Book Review: ‘The Untold Legend of the Batman’ by Len Wein, Jim Aparo & John Byrne

This was a paperback book I had when I was a kid and it may have actually been the first Batman comic that I read, as I got this when I was really young.

This paperback is a collection of a three-issue comic book miniseries of the same name. Except, here, the comic is in black and white and reformatted to fit this medium, having just one-to-three panels per page.

The Untold Legend of the Batman is a bit strange, as its details differ from the continuity of the actual comic book series. Events in Batman’s past are slightly altered but it was still a fun read and the origin of the Caped Crusader wasn’t so different that it wrecked anything. At worst, it’s still more accurate than many of the film and television versions of the hero’s backstory.

I really dug the art in this, especially with it being presented in black and white, as it allowed the linework of both John Byrne and Jim Aparo to really standout on its own.

This was a really fast read but it was still worth hunting down and giving it a look again.

Rating: 6.5/10

Comic Review: Captain America – Epic Collection: The Bloodstone Hunt

Published: April 25th, 2018
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, Kieron Dwyer
Art by: Mark Bagley, M.D. Bright, Rich Buckler, Kieron Dwyer, Ron Lim, Al Milgrom

Marvel Comics, 495 Pages

Review:

Well, this is probably the greatest string of Captain America issues that I have ever read. The first few were a bit shaky but they laid the groundwork for the start of the two primary stories, here, The Bloodstone Hunt and the Captain America portion of the Acts of Vengeance crossover and its fallout.

The Bloodstone Hunt was pretty incredible and a hell of a lot of fun. It was like an Indiana Jones story as Cap and Diamondback, now essentially his partner, raced against Baron Zemo, Batroc and their crew to try and hunt down five magic gems. It wasn’t clear why Zemo wanted them until the end, where he attempts to use them to resurrect his father, the original Zemo. However, he resurrects the powerful soul that was locked in those gems instead.

That story also features the debut of Crossbones and John Jameson (a.k.a. Man-Wolf) becoming Cap’s pilot. Sadly, we don’t get Man-Wolf action but this series of issues drops some hints that Jameson might not be able to suppress his cosmic werewolf alter ego for much longer.

After that, we get a two-issue arc that sees Cap and Crossbones fight for the first time. Man, I forgot how much I loved Crossbones in these early stories. He’s such a good sack of shit and a perfect rival for Cap. I really wish they would’ve used him better in the MCU movies, especially with Frank Grillo in that role.

Following that, we get the Acts of Vengeance stuff, which sees Cap have to fight Namor, his ally, as well as The Controller and Crossbones, again. There are also side plots about The Hellfire Club being raided and Magneto kidnapping and burying Red Skull alive in a tomb due to his ties to the Nazis, which a young Magneto and his family were victims of.

There’s just so much in this volume and all of it is damn good, once the story gets rolling.

Mark Gruenwald might be the best Captain America writer of them all. Additionally, the art throughout this stretch was superb. I still remember buying a lot of these single issues off of the racks, many of which I still own, and I remember loving back in 1989. I’m glad to say that this aged exceptionally well.

Rating: 10/10

Comic Review: Nightwing, Vol. 8: Lethal Force

Published: November 20th, 2018
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Rick Burchett, Staz Johnson, Trevor McCarthy, William Rosado

DC Comics, 243 Pages

Review:

Well, this is the end of the lengthy Chuck Dixon Nightwing run.

With that, I was a little underwhelmed by this. The reason for that is because I anticipated some of the major plot threads being wrapped up, such as the stuff surrounding the Blockbuster character but he doesn’t even appear in the issues collected, here.

Still, I did mostly enjoy this.

It all just felt kind of random, though, and there wasn’t a thread that tied this all up like in previous volumes.

Like some of the other volumes, this also has the problem of too many artists, which makes the book visually inconsistent, throughout. It’s not as jarring as it was in some of the earlier volumes but it’s still noticeable.

In the end, this just felt like the series had become directionless. I’m not sure if the blame for that lies on Chuck Dixon’s shoulders or the brass at DC Comics, who were going to keep the Nightwing title going while handing it off to other people.

Rating: 7/10

Vids I Dig 835: Razörfist: The Shadowcast No. 1 – The Living Shadow

From the mists of mystery emerges The Shadowcast! In this first episode, we explore the origins of the Dark Avenger with the very first pulp story: THE LIVING SHADOW, and review The Knight of Darkness’s first film appearance in the rare 1931 DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE Film Shorts!

“Your life,” said the stranger’s voice slowly, “is no longer your own. It belongs to me now. But you are still free to destroy it. Shall we return to the bridge?”

“I don’t know,” blurted Vincent. “This is all like a dream; I don’t understand it. Perhaps I did fall from the bridge, and this is death that I am now experiencing. Yet it seems real, after all. What good is my life to anyone? What will you do with it?”

“I shall improve it,” replied the voice form the darkness. “I shall make it useful. But I shall risk it, too. Perhaps I shall lose it, for I have lost lives, just as I have saved them. This is my promise; like, with enjoyment, with danger, with excitement, and— with money. Life, above all, with honor. If I give it, I demand obedience. Absolute obedience. You may accept my terms, or your may refuse. I shall wait for you to choose.”

“I accept,” he said.

-‘The Living Shadow’ (Walter B. Gibson, 1931)

Film Review: Avenging Angel (1985)

Also known as: Angel II, Angel II: Avenging Angel (alternative titles)
Release Date: January 11th, 1985
Directed by: Robert Vincent O’Neil
Written by: Robert Vincent O’Neil. Joseph Michael Cala
Music by: Christopher Young
Cast: Betsy Russell, Rory Calhoun, Susan Tyrrell, Ossie Davis, Steven M. Porter, Robert F. Lyons, Frank Doubleday, Barry Pearl, Ross Hagen

Avenging Venture, Republic Entertainment International, New World Pictures, 93 Minutes

Review:

“Good God almighty! The little sidewinder pee’d all over me!” – Kit Carson

After watching Angel, I figured I’d give the sequels a shot but that also hindered on how much of a step down this one was. I’m glad to say that I mostly enjoyed it but it’s not really in the same ballpark as its predecessor. Still, I’ll probably watch the other two, assuming they’re streaming somewhere.

So this one does bring back some of the characters I liked in the first film while also recasting the role of Angel with Betsy Russell, who has always had my full attention. She even made those abysmally bad Saw sequels a wee bit more palatable than they otherwise would have been.

Original Angel, Donna Wilkes, didn’t come back because supposedly, she had salary demands that the producers didn’t want to meet.

I think the recasting makes sense, though, due to the movie jumping ahead four years. Although, I think the time jump also made it less controversial, as the title character was no longer fifteen years-old. Now the character was in law school and definitely made to be sexier, as she was nineteen years-old and technically legal.

Russell has a much stronger presence than the previous Angel, overall, but that’s also not a knock against Donna Wilkes. Russell just felt like she was experienced, tougher and able to handle her shit in a way that Wilkes’ fifteen year-old Angel couldn’t.

I really liked Russell in this a lot and she had good chemistry with the returning cast, specifically Susan Tyrrell and Rory Calhoun.

I also liked the rest of the crew with Yo-Yo Charlie getting a bigger role and the edition of Johnny Glitter, who is a character that honestly cracked me up. Veteran actor Ossie Davis was also a good addition to the cast.

Overall, I felt like the story was weaker. The whole thing about Angel being a minor tricking on the streets wasn’t part of the narrative and this movie loses that edge and her character no longer feels like an innocent child in a scummy, dark world.

It’s obvious that this was made just to try and replicate the surprise success of its predecessor but it’s just more of an action crime movie. The fact that there isn’t a sadistic serial killer was also a step down. This just follows Angel as she hunts down the thugs that murdered her police friend that became somewhat of a father figure to her.

In the end, the good guys win and they go on with their lives. Although, there are two more movies. Sadly, no one returns for the other films.

Rating: 6/10

Film Review: Angel (1983)

Release Date: November 2nd, 1983 (Italy)
Directed by: Robert Vincent O’Neil
Written by: Joseph Michael Cala, Robert Vincent O’Neil
Music by: Craig Safan
Cast: Donna Wilkes, Cliff Gorman, Susan Tyrell, Dick Shawn, Rory Calhoun, John Diehl, Elaine Giftos

Adams Apple Film Company, Planet Productions, Angel Venture, New World Pictures, 94 Minutes

Review:

“High School Honor Student by Day. Hollywood Hooker by Night.” – tagline

This was a much more enjoyable movie than I had anticipated. It was actually in my queue to watch but I ended up seeing it because it was featured on the most recent Joe Bob Briggs The Last Drive-In special.

The story is about a fifteen year-old girl who is an honor student in a prestigious Los Angeles private school while being a street hooker on Hollywood Blvd. at night. It’s a pretty unsettling premise and it’s not something that would get made today.

That being said, the material is handled kind of classily, even if the film pushes the boundaries quite a bit. However, you never see this then twenty-two year-old actress performing sex or simulating sex as this fifteen year-old character.

The reason for her being a child turning tricks is that her mother ran off and left her behind with just $100 to survive on. So Angel decided to do what she had to do to make a life for herself, get an elite education and eventually leave her terrible life behind. She also entertains a fantasy about her father coming back for her and hangs a lot of her hopes on that.

However, Angel has found a family of societal misfits that actually is a better family than the one that abandoned her and that’s a really sweet thing in this movie. Like Angel, you find it hard not to care for these odd people and there’s something beautiful about seeing a group of friends, thrown away by “decent” society come together to support one another like a real family.

Beyond that, this story is about the danger surrounding Angel’s lifestyle. This doesn’t just show the regular threats she can run into on any given night but it also features a psychotic serial killer that is hiding in the shadows, murdering hookers.

The killer is played by John Diehl, just before he would go on to his most famous role in Miami Vice. I’ve always liked Diehl and in this, he’s just chilling and incredibly convincing as this psycho. Honestly, his performance and his demeanor come close to rivaling that of Tom Noonan in Manhunter.

I liked the supporting cast in this too from Dick Shawn, as the transvestite hooker, to Rory Calhoun, as an ex-cowboy movie star, to Susan Tyrell, as the artist landlady that is crass and badass but also has a heart of gold.

This is an edgy ’80s movie that borders on exploitation but reels it in just enough that it’s able to be a much better motion picture than it would have been if it fully embraced the exploitation.

Angel surprised me and I liked it quite a bit. It’s an interesting take on the ’70s-to-’80s action vigilante story and it has real heart and great, memorable characters.

Rating: 7.25/10

Comic Review: Nightwing, Vol. 7: Shrike

Published: February 20th, 2018
Written by: Chuck Dixon
Art by: Greg Land, Rick Leonardi, Mike Lilly, Trevor McCarthy

DC Comics, 254 Pages

Review:

With this seventh volume in Chuck Dixon’s solid Nightwing run, we’re introduced to one of Dick Grayson’s most deadly enemies, Shrike.

The assassin is brought in by Nightwing’s biggest enemy, Blockbuster, after roughly a dozen other gimmicky assassins have failed at taking the street level hero down.

This was one of the more enjoyable volumes, as it just got back to basics and saw Nightwing have to tangle up with an evenly matched, badass baddie, in the alleys and on the roofs of Blüdhaven.

This also features some one-shots from the era collected into this volume. They’re actually one-shots I’ve already read and reviewed but it was cool seeing how they lineup in the overall Chuck Dixon Nightwing timeline.

The art is also really good in this, especially the work of Greg Land, who this deep into the series, has probably cemented himself as my favorite Nightwing artist of the Dixon run.

All in all, this is just straightforward street hero action with some solid storytelling, really good art and ’90s attitude.

Rating: 7.25/10

Film Review: Four Flies on Grey Velvet (1971)

Also known as: 4 mosche di velluto grigio (original Italian title)
Release Date: December 17th, 1971 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Dario Argento
Written by: Dario Argento, Luigi Cozzi, Mario Foglietti
Music by: Ennio Morricone
Cast: Michael Brandon, Mimsy Farmer, Jean-Pierre Marielle, Francine Racette, Bud Spencer

Universal Productions France, Seda Spettacoli, 104 Minutes

Review:

“Exactly. You see before you a fully-fledged, highly-qualified private investigator with an extensive knowledge of modern science at his very fingertips. And, in spite of this, in three years of honest practice, I haven’t solved a single case.” – Gianni Arrosio

This is the one Dario Argento movie from the ’70s and ’80s that I had never seen and that has more to do with it never streaming anywhere. It’s been in my Prime Video queue for years and I check every month to see if it popped up on any of the services available on my Firestick. Well, it finally did!

It also irked me that it took me so long to see this because it is a part of the loose Animal Trilogy of films that Argento did back-to-back-to-back in less than two years from 1970-to-1971. This is the last of those films and the ones that predate it are The Bird With the Crystal Plumage and The Cat O’ Nine Tails.

Oddly, each film seems to be a slight step down with Crystal Plumage being my favorite of the trio.

That doesn’t mean that this one was bad, it just had two things working against it in comparison to the other two.

The first is that it was pretty predictable. My first hunch as to who the killer was, was correct. However, this could’ve just been due to only having the English language dub to watch, as the voice of the killer made it clear to me that it was probably a woman. I’m not sure how the voice came across in the original Italian language version and this giveaway could’ve just been due to a shit English dub.

The second thing that works against it, is that it was the least stylish and opulent looking of the three movies. It is nowhere near as vivid, cool and exquisite as Crystal Plumage and it also falls below Nine Tails, as well.

I did think the killer mask was creepy as hell and really cool, though. Like the other Argento giallo pictures, this plays like a proto-slasher flick. The slasher-y bits and the kills were all pretty good and the film wasn’t lacking in that regard.

I was also impressed with the end of the film, which features a slowed down, violent car crash.

Overall, this was a good giallo and a good movie in general. While it’s far from Argento’s best it’s still worth checking out if you are a fan of the man’s other work.

Rating: 6.5/10

Film Review: Malignant (2021)

Also known as: Silvercup (working title)
Release Date: September 1st, 2021 (France)
Directed by: James Wan
Written by: Akela Cooper, James Wan, Ingrid Bisu
Music by: Joseph Bishara
Cast: Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Jacqueline McKenzie, Michole Briana White, Mckenna Grace, Zoe Bell

Boom! Studios, Boom Entertainment, Atomic Monster, My Entertainment Inc., Starlight Media Inc. New Line Cinema, Warner Bros. Pictures, 111 Minutes

Review:

“It’s time to cut out the cancer.” – Gabriel

*There be spoilers here!

I went into this movie blindly and I would say that this is the best way to approach Malignant. I hadn’t seen a trailer and frankly, I didn’t know of its existence until it hit HBO Max (at the same time it hit theaters) and then I saw that Joe Bob Briggs was really happy with it.

Having now watched it, I really wish I would’ve seen it in the theater and I still might on my second viewing of it.

I’ve got to state that this was just solid, top-to-bottom and I think it could very well be James Wan’s best movie that I’ve seen, apart from my original theatrical viewing of Saw. That film’s legacy was destroyed by its countless, underwhelming and eventually terrible sequels. I hope that Malignant doesn’t follow suit and become a watered down franchise like Saw or James Wan’s Conjuring universe.

It’s hard not talking about this movie without spoiling it. So if you know nothing about this, you should stop reading here. Seriously, it’s worth checking out and something I’d consider one of the ten best horror films of the last ten years or so. But you should just jump into it, knowing nothing, and just enjoy the ride.

So here come spoilers, galore. Turn back now or ruin the film for yourself; you have been warned.

The intro to the movie clues you in that there’s some sort of creature that’s very dangerous but you only get an obscured glance of it through opaque plastic curtains. It’s hard to tell what it is and whether it’s some sort of mutant or supernatural (possibly spiritual) force that’s taken physical manifestation. The only real clue you’re given is from dialogue spoken by the lead doctor referring to it as “cancer”.

As we meet Maddie, the main character, years later, we see her life, her shitty relationship and discover that she’s in her third pregnancy after losing the two previous babies. Her boyfriend is immediately abusive, physically, and that leads into the first encounter with the creature in current time.

Initially, this feels like either a haunted house or possession movie. However, as the plot rolls on and new clues and experiences are presented, it’s much more complicated and complex than that. We eventually learn that Maddie has a direct connection to this monster and then Matrix-type shit starts happening as reality bends and shifts and the plot becomes more layered, more complex yet incredibly more interesting without becoming a convoluted mess. At this point, you’re just filled with questions and intrigue.

Fast-forward and many developments later, you learn that Maddie was a Siamese twin and that her other half was an evil, murderous bastard named Gabriel. Gabriel was the “cancer” that was mostly cut out from Maddie, however, they couldn’t fully remove him without killing her, so the remaining part of him, that was attached to her brain, was shaved back and pushed into the back of her skull. You also find out that he fed off of her unborn babies in an effort to regain his power. Maddie getting her head slammed into the wall by her boyfriend was enough to finally wake Gabriel back up.

So with the big reveal, the film reminds me of Brian De Palma’s Sisters, as well as an obscure 1988 film, Brain Damage. Granted, I don’t think that Wan stole from these movies, as this story is still really original and stands on its own two feet.

Everything comes to a head when Maddie is in a holding cell, the prime suspect in several murders, and Gabriel finally regains full control and brutalizes the shit out of the other inmates, who were bullying and brutalizing Maddie. This scene is just cool as fuck and Maddie/Gabriel takes action like a character from The Matrix. The really neat thing, anatomy-wise, is that Gabriel’s face is attached to the back of Maddie’s head, so her body does its martial arts badassery physically backwards. It’s a bizarre but incredibly cool sight.

In the end, Maddie gains full control back from Gabriel and suppresses him seemingly into nonexistence, again. However, the film ends kind of abruptly after this and it’s unclear what will happen to her, as the only cop that learned the truth is presumably dead. And with that, it’s obvious that there will be a sequel.

They should learn from Saw and The Conjuring, that sequels will dilute the effect of the original movie. However, everything Wan touches seemingly turns into gold and I assume that this will also be milked to death. Still, I liked this enough that I would see a sequel and just hope for the best.

What really made this movie work so damn well was the incredibly convincing performance by its star, Annabelle Wallis, who I loved and hope to see more from in the future.

I also liked a lot of sequences in this, especially the stuff in the Seattle Underground. It’s a really cool location to utilize for horror and it’s been weirdly underutilized for decades. This movie makes the most out of that setting and it also gave us some really good action when Gabriel was on the run from the main cop in the story.

In recent years, the horror genre has been fairly shit. Malignant was one of the very few films that grabbed my attention, kept me glued to the screen and exceeded any expectations I could’ve had for it. Additionally, it’s finely directed, wonderfully acted and a cool, unique story that is a legitimate mindfuck of the highest caliber.

Rating: 9/10