Published: June 17th, 2015
Written by: Mark Gruenwald, D.G. Chichester, Randall Frenz, Fabian Nicieza, Dann Thomas, Roy Thomas
Art by: Larry Alexander, Mark Bagley, Ron Frenz, Don Hudson, Ron Lim, Mike Manley, Chris Marrinan, Jim Valentino, Ron Wilson
Marvel Comics, 493 Pages
I really liked the Streets of Poison storyline when I was a kid. I was also really pumped to jump right into this Epic Collection, as the previous one was pretty exceptional.
However, this didn’t read as good as it did when I was eleven years-old but lots of things don’t and that also doesn’t mean this was bad.
I like this era of Captain America and revisiting it makes me appreciate it even more, even if it’s not as perfect as I remembered it.
This kicks off with the Streets of Poison arc, which is highlighted by a fight between Red Skull and the Kingpin. I thought that this rivalry between the two villains and everything leading up to their fight was really solid. You had Crossbones trying to take out Kingpin with Bullseye trying to take out Red Skull and the two assassins having their own fight. Additionally, Captain America fights both of them as well.
My only real gripe about the story was how being exposed to drugs altered Cap’s behavior pretty immensely. It bonded with the super solider serum in his body and the only way to cure Cap was to remove his blood and fix the serum. However, Cap, being strongly anti-drug after this experience, rejected the serum and decided to move forward as a normal man and not the creation of a drug he took back in the 1940s.
Following Streets of Poison, we got the story of the Serpent Society abducting Diamondback and trying her for her crimes against the Society. King Cobra and his minions rule against Diamondback harshly but she survives her execution when Cap finds her. Diamondback’s allies within the Serpent Society leave the group as well and they start to establish themselves as a new heroic group.
There are a couple single issue stories weaved into the bigger tapestry, here. None of them were bad and they honestly just showed how solid the writing at Marvel was in this era.
Published: November 23rd, 2016
Written by: Jim Zub
Art by: Nelson Daniel, Max Dunbar
Based on: Dungeons & Dragons by TSR
IDW Publishing, 136 Pages
This is the third story in Jim Zub’s run with these characters and it follows up those Baldur’s Gate stories quite well, leaning into the strengths of the series and making these incredibly likable characters even more likable.
Also, this continues to develop these characters while also strengthening their bond.
In this story, we get werewolves, other creatures and ultimately, a showdown between these awesome heroes and a powerful vampire lord.
Like the previous volumes, this is fun, energetic and thoroughly entertaining. Jim Zub has the right sort of vibe for sword and sorcery, especially the more lighthearted stuff.
I also like the art, here, and it’s consistent with the other two books before it.
All in all, these continue to be great and fans of action fantasy with a bit of humor should just give them a read.
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
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.
Written by: Gerry Conway, Steve Englehart, Louise Simonson, Chris Claremont, Steve Gerber, Mark Gruenwald
Art by: various
Marvel Comics, 704 Pages
It has been years since I’ve read this giant crossover event that happened in the Marvel annuals over the summer of 1988. I really dug the hell out of it when I was a kid and I’ve always liked the High Evolutionary as a big villain, even though this was really his only major story.
Being that I still own the physical copies of all these issues, I figured that taking them out of their protective bags and boards and thumbing through them once again would be a fun experience.
Overall, this is one of the best large crossover events that Marvel did in the ’80s, where these things started to become the norm. I think I liked Atlantis Attacks slightly more but I’m going to revisit that one in the very near future, as well.
This is spread over eleven issues and there are two others that tie into this but aren’t a part of the main arc. However, the main arc is sort of a loose one, as the scheme of the High Evolutionary weaves in and out of these issues without most of the heroes coming into contact with one another. In fact, it isn’t until the final issue where a group of former Avengers come together and realize what’s happening and with that, they foil the High Evolutionary’s plans.
Sometimes the main arc is just very minimally wedged into a story like with The Punisher annual, which sees Frank Castle fighting drug lords in Latin America. Knowing what we know already, we see Castle fight a robot that we know is associated with the High Evolutionary and we know that the drugs being pushed by this specific cartel is tied to the High Evolutionary’s experiments.
Being that these are annuals, there are always main stories and then shorter backup stories tacked on to the end of the issues. The backup stories in these tell the origin of the High Evolutionary and recap everything he’s been involved with up to this point. These were all rather good and interesting and it shows the character as a sort of high-tech Dr. Moreau from the famous 1896 H. G. Wells sci-fi/horror novel The Island of Doctor Moreau.
In the end, this was a hell of a lot of fun to revisit. The writing and art were handled by a team of Marvel’s best creatives from the era. I dug the art a lot and it was damn consistent throughout.
Release Date: June 28th, 2007 (Order of the Phoenix), July 7th, 2009 (Half-Blood Prince), November 11th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), July 7th, 2010 (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Directed by: David Yates
Written by: Michael Goldenberg (Order of the Phoenix), Steve Kloves (Half-Blood Prince, Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: Nicholas Hopper (Order of the Phoenix, Half-Blood Prince), Alexandre Desplat (Deathly Hollows – Part 1, Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Tom Felton, David Bradley, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Brendan Gleeson, Helena Bonham Carter, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Julie Walters, Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, John Hurt, Imelda Staunton
Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 138 Minutes (Order of the Phoenix), 153 Minutes (Half-Blood Prince), 146 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 1), 130 Minutes (Deathly Hollows – Part 2)
As I said in my review of the first four Harry Potter films, the series improves as it moves on. So I was much more enthused going into the back half of the saga and especially, after the third act of The Goblet of Fire, which sets up a much darker world with the resurrection of Voldemort and the death of a teenager at his hands.
These films are really f’n good and honestly, I was never really into Harry Potter because of how wholesome and whimsical it starts out but as the kids age, that stuff sort of fades away. Sure, there are still some of those moments but it isn’t overdone to an eye-rolling level like the first two pictures, especially.
Additionally, all the kids are much better in this stretch. They feel like real friends because after years of working together, they were. Their bond feels much more real and genuine and the love they have for each other transcends the films, which is exceptionally rare for actors this young and with this little of experience, only really having the previous films in this series under their belts.
It may have been hard to see it in the first few movies but when you look at the total package from start-to-finish, these movies in regards to its young stars, were perfectly cast. It’s also kind of amazing that they were able to pull this off over eight films in a decade, keeping everyone on board. And I say that as someone that grew up loving the Narnia books and just always wanted a film series that made it to the end. None have.
What’s even more amazing is that the other kid actors who aren’t the main three, all grow and improve over time, as well. It’s actually cool seeing these characters and the actors grow up before you, onscreen. I don’t think that it’s something that could ever be pulled off again, as well and as perfectly as it was done here.
Plus, the adult actors were superb in every way. In this stretch of films, they really take a bit of a step back, as the kids emerge as the new leaders of this universe. However, the adults know how to support them in their quest to vanquish evil and reign in a new day.
I had seen all of these films previously but never did get to see the finale. Now that I have, my overall opinion on this series has changed. The finale is one of the best film series finales I have ever seen and it makes everything before it, worth it. Even the early, overly whimsical movies are justified and actually make the strength and growth of Harry, by the end, more meaningful. I mean, damn, dude was just this innocent, happy kid, despite his terrible home life, and he rose to the occasion, became a true hero and didn’t make excuses for or succumb to the hardships he faced along the way. He had doubt, he had fear but he always stepped up to do what’s right.
In the end, I love the total package of this franchise and I really should’ve seen them in the theater over the years. The Deathly Hollows – Part 2 is especially exceptional and honestly, a masterpiece for this sort of film. In the end, it’s one of the greatest finales of the epic adventure genre and a perfect conclusion.
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Rating: 8.75/10
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – Rating: 9/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 1 – Rating: 9.25/10
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows – Part 2 – Rating: 10/10
Release Date: November 4th, 2001 (Sorcerer’s Stone), November 3rd, 2002 (Chamber of Secrets), May 23rd, 2004 (Prisoner of Azkaban), November 6th, 2005 (Goblet of Fire)
Directed by: Chris Columbus (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets), Alfonso Cuaron (Prisoner of Azkaban), Mike Newell (Goblet of Fire)
Written by: Steve Kloves
Based on: the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling
Music by: John Williams (Sorcerer’s Stone, Chamber of Secrets, Prisoner of Azkaban), Patrick Doyle (Goblet of Fire)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Harris, Michael Gambon, Maggie Smith, Alan Rickman, Ralph Fiennes, John Cleese, Warwick Davis, Richard Griffiths, Fiona Shaw, Ian Hart, John Hurt, Julie Walters, Tom Felton, Harry Melling, David Bradley, Kenneth Branagh, Jason Issacs, Gary Oldman, Timothy Spall, David Thewlis, Emma Thompson, Robert Pattinson, Brendan Gleeson, David Tennant
1492 Pictures, Heyday Films, Warner Bros., 152 Minutes (Sorcerer’s Stone), 161 Minutes (Chamber of Secrets), 142 Minutes (Prisoner of Azkaban), 157 Minutes (Goblet of Fire)
It’s the twentieth anniversary of this film franchise, so I figured I should show it the respect it deserves for being the cultural phenomenon that it was.
Full disclosure, I’m not a big fan of this franchise like everyone else seems to be. However, that doesn’t mean that I don’t appreciate what it’s done since the first J.K. Rowling book was published. The fact that it inspired a generation of kids to enthusiastically read is a tremendous feat. Fast-forward just a quarter of a century later and people don’t have the reading comprehension to understand something the size of a tweet but I digress.
My initial issue with this film series is that I thought it was waaay too kiddie. I saw the first one when it came out on DVD and a friend rented it. However, with this film series coming out at the same time as Peter Jackson’s original The Lord of the Rings trilogy, it didn’t do this movie any favors, at least with filmgoers who were too old to have grown up with the Harry Potter novels.
Even though I’ve seen all of these movies except for the last one, and I know that they mature in tone, as the children in the story do, I still have a hard time getting through both The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. In fact, I really had to force myself to get through them and stick with this in an effort to review this series, which is probably the last major franchise that I haven’t reviewed yet, other than the Fast & Furious movies.
A lot of people seem to love the hell out of The Prisoner of Azkaban. While the series does shift into darker themes and a more mature story, it still doesn’t quite do it for me. Granted, I loved Gary Oldman in it and it helped move things forward in a more serious way.
For me, it was The Goblet of Fire where the series really started to make me care about it on a deeper level. However, it doesn’t really kick in until the tournament starts and a still very young Harry finds himself in a competition where he could actually die.
The fact that the stakes were very high and his own mortality was on the line lets you know that everything moving forward now was going to be more serious. Where everything before this was mostly full of over-the-top wholesomeness and irritating whimsy, you now knew that these kids were going to be forced to grow up before they should have to.
Additionally, at the end of The Goblet of Fire, Voldemort, in his true form, finally appears. With that, a teen a few years older than Harry and now a friend of his, is killed by the franchise’s big villain. Harry barely escapes with the body of his friend and when he does, the entire school of young wizards are punched in the gut over what just happened and what kind of danger this poses to the world. It’s a terribly sad and gut-wrenching end to this picture.
Sadly, it takes the final act of the fourth film to actually make me want to watch the rest of them. While I love fantasy stories and magic, this just isn’t something that was made for me or my generation. However, I think that they’re all pretty good movies for the audience they were intended for. Had I been born a decade later, it’s possible that Harry Potter could be my favorite franchise like it is for so many people.
I am going into the second half of this film series with a lot of enthusiasm, though. I definitely think it’ll resonate with me more and I like that I don’t remember much about them, as I never saw the conclusion and haven’t seen the other three for probably a decade.
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – Rating: 6.5/10
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets – Rating: 6.75/10
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban – Rating: 7.5/10
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire – Rating: 8.75/10
Published: March 4th, 2014
Written by: Joe Simon
Art by: Jack Kirby
Titan Books, 320 Pages
While Joe Simon and Jack Kirby, as a creative tandem, are probably most known for their Captain America work, they also did a lot of other comics for other companies that spanned just about every genre you can think of. This is a collection of their collaborations in horror.
With that, this is my favorite collection out of the many hardcover editions of their old work that has come out.
This is a thick anthology with dozens of tales that utilize just about every type of classic monster or horror trope that you can think of.
The writing is good for the time and I always liked Simon’s style and pacing. I especially like his dialogue and how he can convey a good deal of plot and information in limited space.
More than anything else, I love this for Kirby’s art. Before superheroes became his norm, the man was known for creating some of the coolest monsters that ever graced the pages of ’40s and ’50s comics.
I get that this may be a really outdated piece of work for modern sensibilities. However, for those that actually appreciate what modern things evolved from and who have a soft spot for history, especially in pop culture, this is a really cool hardcover comic book collection to own and read.
Release Date: January 27th, 2010 (Rome premiere)
Directed by: Joe Johnston
Written by: Andrew Kevin Walker, David Self
Based on: The Wolf Man by Curt Siodmak
Music by: Danny Elfman
Cast: Benicio del Toro, Anthony Hopkins, Emily Blunt, Hugo Weaving, Asa Butterfield, Rick Baker (cameo), Max von Sydow (scene cut)
Bluegrass Films, Relativity Media, Universal Pictures, 103 Minutes
“I will kill all of you!” – Lawrence Talbot
Critics and audiences were kind of harsh to this movie when it came out and for whatever reason, I never saw it until now. I’m rarely dissuaded by critics and casual filmgoers but I think I didn’t see it because it came out at a weird time, was gone from theaters quickly and I just never caught it streaming anywhere.
However, considering that this was a remake of a classic Universal Monsters movie, I almost feel like not seeing this for so long is a crime.
Having now seen it, I think that people were really unfair to it. I thought that it was certainly more good than bad and there are parts of the film I enjoyed, immensely.
I thought the cast was fucking great. The only really issue I had with the film, honestly, was that the story was a bit hard to follow. It was simple but it had little things mixed in that made it a bit more complicated than it needed to be. I think some of this is also due to details and reveals casually appearing in conversations where if you missed that one line of dialogue, you were fucked for the rest of the story. I think the wonky pacing of the film also had an adverse effect on the plot and how it just didn’t flow smoothly. For those who saw this in the theater, a poorly timed bathroom break, could wreck the picture.
Visually, I thought the movie was pretty damn perfect. I liked the tone, the darkness, the detail of the more opulent settings and how they used shadow and light during the werewolf scenes.
I thought that the CGI was generally good but sometimes it felt a bit artificial. I think this was mainly a problem when they were tasked with trying to make werewolf facial shots work in the dark with subtle, artificial light.
Still, the werewolf action scenes were great. I loved the first werewolf attack, which led to Benicio del Toro’s version of Lawrence Talbot getting infected with the werewolf curse. Beyond that, the sequence that ends with del Toro’s werewolf decapitating the cop was solid, as was the slaughter of the bourgeoise intellectuals in the insane asylum.
Everything comes to a head in the final werewolf vs. werewolf fight between father and son and man, I liked this a lot too. I also thought that, in this scene, they did a great job in making each werewolf resemble their actor enough for you to tell them apart.
Another thing that also enhanced this film was Danny Elfman’s score. I think it’s one of his best in more recent memory.
The Wolfman is a pretty decent Victorian era werewolf film. It’s nowhere near the caliber of considering it a classic, like the film that served as its source material, but I wouldn’t have been opposed to Universal using this as the launching pad for more Universal Monsters movies. Alas, and after multiple attempts since this movie, Universal still hasn’t figured out how to make a shared universe work, even though they invented it with this franchise in the 1930s and 1940s.
Release Date: January, 1981 (Avoriaz Fantastic Film Festival)
Directed by: Joe Dante
Written by: John Sayles, Terence H. Winkless
Based on: The Howling by Gary Brandner
Music by: Pino Donaggio
Cast: Dee Wallace, Patrick Macnee, Dennis Dugan, Christopher Stone, Belinda Balaski, Kevin McCarthy, John Carradine, Slim Pickens, Elisabeth Brooks, Robert Picardo, Dick Miller, Meshach Taylor
Wescom Productions, International Film Investors, Embassy Pictures, 91 Minutes
“I’m gonna give you a piece of my mind. I trusted you, Karen. [He proceeds to pull a piece of brain out of a bullet hole in his head]” – Eddie Quist
As much as I love Joe Dante and werewolf movies, The Howling never really resonated with me. For Dante and his parented style, this always felt too serious and too dark, even though he generally dabbled in horror.
However, I think that this was his attempt at making something more serious. And it did work out for him, as this birthed a franchise and from here, he’d go on to be one of the most prominent genre film directors of the ’80s.
One thing that I can’t take away from this film is the special effects and honestly, it’s the main reason I enjoy revisiting this every half decade or so. The werewolf transformation effects are great and they’re honestly pretty on par with another 1981 werewolf movie, An American Werewolf In London. What’s interesting about that is that effects master Rick Baker was working on this film but he left the production to work on An American Werewolf In London. Rob Bottin took over in the effects department, which was a good fit, anyway, as he had previously worked with Dante on Piranha.
It makes me wonder if the werewolf we would’ve gotten in this movie would’ve been closer to the one in An American Werewolf In London. The main difference between the two movies’ monsters were that The Howling had bipedal werewolves and the one in the other film had a monster that walked on all fours. Regardless, The Howling werewolves looked cool as hell, anyway.
The story follows a reporter that had a bad run-in with a serial killer being sent off to a coastal village for some mental rehabilitation. However, this village is full of werewolves and that serial killer is one of them.
Out of Dante’s ’70s, ’80s and ’90s work, this is probably my least favorite film. I get why a lot of people like it but I only seem to relish the big effects sequences while finding everything else to be a bit slow and mundane.