Iron Man

#850: Truly A Marvel

GETTING MORE TALE #850: Truly A Marvel

You can blame my dad!  He doesn’t remember getting me into Marvel comics, but he started it.

My neighborhood friends did have something to do with it initially.  Marvel’s Secret Wars was turning into the comic event of the year.  Neighbors like Bob Schipper and George Balasz introduced me to some of the characters – The Vision, Scarlet Witch, Rogue, Storm, and Bob’s favourite Hawkeye.  Bob liked collecting “limited series” and 1984’s The Last Starfighter (based on the movie) was the first he completed.  Marvel also had the comic rights to Star Wars and Indiana Jones, so it was natural for me to gravitate to them rather than DC.   Even Kiss had a Marvel comic.

I remember Marvel four-packs at convenience stores.   You would get four Marvel comics from four different titles in one bag.  My dad would buy these for us on the way to the cottage to give us something to do.   Just one bag of four books would keep us occupied on those long drives.  Iceman, Iron Man, ROM the Spaceknight and the X-Men entered our lives this way.  I didn’t want DC comics; I wanted the characters that I knew.  We were not comic fiends the way some kids were, but Marvel was there for me with astounding tales of science fiction and fantasy.

My father has no memory of buying those old books.  He looks at these Marvel movies today completely dumbfounded.

“Who’s that guy?” he’ll ask.

“That’s Tony Stark!  Iron Man!  You bought my first Iron Man comics when I was a kid!”

Although he always responds with “I don’t remember that,” I sure do.

It’s all true.  He bought my first Iron Man.  When I started reading them, James Rhodes was actually Iron Man.  Tony was just about to reclaim the helmet for himself when I jumped in.

Of the heroes, ROM was my favourite.  His adventures crossed over with Ant Man, Alpha Flight and others, exposing me to more Marvel characters.  A ROM annual (#3) with the X-Men hooked me on the Spaceknight.  At this time, my grandfather was dying of cancer.  When we went to visit the hospital, I wasn’t allowed to see him anymore.  He was too sick and they didn’t want me to remember him that way.  I can remember sitting in the waiting room reading ROM #62.  The battle to save Earth from the Dire Wraiths was a good distraction from the hospital sounds and smells.

As a little kid, I couldn’t buy everything.  It was hard just getting to the stores to catch every issue.  So my mom got out her cheque book and bought me subscriptions to my three favourite books.  Now there was no way I would be missing the latest issues of ROM, GI Joe, and The Transformers.

DC Comics had the big movies – Superman, Batman – but Marvel didn’t seem to translate well to live action.  We had the TV show The Incredible Hulk starring Bill Bixby and Lou Ferigno, but it was only loosely based on the comic.  (The TV producers didn’t want the Hulk to be green but fortunately Stan Lee insisted upon it.)   Marvel finally came out with a great film in 2000’s X-Men, directed by Brian Singer.  Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellan were fantastic, but it was Hugh Jackman as Wolverine that was the real breakthrough.  Unfortunately the X-Men films declined in quality too quickly.  Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man debuted in 2002, but suffered the same fate by the third film.

Whether it was Blade, Fantastic 4 or Ghost Rider, Marvel rarely made me gasp in awe at the silver screen.  Not until Iron Man flew around the world in 2008.  That Jon Favreau film was a game changer.  Especially when Samuel L. Jackson showed up in a surprise cameo as Nick Fury to discuss the “Avenger Initiative”.  Suddenly the idea of Marvel heroes interacting with other Marvel heroes seemed possible.

None of us could have imagined the marvel-ous tapestry that they would weave over the next 22 movies.  Finally seeing my heroes like Captain America, Thor and Ant Man in movie form made me remember what I loved about my old comics.  They tried to stay reasonably close to the original stories.  The costumes might have been updated and less colourful, but there was no mistaking the Mighty Thor for anyone else.

And now all these decades later, I’m going back, buying graphic novels and catching up on my old friends in the Marvel Universe.  Reprints of The Infinity Gauntlet, Secret Wars, and the very first adventures of the Incredible Hulk, Iron Man, Spider-Man, and the X-Men are all in my library any time I need some nostalgia therapy.  Thank you Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, Steve Ditko and all the rest.  Jim Shooter, Larry Hama, Bob Budiansky and Simon Furman, I will always be grateful for bringing me childhood heroes month after month!

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

NEW RELEASE

BLACK SABBATH – Live…Gathered In Their Masses (2013 CD/DVD/Blu-ray box set)

Any time a classic rock band releases new music and goes back on tour, there has to be a live album to go with it these days.  Actually, to be more accurate in the current age it’s more likely to be some kind of CD/DVD combo pack.  This deluxe of Live…Gathered In Their Masses contains 1 CD, 1 Blu-ray, and 2 DVDs.

The visual program opens with a collage of pre-gig ritiual.  The band arrive, and get ready in their own dressing rooms, the cameras offering a brief intimate glimpse.  Before too long, the air raid sirens of “War Pigs” brings us to the stage.  The Blu-ray looks absolutely gorgeous.  Every line on every face is visible, every grain on Tony’s Gibson SG, and the stage is gorgeously lit.  It’s a beautiful disc to watch in 1080p.  I couldn’t help myself; I sat there playing air drums, and putting my hands in the air when Ozzy commanded.  It was fun!

Ozzy hops about, but most exciting visually is unofficial member Tommy Clufetos.  I wonder if it’s intentional, but he definitely resembles a young Bill Ward circa 1976 (as long as he keeps his shirt on).  And Tony?  He smiles, a lot.  You would too if you’ve been through what he has I imagine!  Ozzy’s already dumped a bucket of water over his head before they get to the second song, a sludgy “Into the Void”.  I think the temptation is often to play this song a little faster live, but this version is very much in pace with the deliberately slow original.

My cell phone ring tone these days is that riff from “Loner”, one of the best songs from 13.  Unfortunately, the fact that this is a new song means Ozzy’s rivited to one place on stage, concentrating on the words, glancing at the floor.  Even so, Ozzy remains a mesmerizing presence.  Another bucket of water, and Ozzy’s the cheeleading frontman again.  The bonus interview on the disc, by the way, reveals why Ozzy really douses himself in water!  (You probably don’t want to know.)  “Snowblind” then erupts, Ozzy hitting the high notes with cracking but real voice!  (That’s the part that counts.)  Tony’s extended guitar solo is a stunner in itself.

The rain and tolling bells of “Black Sabbath” sound great on blu-ray, though I was hoping to hear more stuff going on behind me in the 5.1 mix.  “Black Sabbath” is the standard workout, no surprises here.  Likewise, “N.I.B.” is very much the traditional Sabbath version, even down to each note of Tony’s solo.  Ozzy somehow manages to still be menacing behind the mic.  “Methademic” is one of the new songs again, but oddly it’s a only bonus track on the deluxe versions of 13.  This is a song that resembles Dio-era Sabbath and would have sounded at home on Dehumanizer or The Devil You Know.  With Ozzy behind the mic, it’s still classic Sabbath.  I think it’s a great number, only weakened live by Ozzy struggling through the wordy lyrics.

Oz doesn’t seem to have trouble with the old favourite “Fairies Wear Boots”.  His wail of “Allllllright now!” looms, and out comes the water again!  “Symptom Of the Universe” then stomps on the stage.  This is the song that Clufetos can really sink his chops in.  He’s obviously not Bill Ward, but I like his interpretation of Bill’s parts.  They’re as close to the mark as any other Sabbath drummer’s parts, if not more.  Tommy gets an extended drum solo too, during “Symptom”, not bad for an unofficial member!  Mrs. LeBrain called the solo “Sweet!”

GATHERED IN THEIR MASSES_0004A drum solo naturally suits “Iron Man” to segue into.  “Iron Man” is wooden, Clufetos unable to cop Bill Ward’s loose feel.  It’s still “Iron Man”, a song Black Sabbath have probably played live at every show since ’72, but it’s not definitive.  Only when the song gets up to speed does it become the beast it should be.  Another new song, the deliberately vintage sounding “End of the Beginning” takes over, but it’s not the song I would have chosen to play at this point of the set.  Not only is it too similar to “Black Sabbath” but it slows the set down too much so close to the end.  It does pick up, but I feel it would have worked better closer to the start of the show.

Ozzy then teases out that they will only play one more song, unless the crowd goes “extra crazy”.  This “final” song is the storming “Children of the Grave.”  The audience bounces like a wave in sync with the classic tune, led by an energized Ozzy.  I detected some clever editing here to make it appear that Ozzy is jumping around more than he actually is, but that’s video.  One pretty thing about this song is the appearance of Tony’s old cream Gibson SG, paint cracked and chipping.  Blu-ray allows you to see every scratch in the paint.

The crowd goes “extra crazy” and then Ozzy says they’ll play one more song.  It’s “God Is Dead?”, the excellent first single from 13.  Clufetos nails the stuttering drum roll, but Ozzy’s back to reading lyrics off the floor, which is distracting.  But does anyone actually believe it is the last song; that they won’t play “Paranoid”?  Of course they play it, and the riff from “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath” too.  It’s the quintessential closer, ending the concert as a party, not a session of pure doom!  Clufetos and Ozzy are quite animated on “Paranoid”, and of course Ozzy reminds the crowd that they are “number one”!  I just wish Tommy would pull up his pants.  Fuck, I wish I could fit into that size!

The DVD and Blu-ray versions contain three bonus tracks.  “Under the Sun” is a nice one to pull out of the hat.  Ozzy handles the difficult vocals without issue.  How does he do it?  You can hear his voice cracking from time to time; it sounds live.  “Dirty Women” is a personal favourite of mine.  This is an interesting version.  It’s the one that Spotify have as their own exclusive bonus track to 13.  I already had an audio copy of this bonus track, but Blu-ray is cool, too.  It’s a damn great rendition of a lost classic from Technical Ecstasy.  “Electric Funeral” is the big surprise, a song I don’t think I’ve ever heard played live.  Ozzy really struggles with the words on “Electric Funeral” but it’s a treat.

Elsewhere on the disc, there are more bonus features.  I have to say the Blu-ray menu is an annoying, repeating tolling bell.  Leaving the menu running unattended for more than 60 seconds is an excersize in testing your patience.  In the bonus features, the Sabbath interview is typically low key.  You know what to expect:  a difficult to understand Ozzy, and a soft spoken Tony, with occasional comments from Geezer.  There’s not too much here in the way of revelations.  Vegetable juice and food have replaced vodka and a line before the show, although Geezer still drinks wine.  How scandalous!  I don’t know who the interviewer is, but he’s very good at getting the band involved and in good humour.

Lastly there’s a feature called “Show Day”.  This is a behind the scenes look at the goings-on in the 24 hours before the show in Melbourne.  I love it!

Ozzy:  “You know what I was looking at, the old re-runs of the Twilight Zone.”

Geezer:  “You told me that about 40 times.”

Ozzy:  “Sorry.  Trying to make conversation.”

Tony:  (Laughs.)

Even Joe Perry and Steven Tyler show up backstage.  I enjoy watching Joe and Tony chatting…what a meeting of guitar greats in one room.

The packaging for this box set is loaded with goodies.  I always enjoy some complimentary guitar picks.  There’s one here from Tony, and one from Geezer.  There’s also a replica concert ticket, setlist, and a small poster.  Nothing to get too excited about, but when you buy an expensive box set it’s nice to get these added touches as a bonus.  There’s also two DVDs included with the same content as Blu-ray.  That’s extraneous to me, I may never play them, so they’re sealed.  I don’t have a problem with that, but I do wish they didn’t edit the CD version of the concert down to fit on one CD.  I’m pleased that the CD version contains all the new songs, but for the price of this set relative to the cheap cost of a CD, I don’t know why they couldn’t just make it a 2 CD set.  That part is disappointing.  When I buy a deluxe edition, I want the whole thing on CD.

That niggle aside, Black Sabbath Live…Gathered In Their Masses is worth:

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Ozzy Osbourne – Speak of the Devil / Talk of the Devil (1983)

 

OZZY OSBOURNE – Speak of the Devil (1983 Epic)

After Randy Rhoads died, Ozzy really seemed to have gone into a tailspin. He just seems to have been completely miserable at the time and he really tries to bury the albums he made in this period. Speak Of The Devil, a live album featuring Brad Gillis (Night Ranger) on guitar, was not even included on Ozzy’s 2002 reissue program and went out of print.

Ozzy owed his label a live album, and had actually recorded one too (Randy Rhoads Tribute).  With fresh wounds from the loss of Randy, Ozzy didn’t want to do a live album at all.    So a compromise instead; Speak of the Devil (Talk of the Devil overseas) consisted entirely of Black Sabbath songs.  At the same time, Sabbath was releasing their own double live album, Live Evil.  This direct competition poured fuel over an already volatile feud.

SPEAK OF THE DEVIL_0003I always hate to compare Ozzy’s versions of Sabbath songs with the originals. Ozzy’s have always sounded different because of the guitar players he’s chosen to use over the years. These Gillis versions are about as authentic as Ozzy’s been, until the fortuitous discovery of Zakk Wylde five years later.  Gillis is a flashier player than Iommi, but without Randy’s intricate classical bent.

You absolutely cannot argue with the track list (from the Ritz, in New York). This is Sabbath boiled down to its black core. These are the desert island songs, and I love that “Never Say Die” and “Symptom of the Universe” were included.  Through the classics, Ozzy sounds tremendously drunk.  Colossally smashed, not quite completely out of his fucking head yet, but close.  Still lucid, not yet totally annihilated.  His voice takes on an angry shade when he starts reminiscing about the the groupies at the old Fillmore East (“The Wizard”).  (Sounds like a naughty word was awkwardly edited of out this ramble, too.)

I do love a moment when, just before breaking into the aforementioned “Wizard”, Ozzy says to somebody (a roadie?) “Hey, what’s happenin’ man?”

The vocals sound like they’ve been sweetened in the studio.  They’ve been double tracked, or manipulated to have that effect.  I’m normally not a fan of that kind of thing, but it’s still a great listen.  There’s some annoying feedback at points…it doesn’t bother me too much, hell, when I first heard this album (on cassette) in 1991, I couldn’t even hear the feedback, for the shitty fidelity of cassette tape.  I’m sure Ozzy considers the album to be sonically embarrassing, that seems to be his modus operandi.

Of note, “Sweet Leaf” did not manage to make the original CD release, but has been restored to this version, its CD debut.  It was on the original cassette version, a cassette-and-LP-only “bonus track” at the time.  (Aaron, that means you gotta buy remastered or LP.)

Band lineup: Osbourne/Gillis/Sarzo/Aldridge/Airey.

4.5/5 stars

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REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Paranoid (deluxe edition with Quad mix)

I’m addicted to buying these deluxe editions.  And I have more Sabbath coming soon, too! Check out more of my Sabbath deluxe reviews by clicking here!

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BLACK SABBATH – Paranoid (2009 deluxe edition, 3 discs)

Wow, how many times have I bought Paranoid now? I would guess that this might be my sixth purchase of this album.  I mean…it’s Paranoid.

And what is Paranoid?  Only one of the most important rock albums of all time.  Regardless of the genre it helped spawn, this album is more important than just being a heavy metal album.  This is an important rock album.  I highly doubt any died-in-the-wool metal fan has not heard this album, but in case you’re young/been living on the moon, I’m happy to discuss these incredible tracks.

First up to bat is the unmistakable sludge of “War Pigs”.  “Generals gathered in their masses…just like witches at black masses…”  Bonus point to lyricist Geezer Butler for rhyming “masses” with “masses”! Joking aside, this is simply an incredible song, one which history has proven (as great as Dio was) that only Ozzy Osbourne can sing correctly.  Then, the brief punk rock explosion of “Paranoid”.  This was the first and only song I learned to play on guitar, simple are the chords.  But it is no less powerful for its simplicity!

The haunting “Planet Caravan” is a perfect example of Sabbath at their softest and darkest.  Ozzy’s distorted vocals send chills up the spine, while Geezer’s bass carries the melodic side.  I didn’t like this song as a kid (I hated the soft ones) but I sure grew to appreciate it since.  Iommi’s jazzy solo proves what an incredible player the man was and is.  In case you were falling asleep, Black Sabbath wake you up with the next track, “Iron Man”.  Everyone knows “Iron Man”, a monolithic slab of prototypical heavy metal!

“Electric Funeral” opens with Iommi’s Gibson puking wah-wah and distortion from the speakers, but like many Sabbath songs of the period, the track takes a careening turn into a fast section, before returning to its sludgy roots.  Bill Ward, one of the most underrated drummers ever, plays creatively throughout, his use of cymbals and fills endlessly interesting.

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“Hand Of Doom” is another one with different sections and tempos, and more of Ward’s jaw-dropping creativity on the tubs.  Ozzy howls like a banshee, the band behind him providing a heavy, frightening backdrop.

“Rat Salad” is a personal favourite, the album instrumental, and really a Bill Ward showcase.  You want to hear what Bill Ward could do?  This is the track to listen to, although Iommi is not to be underestimated.  His howling Gibson sends shivers up the spine.

“Fairies Wear Boots” closes the CD, the perfect mixture of riffage and melody.  All the while, Geezer and Ward continue to provide a rhythm section as interesting as the guitars and vocals.  Once again, Sabbath show their compositional prowess by creating a catchy, riffy heavy metal song with interesting sections and changes.  It is another perfect track, on an album of nothing but.

Liner notes and photos: A+. Awesome job. Lots of cool photos, facts, and figures that I was not previously aware of.

Packaging: C-. I have a 2CD/1DVD Clash set from this series where all three discs are packaged with a plastic tray to hold them in. Not so with Paranoid! Cost cutting may be the reason, but disc 3 slides into a cardboard sleeve while the other two discs have plastic trays.

Remastering: A+. My understanding is that this is a brand new remastering. That would be remastering #3 for Paranoid. (1996 Castle remasters, Black Box remasters.) Like the Black Box version, this sounds great, very clear, very powerful, very authentic. Can you tell the difference between this version and the Black Box version? Not really!

Bonus material: B+. Maybe it’s not anybody’s fault, but the bonus material is somewhat disappointing  Most are alternate takes with different lyrics or no lyrics at all. I guess that’s all that was available. Still, it’s not something I will listen to often. Including the DVD, keep in mind you’re going to be hearing these songs three times each! The alternate lyrics are interesting to say the least, but when you’re so used to hearing these songs a certain way, it is a little jarring.

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The DVD is an A. On this DVD, you get the original 1974 quad mix. Collectors rejoice, and people who are hoping for a 5.1 remix are going to have to keep waiting. I love the fact that we’re finally getting reissues of classic 1970’s quad mixes. Deep Purple have been releasing some as well. Personally I hope to hear some of the old Alice Cooper quad mixes some day, too.

Not a perfect reissue, but it is what it is. The packaging is the one thing that could have been improved easily. The extra material, well, if this is all Sabbath have in the vaults, then so be it!

(Note:  For completists, there’s still an early version of “War Pigs”,  ( then titled “Walpurgis”) with different lyrics, from BBC Radio 1, 4/26/70, but you can get it on Ozzy’s The Ozzman Cometh  CD.)

5/5 stars.