Thursday, September 24, 2015

HILO - The Boy Who Crashed To Earth

The Boy Who Crashed To Earth
By Judd Winick
Random House Children’s Books
193 pages

What we have with this charming, wonderfully illustrated hardback book is a marriage between traditional children’s books and your standard graphic novel.  Formatted like a comic but capturing the essence of a children’s book intended to amuse, enlighten and teach all in a colorful, fantastic, exuberant story.  “HILO – The Boy Who Crashed To Earth,” marvelously captures the joy of childhood complete with its fears, innocence and abounding sense of wonder.

As a child, we truly believe anything is possible, including the fanciful premise of this tale; a strange boy from another world falls out of the sky and instantly ingratiates himself with two earth kids quickly becoming their new remarkable friend.

You would think HILO is the main character in this sci-fi kids’ adventure but not true. The real star of the story is young Daniel Jackson Lim, better known to his family and friends as D.J.  He’s one of five children and believes he is the only one without any special talents.  His brothers and sisters all excel in either sports or academics but not poor D.J.  He’s just an average boy and that lack of self-worth bothers him terribly.
It is only when he meets the “Boy Who Crashed To Earth,” that D.J. is thrust into having to exceed his own expectations that he is forced to reevaluate his true self and therein discovers own, unique gifts.

We cannot recommend this book highly enough.  The story and art are superb and will delight both young and old readers alike. For you parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, we cannot imagine any young boy or girl not being thrilled to have a copy.  And yes, the book is available from Amazon.  Get it now!  You can thank us later.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015


By Raymond Benson
Oceanview Publishing
266 pages

Did you ever wish you had a lot more time to read?  I have to believe everyone reading these reviews is now nodding their head affirmatively. It seems every day a new book comes out that appeals to our particular likes and suddenly our pile of books to read begins to rise towards the ceiling. It’s a daily occurrence for every reviewer I know and there is no solution other than to accept the limitations imposed by life and do one’s best to climb that mountain. What follows is one of those reviews of a book I’ve been waiting years to get to.

Judy Cooper is raped by her stepfather at the age of thirteen. She leaves her small town home in Texas and makes her way to New York City circa the mid-1950s. There she gets a job as a waitress in a greasy spoon diner and then makes friends with the owner of a local boxing gym. For her help in managing his office chores, this old pugilist allows her to live in the apartment over the gym. Pretty standard stuff until one day Judy gets it into her head that she wants to learn how to box. The nightmares of her rape continues to haunt her and learning how to physically defend herself is something she has to do for her own peace of mind. Not only does she learn to box, much to the chagrin of the male clientele, but soon thereafter Judy discovers a new Japanese dojo has opened in the city and out of curiosity goes to see what all the fuss is about. Seeing both a display of judo and karate, the young Texas gal realizes this is going to be the next step in her evolution as a warrior.

All of this history is related to us via flashbacks found in Judy’s diaries by her son, Martin. In the present, Judy is an old woman suffering from Alzheimer’s and has been committed to a nursing facility. Because of her incapacity to manage her own affairs, her lawyer delivers a box of her personal belongs to Martin and thus he discovers the diaries. Once he begins reading them, he, and we readers, learn a whole lot more about this amazing woman he calls Mom.

Through a series of fateful encounters, Judy falls in love with a gangster working for the Mafia. When he is murdered by his own Don, Judy decides to emulate the comic book heroes she’s read about and seek her own personal justice. She dons a black leather jacket and mask and becomes a butt-kicking vigilante calling herself the Black Stiletto.

Deftly moving back and forth from his mother’s writings to Martin’s own personal problems, Benson deftly keeps the pace moving at a machine-gun rattling clip. The idea of a real costume clad hero has been done by many other writers today, all of them hoping to cash in on the recent popularity of comics. But none have done so as logically as Benson does with Judy and her metamorphosis into this radical new persona is totally believable. Though she possesses no supernatural powers, she is gifted with heightened senses that allow her discern when people are lying to her. At the same time her survival instincts, due in large part to her rigorous martial arts training, have grown sharp and unerring. 

And so we are given a female Batman, though after reading this first book in the series, I’d argue Judy Cooper has a great deal more in common with the early pulp heroes; especially one Ellen Patrick, better known as the Domino Lady. Although they are polar opposites in their modus operandi and looks, it is those qualities they share that make them sisters in arms.  Beautiful, cunning, vulnerable and with a strong sense of justice is what makes them exceptional in their own times and settings.

“The Black Stilleto” is grand tale with a truly original, endearing protagonist. Having met Judy Cooper, I doubt seriously I’ll ever forget her.  And neither will you.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Edited by Robert Deis, David Coleman & Wyatt Dole
New Texture
281 pages

Once again, Men’s Adventure Magazines (MAMS) historian, Robert Deis, and his co-horts, David Coleman and Wyatt Dole, have put together another absolutely wonderful collection of bizarre tales culled from the various MAMS published between the 50s and 70s.  In their first book, “Weasels Ripped My Flesh,” they assembled an eclectic mixture of every possible genre known to men’s fiction from westerns to crime and mystery and heroic war tales.  They followed this up with a volume devoted entirely to the works of writer Walter Kaylin, one of the most prolific pulp writers of the era, in a gorgeous package entitled, “He-Men, Bag Men & Nymphos.”

With this latest entry, we are given a healthy dose of weird creatures that roam the remaining wilderness areas of the world.  Here, in what these long-ago pseudo scientific experts labeled Cryptozoology, are stories that relate amazing encounters with all manner of freakish monsters from the Abominable Snowman (the largest group in the book) to horrific sea monsters capable of sinking the largest ocean liners and high mountain Thunder Birds so large they can carry away adult humans in their razor sharp talons.

If you’ve ever wondered at where the legends of such notorious beings as Bigfoot and the Jersey Devil were born, you needn’t look any further than these pages.  The MAMS were crammed with these eye-witness sightings, often at the cost of human lives.  Here are reported accounts by hunters, explorers, scientists and unlucky travelers, all testifying to those mysterious things that go bump in the night lost in the deep woods of our imagination.  And that is what is at work throughout each and every one of these macabre episodes, sheer, unbridled imagination.  Hell, there’s even a story about a sea leviathan by none other than Arthur C. Clarke.

“Cryptozoology Anthology,” is the kind of book P.T. Barnum might have been hawking in front of his circus tents to make a few extra pennies before allowing us into the inner big-top to view the wonders chained inside.  It is a book for those of us who remember a world a little less mapped and a whole lot more dangerous.  Grab a copy, get your ticket punched and hang on for the ride.  It’s a whopper!

Monday, September 14, 2015


By Frank Schildiner
250 pages
Black Coat Press

Most of my experiences with Frank Schildiner’s work has been reading and editing his fast paced, action pack hero-pulp short stories.  That his first full length novel should be one of unremitting horror came as a surprise to say the least.  I had no idea what to expect when I opened it and began the first chapter.  I should note this particular book falls in line with a series of older Frankenstein books written Jean-Claude Carriere begun in 1956.  As explained by the editor/publisher Jean-Marc Lofficer in his introduction to this volume. Carriere’s tales interpreted the monster, known as Gouroull, as a more savage creature obsessed with goals in his twisted life; one the creation of a mate and the other the total destruction of all mankind.

It is this version that Schildiner continues in his book.  The setting is the height of World War One and in the midst of the all the battlefields of Europe, Gouroull appears reviling in the unrelenting bloodletting. Ultimately he encounters the mad scientist Herbert West who has become a disciple of his late creator, Victor Frankenstein.  West is thrilled to finally meet Gouroull and agrees to create a mate for him if the monster will procure half a dozen occult artifacts scattered throughout the world.  Being virtually indestructible, Gouroull sets off to complete his assigned task.  Thus the book’s first half becomes a bizarre scavenger hunt through some of the most frightening settings ever culled from horror fiction. Schildiner has much fun taking his protagonist on this journey and each chapter has the monster encountering one memorable fiend after another. Honestly, the congress of famous vampires that occurs in chapter five is worth the price of admission. It had me chuckling aloud and stomping my feet on the floor with the introduction of each new invitee.  From Barnabus Collins to Dracula himself, this is by far the most colorful vampire gathering ever put to paper.

Of course procuring those unique objects proves to be no challenge to Gouroull.  But when he returns to mad doctor’s lab with these items, he is told his mission is only half completed.  Even with the arcane treasures to replicate Frankenstein’s operation, West still requires the bones of a strong and powerful woman upon which to build this new creation. Once again Gouroull is off on yet another journey through the back roads and dark woods of the continent and for a second time the quest formula becomes Schildiner’s tool to showcase some of the more evil females of legend and history.

“The Quest of Frankenstein” is one of the most well written horror pastiches ever imagined and Schildiner’s work rivals even the most experienced scribes in the field. For in the end, it is his sincere love of the genre that shines through every single page and pulls the reader along for one hell of an unforgettable ride. Easily one of the most enjoyable books I’ve read all year and one truly warranting a sequel.  This is my kind of monster!

Thursday, September 03, 2015

HADON, King of Opar

HADON, King of Opar
By Christopher Paul Carey
Meteor House Press
153 pages

Opar, the lost jungle city first appeared in the pages of Edgar Rice Burrough’s “The Return of Tarzan.” Some believe Burroughs took the name from the Biblical reference to Ophir, whence King Solomon supposedly received a cargo of  gold, silver, sandalwood, precious stones, ivory, and other treasures every three years via some unknown, secret route. Burroughs would revisit the lost city in several other Tarzan adventures to include “Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar,” “Tarzan and the Golden Lion,” and “Tarzan the Invicncible.”

In 1974, the late Philip Jose Farmer took it upon himself to write the history of Opar and beganwith his novel, “Hadon of Ancient Opar,” and continued it with “Flight to Opar,” published two years later.  Now Christopher Paul Carey has picked up the narrative and will most likely carry it to its ultimate conclusion.  In the words of Phantom creator, Lee Falk, for those who came in late, never fear, the publisher has provided an abbreviated history of events which is found as a helpful supplement in the back of the book.

Whereas not having read any of these previous chapters, we found this a rollicking good adventure read and any reader with even the slightest familiarity with either Burroughs or Farmer will have no problems enjoying this tale.  At the offset, Opar is invaded by a large force of river pirates led by a sadistic mercenary named Gahesi.  In the middle of the night, Hadon, the King, rallies his troops and goes out to battle his foes. Too late he learns the enemy’s forces have found the secret tunnel passages into the vast city and have already gained control of its primary routes of access.

Afraid to commit his remaining forces, Hadon opts to reenter Opar via this same maze of secret passageways and learned the fate of his queen and family.  In the process he discovers it was one of the high priest and priestess that betrayed them in divulging the secret routes to Gahesi in hopes of sharing in the coup’s bloody victory. But Hadon is not so easily defeated and through a series of near fatal encounters, he manages to rescue a few members of his beloved family and rejoin his troops outside the gates to the city. Here he is discovers even more startling news; a group of giant warriors led the son of Hadon’s deceased cousin, Kwasin, have arrived on a quest to learn the fate of their sire.

Could they possibly be the allies Hadon needs to retake Opar and defeat the river pirates? The opportunity exists but first Hadon will have to fight eight foot tall leader of the giants to prove his worthiness.  Spinning a non-stop adventure tale, Carey’s pace never lets up and his easy, competent style allows readers to slip into this ancient, magnificent world he has so expertly brought back to life.  Burroughs and Farmer would have been proud.

Sunday, August 30, 2015


By Max Allan Collins
Illustrations by Terry Beatty
Dover Mystery Classic
265 pages

Of all the ongoing series mystery writer Max Collins continues to juggle, while doing all the things we normal being do such eat, drink and sleep, my favorite is quickly becoming his Jack and Maggie Starr books.  Being a comic book fan since the age of five, it’s only natural I’d appreciate a mystery series that involves American comic books during the Golden Age of the four-color little mags.  It started with A Killing in Comics (May 2007) which I’ve not had the pleasure of reading yet and then later produced Strip for Murder (May 2008 and the subject of this review) and wrapped with Seduction of the Innocent (June 2013) which revolved around fictionalized version of Frederic Wertham’s crusade against comic books back in the 1950s.  One of my personal favorites of Collins’ books.

The set up is a fun one.  Maggie Starr was once a famous burlesque queen who married the Major, a World War One hero and widower.  He owned Starr Syndicates which managed a group of highly profitable cartoon strips.  When the Major died, Maggie inherited the business and helping her run it as a special security consultant is the Major’s son, Jack.  Immediately one is reminded me of the classic boss-employee partnership between Rex Stout’s master detective Nero Wolfe and his witty, tough-guy legman chronicler, Archie Goodwin.  Here it is Jack who tells the tales with tongue firmly in cheek.  In fact Jack’s dialogue showcases some of the best lines Collins has ever put to paper; many so exaggerated as to be as cartoonish as the properties Starr Syndicate handles. 

The banter between Jack, a healthy, handsome lad and his drop-dead gorgeous stepmother is one of the major attractions (pun intended) of these stories. Though it is made absolutely clear there is no risqué hanky-panky happening here. But don’t feel sorry for the lad, in the two books I’ve read thus far, he never lacks sexy feminine companionship.  Whereas there’s plenty of adult foibles within the stories themselves and the world of early comics is proven to be as nasty and cutthroat as any other commercial venture in American history. 

The crux of the plot deals with an on-going feud between two famous cartoonists, both with inflated egos, who despise each other for multiple past wrongs. When one of them is murdered, Starr Syndicate is in danger of losing its most profitable strip and so Maggie orders Jack to solve the mystery and help save the family business. Throughout the story, Collins offers up a parade of thinly disguised cartoonists most fans will easily recognize, in fact the feuding duo are thinly veiled versions of the men who created Lil’ Abner and Joe Palooka. 

Now as entertained as I was throughout the book, I’m going to bet half my own readers here, especially those under thirty, don’t have the foggiest notion as to the two iconic characters I just mentioned.  Thus the book, for the non-fan, is most likely going to be bothersome as most of the book’s appeal will fall flat.  How can you truly enjoy the game if you don’t know who the players are?

Don’t get me wrong.  Even with that handicap, Collins is too much a pro not to deliver a good mystery and always plays fair with the clues peppered throughout the course of the narrative.  But what I would like to see is for him to take the series away from its limited comic-world settings and explore its true potential as a straight out mystery series starring two of the most enjoyable detectives ever to grace the printed page.  In the end there’s a whole lot more to Maggie and Jack then just four flat colors.

Thursday, August 20, 2015


An Isaac Bell Adventure
By JUSTIN SCOTT & Clive Cussler
Berkley Novel
402 pages

Okay, back-story first for those of you unfamiliar with the Isaac Bell series. He was created by popular new pulp writer Clive Cussler in the first book of the series, “The Chase,” with the assistance of novelist Justin Scott. Since that time, although his name always appears on the book’s covers, it is all too clear that these marvelous tales are penned solely by Mr. Scott. And, we might add, we’ve come to enjoy them just as much as Cussler’s own original Dirk Pitt books.

Isaac Bell is the leading investigator for the New York based Van Horn Detective Agency. The son of a wealthy Boston banker, Bell found the life of a banker much too dull and boring for his taste and discovering the excitement and adventure inherent in his chosen professional, quickly became one of the finest investigators at the Agency. In the previous books, all taking place in the early 1900s, Bell’s saga is set against the amazing birth of the industrial age in America. His cases have dealt with the burgeoning empires of transcontinental railroads and the pioneers of early aviation; whereas in this volume, Scott sends us backward in time to one of Bell’s first assignments.

As the book opens, he is disguised as a coal miner in rural West Virginia attempting to learn more concerning the make up of union organizers determined to gain higher wages and safer working conditions for their members. At the same time he begins to suspect that one of the richest Wall Street tycoons is behind a series of sabotage attacks on the mines that have left dozens injured or dead. Someone has hired a cunning agitator to create turmoil between the owners and the workers but to what end he cannot fathom.

As ever Scott’s historical setting is phenomenal and half the fun of reading these exploits. But with “The Striker” there comes a fresh twist in that this mysterious provocateur Bell is chasing is in many ways as skilled and trained as he is. Could it be possible that the man Bell is hunting is another detective? One trained by his own mentor?  And what is the role of the lovely Mary Higgins, the sister of one of the union organizers?  Combining both emotional investments with a mile-a-minute pacing, Scott once again delivers a breath-taking race through history at the same time making it come alive for today’s readers. It isn’t often that a thriller provides us with a genuine glimpse into tragedies and glories that made this country great.

“The Striker” is another great addition to the Isaac Bell series and we’re already anxious for the next one.  Major thumbs up here, loyal readers.