Remembering Stan Lee

Much to the chagrin of my AP English teacher, I’d have to say that Stan Lee is one of the writers I’ve read the most. Part of that is due to my obsession with Spider-Man comic books at a young age and into my early teens with Marvel reprinted the entire Lee/Steve Ditko run of Amazing Spider-Man in Marvel Tales. And part of that is because Stan Lee wrote a LOT of comic books.

So, I was saddened to hear that Lee passed away yesterday at the age of 95. For some reason, like many of the Marvel characters he created, I just felt like Stan would live forever. And maybe through his creations like Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and so many other iconic characters he will. And his impact on pop culture is undeniable — and it’s only grown over the last decade as the Marvel Studios movies have become the biggest pop culture events on the planet.

Lee was the face and voice of Marvel for such a long time. And while he hasn’t been actively involved in that role in a long time, it’s still hard to imagine that we won’t get a new story by Stan for one of his iconic creations the next time he or she celebrates a milestone issue count or anniversary. Lee had a fertile imagination and while not every comic he wrote was a classic, he had more hits than misses. Listening to his distinctive voice in interviews, I know he wanted to write the “great American novel.” But maybe with the creation of a pantheon of heroes and villains that will continue on for decades to come, he wrote something greater.

I hope that Avengers 4 was able to film a cameo by Lee before his passing. Even so, it will be sad to know that Marvel Studios movies after a certain point will no longer see Lee making his trademark cameo any longer.

But for all the wonderful stories and memories he gave me, I say thank you to Stan Lee. And may you rest in peace.

As Stan would say, Excelsior!

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Audiobook Review: Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death by Terrance Dicks

Doctor Who: The Ambassadors of Death: 3rd Doctor NovelisationThe final televised Third Doctor story to reach the printed page was something of a disappointment when I read it initially thirty plus years ago. However, thanks to the audiobook line from BBC Audio, I was given the opportunity to visit the story once again.

In the years since I first read the novel, “The Ambassadors of Death” has grown a bit in my estimation. Yes, it’s still the weakest story of season seven, but that’s damning a bit with faint praise.

Terrance Dicks’ adaptation of the John Whitacker/Malcolm Hulke script does a serviceable job of trying to condense seven episodes into the mandated page count. Dicks is able to streamline some of the action sequences (Liz Shaw’s car chase, for example, takes about a paragraph or so) and give a bit more time and space to early developments. However, after listened to some of Dicks’ earlier works when he was given more time to develop the characters and add in some background details to the situation, I can’t help but wish he’d had don that here. Imagine the Dicks who wrote “Day of the Daleks” being allowed to fill in the history of the Mars Probe missions or even time to make General Carrington a bit more of a sympathetic villain (or at least give us a better understanding of his motives).

I can’t help walking away from this one feeling like it’s a missed opportunity more than anything.

And yet, for all of that, the audio version was still a pleasure to listen to. Part of that is narrator Geoffrey Beavers, who could probably read Malcolm Hulke’s grocery list and it would be utterly scintillating to the listening ear. Once again, Beavers shows he’s one of the jewels in the audio book line.

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Review: The Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay

The Cabin at the End of the WorldOn a warm summer afternoon, Wen is capturing grasshoppers in a jar near the cabin rented by her fathers. Fully intending to return the grasshoppers to their native habitat after she’s done naming and studying them, Wen finds her peaceful afternoon interrupted by the arrival of four strangers.

Taking her fathers and Wen prisoner at the isolated cabin (cell service is non-existent), the four strangers say they’ve come to ask an extraordinary favor of Wen and her fathers. One of them must willingly sacrifice themselves in the next few hours or else there will be serious consequences to their captors and the planet as a whole.

A slow-burn of ever-increasing horror, Paul Tremblay’s The Cabin at the End of the World slowly draws you in and then dares you to look away as things slowly spiral out of control. Tremblay spends the first third of the book developing Wen, her fathers, and their captors so that, even while you don’t agree with this decisions and choices, you understand their motivation and what’s brought them to this brutal crossroads. Exposing old fears, long-held resentments, and areas of their relationships that probably would be better staying hidden, each character is stripped down during the course of the standoff.

The first chapters are almost hypnotic, but once the revelations come, they’re well paced and well earned by Tremblay. The master of modern horror, Stephen King, called this Tremblay’s best offering to date. And while I’m not sure I necessarily agree (A Head Full of Ghosts haunted me in ways this one didn’t. But that’s probably just a matter of personal preference), this is still one of the more haunting page-turners I’ve read this year.

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Comic Book Friday: Man of Steel by John Byrne

Superman: The Man of SteelYears ago, a friend shoved a copy of the collector’s edition first issue of this Superman reboot into my hands and said I should make it part of my comic book collection. And while I can clearly recall having the collector’s cover issue in my collection for years, I can’t recall much about reading it at the time. (In fact, I may not have read it on the off chance that I’d bend the spine and decrease the collect-ability value of the comic in question).

Reading this six-issue reboot of Superman thirty plus years later, I’m impressed by how big an influence it had on just about every version of Superman that’s appeared in pop culture since that time. The six issues reflect a lot of the high points of one of my favorite shows of the ’90s, Lois and Clark. Whether it’s Clark’s parents still being around to serve as sounding boards to Lex Luthor being a billionaire industrialist with his own mischievous agenda that he’s upset gets hijacked by Superman’s appearance on the scene, John Bryne’s take still echoes through comics and pop culture today.

In many ways, I kept feeling like what Bryne was doing with Superman was what Brian Michael Bendis did with Spider-Man in the Ultimate Spider-Man line — it was giving a character relevance to a new generation of fans. And certainly, the Man of Steel needed that refresh in the 80’s. This reboot opened the door to many of the other Super storylines to come, including the infamous Death of Superman storyline in the 90’s.

With an introduction by sci-fi great Ray Bradbury, this collection of six issues is a refreshing reboot of one of the iconic comic characters. It’s worth looking at if you haven’t read it before or visiting again if you haven’t read it in a while.

 

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Review: “Flight or Fright,” edited by Stephen King & Bev Vincent

Flight or FrightCultivated by Stephen King and Bev Vincent, this collection of seventeen stories about the horrors of flying is hit or miss.

The main selling point for the collection are new offerings from King and his son, Joe Hill. Reading the stories, the Hill story about a plane in the air when nuclear war erupts is chilling and utterly effective. It also sent shivers down my spine at how well it tied into my reading of Robert McCammon’s “Swan Song” around the same time. King’s offering is enjoyable enough but wasn’t one of my favorite stories from this collection. It’s a forgettable piece about the people on planes who are there to deal with turbulence. It’s an interesting little idea and a hook for the story, but it still doesn’t quite sent shivers up the spine like Hill’s does.

As for the rest of the collection, it’s also hit or miss. Of course, it’s really kind of unfair to the collection that it includes what many (including King) consider one of the definitive scary flying stories in Richard Matheson’s “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet.” Once you’ve read that one, it’s all downhill from there, but that could be my Matheson bias showing through. (He’s one of the best short story writers in this reviewer’s estimation).

But as with all good short story collections, the good news is if the story you’re reading or just read isn’t quite your style, there’s another one or two coming to try. And King’s introductions to each story are nicely done. I did find a couple of new authors that I may want to read more of in the near future. So, that can’t really be all that bad a thing, right?

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Review: Oh My Stars by Sally Kilpatrick

Oh My StarsNeither Ivy Long nor Gabe Ledbetter could have predicted the chain of events that led them to serve as Mary and Joseph at the drive-through nativity in the small town of Ellery, Tennessee.

A published romance author, Ivy has suffered writer’s block since her husband passed away and plans fell through with their foster child. Gabe has returned home from Memphis, with a failing marriage and a looming malpractice suit.

So, when a baby is left in the drive-through Nativity, neither Ivy nor Gabe expected they would become her care givers. Nor could they predict the impact this little girl would have on their hearts. Could this be a Christmas present or miracle to help them both move on from their past and maybe find a new love — not just for the little girl, but for each other. Continue reading

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Doctor Who: Rosa

Doctor-Who-series-11-ep-3-1692a63.jpgThis week’s installment felt a lot like an episode of Quantum Leap with the TARDIS crew trying to put right something going wrong with history. But where most Quantum Leap episodes (well, at least until season five) were concerned with history on a personal scale, “Rose” found the Doctor and company at a pivotal crossroads of world and universal history.

It made for a fascinating hour of television, buoyed once again by the performances of the quartet that makes up the TARDIS crew.  It was interesting to see Ryan and Yas have to confront racism is Montgomery, Alabama at the birth of the civil rights movement.  Going back to Quantum Leap, it felt a bit like an early episode when Sam leapt into an older African-American man and was forced to confront the horrors and realities of racism. Continue reading

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