s characters as well as the subtle underlying themes bring a fresh perspective to the plot and players.

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The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture

capedcrusadeShrewdly timed to the theatrical release of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Glen Weldon’s The Caped Crusade: Batman and the Rise of Nerd Culture takes longer to consume, yet provides far more entertainment. A companion of sorts to his 2013 tome on the Man of Steel, the book excels as a work of cultural history … provided you can overlook the whiplash appearances of the occasional stuffy phrase (“slyphs in organza gowns”) and dropping of hipster lingo (“mansplaining”).

The book traces the Dark Knight’s “life,” from his 1939 “birth” in Detective Comics #27 to anchoring several DC Comics titles today. With the exacting fervor of someone who may consider The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide as “light reading,” Weldon details Batman’s many, many changes with the times and trends along the way — not just as a four-color character, but one who has leapt beyond the page to infiltrate the media of radio, television and, of course, the movies.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Peplum Not Pablum

peplumTo BOOKGASM readers, the title PEPLUM probably suggests sword-and-sandal heroics with Steve Reeves and Cameron Mitchell acting sweaty in a loincloth, when this interpretation by French artist Blutch is more a semi-sequel to Petronius’ SATYRICON by way of Shakespeare and Pasolini. Which doesn’t mean it’s any less entertaining — it’s simply a different approach to the same source materials.

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The Role-Playing Society: Essays on the Cultural Influence of RPGs

roleplayingsocietyFrom McFarland & Company Inc., THE ROLE-PLAYING SOCIETY: ESSAYS ON THE CULTURAL INFLUENCE OF RPGS, edited by Andrew Byers and Francesco Crocco, is a scholarly collection of essays that focuses on how role-playing games (RPGs) have influenced and continue to influence our society and culture.

This isn’t a “reception” study, it’s more a series of loosely linked essays (the theme is fairly amorphous) that examine how role-playing games, and especially DUNGEONS & DRAGONS since its introduction in 1974, have changed or affected individuals’ behaviors, lifestyles, educational growth, and more. Let’s look at each of the 12 essays in turn.

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Kill Switch

killswitchAfter seven novels, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger of the Department of Military Sciences (DMS) has faced some of the most fantastic and formidable threats ever created by Maberry’s fertile imagination. If KILL SWITCH, the eighth and latest series entry, suffers from anything it is, ironically, an embarrassment of riches as Maberry attempts to once again outdo himself.

While on a mission in the Antarctic, Ledger and two members of his Echo Team discover an odd looking machine. When activated the machine nulls all electronic devices and software. But exposure to the activated machine has other strange effects that Ledger and his team only later understand.

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The Woman in Blue

womaninblueI absolutely devoured Elly Griffiths’ THE WOMAN IN BLUE, the eighth book in a series featuring archaeologist Ruth Galloway, reading it cover to cover in a feverish weekend.

Griffiths’ fluidity of style and pacing has grown organically since the first book in the series, THE CROSSING PLACES, and while some of the early books may have been a little too self-indulgent in recounting every possible emotion that Galloway has, the later books still feature the empathy and behavioral understanding, but allow it to spread across all the other associated characters, ensuring that everyone is depicted as a relatively complete being, filled with joy and frustrations, perfectly believable in the stark Norfolk settings.

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Broken Hero

brokenheroBROKEN HERO is the fourth book in Jonathan Wood’s series about Arthur Wallace and MI37 – Britain’s answer to Fox Mulder and THE X-FILES, except with more over-the-top action and dry Monty Python-esque humor.

I admit to not reading the first three books in the series, but Wood brings the reader up to speed pretty quickly. The plot involves an army of steampunk Nazi robots that are divided between trying to save themselves from annihilation, or destroying the world with a doomsday bomb that will rip apart reality.

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