Like the rest of you, your humble professor has been locked down here at COMICS 101 HQ for the past six weeks or so. I am fortunate enough to be able to work from home, so while I am housebound, I don’t have as much free time to contend with as so many others who find themselves both unable to leave and unable to work.
Still, even with a seven-hour work day, I do find myself with considerably more time at my disposal than back in the Before Times when I could roam the Earth free like a stegosaurus. So what have I been reading? Pull up a chair, kids, and I’ll tell you all about it.
Amazing Spider-Man: The Delusion Conspiracy, by Gerry Conway and Ross Andru. Sometimes you just need comfort food for the brain, and that’s what this is. My favorite Spidey storyline from when I was a kid, featuring the Jackal, the Tarantula and Clone Gwen Stacy. Great Spidey comics, expertly paced and at times downright creepy. This particular collection was a UK-only digest edition.
Under the Black Hat, by Jim Ross with Paul O’Brien. The best wrestling commentator who ever called a match takes us behind the scenes of his career in Vince McMahon’s carnival, the ups and downs, the backstage politics, and what it’s like working for a mercurial madman with no sense of fair play and a terrible sense of humor. Required reading for anyone who’s been a fan of pro wrestling and particularly Ross’s work at the announce desk.
Life Magazine: James Bond. I’m a sucker for those thick Life Magazine retrospectives you can buy at the checkout counter at the grocery store. This one was clearly intended to be released in time to take advantage of NO TIME TO DIE, which was supposed to be hitting theatres, well, right about now. Regardless, this one is quite good, with biographies of Bond creator Ian Fleming and producer Cubby Broccoli, and a complete review and photo essay on all 25 Bond films, even if some don’t get the attention they deserve (like the vastly underrated ON HER MAJESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. No love for Telly Savalas Blofeld?)
Nobody Does It Better, by Mark A. Altman & Edward Gross. Speaking of James Bond, no Bond aficionado should be without this amazing and exhaustive new oral history of the 007 film franchise. The latest in Altman & Gross’s outstanding series of pop-culture oral histories, Nobody Does It Better collects interviews from everyone who’s ever been involved in the Bond franchise, as well as critics and Bond fans of all kinds, and presents them chronologically as the franchise progresses over the decades, making for the most complete and illuminating history of the series ever presented. Not to be missed.
Los Angeles Magazine. I’ve been a subscriber to Los Angeles Magazine for years, and their coverage of the pandemic and its effects on my hometown has been outstanding. Last month’s issue went to press just before the Shelter-at-Home order went out, and they still provided much in the way of insight and concern about what was to come, but did so calmly and responsibly. This month’s issue, the first after the rise of The New Normal, provided everything from health and shopping tips for the housebound to an exhaustive guide to restaurant delivery in place of their usual excellent restaurant review listings, as well as a detailed history of the first days of the lockdown, all told with that distinctive L.A. voice that reminds us why we love this town and wouldn’t live anywhere else. Even if we’re not getting to see very much of it at the moment.
Justice League of America: The Wedding of the Atom and Jean Loring, by Gerry Conway and Dick Dillin. One of the best things about the JLA comics of the late 60s and 1970s was that so many of its lead characters didn’t have their own series, so characters like Hawkman, Green Arrow and the Atom could really get the spotlight. Such was the case here, with this over-a-year-long storyline about the intergalactic kidnapping and mental breakdown of the Atom’s fiancee Jean Loring, culminating in her rescue, recovery and eventual wedding day, which was something special. I mean, how many brides have wedding guests from Krypton, Thanagar, Themyscira and Gorilla City?
Disney twenty+three Magazine, Spring 2020. I only joined D23, the official Disney fan club, a couple months back in order to get access to a special screening of The Three Caballeros on the Disney Studio lot in Burbank. So I was surprised to get my first issue of the official D23 magazine in the mail a few weeks back, and even more surprised at how good it was. The only bummer is that many of the features are about upcoming projects like Mulan and Black Widow now delayed by the pandemic. Still, a well-written and produced offering, and certainly a welcome distraction during these now-Disneylandless days.
Avengers Epic Collection: The Masters of Evil, by Roy Thomas and John Buscema. Sometimes you just need some good old-fashioned superhero action. This particular run has the arrival of the Red Guardian, Hercules and the Black Panther joining the team, the biggest battle with the Masters of Evil yet, and the debut of Ultron!
The Animated Man, by Michael Barrier. Probably the best biography of Walt Disney I’ve ever read. Incisive, well researched and even-handed, Barrier isn’t afraid to show Disney’s flaws while at the same time isn’t shy about crediting him for his many innovations, as well as for his nerve in the near-constant face of bankruptcy in the early days (and even much later in the early days of Disneyland). Barrier’s account of the first years of the animation studio is especially good, offering the best sense of what it was like to work in those walls out of any biographies and histories I’ve read.
Borderlands 3, Gearbox Software. Okay, so it’s not technically a book, but it has done just as much to help me keep my sanity as anything else these days. If you have a PlayStation 4, a good internet connection and three friends with a taste for mayhem, get yourself a copy of Borderlands 3 and lose yourself in sweet ultraviolent bliss with its unique and hilarious blend of MAD MAX, STARSHIP TROOPERS and HALO. Watch out for a surprise cameo by Penn & Teller! And maybe do what we do: limit your gaming to every other night so your significant others don’t strangle you in your sleep.
Watchmen, Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons. Remember what I said up top about “comfort food”? Well, multiply that times ten and you have how I feel when I read WATCHMEN. When I need to get out of my own head and just lose myself (and nowadays, that’s coming around a little more often), I frequently turn back to my well-worn original copy of Moore & Gibbons’ modern classic from 1987.
“…the world is so full of people, so crowded with these miracles that they become commonplace and we forget.”
Stay safe, everyone. See you next week.