Monday, March 31, 2014

Meet Phooey Duck

Imagine a tale in which Donald Duck was only awarded joint custody of a FOURTH nephew, who might be the one standing offstage with camera in hand, chronicling the adventures of his better-known family members...only sometimes joining in on the fun...

Now let's celebrate April Fool's Phooey Duck. He's Donald Duck's fourth nephew. His existence is part of a popular fan theory that explains why one of Donald's nephews is sometimes dressed in yellow on merchandise, storybooks & comics (everyone knows that Huey wears red clothes, Dewey blue and Louie green) and, most important, occasions when the artist made a mistake and drew a fourth nephew into the panel of one of the comics - perhaps during a deadline crunch in the wee small hours of the morning.

Anyway, here's a batch of images I've rounded up so that you'll know how to spot Phooey. Enjoy hunting for more!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting: "Doctor Who: Prisoner of The Daleks" by Trevor Baxendale

Encapsulate the book in one sentence?

The Tenth Doctor deduces that the Daleks are planning to use time travel to destroy the human race and teams up with a group of bounty hunters to stop them.

When did I buy it?

Last year - in a comic shop.

What year or edition?

First edition, 2009. These were those curious "mini-hardcover" editions: paperback-sized, but with a hard a children's book. 249 pages.

What's your verdict?

Fantastic - it has a fast pace, a simple plot, lots of twists and turns,  with the Doctor and Daleks in top form. This adventure is very hard-boiled; the kind of story arc Robert Holmes wrote for the old series, but with a Terrence Dicks-esque structure with the beginning, middle & end, combined with Holmes' penchant for building everything up to a particular moment, add to that Russell T. Davies flair for dialogue when writing showdowns/standoffs between the Doctor and the villain.

Why is it something you stashed away?

It was a decorative prop in previous blog posts and instagram photos I had taken in the past; it was a matter of just finally reading it. I had brought it last year because those editions aren't easy to find in great shape often...and I usually preferred the books in the Quick Reads range.

Did you finish it?

Yes. It worked better than I imagined it would.

What surprises did it hold for you - if any?

This whole adventure feels like canon...something that must have happened - the strongest of the original Doctor Who novels work that way...there are times where the Doctor can seem awfully thin in print - Baxendale gets the characterization right, but it's fueled by echoes of David Tennant's performance delivery.  He does fare better than other incarnations of the Doctor in print, though. Other Doctors that survived the transition from film to novel would be Jon Pertwee's Doctor in Verdigris and Tom Blake's Doctor in Heart of Tardis and Gareth Roberts' Shada novelization.

The Dalek Inquisitor General - aka "Dalek X", is an excellent character who drives the final third of the book. He's in good company with other unique Daleks introduced in the shows last few years (Dalek Sec, Dalek Khan, Dalek Clara) and will probably appear along with the Gold Emperor Dalek on fan petitions for an appearance on the show in the future. His showdown with the Doctor did remind me of Fenton Crackshell's battle of wits with MEL the malevolent alien supercomputer in the Ducktales episode "Money to Burn", but maybe that's just my frame of reference butting in and not something Baxendale is familiar with.

What will you do with this copy now?

It's a keeper.

Is it available today?

The book is available on Kindle in a new edition that includes a new cover and introduction by the author. It also appears in a trade paperback as part of the Doctor Who: The Monster Collection reprints of Doctor Who novels released last year.

Give me a good quote.

Sure - check out the gallery below. :)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting: "Spider-Man: The Darkest Hours" by Jim Butcher

Encapsulate the plot of this book in one sentence?

Kinfolk of Morlun - Spider-Man's deceased vampiric foe - have arrived in New York City to avenge their dead brother and have Spidey in their sights.

When and where did you get this book?

I saw a mass-market paperback edition in a comic shop and checked the public library to see if they had a copy, because of the author involved. They did. So I borrowed it from the library.

What year or edition?

2006 Trade Paperback. First edition. Larger size, easy-to-read print. Perfect.

Did you finish it?

I almost bailed out when I realized Butcher had written a direct sequel to a story arc from a time in Spider-Man continuity - when J. Michael Straczyinski was writing Amazing Spider-Man - that I'm not a fan of. Thankfully,  Butcher has his own voice and provides all the backstory you need in entertaining ways, so the book is accessible.

What's your verdict?
Butcher gets Spider-Man - the characterization, the consistency of the street-level feel to his adventures and interactions with other characters,  which is surprisingly tricky, because a lot of comic book writers and artists often complained about the Spider-Man of this era: his marriage to Mary Jane Watson was considered a drawback,  but Butcher handles it far better than the comics did at that time. I would suggest Marvel have Butcher write Spider-Man comics sometime soon. He's that good. And that's what made me want to finish reading the book - it reminded me of why I used to follow Spider-Man's adventures closely. This was my Spider-Man: smart, resourceful,  clever, witty, cool and wise beyond his years.

What surprises did it hold - if any?

The book is narrated in the first-person by Spider-Man, which is interesting - it more closely captured the feel of the comics. Superhero prose novels are often narrated in third-person.  Also, the number of guest-stars in what feels like a simple adventure (it's Rio Bravo with Spider-Man, really): Black Cat, the Rhino, Doctor Strange - all in major supporting roles, but depicted casually, as being a normal part of Spider-Man's world, which they are, depending on whoever's writing for him.

Which scenes will stay with you? Which characters will stay with you?

Butcher's take on Felicia Hardy (The Black Cat) and The Rhino will stay in my head as fully-realized characters for the first time. Spidey's on-and-off relationship with Felicia was always the one that set off the most sparks (at one point, her character was considered as having more depth than DC Comics' Catwoman, who was more one-dimensional, until the latter character was fleshed out more and then Felicia's characterization became increasingly one-dimensional). And the Rhino, Doctor Strange and Wong - Strange's major domo - seem definitive here. Also, Mary Jane Watson Parker, wife of Spider-Man,  is given a fairer shake than the comics at that time (Marvel Editor-in-chief Joe Quesada had compromised  that character and Spider-Man badly with his edicts to end their marriage). However, in retrospect,  none of Peter Partner's romances ever seemed like a true meeting of the minds...maybe he should try a romance with Spider-Woman, or would that be too obvious?

One other surprise: the adventure never feels overblown or out-of-scale for Spider-Man.  Butcher is well aware that Morlun is a vampire in all but name only, and the only weakness of the book lies in the fact that Mortia and the Ancients seem like cardboard villains from Blade or Underworld, but that fault lies with the source material he's playing off.

What genre would you say it is?

Urban Fantasy-Adventure, though that seems to make it bigger, doesn't it?

Have you read anything else by this author?

Jim Butcher is best known for The Dresden Files series of novels, which I haven't read; they're usually twice as long and I'll have to check it out sometime to see if there's an installment that appeals to me.

Is it available today?

It might not be in print, but it's not hard to find.

Give me a good quote.

Sure - check out the scans below. As a bonus, I found a photo of cosplayer Soni Aralynn dressed as The Black Cat in a Spider-Man costume, a scene that does occur in the book! Did she know? Had she read it? I don't know, but it's a cool coincidence!

Saturday, March 15, 2014

It's Been A Pleasure: The "Batman Odyssey" Casebook

A LOT has been written and said about Batman: Odyssey, Neal Adams' 13-issue magnum opus he wrote and illustrated in 2010.  I recently found a hardcover edition of the book at a good price and decided to give it a try, in light of Adams' recent efforts to turn the tide of negative opinions on it...Well, I read it...and I have something new to say about this guilty pleasure read - something that nobody has noticed:

If you own the hardcover edition of this story, then you can remove the dust jacket...and then the book looks like "Volume 2" of Batman: The Black Casebook!

The Black Casebook is a paperback reprint of Batman comics from the 1950's that inspired Grant Morrison's nine year tenure writing for the caped crusader. Morrison wanted to reintegrate material from that decade back into current Bat-continuity, so he came up with a "Bat-X Files": accounts of the Batman's strangest cases kept locked away, much like the safety deposit box in which Doctor Watson kept notes on Sherlock Holmes' cases that were to be kept confidential.  In Batman's case, these would include encounters with space aliens, Bat-Mite, time travel, alternate identities, various identity crises,  documentations on the aftereffects of repeated exposure to laughing gas, fear toxins or Bat-smoke pellets of his own design - all the offbeat stuff.

With this in mind, Batman Odyssey  fits the criteria for labeling it as "A Batman Adventure for The Black Casebook"  or a new edition entitled: "Batman: Odyssey - An Adventure From The Black Casebook". Of course,  DC Comics still uses the Legends of The Dark Knight title/brand on Batman comics, but Odyssey is really a Casebook book. If you own both of these tomes, I suggest you put them side by side and enjoy searching for thematic links between them. The quality of the scripting on both is the same, plus every page is packed with stuff to absorb - for all that's been said about Odyssey, Adams doesn't shortchange you.

So, I hope anyone giving Neal's book a try and feeling a bit dumbfounded about what to make of it after hearing or reading recent interviews in which he suggested you see it as "a book " can rest easy if you see it the way I see a Casebook!

You can rest assured...the same way Batman inexplicably decides to plop down on the floor of the Batcave and take a nap at an early point leading to the book's climax. Goodnight. :)

Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting, Book #1 - Batman: Rise of Sin Tzu by Devin Grayson and Flint Dille

Can you encapsulate the book in one sentence?
A new criminal mastermind named Sin Tzu decides that Batman must be defeated and enlists three of the Dark Knight's toughest foes to create chaos in Gotham City.
When did  you buy it?
In December of last year.  It was on the bargain table at a comic book store for two dollars.
What year or edition?
The book is a mass-market paperback novelization of a video game that was released in 2003 and is a tie-in. It is also tied to the TV series Batman: The Animated Series, which had ceased production five years prior to the release of the game.
What's your verdict?
It's "good". I thought it was clearly following an outline and the authors tried to add originality by using a mixed-narrative, i.e., every chapter narrated in the first-person by a different member of the cast, while Sin Tzu narrates four chapters. It could have been better.
How so?
There are hints/intimations that Sin Tzu could be the omnipotent asian demigod he presents himself as...or, more interestingly, is a fraud. He chose to ally himself with three Batman villains dependant on chemical stimulants/toxins: The Scarecrow with his fear gas; Bane with his Venom steroid; Clayface's entire body consists of a toxic compound called "RenuYu" (Hydromethotrexamede)...could it be that Sin Tzu's visions & powers and communications with ancient dieties are just the ravings of a drug-addled lunatic whose hideout is in (surprise, surprise) Arkham Asylum?! This could've been a great denouement for a villain who'd been all talk and no action for over 280 pages, and a nice twist for novel that took a cerebral approach to what was, if I recall correctly,  an average "button mash" melee brawler game.
Another problem: the mixed first-person narratives probably required more skill and wit at executing than what was on display - each chapter begins and ends as a long-winded monologue/soliloquy/infodump in which each narrator spends 2/3 of it mulling over their backstory, with Sin Tzu being the worst offender. It kills any attempt at creating suspense and tension, and it makes the book feel more episodic than it should be.
What genre would you say it is?
I would put it in the "Fantasy" genre, or "Pulp Fantasy", since it could've easily been an adventure with The Shadow or Doc Savage or The Spirit - characters who are often name-dropped in that realm.
What surprises did it hold - if any?
Superstar comic book artist Jim Lee created the design for Sin Tzu,  so I'm surprised the character was never used again! Also, Batman's appearances feel slight until the final two chapters, of which, the last he narrates. He should have had more to do here.
Have you read anything else by this author?
I've read Devin Grayson's Batman comics and thought they were good, but her best work was writing Catwoman. She also wrote another novel featuring the DC Comics superheroes: Inheritance, featuring Batman, Aquaman & Green Arrow, who stole the show.  I believe Grayson should get a shot at writing Green Arrow - she had a lot of fun writing him.
What will you do with this copy now?
I'll hold onto it - it's not bad at all; the few Batman prose novels I've seen have never tried juggling as many characters as this book does - it's an impressive effort.
Is it available today?
It's out of print, but it could be purchased online used..or if your comic book store has an extensive selection of paperback novels that don't "move", if you know what I mean.
What scene will stay with you? What character will stay with you?
Of the chapters narrated by the villains,  I thought Clayface's tale was the best. With the heroes, Batman's was very good. With the supporting characters (and this answers the second question), it's the strange chapter narrated by a character named Gareth Baxter, a federal agent with a curious hobby of collecting Hummel figurines...he's being interrogated by Nightwing in his bedroom, and the dialogue/narration has a subtext that Devin Grayson seems to have gotten away with...with a wink.
Give a good quote from the book
My eyes begin to adjust more completely in the dark and I can just make out the lines of his figure crouching on my seven-drawer dresser . He doesn't wear a cape, as I was told the Batman does, but his eyes are covered by a small mask that mostly serves to call attention to the bare skin of his face as a contrast against his dark hair and the rest of his entirely covered body.  Gloves.  Boots. He's a young man in his early twenties and even in the dark I can make out the long lean muscles rippling under his skin tight costume as he moves. I watched him for 10 seconds without blinking and realize that he's in almost constant motion.
"Call me Nightwing he says, his tone almost conversational. "And hand over the Sin Tzu files."
Nightwing? I shake my head . I don't remember anything about a Nightwing from the files , but he must be one of the Batman's soldiers . We'd long suspected that the Batman has a support team operating under the acronym R.O.B.I.N (Reserve Officers of the Batman's Intelligence Network) most of them alarmingly young - kidnapped children possibly, or runaways. I've also heard of an operative called The Dark Knight but never Nightwing.
-  Chapter 12, Page 238-239
A good parry. His question surprises me. It shouldn't, because, after all, he is a detective. In moments of doubt, all men rush to things they know. They flee to the familiar.
- Chapter  13, Page 261-262
My existence is spent battling for the safety of this city. I don't honestly know if it's possible to live in complete safety, complete peace . But I do know that I'll do everything within my power to bring us as close to that point as I can even if I have to use violence to do it .
I abhor violence. It is a language of tyrants and thugs and one I have therefore become fluent in, but it is never my first choice when initiating discourse.
- Chapter  14, Page 276-277

The Magrs Method of Book Reporting

Books, books, books...Books, books, books...

Mystery writer/Doctor Who novelist Paul Magrs, on his Life On Magrs  blog (his name IS pronounced "Mars", of course), is combing through his extensive collection of books that he's hoarded in his house...and his beach house.

Define "extensive"..


Can you define what you mean by "a lot"?


X= More than one
Y= A bunch

1+X (1+Y) = A LOT :)

So, yeah...books, books, books. And he's profiling each one with a review in the form of (so far) 13 questions, which he gives 13 answers to. While the books he's selected aren't my cup of tea, I enjoyed reading his approach and thought I'd try to do the same thing with books I have. I don't believe I have too many books...kind-of-a-lot, really.

Can you define "kind-of-a-lot"?


X=A Lot
Y=A Bunch
Z= two 36-inch bookshelves & 1 dresser drawer

(X+Y)/Z= Kind-of-a-lot

I already chose three novels to read & review for this month and they're in the photo below. I finished reading the Batman book and will post a review soon. Reviews of the remaining two will follow.

What do you mean by "will follow"?


X= Will Follow
Y= Reviews
Z= Availability

3(Y+Z)= Will Follow

I hope that clears it up. :)