Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Anti-Blockbusters: Ink

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

InkThis odd little indy film is a bit hard to peg down, but here’s how I describe it: imagine what would happen if Terry Gilliam did a Disney film while taking large quantities of hallucinogenic drugs.

Sound pretty trippy? It is, but it’s worth your time.

In the movie, we are introduced to a group of warriors called the Storytellers who live on a different plane of reality and who provide humans with good dreams. This group also protects humanity against the nefarious Incubi, vain spirits who deliver nightmares and who wear screens over their faces that display a perpetual facade of happiness. A deformed being named Ink, neither Storyteller nor Incubi, kidnaps a young girl’s mind from the real world, despite strong resistance from the Storytellers, and plans to take her to the Incubi as an offering so that he can join their ranks. However, his drum that would open the portal is broken so he must take a longer, less-direct route. A Storyteller named Allel--who had tried to protect the girl from Ink--summons up a blind pathfinder named Jacob to track the creature down and free the girl. In the real world, the girl is in a comatose state and her grandfather asks her father--a high-powered workaholic businessman--to come and see her hoping this would help draw her out of her coma.

This movie comes from indy writer/producer/director Jamin Winans, and despite its left-field description, it actually delivers at its core a fairly standard story that Disney and other kid-friendly studios have covered many times before. We have the child with a work-aholic parent who spends very little time with his daughter and cannot fully connect with her. Then, she falls into trouble and ultimately the parent does the right thing and comes to her aid just in time to deliver a happy, feel-good ending. So if that’s the case, why did I give the movie such a high rating? Because Winans manages to take this very familiar premise and rework it well enough that he succeeds in providing a fresh spin on an old tale and what he delivers in the end is also anything but a kids’ story (in fact younger viewers might find it quite terrifying at times). And reworking a familiar tale is not in itself a bad thing, heck, most of Shakespeare’s works were inspired by stories that came from previous scribes. The trick is to take the familiar and make something new from that, and Ink does just that.

It gives us a pure fantasy story, despite its Terry Gilliam-like sci fi trappings, that introduces a bizarre dreamworld that seems ludicrous yet believable at the same time. And Winans had very little money to work with (only $250k according to Wikipedia), but he gets the most from his limited budget and he excels in creating a surreal, stylized world that comes to life without CGI-overdose. If I could complain about only one thing production-wise it would be the character Ink’s very fake, rubbery looking snout, but try to look past that minor detail to the film's better qualities. And it has many including the excellent performances and the nearly seamless blending of the surreal dreamworld with our own reality. And even though the story treads familiar ground, Winans vision and delivery make it feel like a completely new experience. Unlike the many mega-dollar bloatfests that dominate the theaters and rely heavily on their CGI-gams visuals to compensate for their tired copy and paste plots, Ink takes what has come before and breathes new life into it.

Just a note, though, that this movie may not be everybody’s cup of tea because of its bizarre, trippy juxtaposition of the fantasy dreamworld with reality. In fact, I found it somewhat inaccessible early on, but I stuck with it and was glad I did.

Buy Ink and Other Anti-Blockbusters on DVD and Blu-ray from

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Would I Rather Be Watching Babylon 5? Fall 2015 Season Edition

babylon52Each year about this time I ponder whether I want to tune in for the new and returning Fall sci fi / fantasy shows or if I would rather just go back and re-watch a classic sci fi series like Babylon 5 (one of my all-time favorites).  I love re-watching classic shows and B5 is a sci fi epic that just begs to be watched multiple times.  Of course, there are plenty of current genre offerings on television these days, in fact so many that it would be quite a task to keep up with them all.  On our Fall 2015 Schedule (which you can see at this link), there are 37 shows scheduled to air between now and December!  37!  That's practically a full time job just to keep up with all of those each week (I know that they are not all airing concurrently, but work with me here).  But how many of these are really worth watching?  I'm definitely looking forward to the return The Walking Dead as well as my guilty pleasure show The Librarians and The Originals.  Among the new entries Minority Report looks interesting as does Into the Badlands, Ash vs. the Evil Dead, The Expanse, and a few others.  And of course I have to check out the Heroes revival.  But while I enjoyed shows like Arrow and The Flash last season, I didn't find myself tuning in every week for them (though I am pumped for mid-season superhero-fest Legends of Tomorrow).  And I gave up on shows like Agents of SHIELD, The Leftovers, and The Last Man on Earth because they lost my interest.  I have to wonder at this point how many of the Fall entries will go that way as well.

Interestingly enough, the series that I have enjoyed watching the most this past year is not a genre entry at all.  A friend of mine kept badgering me to watch Breaking Bad and I finally gave in and started binge-watching the seasons (I'm down to the last eight episodes and prepared for a wild finale).  That is one hell of a good show and I highly recommend it.  I would put it in my all-time Top 10 (maybe even Top 5) favorite television shows.  And I found much more enjoyment watching that one than many of the current sci fi / fantasy shows like Grimm, Gotham, or Continuum.  And the show I enjoyed watching the most the Summer a year ago was 2003's Carnivale which I revisited on Amazon streaming (one of several HBO shows included with Prime Membership and I go into more detail on it at this link).  So as I think about how to invest my television watching time over the next few months, do I want to spend it on the current crop of shows or would I find more enjoyment going back to B5, Farscape, or Battlestar: Galactica (minus the finale)?  Or should I check into another of the recent, non-genre breakouts like Sons of Anarchy or House of Cards?

The fact is that there is a lot of sci fi on television these days and a lot of original scripted programming in general.  But how much of it is really good and worth investing my time?  I think of the number of shows that I watched or started watching and gave up on over the past few years because they just weren't any good (or started good then took a turn for the worse):  FastForward, The Event, Terra Nova, The River, Falling Skies, Under the Dome, Once Upon A Time, Agents of SHIELD, Sleepy Hollow, Defiance, Extant, etc., etc., etc.  That's a lot of time that I invested in those shows, with nothing much to show for it.

And among the many sci fi / fantasy shows from the past few years, how many will eventually be counted as classics?  Surely The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones.  Maybe Person of Interest if it ends strong.  Beyond that?  Daredevil shows a lot of promise and The Last Ship is solid enough.  Arrow and The Flash have their moments.  Dark Matter and Killjoys have been fun, but I wouldn't call them great shows.  Beyond that, they all start to bleed together for me as one copies from another and others copy from all.  We have a state of sci fi mediocrity on television with far too much quantity and far too little attention to quality.

Meanwhile, I've really been wanting to go back and do a five season binge-watch of Babylon 5 (throwing in the movies and Crusade as well).  And I'd like to do the same with Lost.  Plus, I tuned out of Star Trek: DS9 during its fourth season which is when I understand it really hit its stride.  I'd like to go back and catch up on that one.  And there are plenty of other classic sci fi shows worth working into binge-watch weekends and the streaming services make that really easy these days.

So should I watch all the Fall sci fi / fantasy entries which have started debuting this week, or would I rather be watching Babylon 5?

For those interested, you can read my 2014 edition of Would I Rather Be Watching Babylon 5 at this link and my 2013 edition at this link.

Buy Babylon 5 on DVD from

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Sci Fi Genre Gems: Carnivale (2003)

Created By: Daniel Knauf
Cast: Nick Stahl, Michael J. Anderson, Clancy Brown, Adrienne Barbeau, Tim DeKay
Aired: 2003-05 (2 Seasons Totaling 24 Episodes)

Rating: 5 out of 5 Stars (Highest Rating)

What Is It?  This unique supernatural series delivered an epic story that centered around a traveling carnival making its way through Dust Bowl America in the days of the Great Depression.  The focal character is chain gang refugee Ben Hawkins (Nick Stahl) who has healing powers that he doesn’t understand and who joins up with the carnival when it happens by shortly after his mother dies (he is allowed to join because the mysterious, unseen “management” permits it, and we find out later that his parents had a history with the carnival).  Also important to the overall arc is the story of Brother Justin Crowe (played by Clancy Brown with his trademark sincere malevolence) who has the power to control others and manipulate their fears.  Both Ben and Brother Justin share prophetic dreams that they find troubling and that they do not understand.  And neither of them realize that events have been set in motion that will result in their paths crossing at some point in the future.

Why It Stands Out:   Carnivale delivered a rare entry among genre shows that mixed intricately plotted stories, a fully realized setting, and complex, morally ambiguous characters into an ongoing arc that presented the viewer with challenging and engaging television.

At a time when HBO was looking to expand on its original programming and distinguish itself from the episodic fare on the broadcast and cable networks, they took a flyer on this series and delivered one of the most original dramas the genre has known.  It’s really hard to sum up this series, and my synopsis above barely scrapes the surface.  That highlights the primary story arc, but neglects the many, intertwined sub-stories and the colorful cast of characters that help the show stand out as well as the production design that gave it such a gritty, realistic feel.

Carnivale had an epic scope to its tale, as it presented us with a riveting saga of free will vs. destiny, but then it also had many intimate, human aspects to its story as well.  Hawkins and Brother Justin may have been the main focus, but the ancillary characters don’t just fade into the background or provide filler action to pad out the hour.  Each of them come alive and offer their own stories and the actors do more than just play the roles, that actually become the characters.  All involved with this series bring their A-game and help propel it into a rare, nearly flawless production.

True, the show could be somewhat slow at times and the stories were definitely dense.  But this rarely bogs it down, it just encourages the discerning viewer to dive more deeply into the episodes.  And there are many layers to be unraveled here as creator Daniel Knauf works in religious themes along with bits of mysticism to flesh out the mysteries laced into the overall story.  This is a challenging show, awash with moral ambiguities and some not particularly likeable characters, but that never works against the story, only makes it that much more inticing.  And then there’s that driving, alluring soundtrack by Jeff Beal that beat Battlestar Galactica to the punch in incorporating Eastern-tinged musical themes to add to the dark ambiance of the show.

Knauf originally envisioned this as a trilogy of “books” with each book comprising two seasons.  And the series initially bowed to very strong ratings, but would see its numbers drop across its two season run and would find itself truncated after completing only one of the three books.  HBO actually wanted to continue the series, but it had grown too expensive and they insisted that the producers would have to cut the budget for it to come back for a third season.  A deal could not be worked out, and the show ended after completing only twenty four episodes.  Knauf has since indicated that the full story of Carnivale will probably never be told, though I hope he will change his mind on that.  I would love it if he would at least continue this in novel format so that he could complete the story and provide it with the full embellishment  and resolution it deserves.

For genre fans who missed out on this one, it is available on DVD and you can also stream it for free with Amazon Prime membership.  I highly recommend you seek it out, and don’t be too concerned about the story leaving you hanging as the final episode of Season 2 provides a resolution of sorts, even if it does leave you wanting more.  It’s definitely worth your time to watch the full series as it provides a rare example of a first-rate genre production that avoids the compromises we see all too often from Prime Time fare.

Interesting Facts:  Not only is Carnivale a rare example of a first-rate, uncompromising genre series, it’s also a rare case where a newcomer breaks into television with his own series.  Daniel Knauf originally drafted a script for his story with the intention that it would play on the big screen.  But it was too long to run as a movie and he also felt that could not cover the full breadth of his intended story in that format.  He later adapted part of the script as a pilot for a TV series and posted it out on his website.  It was discovered by producer Howard Klein who sold HBO on the idea of the series.  (And I’m sure that after reading this, many aspiring writers are now going to start posting their scripts up on the web in hopes of also getting discovered!)

Those wondering where they previously saw diminutive actor Michael J. Anderson who plays carnival manager Samson, need only go back and watch the first episode of Twin Peaks.  Anderson played the dancing dwarf (aka "The Man from Another Place") in that series.

Buy Carnivale on DVD (and the Soundtrack) from

Stream Carnivale on Amazon, included with Amazon Prime Membership:

Monday, September 14, 2015

Audiobook Review: The Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks

Book Rating: 2 ½ out of 5 Stars

Audiobook Rating: 3 ½ out of 5 Stars

This well-known fantasy novel is one that I have started reading several times over the years, but never progressed to far because I quickly become annoyed by its glaring similarities to J.R.R. Tolkien’s seminal Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  But I decided once again to give it a shot as part of my audio adventures and finally managed to trek through the entire book.

As the story begins, we learn that the evil wizard Sauron . . . I mean the Warlock Lord . . . is planning his conquest of Middle Earth . . . I mean The Four Lands . . . where the races of humans, elves, dwarves, orcs, gnomes, and trolls live.  The wizard Gandalf . . . er . . . Allanon comes to the Shire . . . make that Shady Vale . . . and tells Frodo . . . no, Shea Ohmsford . . . that the one ring Sword of Shannara is crucial to defeating the Warlock Lord and that Shea will be a key figure in his downfall.  Shea then sets off with Sam . . . make that his brother Flick . . . and meets the mysterious Strider . . . er . . . Balinor (who is the heir to the throne) and they join up with the dwarf Gimli Hemdel and the elf Legolas Durin along with his brother Dale.  This fellowship . . . make that company . . . then sets off on a journey to find the sword and defeat the dark lord.

Okay, there are definitely plenty of similarities between this story and Tolkien’s epic as The Sword of Shannara follows the Lord of the Rings template very closely through the first half of its story and continues to borrow liberally all the way to the end of the book.  But then even Shakespeare was known to lift some ideas now and then, so that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Still, Terry Brooks is not the Bard, at least not at that point in his career and his first Shannara book definitely gives us his take on LoR, so be aware of that in advance when approaching this one.

But he did manage to throw in some original characters and ideas, or at least ones that were not lifted straight from Tolkien.  Menion Leah has no direct correlation in the LoR books that I can see and I liked the addition of the rogue Panamon Creel and his partner Keltset (who seem to invoke Han and Chewie, though this book preceded the first Star Wars movie).  The world that Brooks creates is also interesting in that it takes place in a post-apocalyptic future where humans have mutated into the fantasy character races that now dominate the planet.  That is unfortunately not explored too much in this book, but Brooks does some good world-building for his stories that will follow.

And quite a number of books in the series have hit the shelves since The Sword of Shannara with over twenty through 2015.  From what I understand, the second book—The Elfstones of Shannara—is where Brooks started to hit his stride with the series and I have that one currently in my audiobook queue.  I can’t tell you that Sword is a great book, but it was enjoyable enough and it did a good job of setting the groundwork for a much larger tale that has become well respected in fantasy literature.  It did drag at times, especially throughout the second half, but it never turned into a slogfest.  It’s worth reading for fantasy fans, if for no other reason than as an introduction to the world that Terry Brooks has built since then.  But I would definitely stop short of calling The Sword of Shannara a fantasy classic (though many people do consider it that).

As for the audiobook version, long time veteran Scott Brick provides the narration, though his talents do not seem as well-suited to this book.  I have listened to him many times reading classic works by science fiction authors like Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke and his monotone fits quite well with those stories which tend to be somewhat dry.  But his vocals just didn’t seem to work as well in the fantasy setting.  Add to that the fact that the accents he would give to several of the characters tended to fade and I would count this as a subpar performance by the often reliable narrator.  I wouldn’t say that he distracted from the material, but he definitely wasn’t the best choice for this particular book, especially considering its rather lengthy 26 hour reading time.  This audiobook would be ripe for a new edition with someone like Patrick Stewart or Ian McKellan (or Harlan Ellison) reading it.  But as it is, Scott Brick’s version is passable and a decent enough option to work your way through the first Shannara book.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Sci Fi Genre Gems: Gene Roddenberry's The Questor Tapes (1974 TV Pilot)

Directed by: Richard Colla
Produced by: Howie Horwitz, Jeffrey M. Hayes, Gene Roddenberry
Written by: Gene L. Coon, Gene Roddenberry
Cast: Robert Foxworth, Mike Farrell, John Vernan, Lew Ayres, Dana Wynter
Originally Aired: 1974

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

What Is It?  Way back in 1974, a television movie from Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry aired called The Questor Tapes which was intended as a pilot for an ongoing series. In the movie, a large government research facility is working on creating an android that closely resembles a human being.  The project was initiated by Dr. Emil Vaslovik who programmed a set of tapes (remember, storage media was still in its infancy in the 70’s) that would be loaded into the android Questor (Robert Foxworth) when he was completed.  Vaslovik, however, disappeared  before the project came to fruition and much of the data on the tapes was erased.  The scientists on hand created their own data bank in its place and tried to load that into Questor’s brain.  This failed, and scientist Jerry Robinson (played by a pre-M*A*S*H Mike Farrell), who had worked very close with Vaslovik throughout the project, insists that they load the original tapes, even though they have missing data.  This also appears to fail.  However, after everybody has left the laboratory thinking their work a failure, Questor activates himself and proceeds to complete his design to take on a human likeness.  He knows that he must find Vaslovik to complete his programming, so he seeks out Robinson to assist him in this task.  This leads the two to London where they find a monitoring station that Vaslovik set up to observe events throughout the world and see how diverse situations might cause synergies that can turn negative outcomes into a positive one.  Questor also finds that from here he would have access to a private jet that could quickly transport him to areas experiencing turmoil.  It is also here that Questor and Robinson find additional clues on the whereabouts of Vaslovik which ultimately leads to Questor discovering that there is more to his origins than originally suspected.

Why It Stands Out:  The pilot presents an interesting, intelligent, well-written science fiction story with a strong concept that could have developed into a potentially great television franchise.

In the years after Star Trek was cancelled, Gene Roddenberry stayed busy in television first working on the Genesis II pilot (which was followed up by Planet Earth) and then turning his attention to The Questor Tapes.  Like his previous to pilots from the 70's, this one delivered a good science fiction story that hearkened back to some of the better episodes from Star Trek: TOS (he brought in Trek veteran Gene L. Coon to help him with the script).  It also had a good central cast in Robert Foxworth and Mike Farrell and it shined above the typical movie-of-the-week fare that the broadcast networks offered in the 70's.  The story in the pilot did have what I thought were a few lapses (I won't go into detail though because they involve spoilers), but that may have been intentional as a setup for stories that would have been explored in the planned series. 

And of course any Star Trek: TNG fans going back and watching this will quickly see that Questor provided the template for the character that would eventually become Data.   He had many of Data’s super-human powers such as the ability to calculate and analyze at great speeds as well as heightened strength and agility, and he also possessed the desire to understand and be more like the humans he resembles. Foxworth’s portrayal of the android was very similar to how Brent Spinner would later bring Data to life, and it seems possible that Spiner drew some influence from this early Roddenberry pilot.  In addition, you can also see where Questor shares some similarities with Spock and offers the logical bridge between the Vulcan of the original Trek and the android of TNG.

NBC actually originally greenlighted The Questor Tapes to series, and if had happened I believe it had a ton of potential so long as Gene Roddenberry stayed at the helm.  He could have assured quality control on the scripts and used the concept to incorporate the same sort of social commentary he worked into Trek episodes.  And a Questor series could have easily rivaled that franchise.  However, Roddenberry found himself at odds with the network when he discovered that they planned on airing the proposed series in the 10 PM EST Friday “deathslot” (the same timeslot that he felt killed off Star Trek).  NBC also wanted to drop the Jerry Robinson character which Roddenberry felt was a mistake (and remember, that network also tried to kick Spock off the bridge of ST: TOS).  These differences in direction led the peacock network to change its mind and pass on the series, so we can only speculate on how it would have unfolded if it went forward the way they planned (and remember that networks in the 70’s tended to prefer ‘fluff” television like The Love Boat and Charlie’s Angels to shows that tried to engage the mind).  I do have to admit that I have a hard time seeing Mike Farrell as the Jerry Robinson character, but that’s probably mostly because I so closely associated with him as B.J. Hunnicutt from M*A*S*H (where he landed after this pilot failed to fly).  Still, I think he would have been able to grow into the role (but then think of how different M*A*S*H would have been).

There was an attempt by long-time Roddenberry associate Herbert J. Wright to revive the concept in the early 00's.  But those stalled when Wright passed away in 2005.  Then in 2010, Roddenberry's son Eugene (aka "Rod") announced that he was working with Imagine Entertainment (owned by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard) on another attempt to get the show off the ground and word was that long-time Whedon collaborator Tim Minear (Firefly, Angel, Dollhouse) would participate as well.  There has been no further news, though, so that appears to be in development Hell for the moment.  And unfortunately,  But The Questor Tapes has finally received a DVD release, so you can at least go back and revisit the original pilot and imagine how the series would have turned out.

Interesting Facts:  There is another link between the Questor character and Data that probably few Trek fans know about. The infamous “fully functional” line that Data used in response to Tasha Yar’s inquiries in the episode “The Naked Now” (referring to his sexual capacity), originated with Questor. He used it in a similar circumstance and it was equally hilarious when he did it nearly fifteen years early (and it must have slipped past the censors as well).

According to Rob Roddenberry, his father "believed that [The Questor Tapes] had the potential to be bigger than Star Trek" and he considered it "the one that got away".

Leonard Nimoy was originally considered for the role of Questor in the 1974 pilot and Rod Roddenberry has mentioned Brent Spiner as his first choice for the character should the revival series happen.

As with many of Gene Roddenberry's productions, Majel Barrett had a role on this pilot.  And Walter Koenig stopped by for a brief appearance as an "Administrative Assistant"

Buy The Questor Tapes and the Other Gene Roddenberry Pilots on DVD from

Friday, August 28, 2015

Sci Fi TV Quick Hits: Fear the Walking Dead Shows Potential, Humans Disappoints, The Last Ship is Getting Quite Good

So Fear the Walking Dead has finally arrived and it looks like it could give us a decent backstory to the events that set up the world of The Walking Dead.  The premiere starts out giving us zombie-action right away as drug addict Nick wakes up from a bad trip to find his girlfriend (who we realize has turned into a Z) munching on some other unfortunate person.  Nick flees the scene and ends up getting hit by a car and taken to a hospital where his estranged family is called.  Some angsty family drama follows from that which really bogged the ninety minute premiere down, but slowly they started working their way back to the zombie origin story we are looking for and by the end of the episode things really started getting interesting.  I wouldn't be surprised if we get more of the family drama in the coming episodes because this show is not supposed to go full-zombie just yet.  Instead, we will get glimpses of the ensuing zombie-pocalypse from their perspective as it unfolds in its early days.  I'm hoping that the crew running the show will keep it from descending into Dawson's-Creek-meets-zombies, and their track record with TWD suggests that they will.  I'm definitely onboard with the show at this point, though not as excited for the next episode as I would be for a new TWD installment.  But as Fear the Walking Dead continues to grow, maybe I will find that I like this one just as much.

As for the show that just vacated the Sunday 9 PM EST on AMC, Humans, I just finished up watching that one on DVR and have to say that I am disappointed with it.  I had high hopes for this show thinking that it would explore some interesting speculative fiction ideas involving androids becoming more prevalent in society and also the rise of artificial intelligence.  But they really just skirted around those ideas and more often than not gave us Dawson's-Creek-with-robots and a bit of The Fugitive thrown in as well.  Some ideas about the androids' impact on a family's home were suggested early on (the child becoming more attached to the android than the parent, the husband having sex with the android, etc.) but never fully explored.  And instead of really delving into the AI angle, they gave us more of an "androids are people too" spin that left a lot of interesting ideas on the table.  I also had a hard time believing that the family would have risked all they did for these androids, especially after they learned that one of them was very dangerous.   I wouldn't call it a terrible show and the cast definitely did all they could with the material given them.  But Humans definitely underwhelmed and slipped too often into copy-and-paste.  And in the current sci fi overload environment I'm not sure I would make much effort to tune in to the show's second season (it will return in 2016) with so many other options available.

As for TNT's The Last Ship, that one is moving from the guilty pleasure category to becoming a damn good sci fi TV show.  It started out as basically G.I.-Joe-saves-the-world and gave us a more optimistic spin on the post-apocalyptic tale (as opposed to the grim vision of The Walking Dead and others) in which heroes emerge to give us hope for the future (go into that in more detail in the last edition of Sci Fi TV Quick Hits).  But it is now developing beyond that into a fairly well thought out story of how these heroes will help to rebuild the world and the show has also presented them with some interesting challenges to face.  The group of immunes who believe that they are the chosen ones to inherit the Earth present an intriguing set of antagonists that avoid (so far) television villain archetypes and give the crew of the Nathan James some moral dilemmas to deal with.  This show has never gone heavy on the moral quandaries, but it has thrown in its share and dealt with them pretty well.  I am still a few episodes behind on this one, but I am definitely enjoying and it appears to be developing into a well-rounded show that is realizing the potential of its premise and tackling some good stories.  Hopefully it can keep that up into its third season (which was announced just recently).

Friday, August 14, 2015

Book Review: The League of Regrettable Superheroes by Jon Morris

Rating: 4 ½ out of 5 Stars

Bottom Line: A fun look at the less-celebrated comic book crime fighters that's hard to put-down.

Subtitled "Half-baked Heroes from Comic Book History", this fun little book takes us beyond the A-List comic book superheroes and even beyond the B and C listers.  Super-powered crime fighters have been smashing it up in comics since the late 1930's, and quite a number of costumed do-gooders have paraded across the four color pages since that time.  Plenty have stood the test of time (Superman, Batman, Captain America), but plenty more came and went with little in the way of fanfare.  And this book focuses on that latter group.

Author Jon Morris runs the blog Gone & Forgotten, which as he describes is "dedicated to the bottom of the comic book barrel".  And many of the characters in this book come from the nether regions of that very barrel; from the Golden Age all the way to more recent times.  Here's a look at just a few of characters he covers in the book:

Bozo the Iron Man: Before the clown adopted the moniker and before Tony Stark donned his iron accouterments, this character was running around in the pages of Smash Comics.  He was a (perennially smiling) robot who started out as a bad guy but was set on the path of good when crime fighter Hugh Hazzard swiped his controls.

Doctor Hormone: This aged scientist (whose real last name is apparently Hormone), turns himself young again then decides to "bring the mighty power of hormones to benefit the world".  That seems to mostly involve turning people young and old, but you do what you can to fight crime, right?

Dynamite Thor: Having apparently no relation to the Norse god, this mortal was particularly adept at using explosives to subdue the bad guys.  That of course set a great example for the children reading the comic . . .

Fatman the Human Flying Saucer: Um . . . this guy was fat (though apparently still rather athletic).  Oh, and after an encounter with aliens, they gave him the ability to turn into a human flying saucer.  Hijinks ensue . . .

Squirrel Girl: You can't have a book like this without this dubious character who appeared in the pages of Marvel in the 90's.  She had the "relative strength, speed, and talents of squirrels".  And a tail.  And she could communicate with other squirrels.  She apparently kicked Dr. Doom's butt, though.

Those are just a sampling of the characters that Norris covers in the book, and he does so with plenty of wit and also a great love for the source material he is poking fun at.  This is the type of book that you pick up and suddenly find that an hour or more has passed as you flip through the pages reading about the next crazy comic character.  Consider it a great bathroom reader and a must have for any comic book afficianado who wants to delve beyond the major players in the industry.   And at only $14 for the hard cover (the current price on Amazon as of this writing), it counts has a bargain in my book.

Buy it now in Hardcover or for the Kindle from