Monday, April 28, 2008

Why I love Myke Phoenix

Once upon a time, about the time Neil Armstrong planted Old Glory on the moon, two adolescent boys from opposite ends of the country met through the letters column of The Amazing Spider-Man. In that era before e-mail, they became pen pals. The kid from California launched a mimeographed fanzine of imaginative fiction called Fantasy World. The youngster from New Jersey wrote a handful of stories for that zine, all of them about a superhero he christened H-Man. H-Man had a prosthetic arm that fired energy blasts. Not quite like an H-bomb, but what the hell. It was pretty darn cool.

Within a year, I’d discovered girls and stopped publishing Fantasy World. My friend Warren Bluhm had pushed H-Man aside to pursue other creative ventures. And eventually, we both lost touch, having never met face to face.

Thirty-five years later, in 2005, Warren and I became reacquainted courtesy of kismet and the Internet. Our friendship is one of the longest and most stimulating I’ve ever had. And, alas, we’ve still never met in person.

But here’s the point of this story. Warren has sent me a signed copy of his new book, his first book, called The Adventures of Myke Phoenix, along with an admission that “Myke is a direct descendant of H-Man and Fantasy World.” So I was predisposed to like Myke Phoenix before I even cracked open this volume. I was also inclined to like the book because Warren is a good buddy of mine who just so happens to be a fine writer. But even setting my biases aside, The Adventures of Myke Phoenix is a whole lot of fun, particularly if you enjoy the old pulps, comic books, and, well, superheroes who don’t take themselves too seriously.

In case you’re unaware, there are dead-serious heroes — like Batman, Daredevil, and The Shadow, for instance — and there are lighter heroes not to be taken seriously at all, like The Spirit, She-Hulk, and Hellboy. Myke Phoenix, fashioned in the tradition of the original Captain Marvel, falls into this second group. How so? Well, for one thing, among the bad guys who traipse through the five stories in this book are a half-man, half-duck named Quincey Quackenbos and a thieving philanthropist who goes by the moniker Doctor Skull. Funny, funny stuff. For another thing, Warren writes with — heck, there’s no other term for it — light whimsy. As I read Myke Phoenix, I felt Warren standing next to me, nudging my ribs, pointing out jokes he thought I might have missed, and grinning like the teen wonder he was when he wrote those stories for Fantasy World so long ago.

Yes, friends, the spirit of H-Man lives on in The Adventures of Myke Phoenix. And I can’t think of many better ways to spend a spring afternoon than with this book.

Labels: , , ,

Sunday, April 27, 2008

BLAKE'S 7 is new and improved

About ten years ago, my good friend Bob Lautz introduced me to the 1970s British sci-fi TV series Blake’s 7. Bob had VHS copies of all four seasons, I think it was — some 52 episodes. The show was created by Terry Nation, the guy who brought the Daleks to the Doctor Who universe. The special effects were terrible. Most of the acting was over the top. But I liked the show’s premise — a small band of intergalactic freedom fighters doing whup-ass on an evil Federation — and watching it was addictive. Despite the awful production standards, I was obsessed with moving beyond each clumsy cliffhanger. I knew there was a Blake’s 7 fan base somewhere, but I never pursued it, so after returning the videotapes to Bob, I pretty much forgot about the series.

Well, thanks to Jesse Willis at SFF Audio, I learned a few weeks ago that Blake’s 7 has been reimagined recently as an audio drama. A group called B7 Media has released Blake’s 7: The Audio Adventures, and just as Willis reported, it improves on the original series in the same way today’s Battlestar Galactica does its predecessor. The first “season” consists of three consecutive stories — Rebel, Traitor, and Liberator — each broken into 12 chapters of five or six minutes apiece. And that season is now available in a four-CD box set that includes a CD-ROM of special features (three videos, three MP3s, and a computer wallpaper).

The set ain’t cheap, and it seems to be available only from B7 Media itself in the UK. But mine arrived in the mail just a few days ago, and it’s absolute dynamite. The cast is perfect. The effects that make up the series’ “soundscape” are fantastic. And the stories are riveting — easy enough to follow (not an uncommon challenge for audio dramas) but exciting, fast-paced, and fully drawn enough to bear up to repeated visits; in fact, I’ve listened through the series twice already. And I’m ready to jump onboard again.

Blake’s 7’s story of mismatched and often uncooperative rebels fighting a despotic regime isn’t, of course, new to sci-fi. But this redo of the old TV series is surprisingly thoughtful, filled with complex characters struggling through knotty circumstances. Nothing’s simple and straightforward, the show says, especially not the fight for liberty. Not when the people you plan to liberate are more disposed to suffer than shrug off the masters who oppress them. And not when your allies all have conflicting loyalties and agendas. This new, improved, audio Blake’s 7 is a “must” for libertarian science fiction fans. These first three adventures are not just thrillrides of empire-bashing fun; they’re a marvelously sophisticated initial launch in what promises to become a classic libertarian space saga. More adventures, I’m told, are on the way! So until then…up the rebels!

Labels: , , ,

Friday, April 25, 2008

My fevered anticipation mounts

Labels: ,

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My pooch prefers Ray-Bans

The catalog actually says, "Doggles are protective eyewear for dogs. Unlike ordinary dog sunglasses, Doggles actually protect dog's eyes from foreign objects, wind, and UV light."

Unlike ordinary dog sunglasses? Sheesh. I love my doggie, but what's this world coming to?

Labels: , ,

Fear & Loathing in Baker Street

I love literary revisionism and new takes on old ideas and characters. Philip José Farmer played delightfully with the Tarzan and Doc Savage mythologies for many years. More authors than I can count have tinkered with Sherlock Holmes, and as a lifelong, diehard Sherlockian, I’ve enjoyed many alternative interpretations of the great detective. So when I heard that someone had produced a gonzo Holmes and Watson, twisting them into a Ralph Steadmanesque Victorian era graphic novel, I thought, cool, neat idea. Well, I just read Omaha Perez’s Holmes, released last month by indie publisher AiT/Planet Lar in San Francisco. And I still think Perez had a good idea; I just wish his graphic novel was a lot better.

The artwork is horrible. Perez is a damn fine illustrator. The book’s cover and the illustrations that front each of the four chapters (the covers for the original four-issue mini-series) are drawn in a terrific “scratchboard” style, as is a brief hallucinatory section of the novel. But the remainder of the book is atrociously illustrated. As Perez himself admits in an afterword, “A number of times at convention appearances I have been asked, ‘Why didn’t you do the interiors the same way you did the covers?’ As great as that would be, the answer is I could never possibly finish the book. … My goal for the interior work on Holmes was for it to be ‘passable’ — to not suck. I don’t think I quite hit that modest goal.” That’s certainly true, and the book suffers badly.

As for the story, Holmes is a case of poor execution of a good idea. What should be funny is, well, not. At all. Perez seems self-conscious, trying much too hard to mimic the likes of Hunter S. Thompson. But where there was always purpose to Thompson’s madness, there is no real direction to Holmes. It offers a ride not worth taking.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Neither Left nor Right

Bill Kauffman eschews Left and Right political labels for himself. Which sets him apart from every other political writer I can think of. Listen to this, from his latest book, Ain’t My America: The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism, which I’m now devouring:

“I belong to no political camp: my politics are localist, decentralist, Jeffersonian. I am an American rebel, a Main Street bohemian, a rural Christian pacifist. I have strong libertarian and traditionalist conservative streaks. I am in many ways an anarchist, though a front-porch anarchist, a chestnut-tree anarchist, a girls-softball-coach anarchist. My politics are a kind of mixture of Dorothy Day and Henry David Thoreau, though with an upstate New York twist. I voted for Nader in 2004 and Buchanan in 2000: the peace candidates. I often vote Libertarian and Green. I am a freeborn American with the blood of Crazy Horse, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jack Kerouac flowing in my veins. My heart is with the provincial and with small places, and it is from this intense localism that my own isolationist, antiwar sympathies derive. I misfit the straightjackets designed by Fox News and the New York Times. So does any American worth the name.”

Kauffman has been one of my very favorite political writers since the mid-1990s, when I first read his stuff in Chronicles and was passing around copies of his America First! to friends. I love him. He can’t be easily pigeonholed. He’s a man who can cozy up to Gore Vidal and Ron Paul in the same afternoon. This new book is a treasure, revelatory in the same way Rothbard’s The Betrayal of the American Right was last year. I’m sure I’ll be quoting from it and commenting on it over the next few weeks.

Labels: , , ,

Wednesday, April 16, 2008


I figger just about anything related to the Beatles is worth watching, so this week I Netflixed the two-disc DVD John, Paul, Tom & Ringo: The Tomorrow Show with Tom Snyder. The set includes a program aired the evening after John Lennon’s murder in December 1980, which rebroadcast a 1975 interview with John (perhaps his last for TV), a 1979 interview with Paul and Linda McCartney, and an interview with Ringo Starr and spouse Barbara Bach from 1981. Almost three decades later, none of these shows reveal anything we Beatlemaniacs haven’t heard before. But it’s good to see the boys from back then and, naturally, the Lennon interview is especially bittersweet. The biggest problem with this set, of course, is the late Tom Snyder himself. His questions were usually vacuous and embarrassing, and it’s hard to watch these shows without thinking about Dan Aykroyd’s sidesplitting Snyder bits on SNL many years ago. Ah well. The set is only worth renting. On the other hand, the DVD sets of The Dick Cavett Show (from the early 1970s) that include an interview with George Harrison and extensive interviews with John and Yoko are worth adding to your home video library, if you love the Beatles as much as I do.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My favorite tax protester

Read about Lady Godiva here.

Labels: , ,

Monday, April 14, 2008

Killer robot turns on its masters

I love the Bad Robot signature J.J. Abrams’ production company sticks on the tail end of each of its TV programs (Alias, Lost, etc.). I was reminded of it after reading about SWORDS, the remote-controlled, machinegun-toting robots that the U.S. Army deployed to Iraq last year. Seems the robots were suddenly pulled from duty. There was no explanation until earlier this month, when Popular Mechanics got the scoop:

“[T]he Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, Kevin Fahey, was asked what happened to SWORDS. After all, no specific reason for the 11th-hour withdrawal ever came from the military or its contractors at Foster-Miller. Fahey’s answer was vague, but he confirmed that the robots never opened fire when they weren’t supposed to. His understanding is that ‘the gun started moving when it was not intended to move.’ In other words, SWORDS swung around in the wrong direction, and the plug got pulled fast. No humans were hurt, but as Fahey pointed out, ‘once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again.’”

Bad robot!

Labels: , , ,

Buying your first handgun

Dick Clark (no, not that Dick Clark) over at offers some useful tips this morning on the in's and out's of purchasing your first handgun. Legally. Be advised: if you don't want Uncle Sam to follow a paper trail to your door, you may want to pursue alternative methods.

Labels: ,

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Kinks - 20th Century Man

Ray Davies was the original Paleo-Libertarian Leftist. Listen.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Sarah Jane comes of age

The Sarah Jane Adventures is the second Doctor Who spin-off series in as many years and it debuted on SciFi Channel last night. I’ve been enamored with its star, Elisabeth Sladen, since the 1970s, when she originally played the Doctor’s companion Sarah Jane Smith opposite both Jon Pertwee (Doc #3) and Tom Baker (Doc #4). Two years ago, Sladen reprised the role in the charming Who episode “School Reunion.” And now she’s got this series of her own. After watching the 90-minute premiere, which I think was made up of three half-hour episodes, I’ve signed on. And I’m probably here for the duration. Sarah Jane skews to a younger audience than Doctor Who, which skews to a younger audience than Torchwood, the other Who spin-off. However, it’s charming, it’s fun, and it’s got a good sense of humor about itself. Sure, Sarah’s three sidekicks will take some getting used to — one of the kids is particularly annoying — but Sladen plays her role with all the enthusiasm she used to give it three decades ago. And you know what? At age 60, she’s every bit as adorable as she was in 1975.

The fourth season of the “modern” Doctor Who premieres on SciFi next Friday night. Sarah Jane Adventures is anchored in the slot preceding it. That’s an especially family-friendly block of sci-fi viewing.

Labels: , ,

Friday, April 11, 2008

Friday housekeeping

I’m playing catch-up this morning.

* Browncoats should know that Dark Horse Comics’ second three-issue Firefly miniseries, Serenity: Better Days, launched last month. And after reading the first two installments, I’m thinking it’s better than 2005’s Those Left Behind. The story, sandwiched between the TV series and movie, is by Firefly/Serenity creator Joss Whedon; art is by Will Conrad. And by gorram, the characters look and actually talk like the actors we know and love. The third and final issue has a May 14 release date. This series is worth checking out.

* There Will Be Blood is a stunning, absolutely engrossing movie, and one of the very best of last year. So why the shitty DVD packaging? While most DVDs are issued in hard plastic cases that keep the discs safe and unscratched, TWBB comes in a cheap cardboard sleeve. This kind of packaging may be “environmentally responsible,” but these discs can only be removed for viewing by getting your fingerprints all over them. Actually, the discs usually flip out of the sleeves, fall on the floor, and roll under the sofa. My recommendation: Netflix There Will Be Blood for the time being and only buy a copy after Paramount resolves this problem. The film deserves better treatment than it’s getting.

* Starbuck's new signature blend Pike Place Roast makes the best cup of coffee I've had in years. And I drink a lot of coffee. Try it.

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, April 07, 2008

Left-Rothbardism in a nutshell

Kevin Carson offers an excellent analysis of Left-Rothbardian thought. Read Part 1, then move on to Part 2.

Labels: ,

American Empire in a nutshell

In addition to its growth through umpteen editions over the last 28 years, Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States has been sliced, diced, rearranged, and reimagined into documentaries, CD recordings, videos, and even theatrical productions. The book’s latest transmutation is A People’s History of American Empire, a large-format kind of graphic novel scripted principally by Dave Wagner and illustrated by Mike Konopacki. The book is “narrated” by a cartoon Howard Zinn and offers some biographical material about the historian’s battles over the years to present U.S. history from the bottom-up rather than from the traditional top-down. But most important, it dramatizes more than a century of U.S. imperialism and empire-building (from the massacre at Wounded Knee to the current Iraq debacle) in 263 quickly digested and (sorry, I can think of no better word) entertaining pages. This is a book quickly read, but even so, it’s amazingly thorough and well-referenced. And it’s an effective indictment of the liberal-corporate state from a very Libertarian Left perspective. A People’s History of American Empire is a book to devour, then pass on to your more receptive friends.

Labels: , , ,

Chuck Heston on Barsoom?

The late Charlton Heston's birth name was John Carter! How cool is that? (Thanks for the info, Bob Wallace!)

Labels: , ,

Sunday, April 06, 2008

When failed sci-fi TV pilots attack!

Labels: , ,

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Ultraviolet strikes again!

As a very big fan of action movie goddess Milla Jovovich, I am of course intrigued by anything even remotely associated with her. So I feel compelled to report here that on July 1, in Japan, the Animax satellite TV network will launch its Ultraviolet: Code 044 anime series, directed by Osamu Dezaki. This is a spin-off from Ultraviolet, the 2006 Kurt Wimmer movie that starred Milla as the future's hottest sword-wielding, gun-kata practicing freedom fighter. I will have to give this a look when it becomes available here.

Labels: , , , , ,

Jules Dassin RIP

Dassin died last Monday at the age of 96. He was a great noir director, and his Rififi (1955) is the finest heist movie ever made. If you've never seen it, you must; the film's famous heist scene, 30 minutes without music or dialog, should not be missed.

Labels: ,

No privacy for politicians!

Should politicians be allowed to live their lives privately? No way, says Wendy McElroy. And how about the kids of politicos, like Chelsea Clinton? Writes Wendy on her blog earlier this week:

“The media has a long history of treating Chelsea with kid gloves, largely because of the aggressive insistence of her parents that they do so. And, when Chelsea was a child in the White House, such delicacy not only made sense but also constituted a rare case of good manners on the part of the media. But Chelsea is now an adult — 28-years-old, as I remember — and she is actively campaigning for her mother by touring campuses at which she invites questions. Perhaps the fact that the media still treats her with the delicacy of a child has made her expect special treatment, like not being asked hard questions. Indeed, Chelsea is notorious for not allowing any questions from journalists by not granting them any interviews. Why the press continues to cover (and sympathetically!) someone who de facto tells them to ‘go snog yourself’ is beyond me.”

Read Wendy’s full post right here.

Labels: ,

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Barsoom 101

Since I mentioned Edgar Rice Burroughs' great Mars series in my last post, and since I know a few of my readers are interested in the planned John Carter of Mars movie project coming eventually from Pixar/Disney, I thought it might be appropriate to post this link to ERBzine's Barsoom reference site. This website was prepared for the Pixar and Disney people and is as thorough a compilation of materials related to ERB's series of novels as I've ever seen.

Labels: , , ,

Yes, I re-read books...a LOT

People often look at my shelves and shelves of books and ask, "Have you read all of these?" The answer is no...some are still waiting to be read. Now, John DeNardo over at SF Signal asks, “Do you like re-reading books? Which ones and how often?”

Well, I do read a lot. I also re-read a lot. Since John’s specifically asking about science fiction, I’ll mention that I’ve read Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination three or four times, his The Demolished Man at least twice. I’ve read Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress at least three times and Starship Troopers twice. I read Edgar Rice Burroughs, particularly the Mars series and the first six Tarzan books, over and over. I’ve read Asimov’s original Foundation Trilogy twice. I revisit Vonnegut regularly. I’ve read Schulman’s Alongside Night at least eight times over the past 25 years. Shit, I even read Vin Suprynowitz’s The Black Arrow twice in a single year. My brain’s freezing up. Oh, yeah, I’ve read Sam Delaney’s Nova three times — I adore that novel. Suffice it to say, I re-read a lot of stuff. Isn’t that the point of collecting books?

Labels: ,

"Birds of Prey" finally comes to DVD

Most people, even diehard comics fans, are unfamiliar with the Birds of Prey TV series, which ran just 13 weeks on the old WB back in 2002-2003. But I remember it very fondly. Three reasons why are pictured at left. But the show was more than eye candy; it was a clever spin on the Batman legend that pulled ideas directly from the comics and added a few unique ones of its own. Each episode began with this narration by actor Ian Abercrombie, who played Bruce Wayne’s famous butler on the series:

“Legend tells of a caped crusader, Batman, guardian of New Gotham, and his one true love, Catwoman, the queen of the criminal underworld. Their passion left behind something extraordinary…a daughter, Huntress. Half meta-human, she has taken up her father’s mantle, and under the cover of night fights to protect the innocent and helpless. Joining her in this struggle…Oracle, who was once Batman’s protégé, Batgirl. She was caught in the crossfire of the war between Batman and Joker. Now she fights crime a different way — master of the cyber realms, a mentor and trainer to heroes. Together, they have taken in a young runaway…Dinah, a meta-human herself, with powers to open hidden doors to the mind, powers that she is only beginning to explore. Together, these are the protectors of New Gotham…the Birds of Prey. My name is Alfred Pennyworth, and this is their story.”

Birds of Prey had a terrific, noir look and feel, and there were some very neat nods to past interpretations of the Dark Knight saga. Psychiatrist Harleen Quinzel (aka Harley Quinn), played venomously by Mia Sera, was a series regular. The Joker’s crippling of Barbara Gordon/Batgirl, played by Dina Meyer, was pulled directly from Alan Moore’s groundbreaking Killing Joke graphic novel and shockingly replayed every week in the series prologue. All three Robins — Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, and Tim Drake — were mentioned during the course of the series. Batman’s “retirement/disappearance” was obviously inspired by Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns. Some nice, if macabre, series touches: the whole meta-human business; Selina Kyle (aka Catwoman) is said to have been killed by the Joker; Huntress is heir to the Wayne fortune; Dinah Redmond, played by Rachel Skarsten, is the daughter of Black Canary, who makes an effective series appearance. The cast was great, particularly Ashley Scott’s turn as Helena Kyle, aka Huntress, which made me a big fan and is just one reason I was so faithful to Jericho this past year.

Well, after five years, Birds of Prey: The Complete Series is finally being issued on DVD July 29. Hooray! I’m dying to see this series again.

Update: Warners has just announced that the DVD set will be released July 15, two weeks earlier than first planned, to coincide more closely with the theatrical release of The Dark Knight this summer. Very cool.

Labels: , ,