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review 2019-08-06 00:00
Showcase Presents: Green Lantern, Vol. 2
Showcase Presents: Green Lantern, Vol. 2 - John Broome,Gardner F. Fox,Gil Kane,Carmine Infantino My new year’s resolution is to read my stack of ‘DC Showcase’ at the rate of one comic magazine per day. As they usually contain over twenty issues I should get through one and a bit per month. I can’t do more than one a day as they tend to blend into each other in a foggy blur of pseudo-science which makes individual issues hard to remember. This volume runs from Green Lantern # 18 (January 1963) to Green Lantern # 38 (July 1965) so it’s two and a half years worth of comic books.

The thing with Silver Age DC Comics is that nothing changes in the life of the characters. When this volume starts Hal Jordan (Green Lantern) works as a test pilot for the Ferris Aircraft Company run by Carol Ferris who likes Hal but loves Green Lantern. He is assisted by a ‘grease-monkey’ called Thomas Kalmaku – nicknamed Pieface, an Eskimo who knows his super-hero identity and keeps a file of his cases as Doctor Watson did for Sherlock Holmes. Jordan is a member of the Green Lantern Corps founded by the Guardians of the Universe who occasionally summon him to help out on another planet. By the end of the book, none of this has changed.

As most issues contain two stories there are nearly forty tales here so the thing to do would be to pick out the highlights. There aren’t any highlights. One yarn is pretty much the same quality as any other. Partly that’s because they were all written by either John Broome or Gardner Fox. Both have a way with science that is less than accurate but generally, Fox takes it to greater extremes of fantasy. He writes every issue from # 32 onwards but before that, it’s more or less fifty-fifty between these twin titans of the tall story.

Lacking highlights I will, in a good-natured way, pick out the worst science. Not that I know much science but a clever ten-year-old could see through most of this hokum. In ‘Green Lantern vs. Power Ring’ (GL#18) Hal is practising controlling the ring at a distance through rock when he is separated from it by a cave-in. A hungry hobo picks it up and thinks he fancies a melon. A melon appears! But the ring cannot work on anything yellow ‘due to a necessary impurity’ so how can it create melons? In GL#24, ‘The Shark That Hunted Human Prey’, a tiger shark is evolved into a human and then beyond by a freak nuclear accident so that with ‘mind power’ it can do anything. An ‘invisible yellow aura’ protects it from Green Lantern’s ring. How can something invisible be yellow? In ‘The House That Fought Green Lantern’ (#28) the ring is useless because it’s affected by the vibrations of a grandfather clock. In ‘This World Is Mine’ (#29), an evil force animates a giant papier-mâché model of Green Lantern and uses it to destroy fairground rides. Steel is generally reckoned to be stronger than papier-mâché and able to resist it. In ‘Three Way Attack Against Green Lantern‘ (GL#34), villain Hector Hammond uses his super-brain to create an ‘energy duplicate’ of a Guardian of the Universe to defeat Green Lantern. This is from Gardner Fox who had someone use ‘tornado power’ to create duplicates of the Justice League of America to defeat them. How can you create things more powerful than yourself? Oh, those duplicates!

Part of the problem is that the power ring can do anything. In ‘Secret Of The Power-Ringed Robot’ (GL#36), it transforms Hal’s flesh into a robot body, allowing a spectacular cover in which his arm comes off. In another story, ‘The Spies Who Owned Green Lantern’ (GL#37), it turns him into a letter and Pieface posts him to the criminals' hideout. It frequently reads minds and there’s a microworld inside it where Abin Sur trapped a villain called Myrwhydden in ‘World Within the Power Ring’ (GL #26) as you do.

On the credit side, a few ideas here seem to precede similar stories over at the Mighty Competition, a company whose oeuvre I know well. ‘Parasite Planet Peril’ (GL#20, April 1963) is a kind of highlight because it’s of ‘novel’ length and teams GL up with Flash. They are both shrunk down to a microworld. Something similar happened in the world’s greatest comic magazine in July 1963, though to be fair, the microworld idea is older than that. In fact, it dates back to ‘Out Of The Sub-Universe’, a 1928 story by Roman Frederick Starzl. In ‘The Strange World Named Green Lantern’ (GL#24, October 1963), the emerald crusader meets a living planet, a whole world that is one single entity. Perhaps lacking a big ego (geddit?), it calls itself Green Lantern after the hero it so admires. Research indicates that the notion of a living planet dates back to Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat’s 1931 short story ‘The Menace From Andromeda’. There are probably few far-out ideas that weren’t explored in the first three decades of American Science Fiction magazines.

In a few of the adventures, our hero wins when all seems lost because he had, with unusual prescience, done something earlier to foil the villain’s final attack. In ‘Master Of The Power Ring (GL#22), he had ordered the ring to drain itself of energy if another mind took it over. In ‘The Defeat Of Green Lantern’ (GL#19), he had previously created a globe of green energy to rescue him in time of need. Perhaps he read the script first, like Colombo.

As for the art, Gil Kane pencils are constrained by the DC house style and the inks of Joe Giella and Murphy Anderson up to issue #28. In number #29, Sid Greene takes over the inks and there’s a bit of a step up in quality, I think. Not a giant leap, the other two are worthy professionals, but he seems to put in more blacks and generally give it a more solid look. Kane’s pencils still keep the house style but there are odd flashes of the more dynamic poses and knobbly figures he developed over time. Personally, I prefer the restrained stuff to the unleashed Kane of later years. All the art is fine and much of it is first class.

Some of these reprint editions are being sold at ludicrous prices but this one is still available for a few pounds or dollars. A reasonably good read if taken in small doses and not too seriously. The art is a treat and the stories are good for a laugh. The science should be taken with a pinch of salt. No, an oil tanker of salt. I’m off to have dinner now. I shall eat beans and then use the wind power generated to create an energy duplicate of Superman who will conquer the world for me.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2019-05-09 00:00
Showcase Presents: The Flash, Vol. 1
Showcase Presents: The Flash, Vol. 1 - Robert Kanigher,John Broome,Gardner F. Fox,Carmine Infantino,Joe Giella ‘Showcase Presents The Flash: Volume 1’ has stories from Showcase # 4, 8, 13 and 14 and from Flash # 105-119. Apart from the special feature, see below, this takes us from 1956 to early 1961. Eisenhower was President, the dollar was worth something, America was the world’s creditor and, apart from a few threatening communists abroad, all was right with the world.

The book opens with ‘The Rival Flash’, a story from Flash Comics # 104, February 1949 with a script by Robert Kanigher and art by Carmine Infantino and Frank Giacoia. This features the Golden Age Flash, Jay Garrick, in a story where bad guys copy his powers. It is interesting to see how Infantino’s art has changed seven years later in Showcase # 4, October 1956 with ‘Mystery Of The Human Thunderbolt’ in which police scientist Barry Allen is struck by lightning while standing next to some chemicals in his laboratory and gets super-speed. This was also written by Robert Kanigher but inked by Joe Kubert, as was the second story. This combination of two acknowledged masters makes for very good work. Over the next few issues, Infantino developed a very clean, spacious style but there are subtle differences depending on the inking. Most of it is by Joe Giella, which is fine, but I liked the work of Frank Giacoia and Murphy Anderson better. Infantino used a lot of wide narrow panels, useful for showing the speed trail where the Flash has been.

The stories are entertaining, too, in their way. Being able to run fast would not normally be a very useful super-power but it is transformed utterly by DC pseudo-science. The chief pseudo-scientist is writer John Broome, who has the Flash running fast enough to time travel in only the second story. When launched into space by the Master of the Elements in Showcase # 13, the Flash manages to vibrate himself to get caught in the Moon’s gravitational pull, swing around it and return to Earth. His only protection was his costume but he was able to hold his breath as it only took a minute. By running very fast, he can pass straight through solid objects leaving them intact. (Don’t try this at home!) By spinning very fast, in The Flash # 107, he can slip through the solid Earth down into the hollow interior where the Bird People live. However, when he runs too fast down there the strange atmosphere, called Mola, solidifies around him so he is trapped and has to suffer the gloating of the super-intelligent gorilla that tricked him. The villains, you see, are equipped with similar John Broome pseudo-science so good and evil are pretty evenly matched. In The Flash # 106, the Pied Piper can stop him dead with a vibratory aura and the Mirror Master can shrink himself and Flash to three inches high by clever use of mirrors in The Flash # 109. It was marvellous what you could get away with in those innocent days.

An interesting aside about gorillas. They featured frequently on DC covers of this issue and I read somewhere online, admittedly a world of unverifiable half-truth, that top DC men used to study the sales figures in tandem with the covers. Someone noted that covers with gorillas on sold better and so demanded more gorillas. I also read an interview with John Broome in which he said the covers were sometimes drawn first and he had to come up with a story to suit. So a DC boss orders Infantino to draw a cover with a gorilla on and Mister Broome has to dream up a plot featuring said ape. I don’t think this is how Joseph Conrad used to work.

Anyway, like most heroes, the Flash has a girlfriend, Iris West, a reporter on Picture News. The running joke is that Barry Allen is always late for their dates and she calls him the slowest man alive. This was in the days before soap opera took hold in comics so they have the odd tiff about Barry’s perpetual tardiness but are not forever falling in and out of love in true romantic style. Frankly, it’s a bit of a relief.

Iris has a young nephew called Wally West, who is president of the Flash Fan Club in his home town. She brings him to Barry, a friend of the Flash as far as she knows, so that he can introduce the boy to his hero. The Flash soon appears and Wally asks him how he got his power. The Flash takes him into a laboratory full of chemicals and explains that he was standing in such a laboratory when lightning struck. Then…lightning strikes! Wally West is bathed in electro-chemical soup and gets super-speed, too, just like his hero. The Flash calls it a billion to one chance but I suspect it is slightly more than that. Wally talks about the ‘cats’ back home to show he is young and says ’jumping jets!’ and ’jeepers weepers!’ when he is surprised. This is certainly preferable to the language heard in modern playgrounds.

In The Flash # 112, the Elongated Man first appears in another burst of wondrous science. Ralph Dibny was fascinated by India rubber men in the circus and, after long research, he noticed that they all drank Gingold soda water, one ingredient of which is the juice of a little known tropical fruit. Ralph isolates the essence of the fruit by chemical means and drinks the resulting potion. Afterwards, he gets very stretchable and starts to upstage the Flash in super-heroics but they become friends in the end.

This is an interesting document in comics history. Not as interesting as the original four colour comic, of course, but a lot cheaper. The revival of the Flash in the second half of the 1950s is regarded by fans and professionals alike as the beginning of the Silver Age of comics. I don’t know which age we’re in now – the Bronze? – but I grew up in the ‘Silver Age’ so this is my era. Furthermore, since I mostly read the products of a rival company in the sixties, these ‘Showcase’ editions give me the chance to catch up on the stuff I missed. I sometimes feel that I didn’t miss much, to be honest, but they provide a useful back story for the better stuff DC started doing in the seventies.

Eamonn Murphy
This review first appeared at https://www.sfcrowsnest.info/
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review 2018-04-29 06:41
...and those who can't, teach.
Nickel Mountain - John Gardner

I began reading Nickel Mountain by John Gardner because I wanted to see if one of the most renown teachers of fiction could actually write as well as he expected others to.

 

Gardner felt that aspiring to be an author was almost akin to a "higher calling" and required rigorous study and practice. As well as hard work and sacrifice such a career choice came with duties and responsibilities.

 

The most important of which is telling the truth, and not just getting facts right, but making sure your fiction is believable and not perceived by the reader as a lie. Foremost it must "affirm moral truths about human existence".

 

Well, okay. That's quite a tall order so I was curious to see if his fiction reflected all that high-minded stuff.

 

Henry Soames is middle-aged but acts and thinks like an old man. He runs a truck stop restaurant by himself on a lonely highway. Everything about him is depressing; he's morbidly overweight, he's got a bad heart, he's filled with self-pity and shows it, he blames his overbearing mother and failure father for his station in life. This guy is your classic victim and one of the most unsympathetic protagonists I've ever encountered.

 

When an acquaintance suggests Soames hire his teenage daughter to help run the place he agrees. Why does he agree when there's no indication he needs help and is about as misanthropic as a person can be? Gardner doesn't tell the reader.

 

Which is interesting because the relationship between Henry Soames and Callie, his sixteen year-old employee is at the crux of the story.

 

Technically, Gardner starts with promise - his opening sentence is brilliant. However, he delays the inciting incident until it's almost too late, and when it is revealed it's tepid.

 

Good fiction according to Gardner "creates a vivid and continuous dream" for the reader, but his writing is difficult and complicated, not at all vivid and continuous.

 

Since I abandoned Nickel Mountain at page 33, I can't say whether moral truths about human existence were ever affirmed, but for the pages I did read I can affirm the story was depressing and monotonous, filled with insignificant details I imagine the reader was supposed to infuse with meaning, meaning which bordered on creepy.

 

My conclusion is that rigorous study and endless practice is indeed necessary for an author, but it's obviously not a guarantee he'll write a good book.

 

 

 

 

 

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text 2018-04-21 05:04
Eco-Fi: Writing as a moral act

"True art is moral. We recognize true art by its' careful, thoroughly honest search for an analysis of values. It is not didactic because, instead of teaching by authority and force, it explores, open-mindedly, to learn what it should teach. It clarifies like an experiment in a chemistry lab, and confirms."

- John Gardner, On Moral Fiction, 1978

 

Okay, so this is a bit high-minded, but still it's something I aspire to in my writing.

 

I've tried to write strictly commercial fiction, but my characters and plots won't let me. At some point they tell me, "Hey, I'm not that shallow, superficial person and I won't let you portray me as such." At this point the vapid story I've been writing takes an unexpected direction and everything gets out of control and I'm back dealing with three dimensional characters in complicated situations that test their integrity.

 

Or at least I'm trying to.

 

How then does a writer, if so inclined, build their fiction on strong, ethical ground?

 

I subscribe to the method suggested by Carol Bly, Author of The Passionate, Accurate Story: Making Your Heart’s Truth into Literature. She suggests that even before beginning to write a story, consider composing a “Values Listing,” a written record of the things that are most important to you.

 

Then, throughout the writing process ensure these values continue to be identified in your work. That means these values are present in the issues and conflicts your characters confront and that they themselves are grounded in or address these same principles.

 

Here's the Value's Listing Questions. My answers are in capitals

 

VALUE’S LISTING:

 

1. Two goals or values which make life good or bearable or would if they were in operation. PRESERVING ENVIRONMENT/ ENCOURAGING THE HUMAN SPIRIT

 

2. Two goals or values which cause injustice and suffering or lessening of joy. WEALTH/MATERIALISM and the NEED TO CONTROL

 

3. Two missing goals or behaviors. As a child, you thought grown-up life would have these. Now that you are an adult you don’t see them around. HONESTY/INTEGRITY and RESPONSIBILITY/CREDIBILITY

 

4. Two injustices you see about you and should keep an eye on, even on your wedding day. RACISM/DISCRIMINATION and DESTRUCTION OF WILDERNESS

 

Considering my the list of my values, it's not surprising four of my novels could be categorized as Environmental Fiction, interpreted as a story of any genre; romance, mystery, literary, etc., with a subplot that addresses an important environmental issue.

 

In writing ECO-FI my hope is readers will be entertained by all the elements of a good story and will also come away a little more wiser about the environmental issues important to me and that effect us all.

 

ECO-FI TITLES:

SAVING SPIRIT BEAR - What Price Success?

LOVING THE TERRORIST - Risking it All

MAD MAGGIE - And the Wisdom of the Ancients

FOREST - Love, Loss, Legend

 

This stand-alone series will be part of my back-list promotion throughout 2018 and 2019 that will include upcoming FREE book days on Amazon. To be included in free offers of my existing books or the opportunity to receive Advance Reading Copies on new work, consider joining my ADVANCE READING TEAM at http://eepurl.com/cj5wjj

 

Buy links for these books include:

Amazon - http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B003DS6LEU

Smashwords - http://www.smashwords.com

Draft2Digital - https://www.draft2digital.com

 

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review 2017-12-19 22:16
This is bona fide angst
Grendel - John Gardner

I have to assume that a large majority of you studied the epic poem, Beowulf, when you were in high school. If you recall, this is often cited as the oldest example of an epic poem in Old English and it tells the story of the hero, Beowulf, who comes to aid a king who is plagued by a monster known as Grendel. It goes on to discuss Beowulf's homecoming and his continuing adventures (with a dragon no less). All I remember of the poem was a fight in a cave. (Clearly I was unimpressed with this work's historical lineage.) So it might come as a surprise that when I saw Grendel by John Gardner I was intrigued by discovering that it was a kind of retelling of the poem in narrative format...from Grendel's point of view. Straight out of the gate, this was an absolutely bizarre piece of literature. I came away from it thinking that it was too cerebral for me (Farewell hubris!) because there were many times I felt like I had absolutely no clue what was going on. I think part of this lies with the narrative style which mixed Old English language (like the original) with contemporary phraseology (curses galore, ya'll). I was nearly tempted to reread Beowulf for reference. (Spoiler alert: I didn't.) This is a philosophical novel that ponders the nature of existence and what it actually means to be 'good' or 'evil' because for something to be truly 'good' there needs to be a corresponding 'evil' to balance it...right? Grendel is a classic example of an antihero but boy does he jaw on and on and on about his place in the universe. I found him bitter and whiny but I don't know if that's due to characterization or if it's the author's 'voice' projected onto the character. I guess I'll have to decide if I want to read more of Gardner's works to find out the answer. It's hard for me to sum up my feelings on this one other than to say it wasn't an especially enjoyable time and I don't know who I'd recommend this one too because it's very niche. It's a 3/10 for me.

 

What's Up Next: The Great Questions of Tomorrow by David Rothkopf

 

What I'm Currently Reading: Mine Own Executioner by Nigel Balchin (and also Scythe which apparently I'm never going to finish)

Source: readingfortheheckofit.blogspot.com
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