Saturday, December 9, 2017

Short Lived Comic Series #7 - Hawk and Dove (DC Comics)

Hawk and Dove were definitely characters that were a product of their time.  I was first introduced to them in the Teen Titans series by DC Comics, and later read the post-Crisis series, wherein Hawk's brother Dove (who died during the Crisis on Infinite Earths) was replaced by a female version of the character.  However, I recently was able to track down and purchase the 6-issue run of Hawk and Dove that was originally published back in the late 1960s, and after reading the short-lived series, I realized just how connected these characters were to the time period in which they were created.

The characters of Hawk and Dove are Hank Hall and his younger brother, Don Hall.  The two brothers are polar opposites - Hank is the hothead, violent, judge-now-ask-questions-later type of guy, while Don is the pacifist, determined to to solve any problem through talking and level-headedness with absolutely no room for violence.  Created by Steve Skeates and Steve Ditko, the pair made their first appearance in DC's Showcase comic before spinning off into their own series.  Creator and artist Steve Ditko only remained with the title for the first two issues, and creator/writer Steve Skeates left after the fourth issue, leaving artist Gil Kane (who drew issues three through six) to also write the last two issues of the series.

Throughout all six issues of this short series, there was a constant battle between the brothers - Hank (Hawk) always wanted to take matters into his own hands.  He wanted to beat the truth out of people and had no probably playing judge and jury for anyone who was committing a crime.  He had no tolerance for his brother's pacifist ways.  Don (Dove), on the other hand, was a man of peace.  He believed any problem could be solved by simply talking down the criminal, and he was a strict believer in non-violence, regardless of the situation.  This, of course, led to a constant barrage of name-calling between the two - but, being brothers, regardless of their differences, when push came to shove, they were there for each other and worried about each other.

The first several covers were similar to the romance / soap opera titles of the time.  It seemed each cover had Don fighting with himself over his inability to defend or help fight with his brother, or featured Hank screaming at his brother for his refusal to fight back in any given situation.  It wasn't until Gil Kane took over complete reigns with the fifth issue that Don/Dove gained a little bit of a back-bone - but, sadly, it wasn't enough to save the book, which was cancelled with the sixth issue.

The stories are relatively interesting, if you overlook the child-like barbs the brothers were constantly throwing at one another.  They featured non-super-powered villains who either evaded capture by the law, or managed to escape justice altogether by beating the court system.  Often times, the boys' father, who was a judge, was caught up in the story - which made for a difficult situation for Hank and Don, since their father hated the vigilante tactics of Hawk and Dove (which was a bit odd, since Dove never really did anything to anyone - rather, he allowed things to happen that could have been prevented if he would have simply stood up and fought).

While later incarnations of Hank Hall (after his brother's death) still showed him as full of anger and ready for a fight, none of those incarnations seemed as angry as the Hank Hall in this first series.  Honestly, I think if the writers had simply toned down both characters a bit, not made them so overtly polar opposites, the series may have had a better reception and lasted longer.  The art was not bad at all - Ditko, and then Kane, drew some great fight scenes, and their capture of the boys' expressions at various times was pretty much spot-on for the characterization of the heroes.

Interesting to note that the fifth issue ended with the boys stumbling across the Teen Titans - which was a lead-in of sorts to their crossover into an issue of the Teen Titans book.  While crossovers such as that are commonplace today, back then, direct lead-in crossovers such as that were few and far between.

It's always fun to go back and read comics from a prior decade, as they often reflected the stereotypes, beliefs, and emotions of that time - and definitely, this first Hawk and Dove series from DC comics can give us a picture of the general attitudes in America in the late '60s and early '70s.

RATING: 6 mysterious voices from beyond out of 10 for taking a chance on a unique brother team of heroes that faced down-to-earth, regular villains instead of the super-powered, out of this world villains of normal superhero comics.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Hot Ice - A Groovy Mystery Caper #2

I read the first "Groovy Mystery Caper" some years ago, back in 2011 not too long after it was first published.  The series is set in the 1960s, and its protagonist is Yancy Dunkle, a chauffeur for the quite outspoken Jean Sparks, former head of costume design at Colossal Studios.  Dunkle has a bit of a dilemma (other than stumbling into murder mysteries) - he has amnesia and cannot remember anything before just a couple of years prior.

After solving a murder in Palm Springs, Jean is taking Dunkle to Indio, California, just some twenty miles away, for a carnival, beauty pageant, parade, and some good, wholesome fun to take their minds off of everything they went through.  Of course, this is a mystery book, so it pretty much goes without saying that soon after their arrival in Indio, Dunkle and Jean stumble into a mystery involving - yes, I'm going to say it - midgets, clowns, and camel jockeys.

Interestingly enough, the author, James Huskins, doesn't bring in the murder until well over half-way through the book.  Instead, the mystery begins with a locked-room theft - someone has stolen the priceless Star of Arabia necklace from the safe in the locked library of Dunkle and Jean's hosts while everyone is there!  While the local beauty queen still has the knock-off copy of the necklace to wear at the pageant that week, Dunkle and Jean set about to find out what happened to the real necklace.

Meanwhile, their friend Polly, who is an investigative reporter, is in town as well, following up on a story that she claims could potentially blow the lid off of some long-held secrets in town.  But Polly disappears, and Dunkle and Jean begin to wonder if it has any connection to the theft.  Then there's the mystery of the midget's missing daughter at the local circus that is in town, as well as the mysterious message that the gypsy fortune teller gives to Dunkle about his past, and his future.  There are a jumble of mysteries and a plethora of characters - there are even some good, old-fashioned Nancy Drew-type foibles as they receive notes to drop their investigation, Dunkle gets conked on the head and tied up, they are almost run-down by a speeding automobile, and they get held at gunpoint.

The plot is actually well-thought out and expertly executed, with clues scattered here and there, and enough red herrings to keep you guessing up until the very end.  The only distraction from the story are the number of grammatical errors throughout the book.  Dunkle and Jean's hosts are named Earl and Bessy Garra - yet, whenever the author refers to the couple, he always identifies them as the "Garra's" (singular possessive) instead of the "Garras" (plural, non-possessive).  Once could have been overlooked, but the persistent use of the wrong possessive instead of plural became extremely distracting and constantly took me out of the story.  Then there was the use of "petal" (from a flower) instead of "pedal" (as in a gas pedal for a car); and the use of your's (non-existent word) instead of yours (showing possession).  And these distractions could have been annoying for me simply because I'm an English major and a grammar freak; perhaps for the every day person, these errors would not have jumped out at them.  For me, though, it was a clear reminder that there are no longer any true editors for books - editing is clearly a thing of days gone by, and computers are left to pick up on mistakes (which they don't always do when a word is spelled correctly, but it is a wrong word choice).

Regardless, I still enjoyed the story, and I love that Huskins is continuing the stories of Dunkle and Jean - particularly happy to see he has a third book forthcoming, Seriously Funny, so I can't wait to see what he has in store for these characters then!

RATING:  7 very revealing Aladdin costumes out of 10 for proving that a good mystery with fun characters can still be entertaining without any explicit sex or excessive violence.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

DC Super Hero Girls, Graphic Novel No. 4 - Past Times at Super Hero High

The DC super hero girls are back in their fourth graphic novel - and sadly, this fourth venture into the realm where girls reign supreme does not fare any better than the third graphic novel did.  I'm not sure if the stories are just being rushed, or if writer Shea Fontana  was told to dumb down the stories a bit more - but the third and fourth graphic novels both feel as if they are being aimed at first grade readers rather than all-age readers (unlike the first and second graphic novels, which not only had strong stories and plots, but great dialogue and fun characters).

Past Times at Super Hero High (and yes, I will admit, I love the fact that the titles to these graphic novels are all puns, plays on either films, books, or other comic book tales) gave me some hope, as it deals with time travel, and that's always a favorite subject of mine.  Here, the students are taken on a field trip back in time by Liberty Belle (All-Star Squadron character - there's a plus right there!) to take a look at history in the making. However, that ever-so-dangerous butterfly effect comes into play when Harley Quinn steals a dinosaur egg and brings it back with her to the present.

Only to find that Super Hero High is now Savage High, and the principal is none other than the villainous Vandal Savage!  With Liberty Belle captive and the other students trying to figure out what exactly is going on, it falls on Batgirl and Harley Quinn to go back in time and set things right.  The overall plot actually makes for a fun adventure - or, it could have, had the dialogue been a bit less childish, and the characterization been a bit stronger (as it was in books one and two).  These girls do not whine near as much in the cartoon films, nor in the hardcover books by Lisa Yee.

Despite the weak characterization, there were some good points - seeing the Metal Men (three of them, at least), was a nice surprise, and Fontana's use of Beast Boy as more than just a prankster was a great switch.  Plus, the little bit of competition between Batgirl and Harley as to which knew more about dinosaurs was something I thought would develop into an ongoing rivalry - sort of a precursor to Harley's future hatred of the bat-family as an adult.  But, being an all-ages book, I suppose the animosity didn't fit, so the two girls make-up in the end (yet, there's always a certain tension between Cheetah and Wonder Woman, so why not between Harley and Batgirl?).  And the changing timelines, the realization that they have to leave an alternate version of one of their friends behind in this alternate timeline, and the simple act of Harley calling Principal Waller "Amanda" to her face - they gave the story a bit of depth and humor that I wish I could find throughout the entire story.

The art chores seem to be shared among Yancey Labat, Agnes Garbowska, and Marcelo DiChiara, with additional breakdowns by Carl Potts.  Yet, despite the number of artists, the art (at least, to my eye) pretty much maintains the same level of cartoon consistency as the prior graphic novels, so the changing artists have no impact on the story itself.

I still love the DC Super Hero Girls concept, and I hope DC continues to do more graphic novels and DVD cartoons (whether regular cartoons or animated Lego versions - I am fine with either) - I am just keeping my fingers crossed that they don't continue to dumb them down further.  I would hate to see these characters on the same level with Teen Titans Go or Tiny Titans - that would completely ruin the concept and the characters for me.

RATING:  6 kite-flying aviatrixes out of 10 for keeping time travel light-hearted and reminding readers that there always consequences for our actions.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

Nancy Craig and the Mystery of the Fire Opal

Thankfully, this "authorized edition" Whitman mystery was a far cry better than the one I recently read with Bonita Granville as its star.  What is interesting though, is although the dust jacket, as well as the cover and spine show the title of the book as Nancy Craig and the Mystery of the Fire Opal, the title page and the list of available books from Whitman in the back show the title of the book as Nancy Craig and the Fire Opal of Guatemala.  I'd be curious to know exactly why there is a variation in the title of the book and what caused the change from the inside to the actual cover and dust jacket.

In any event, author Matilda Bailey provides a great little mystery here, with an interesting view of life in the Guatemala jungles.  And Matilda Bailey, by the way, is actually the pen name for Ruby Lorraine Radford, who was a rather prolific writer back in the day.  It seems she wrote a number of the Whitman authorized edition stories, and from what I've heard, some are better than others.  Thankfully, this is one of the better ones.

The mystery involves El Valle Prohibido (The Forbidden Valley), where the people of Guatemala are afraid to enter.  Nancy Craig and her friend, Dannie Marston, go to Guatemala as guests of their respective fathers, who are traveling to the country on an expedition.  Nancy's cousin, Kathy, already lives there, and Nancy will be staying with them while the men, along with Dannie, go out on the expedition.  Nancy is somewhat put off, but she is not permitted to go, as she is a girl (which definitely shows the book as a product of its time).  This is not to say that Nancy takes such a shun lying down - no, instead, she goes out and finds her very own mystery to solve!

I have to admit, I smile when I consider how similar this is to a Nancy Drew mystery of the '60s and '70s.  Nancy (choose one) goes on a vacation, stumbles across some strange superstitions, and suddenly finds herself thrust into the middle of a mystery that only she can solve.  Bailey (Radford) makes Nancy Craig a strong, independent female who, even during the late '40s, was determined not to let men - whether it be her father, her uncle, or any other man - tell her that she can't do something. And when it comes to helping someone in need - in this case, her friend Dannie - Nancy will not stop until the mission is complete.

As can be pretty much expected from the moment Nancy is told that there is something dangerous about the valley that keeps the natives from ever setting foot therein, it's pretty obvious to the reader that that is exactly where Nancy is going to end up.  And end up there she does, along with her friend Kathy.  They are searching for their friend Dannie, who mysteriously disappeared after visiting with the parents of Kathy's native friend, Maria.  Nancy is sure that it has something to do with the valuable fire opal that Dannie had been carrying, and she is also sure that the rather slick North American men ("norteamericanos" as Maria calls them) are somehow involved.

There are plenty of clues and dangers aplenty for Nancy and Kathy - from earthquakes to infections to horse hoof-prints to fire opals in the raw to butterfly nets with cobwebs and so much more.  And it certainly can't come as any surprise that the girls eventually find Dannie and also manage to stumble across an ancient native temple hidden in the Forbidden Valley, I found it rather amusing how the two girls manage to outwit the culprits in the end.

This book was definitely worth the read, and I am glad I purchased it.  I suppose this will keep my faith in these Whitman Authorized Editions enough to purchase others if I stumble across them in my book-hunting.

RATING:  8 hand-woven shawls out of 10 for providing yet another strong female amateur detective in a well-plotted mystery in an exotic land.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Doctor Who - Diamond Dogs

I was finally able to find the first Doctor Who novel featuring Bill as the companion - even though all three books are supposed to be out (and have been out for a while), it seems none of the book stores in the Central Florida area are carrying them.  I lucked into Diamond Dogs by pure chance when I was visiting friends in the Tampa Bay area not too long ago.

Bill is the kind of companion that I love - she's quick, she's witty, she doesn't take any flack off of anyone, and she always manages to show the Doctor just how much he needs her.  It's what drew me to Donna Noble, who is and always will be my favorite companion, and now Bill without a doubt holds second place when it comes to favorite companions of Doctor Who.

Diamond Dogs doesn't come right out and give a time frame of where it falls within Bill's time with the Doctor; however, there are references to the creature beneath the ice, the emoji robots, the alien war machines, and the woman who turned to water, which would set this story about half-way through the 10th season of Doctor Who.  Interestingly enough, the author, Mike Tucker, also throws in a connection to Professor Marius's nurse from Doctor Who and the Invisible Enemy (a Tom Baker story).

The story takes place on a space station just above the rings of Saturn, where some very unique mining is going on - it seems that within the rings circling the planet, it literally rains diamonds!  Mankind, being greedy as it is, has decided to mine those diamonds to finance their expansion to other worlds, after having used up the resources of its own.  The Doctor brings Bill to that station for a quick pitstop to filch one of those diamonds.  The Doctor does have to support Nardole somehow, doesn't he?  And the mining company won't miss one little diamond out of the thousands upon thousands that they mine every day.  The security company has managed to find a way to keep the diamonds from falling into the hands of space pirates (known as "Diamond Dogs"), but they have yet to discover the pilfering hand of the Doctor.

Until poor Bill accidentally triggers an alarm...

Tucker gives us a tried and true Doctor Who story - the Doctor and his companion stop at a location for one thing, but ultimately get drawn into the drama unfolding around them and have to prevent or help stop an alien war.  When a minecraft returns to the ship empty, its occupant apparently trapped in the pressure crushing ring below, it is up to the Doctor to rescue him.  The corporate men don't want production stopped.  The ship's captain doesn't want the Doctor's interference.  The security detail doesn't want the Doctor in the way.  But when the being inside the protective suit turns out not to be the miner, everyone turns to the Doctor for help - and he, in turn, turns to Bill, the only one he can trust in ferreting out the traitor on board the ship before an alien invasion arrives and destroys the mining ship and everyone in it.

Lots of action, lots of twists, lots of Doctor-isms, lots of good, clean Doctor Who fun!  And really, when you are reading a Doctor Who novel, that's what you expect, right?  Well, Tucker managers to capture the characterization just right and provides the reader with plenty of variation in the supporting cast so that no one comes across as cardboard or overly stereotypical.  And, frankly, the reveal of the traitor turned out to be a surprise - not at all who I was expecting.  But, again, this is Doctor Who, so we should always expect the unexpected.

Now to hunt down Plague City and The Shining Man (since not even Amazon.com is offering them in any format other than Kindle...) and complete my collection of "Bill" books!

RATING:  9 tatty-looking boxes out of 10 for giving fans one more adventure with Bill before she rides off into the sunset as the new Doctor and her companion(s) take charge.


Saturday, November 25, 2017

Hobtown Mystery Stories - The Case of the Missing Men

"Nancy Drew meets David Lynch" is how the back of the graphic novel describes this unique small-town, middle-American mystery.  David Lynch is probably most recognized for his off-beat television cult classic, Twin Peaks.  So take a little Nancy Drew, throw her into a Twin Peaks-type world, and that's a pretty apt description for this first Hobtown Mystery Story by author Kris Bertin and artist Alexander Forbes.  (Of course, I'd also say after reading the story that you could add X-Files into that mix, but that's just me.)

The Case of the Missing Men is a twisted sort of mystery - what starts of innocently enough (six men have disappeared in the town of Hobtown) eventually turns into something not only far more sinister, but somewhat depraved and a bit extraterrestrial.  Lucky for the citizens of Hobtown, the local highschool's Teen Detective Club is on the case!  And in case your wondering, it's clear that not only does the writer of this mystery have an affection for the children's mystery series books from the '60s and '70s, but she also manages to throw in a few fun nods to those series - for instance, the leader of the teen detective club is an young lady by the name of Dana Nance ("Dana" Girls and "Nancy" Drew anyone?), whose mother died when she was young, and she has been raised by a very indulgent father. The other members are Pauline Lormier and the brothers, Denny and Brennan Hale.

The cases this after-school detective club has solved?

The Case of the Tire Fire
The Mayor's Old Watch
The Egg-Thief Mystery

Of course, we only know of these prior mysteries because Dana herself mentions them on page 170 (like any good children's mystery story did in years gone by, one has to reference prior mysteries!). This particular mystery finds Dana and her friends coming to the aid of Sam Finch, a young scientific genius already in the process of earning his engineering degree - and who is also a young inventor as well (a la Tom Swift!).  He is searching for his missing father, who they determine to be the sixth missing man in Hobtown.  A strange man digging in the forest.  Paper plates with animal faces drawn on them and their eyes cut out.  Yellow raincoats.  A murdered lunch-lady.  The attempted drowning of a slow, yet quite observant, man.  A body found bricked up outside an abandoned farm.  And more secrets than you can shake a stick at - all spell one very peculiar, yet thoroughly engaging mystery that is enjoyable from page 1 to page 300!

And just in case you were wondering how the X-Files angle comes into play?  Well, let's just say that there may or may not be an alien menace somehow involved in this whole thing.  The truth is out there...you just have to buy the graphic novel if you want to find it!

RATING:  10 chalkboard timelines out of 10 for honoring children's mysteries of a more innocent time and giving them an adult spin without making it dark and gloomy.

Friday, November 17, 2017

The Second Veronica Speedwell Mystery - A Perilous Undertaking

It's always a treat when you read the second book of a series and find it to be just as enjoyable, if not even more so, than the first!  I have been fortunate in a lot of series I've picked up in recent years, that the authors have been able to meet and exceed my expectations with more than just the first book (it's just a shame that the publishers for some of those series didn't want to do more than three books in the series, which seems to be the magic number these days...)

And Deanna Raybourn certainly did not disappoint with A Perilous Undertaking, the second Veronica Speedwell mystery.  Veronica and her not-quite-the-gentleman friend, Stoker, find their success in solving the previous murder mystery has made them people of interest - particularly to a mysterious Lady Sundridge, who asks them to vindicate a man condemned to hang for the murder of his mistress - but Lady Sundridge firmly believes he is innocent.  And Veronica and Stoker wouldn't let an innocent man to go the gallows, would they?

Raybourn builds on the budding relationship between Veronica and Stoker as they get sucked into yet another game of cat and mouse, where lies abound on every side, and no one is completely honest with them.  The sarcasm, quick wit, and playful barbs that bounce back and forth between the two protagonists make the characters more alive than simply stilted dialogue, and that underlying sexual tension building between the two keeps my rooting for them to eventually get together.  And their good cop/bad cop routine (who is good and who is bad depends wholly on the situation) manages to elicit any number of clues to lead them on the path to the real killer.

The story once again brings Veronica's royal connection into play, and readers also learn a bit more about Stoker and his past and family.  We also discover to just what lengths Veronica and Stoker will go to help each other, as well as protect each other.  And do so they must, as someone (in true Nancy Drew fashion) is leaving warning notes, threatening them off the case - and after a rather senses-enlightening interview with a suspect, they very nearly end up in jail!

But persistence pays off, and through a rather intricate web of entanglements, Raybourn leads her sleuths to the ultimate showdown in the most unlikely of places for those living in 19th century Victorian times!  The characters are fun and engaging, the mystery is so well-plotted - it definitely kept me guessing, and the continued subplots leave the reader with some answers, but even more questions about both Veronica and Stoker. 

I readily love the fact that this is a period piece, as it allows the author to lead her protagonists through old fashioned means of solving a murder - no cell phones, no computers, no easy access to all information.  And the fact that she has made Veronica so forthright and blunt makes it all the more fun, reading about the reactions of those Victorian hypocrites who are appalled at her speech.  Any book that can make me smile as I read it like there Veronica Speedwell books do are definitely high on my reading list!

RATING:  10 bloodstained dancing slippers out of 10 for showing the world that even in Victorian England, a female sleuth can still gain the upper hand on her male counterparts!