Book Review: ‘El Borak and Other Desert Adventures’ by Robert E. Howard

I had never read an El Borak story until now but since I was collecting all of the Robert E. Howard collections, I couldn’t pass on any of them and I’m glad that I got to discover this character, who is really unique when compared to the other characters that Howard spent most of his time writing.

What makes El Borak so different?

Well, these aren’t sword and sorcery, fantasy tales for one. Well, there is one story with some fantasy elements but the El Borak character was written as more of an adventurer who existed in real world historical times.

El Borak’s real name is Francis Xavier Gordon. He’s a skilled gunfighter from El Paso, Texas. He traveled the world and ended up settling in Afghanistan of all places. From there, he went on to have many adventures throughout the Asian continent.

Generally, El Borak spends his time trying to keep peace between waring tribes in different regions. Often times, he can use his cunning to convince cooler heads to prevail but these stories also wouldn’t be as badass if some direct violence didn’t come into play and it does.

These are all pretty cool short stories but I think that they’re weaker, overall, than the best of Howard’s sword and sorcery work. The reason being is that Howard is just so creative in the realm of fantasy and Lovecraftian style horror and making these stories more realistic, somewhat limits that creativity. That’s not to say that he doesn’t shine with these tales but they just lack that patented Robert E. Howard fantastical magic that makes me love the author in the first place.

However, comparing these to similar stories from other authors of Howard’s day, they hold up. These are just solid, grounded adventure tales in a foreign land and through the eyes and minds of readers in the 1930s, when El Borak first saw print, these had to have had a hell of an impact.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other Robert E. Howard collections.

Comic Review: The Punisher: Die Hard In the Big Easy

Published: 1992
Written by: John Wagner
Art by: Phil Gascoine

Marvel Comics, 51 Pages

Review:

This has been in my comic collection since 1992. I remember getting a bunch of Punisher one-shots and miniseries in a trade with a friend in middle school, who really wanted a bunch of my Power Pack stuff, which I read when I was much younger but lost interest in.

This was one of the many Punisher comics I got but for some reason it was filed away and wasn’t unearthed until now.

This story, as the title gives away, sees The Punisher go to New Orleans. While he’s their, he obviously gets tied up in some criminal plot involving voodoo.

The villain in this is pretty cool and I wish he wasn’t just a one-off baddie. He was a voodoo priest that was very reminiscent of Baron Samedi from the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. He also reminded me a lot of a modern film character, Tony Todd’s Reverend Zombie from the Hatchet films.

Being that this was a one-shot release, it was about the same size as a typical annual give or take a few pages. It’s a cool story, it’s creepy, action packed and I dug the hell out of the art style.

My only real complaint is that these releases are just over so fast. This could’ve been expanded into a good story arc in one of the regular Punisher comic series that were being published back then. 

However, for being rather short, it packs a punch, gets right to the point and doesn’t waste time.

Rating: 6.5/10
Pairs well with: all the other Punisher miniseries, one-shots and graphic novels from the late ’80s and early ’90s.

Comic Review: Green Arrow by Kevin Smith

Published: July 26th, 2016
Written by: Kevin Smith
Art by: Phil Hester, Ande Parks

DC Comics, 367 Pages

Review:

I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this as much as I remembered liking it back when it was new. However, it was pretty good and I found it to be much better than my opinion of Kevin Smith’s Daredevil run, which people seem to hold in higher regard.

This story starts with Green Arrow being alive after he had died years earlier. The thing is, he doesn’t know he died and in his mind, no time has passed and the world he finds himself in is now strange and foreign. In fact, at first, he is a bit crazy and looks like a barbaric hobo playing Robin Hood.

As the story progresses, we learn that he’s being cared for by a nice old guy. We also learn about what happened to Oliver Queen and the DC universe in his absence. If you hadn’t read the Green Arrow stories where his son took over for awhile, this does a good job of filling in that void. We also see Oliver discover the truth about himself and his best friend Hal Jordan, a Green Lantern who ended up falling to the darkside pretty hard.

Towards the end of this lengthy collection of issues, we learn the sinister secrets of the nice old man who has taken Oliver in and we also get to see a young girl step up to the plate in an effort to become Green Arrow’s new sidekick, a female version of Speedy.

I wasn’t a massive fan of the art in this run, though. It’s not bad but I don’t feel like it was up to the quality of what was common at the time. Coming out of the ’90s, mainstream comic book art was evolving pretty quickly but this looks more like an early-to-mid ’90s book. I feel like they really could’ve paired Kevin Smith up with one of the top artists and turned this into a massive hit.

The art doesn’t wreck the story but I think this would’ve had more oomph had it looked more realistic and less cartoony.

In the end, I feel like this was a much better effort by Smith than his Daredevil run and maybe that’s because he learned from his missteps on that one or he simply had more mileage by the time he picked up his pen for DC.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the ongoing Green Arrow stories that followed Smith’s run, as well as his work on Daredevil for Marvel.

Book Review: ‘The Witcher: Blood of Elves’ by Andrzej Sapkowski

This book in The Witcher series is the first of the five books that form the primary saga. Before it, I read the two short story collections that were published later but have since been recommended by everyone, as the best place to start.

So I was excited getting into this one, as this is the beginning of the real journey for Geralt, Ciri and Yennefer, as well as the other core characters that come in and out of these stories.

Although, I have to agree that one should read the short story collections first, as they flesh out and beef up the core characters, which I thought was somewhat lacking, here, the book that was originally the starting point.

Having a lot more context going into this was a benefit, even if I already know a lot from the video games and television series.

However, as the television series only adapted stuff from the short stories, thus far, everything here was fresh and new for me and it was really cool reading this and sort of having the blanks filled between the origins of the characters and their later stories, which were used and adapted somewhat in The Witcher 3 game.

I really liked how much Triss was used in this book, as she is one of my favorite characters and it really developed her more than the short story books or the games.

I also enjoyed the stuff about Ciri’s training and how the other witchers had issues trying to raise a girl, as she was growing into a young woman.

Beyond that, I thought some parts of this dragged out a bit too long and even though there is some conflict and action, the book really feels like more of a set up to a larger tapestry than it does its own, solid body of work. That’s not necessarily bad, as this is part of a large saga but there’s not much here that stands out and gives this book its own identity.

This could also be due to the short story books sort of diminishing the overall effect of this one, as it was originally the origin of these characters for the readers who were there in the beginning.

All in all, this is still pretty damn enjoyable and it sets things up in a way that makes me excited for the other books.

I should have the review for the next one up in a few weeks.

Rating: 8.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Witcher books, comics and television shows.

Comic Review: The New Mutants, Issues #32-34

Published: 1985
Written by: Chris Claremont
Art by: Steve Leialoha, Glynis Wein

Marvel Comics, 69 Pages

Review:

I’m reviewing these three issues on their own, as they are wedged between two different collected editions of classic New Mutants stories. This happens immediately after the Demon Bear Saga and the Legion stuff, which I previously reviewed. The collected volume after this one will be reviewed in the near future.

This is a pretty cool trio of issues, though, and it splits the team up a bit, which gives us a really cool story centered around Magik and Dani, as they travel to the past and meet a descendant of Storm.

There’s just some cool Magik related occult stuff, which was always a highlight of the New Mutants for me, as she is my favorite character and a lot of that has to do with the dark shit that surrounds her.

The art style in this changed, as Bill Sienkiewicz left the series and Steve Leialoha took over. While I prefer Sienkiewicz, Leialoha was able to keep the aesthetic and vibe pretty close to what I had come to love over the Demon Bear and Legion stories.

Overall, this was an energetic and cool story that moves on from the New Mutants toughest challenges and opens the door to an uncertain future. This stretch of three issues wasn’t what I’d call filler but it was a bit of a breather and still a cool, fun, worthwhile story.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: other New Mutants comics, as well as the other X-Men related titles from the ’80s.

Film Review: Circle of Iron (1978)

Also known as: The Silent Flute (working title)
Release Date: July 25th, 1978 (France)
Directed by: Richard Moore
Written by: Bruce Lee, James Coburn, Stirling Silliphant, Stanley Mann
Music by: Bruce Smeaton
Cast: David Carradine, Christopher Lee, Jeff Cooper, Roddy McDowall, Eli Wallach, Anthony De Longis, Earl Maynard, Erica Creer

Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions, AVCO Embassy Pictures, 102 Minutes

Review:

“Tie two birds together. Even though they have four wings they cannot fly.” – Blind Man

The concept and story for this film were developed by the legendary Bruce Lee and he was even slated to star in it but, as we all know, he died really young and with that he never got to see this go into production.

A few years after Lee’s death, however, this project got the green light and David Carradine was given the multiple roles that would’ve gone to Lee. What’s strange about that is Carradine was also given the main role in the television series Kung Fu, which Lee said was a role that was also originally meant for him.

This movie also has several legendary actors in minor roles. We see Christopher Lee, Roddy McDowall and Eli Wallach all pop up for different sequences. And honestly, all of them took this really seriously and gave solid performances.

The lead actor was the only really unknown to me but he was good with the material, believable as a hero and you bought into his arduous and challenging journey, which was more about self discovery than what he thought it was about upon starting the journey.

One thing I personally dig about this is that it’s a martial arts flick but it has more of a sword and sorcery aesthetic to it. Granted, there aren’t buff dudes with swords, it’s just a really cut, physically fit guy using his kung fu to conquer his challenges.

Being that this was Bruce Lee’s concept also means that it is much more philosophical than your standard beat’em up movie. It probably isn’t as philosophical as what Lee would’ve done had he been alive to make this but his spirit still exists in this and is weaved into every important scene.

This film surprised me. I figured that I would enjoy it but it definitely exceeded the expectations I had for it and I’d now rank it pretty high up on my list of favorite David Carradine movies.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other martial arts flicks of the ’70s and ’80s, as well as sword and sorcery pictures of the same era.

Comic Review: Dungeons & Dragons: Legends of Baldur’s Gate

Published: May 27th, 2015
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Max Dunbar, Sarah Stone
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR

IDW Publishing, 130 Pages

Review:

This is the first modern Dungeons & Dragons comic that I’ve read that didn’t feature Drizzt Do’Urden. Apart from those stories, which I have already reviewed, this is the first D&D comic I’ve picked up since some of the classic issues from my childhood.

The main reason for me checking out this one before some of the others was due to it being written by Jim Zub. I like Zub’s writing, especially in regards to fantasy and sword and sorcery type tales.

So I wasn’t disappointed and I liked this quite a bit.

Mostly, I really liked these characters and the bond they develop over this story, as they form a team of heroes that has to stop an evil sorcerer from doing evil sorcerer things.

After finishing this, I hoped there would be more comic stories with these characters. I’m not 100 percent sure if there are but I’ll seek them out if they exist.

Zub brought his A-game, here, and I love how he creates a real sense of camaraderie between his characters. He also writes in a way where you can tell he enjoys his work and crafting stories in these sort of settings. Frankly, it’s kind of infectious and with that, makes you want to keep supporting the guy.

Anyway, this was a pretty fun and cool read. It left me wanting more and that’s what a comic book story should do.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: other Dungeons & Dragons comics, as well as fantasy adventure comics written by Jim Zub.

Film Review: European Vacation (1985)

Also known as: National Lampoon’s European Vacation (complete title)
Release Date: July 26th, 1985
Directed by: Amy Heckerling
Written by: John Hughes, Robert Klane
Music by: Charles Fox
Cast: Chevy Chase, Beverly D’Angelo, Dana Hill, Jason Lively, Victor Lanoux, Eric Idle, William Zabka, John Astin, Paul Bartel, Robbie Coltrane, Moon Unit Zappa

National Lampoon, Warner Bros., 95 Minutes

Review:

“[repeated line] God, I miss Jack!” – Audrey Griswold

I was a bit underwhelmed by the first Vacation movie after revisiting it a few weeks ago. While I wasn’t a massive fan of this film series, as I’m not really a fan of Chevy Chase, they’re still amusing enough to hold my attention and make me laugh in spots.

Now having revisited the second movie, I like this one more. I think that the European setting made it better, overall, and I this set of Griswold kids is my favorite in the series, as a tandem.

While the original seems to be the most beloved of the series, with Christmas Vacation being a very close second, this is just more interesting, as I find the culture clash stuff funnier than the family just driving through the desert, meeting their redneck kin and then riding some rollercoasters.

This also has more action and a pretty good, high energy finale for an ’80s comedy movie.

Additionally, it fleshes out the kids more and gives them their own subplots apart from just making them accessories to their parents on a road trip. In fact, the subplots with the kids I found to be more enjoyable.

All in all, I’m still not in love with this series but it’s not a bad way to kill some time on a rainy day. There are much better ’80s comedies and much better ’80s comedic leads than Chevy Chase.

Rating: 7/10
Pairs well with: the other Vacation movies, as well as other National Lampoon films.

Book Review: ‘Indiana Jones: The Ultimate Guide’ by Jim Luceno, Laura Gilbert

I remember this oversized hardcover coffee table book coming out around the same time as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull back in the late ’00s. I wanted it but didn’t buy it back then, as it was a bit pricey and I was pretty damn poor then.

Recently, a copy popped up on an eBay search and I bought it, as it was really cheap and still in great quality.

While “encyclopedias” like this aren’t all that necessary in modern times with Wikipedia and lots of fan-made very specific Wikias, the larger than life presentation of this book and all of its great pictures, art and images, makes me yearn for a time when books like this were more common.

It’s one small part of the book but the thing I really liked most about this was how it provided three-dimensional maps of many of the tombs, temples and secret caves that Indiana Jones visited throughout the film franchise.

This book delves into a little bit of everything, though.

This doesn’t only cover the films but it covers The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles television show, the novels, the video games and even looks at the comics.

Additionally, it covers all of these things in as much detail as you can in the limited space of a book chock full of imagery.

For diehard Indiana Jones fans, I’d say that this is a really cool book to ad to your library. Especially, if you can find a good, affordable copy online.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other reference books and guides from other Lucasfilm blockbusters.

Film Review: The Golden Voyage of Sinbad (1973)

Also known as: Sinbad’s Golden Voyage (working title)
Release Date: December 20th, 1973 (London premiere)
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Written by: Brian Clemens
Based on: Sinbad the Sailor from One Thousand and One Nights
Music by: Miklos Rozsa
Cast: John Phillip Law, Tom Baker, Caroline Munro, Takis Emmanuel, Douglas Wilmer, Martin Shaw, Robert Shaw (uncredited)

Morningside Productions, Ameran Films, Columbia Pictures, 105 Minutes

Review:

“Trust in Allah, but tie up your camel!” – Sinbad

I’ve got to be honest, I didn’t expect to love this movie as much as I did. I honestly just wanted to check it out because it had Caroline Munro in it. I mean, I was also sold on the fact that it had Ray Harryhausen stop-motion special effects, as well as Tom Baker and John Phillip Law in it.

I still figured that this would just be slightly better than meh.

To my surprise, this movie was a heck of an adventure that was packed full of action and charming characters that had solid and jovial camaraderie.

This really has the same spirit as a classic swashbuckler while also adding in some cool fantasy elements and special effects that were, honestly, some of the best I’ve seen from this era. Had I been a kid in 1973 and seen this in the theater, I would’ve loved the hell out of it.

I like Sinbad movies and frankly, I should actually watch more of them. Especially, the others that also feature Harryhausen’s work. His creatures in this were friggin’ great. I was most impressed by the six armed statue and her sword fight with the film’s hero.

I thought that the story was pretty good too and I really liked the casting.

John Phillip Law was enjoyable as Sinbad but Tom Baker was intriguing as hell as the evil sorcerer. It’s really cool seeing Baker play such a bastard when he’s most known for playing one of the most popular incarnations of The Doctor on Doctor Who.

If you’ve ever read any of my reviews of movies with Caroline Munro in them, then you know how I feel about her in everything. As far as I’m concerned, she should’ve been the leading woman in every film from the ’70s and into the ’80s.

The Golden Voyage of Sinbad is an entertaining popcorn movie and that’s all it needed to be. Luckily for us, the filmmakers went the extra mile and gave us something fairly exceptional.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: other Sinbad movies, especially those with special effects by Ray Harryhausen.