marvel comics

#965: The Collector’s Disease

RECORD STORE TALES #965: The Collector’s Disease

There’s no question I have the disease of a collector.  It’s undisputed and quite obvious.  I like to have not just one of a thing, but many.  I couldn’t just start with one Kiss album, I had to get more.  The goal was to get them all.  Having one GI Joe figure wasn’t enough.  You had to have as many as you could afford.  It’s marketing genius that this common psychological flaw was exploited guilt-free for so long.  Where did it start with me?

Perhaps my collector’s nerve was first tickled by Lego.  The more you get, the better stuff you can make.  Every year, new pieces were introduced.  In 1978 they launched the “Space” theme of Lego.  Prior to that came the new “Technic” pieces.  Right as I was hitting the perfect age for creating things made of Lego, they upped their game in a way that completely meshed.  I remember getting quite a few Space sets and several Technic too, including one where you build an 8-cylinder engine.  All you needed were more pieces to fully realize your creative visions.

At the same time, Star Wars had hit theatres and we were starting to collect the action figures.  This planted a seed.  Cleverly, Kenner included pictures on the back of every figure package:  Each Star Wars figure, numbered in a checklist style.  This was cribbed from trading cards, like Topps — another Star Wars merchandising brand we tried to collect.  Something about a checklist is an itch that begs to be scratched by certain personality types.  Hasbro recycled the checklist gimmick with their in-pack Transformers catalogues in 1984.

As I’m happy to recount the tale, I discovered Kiss in 1985.  Their new album Asylum was out.  The next door neighbour George had a bunch of rock magazines, and one of them (perhaps Faces) had a big full page Kiss ad.  The famed “Accept No Imitations” Asylum ad.  Simple branding, like Coke or Pepsi.  The “real thing”.  They were really promoting the new Kiss in North America as the 20th in a series of records, including the four solo albums, two live albums, and Double Platinum.  Laid out in two rows at the bottom, checklist style, were all 19 of the previous album covers, including their release dates.

Like bells going off in my head, the collector’s itch needed to be scratched.

Gene Simmons is a lifelong comics reader, and he knew as well as anyone that Marvel had a monthly checklist near the back of each book.  He would have had many trading cards in his youth and was surely familiar with the concept of a checklist.  Whether that’s a connection or not, that Kiss ad really set off the fireworks in my brain.  I stared at it, studying each individual album cover, and the frequency of release.

I’ve detailed, many times, my process in first recording all the Kiss records from George or Bob.  The desire to have a complete set, buying as many as I could find while recording the rest.  The need to include the “forgotten” Kiss Killers album in the count.  I displayed all my tapes, either recorded or originals, in order by release date, just like the ad I had seen, except my taped collection numbered 22, including Killers and Animalize Live Uncensored.  Eventually in highschool (1987 precisely) I discarded the recorded copies and acquired a complete set on tape.  In the Record Store years, the process would repeat on remastered CD.

But wait….

While all of the above is the truth, and nothing but the truth, it is not the whole truth.  Kiss were not the first rock band I sought to “collect”.

Before I had that Kiss epiphany with the checklist, I can remember having a specific earlier conversation.  It would have been Easter of ’85, several months before the September release of Kiss Asylum.  My mom asked me what I wanted for Easter, and I told her “the new Quiet Riot” because “I want to have all their albums.”  I thought they only had two, and it would be an easy collection to complete.  But there it was:  the desire to have “all” of something.

Strange how the concept of collecting only latched onto me in some ways.  Atari games looked pretty on display in their coloured boxes, but we had no desire to get all the games.  Just the “good” ones.  Even with comic books.  I would buy issues of current books off the newstands, but did not go back to buy older issues, because they could get insanely expensive, and numbered in the hundreds.  Since comics always referred back to previous and concurrent issues, they really made you want to buy them all to get all the backstory.  But I didn’t — couldn’t.  This is exactly why Bob preferred only to buy limited series, like movie adaptations.  I guess my collector’s desires only extended as far as I could reach, in a monetary sense.

Today, musical artists exploit this common need to collect at lengths never before seen.  We’re still out there, trying to make it through an adult world, but now we have disposable income.  It used to be you’d want all the albums, and if you discovered single B-sides, you wanted those too.  Then it became the bonus tracks, the deluxe editions, the super deluxe editions, and all the different colours of vinyl you get for just about every release these days!  That’s how they get us.  Next thing you know, you just dropped a grand or two on a Gene Simmons Vault, or $800 on a Judas Priest box set.

And we go along with it, time and time again.  Once the itch has been scratched, and the soothing radiation of a complete collection rolls over you like waves…the itch inevitably returns.

And so it ends?  It never ends.

 

#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!

 

#844: Happy Birthday in the Age of Covid

GETTING MORE TALE #844: Happy Birthday in the Age of Covid

 

All I wanted for my birthday was one more weekend at the lake.  During the time of Covid, that’s never been a certainty.

My parents are not young anymore (although my mom would probably fool you).  I have a 96 year old grandmother that my mom cares for.  We have to be extra, extra, extra careful about everything.  The Ontario government announced Phase 3 of re-opening last week and so my mom and dad decided that we could try spending some time under one roof together for my birthday.  I got my wish.

Packing my electronics and my Marvel figures, Jen and I headed up to the cottage Thursday night.  Lately, especially this year, I’ve been trying to roadtrip exclusively to music that I would have played there when I was a kid.  Usually that’s Kiss but this weekend I decided to shake it up and play some Europe.  The Final Countdown and Out of this World were both acquired at the cottage the first time when they were new.  Playing them on the way there was really trippy.  This resulted in a future Europe-based story that I look forward to sharing.

The first thing we did was jump in the lake for a swim.  I clocked in nine swims this past weekend.  The footage wasn’t as stunning as last week; the lake was murkier.  Instead of worrying about making videos, I just decided to enjoy it and live in the moment.  (There are plusses to both approaches, but the wavy video from last week can’t be topped.)

We ate steak for almost every meal.  I cooked a slab of blue-rare perfection that became steak & eggs the following morning.  I sat outside and watched Marvel movies all weekend.  The Incredible Hulk, Ant-Man, and Captain America: Civil War.  I cranked the tunes outdoors as well:  Europe again, and classic Kiss.  Dynasty, Unmasked, and Gene’s solo album were all air-guitared live on the deck.

I was still worried about my parents and their comfort.  After seeking advice, I decided to set up sanitising stations at the door and on the deck.  They arrived on Saturday afternoon bearing hot, fresh French fries courtesy of a local stand called the Cheesy Monkey.  Later that afternoon they had a small party with cake.  My sister came over and next door neighbour Paul stopped by.  Everybody was six feet apart and we handled things like snacks and drinks very carefully.  My dad bought me a stick of meat and everybody else got me Marvel figures.  Do they know me or what?  I think our trial run for having everybody together at the cottage worked out pretty well.  This really helps relieve the stress.

Something else interesting happened this weekend.  First, flash your minds back to 2002.  Marillion were pioneering a new kind of live release, a subscription based series of archive recordings called the Front Row Club.  I was a subscriber from beginning to end (2002-2008) and never missed a release.  One of the perks that early subscribers received was an exclusive Front Row Club T-shirt.  I had completely forgotten about it, until my mom handed it back to me this weekend.  Somehow, it had become the property of my late Uncle Don.  I don’t remember giving it to him, and I don’t think he liked Marillion, but my mom found it in his shirts.  Now it’s back in my closet again.  We’ll never know how or why!

We left Sunday afternoon after an exciting rain storm, though not as big as we’ve seen before.  Then we went to go and visit Grandma who only turned 96 a week ago!  The good news is that she looks exactly the same as she did when she was 95.  We had a great visit though she really hopes we can get back to something more normal soon.  Can’t say that I blame her, but it was actually a pretty normal birthday for me.

The cottage is a special place in terms of family history and mental well-being.  It’s a place I’ve always enjoyed showing off and I hope you can get a taste of paradise from the pictures.

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes!  I haven’t finished responding to every one and I may have missed a few.  It sure could have been a heck of a lot worse.

 

Live Stream – Uncle Don Don Cutoff Shorts Countdown, Interview with Geoff Stephen, Unboxings & Guests

Thanks for watching the Saturday live stream! If you missed any of it, it is now available below via YouTube. I ran into numerous technical issues, so apologies are in order for bad audio, bad video and audio lag.

Content-wise though, woah nelly! You are in for a treat. Here are some highlights:

For a live interview with Geoff Stephen of 1001 Albums in 10 Years, skip ahead to 0:07:00!  He is doing something really special for healthcare workers, so check out what he has to say.

To check out some unboxings, go to 0:12:40 of the stream.

BONUS FOOTAGE – For a sneak peak at an animation test (not part of the actual live stream) you must go to 1:26:06.

For the Uncle Don Don Cutoff Shorts Countdown, start at 1:26:10 of the stream.

For a special Star Wars chat with all-around awesome guy Kovaflyer, go to 2:01:30 of the stream!

Technical issues aside, this live stream set one new record.  It represents the longest span of time in a single day.  I’ve done longer streams but this one had segments ranging from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm, a 14 hour range.  It was fun for me and I hope you enjoy despite the quality problems.

R.I.P. Stan Lee (1922-2018)

Stan, you just had to go, I know that.  You’ve been here for 95 years and entertaining us for most of them.  You gave, and you gave, and you gave.  You deserve your rest now.

Stan, I knew who Spider-man was before I knew the Prime Minister of Canada.  You brought me the Star Wars comics that kept me going between movies.  Through those pages I discovered all that so many of my favourite heroes were yours!  Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, the Fantastic Four, the X-Men…I always preferred Marvel to DC and I can’t really explain why.  I liked Superman, but the Marvel lineup was so much better than DC’s.  Their characters were more interesting to me, and it was addictive, how storylines weaved through one title to another.

My dad would buy me one new comic on the trip to the cottage each time. I always chose Marvel.

I wouldn’t be surprised at all if some version of Spider-man is still popular in another 95 years.  Perhaps these characters you helped create will be remembered as literary classics.  If not, I am confident that the Marvel heroes will be a part of our cultural backdrop for a long, long time.

Excelsior!

 

#678: Robots

GETTING MORE TALE #678: Robots

Long-time readers know that mikeladano.com started as a site about music, but has grown beyond that.  Mike Ladano (that’s me) is passionate about music, but that’s not all.  You may have noticed that in addition to collecting rare Japanese import CDs with bonus tracks, I also like to collect tape decks and cars and trucks and planes that transform into robots.

The music/Transformers connection is pretty solid.  First there was a Bruce Springsteen-like character who debuted in the Marvel comic series.  Then, Stan Bush and Weird Al Yankovic contributed tunes to 1986’s Transformers: The Movie.  (Weird Al’s song was “Dare to Be Stupid”, and you should certainly know Stan Bush’s songs “The Touch” and “Dare”.)  Two decades later, Linkin Park had the lead single from 2007’s Transformers.  In fact, Linkin Park have songs in all five Transformers “Bayverse” films.  Some members are so deep into the ‘bots that they even have their own Transformers action figure.  In 2013, Hasbro released a limited edition golden Linkin Park Soundwave figure designed by Joseph Hahn!

I should state for the record, because this really cheeses off a lot of Transformers fans:  I hated the old cartoon.  It was too kiddie, with nonsensical plots and characterisations.  The Marvel Transformers comic series, originally written by Bob Budiansky and later Simon Furman, was grittier and geared to older kids.  It ran 80 issues, from 1986 to 1991.  It was better than the Sunbow cartoon, and the Michael Bay movies too for that matter.

I “stopped playing with toys” around 1987, but still collected the comics for another year.  The Transformers toyline and comic were officially cancelled in the early 90s, but even that was short-lived.  Much like Optimus Prime himself, the toys wouldn’t stay dead for long.

1993 saw the debut of Transformers: Generation 2.  This consisted of a rebooted toyline with old and new toys, and a new Marvel comic continuing the storyline of the original.  While in Frankenmuth, Michigan I picked up issue #1 of the comic, in a special fold-out cover.  Unfortunately, the new G2 comic was adapted to the 90s: Big guns, and grittier action.  Meanwhile the toys were increasingly designed with kids in mind.  They sported bright colours and gimmicky play features, like squirting water.  Around the same time, while checking garage sales with buddy Peter, I ran across a massive stash of original mint condition Transformers comics that I was missing.  50 cents a piece!  I was back collecting the comics once again.

I regret that I didn’t buy any Generation 2 toys.  Some of them, including “Laser Rod” Optimus Prime, were really quite excellent.  I thought I “shouldn’t” be buying toys at my age.

When did that all go out the window?  In 2006 I quit the Record Store and started at Aecon Industrial.  I was teamed up with a fantastic lady named Julie in their Quality Assurance department, and she showed me the ropes.  She was also responsible for getting me back into transforming toys.

We had a little office to work out of, and on the shelf was a small black Beast Wars toy.  Beast Wars was a 90s incarnation of Transformers, a complete reboot after the commercial failure of Generation 2.  This time, a new cast of characters featured robots that turned into life-like animals, on a flashy new computer animated TV show.  Julie brought in a small Beast Wars toy that belonged to a nephew.  It was a bull of some kind, and when we needed a break we’d fiddle with it.  That’s what started it up again.  I remembered how fun those little toys were.  Like 3D puzzles that you solved by twisting and turning parts around into new formations.

I made a trip over to Toys R Us to see what they had:  Star Wars Transformers!  These were famous vehicles from the Star Wars movies that transformed into robot likenesses of their drivers.  There was a Vader/TIE, a Luke/X-Wing and many more to collect. Unfortunately they were not very good toys.  The whole concept was dicey from the start.  Darth Vader flies a TIE Fighter that transforms into a giant robotic Darth?  That never made a lot of sense, but the toys were just not good.  They were flimsy and the robot modes often had giant wings and spaceship parts hanging off the back.

A couple years later, things changed again.  Hasbro realized there was a massive market out there for old men buying nostalgia toys.  They began issuing new versions of old classic characters from the 80s, and that was all I needed to jump back in with both feet.  You could even buy “Encore” reissues for some of the original figures from 1984, ’85 and ’86!  Therefore, for just a few bucks you could get a brand new replica of the original Optimus Prime, with only a few minor changes (smaller smokestacks so kids won’t poke an eye out).

I buy both Encore reissues, and brand new iterations of old characters.  The new toys satisfy a lot of the wants of collectors today.  Unlike the old ones from the 80s, they have better articulation.  Elbows, knees and ankles all move so you can put your toys in the most action-packed poses.  But they’re not perfect.  They come with fewer accessories and sometimes lack the gimmicks of their 80s counterparts.  Materials are cheaper today, and toys are sometimes misassembled or defective right out of the package.  Design flaws and bad QA are a constant issue.  Toys are made so hastily that some can’t even transform properly like they’re shown on the packaging.

Sounds like Hasbro needs a full-time play-tester.  I’m available.

#468: The Lies of Ian

We will return to the Deep Purple Project after this instalment of Getting More Tale.

GETTING MORE TALE #468: The Lies of Ian

I feel blessed to have grown up in the 1980’s.  What an era!  It was the age of Star Wars, Van Halen, Dio, GI Joe, and Transformers.  We had the A-Team and Magnum PI fighting on the side of good.  By the end of the decade, hard rock had hit another major peak again (before being dethroned by grunge in 1991).  It was a good time to be in school.  In fact I would argue it was the best time to be in school.

I spent nine years, from Kindergarten to grade eight, in the same place:  St. Anthony Daniel Catholic school.  Or, as my sister used to call it, the “Hell Hole”.  I lived in a great time to be in school; too bad I went to a shite school!  The bullies were mean and the teachers did not give one shit — not even one.  In fact the teachers often exacerbated the situation by embarrassing the shy and fragile in obvious loud ways, giving the bullies more ammunition come recess time.

It was in this environment that I befriended Ian Johnson, a kid with a pretty wild imagination.  He was a good guy, we had birthday parties together and sleepovers and went to movies.  We played a lot of Star Wars.  His dad made Star Wars “tables”:  giant playsets of Dagobah and the Death Star, built out of actual tables with bits cut out.  Ian was definitely the only kid around who had one of those!  He was also the only kid in class who claimed to have ninjas training in his basement.

Ian Johnson lived in a townhouse.  He did not have a basement.

We would walk home from school together, usually in a small group with one or two other kids.  Ian was well known for his tall tales.  He would swear up and down that every word was true.  If that is the case, I have some startling news to share with the world!

1. It was not Walt Disney that came up with the ideas for Bambi.  It was in fact Ian Johnson who gave Disney the idea to make it.  Please don’t scrutinize the timeline of events too closely.  Ian said it; it had to be true.

2. Ian was a mathematician.  He was one of the world’s leading mathematicians.  When I asked him why he failed the math quiz in class, it was because he was “not an expert in math that hasn’t been invented yet.”  (That would be long division.)

3. He had a squad of ninjas training in his basement.  Below his townhouse, he had a training facility several storeys deep.  The exact depth changed from tale to tale.  The main takeaway from this is that Ian had a huge concrete ninja bunker full of the deadliest weaponry hiding under his townhouse in suburban Kitchener, Ontario.  This one, nobody bought.  We’d fallen for some of his lies before but this one was just too big and fat to swallow.  We nodded and smiled because to question Johnson’s stories would lead to endless arguing.

STONE (2)

 

4. Ian knew George Lucas.  He had read Star Wars episodes I, II and III.  He knew what happened in them and described it in great detail.  There was an encounter between Jabba the Hutt and Han Solo, setting up the bounty on Solo’s head.  The level of detail made this one hard to disbelieve.  Solo took a shot at Jabba with his blaster, who jumped out of the way, dodging the bolt.  Indeed early versions of Jabba the Hutt before 1983 did have legs.  He also described a sequence including creatures called “stonemites”.  Solo was hiding in a cave full of these things which could eat through stone like termites through wood.  It wasn’t until 2002 that I learned Ian had lifted these elements wholesale from Marvel Comics’ Star Wars issue #28, from 1979.  That’s why his descriptions were so clear and believable.  It was things like this that made it hard to tell when Johnson was lying or telling the truth.

5. Mixing half-truths with fiction, Ian told us all how he knew Brian Vollmer of Helix.  I later confirmed this part of the story to be true.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 2: Gimme an R! we talked in great detail about a time when Helix were local legends in these parts.  I confirmed with Vollmer myself that he did live on Breckenridge Drive in Kitchener, three doors down from Johnson, exactly as Ian described it.  He would often point to the Vollmers’ townhouse as we rode by on our bikes, but there was rarely anyone home.  Ian also described a Christmas card that Brian Vollmer received from Blackie Lawless of W.A.S.P.  This also turned out to be a true story.  I recognized the card when Brian added a picture of it to the official Helix website.  Again, it was exactly as Johnson told us.  What was not true is that Ian took credit for the “Gimme Gimme Good Lovin'” music video.  “That music video was my idea,” claimed Ian.  “I was talking to Brian Vollmer and I told him, ‘what you really need is a video with lots and lots of girls in it.'”

I will give Ian Johnson credit for one thing, which is while I was still listening to Iron Maiden and Kiss, he had discovered a newer heavier band called Metallica.  They only had two albums out, Kill ‘Em All and Ride the Lightning.  “Have you ever heard Metallica?” he asked me.  “You will.”  He brought the tapes to school and played a track or two.  Giving credit when it’s due, Ian was the first kid I knew to have heard of Metallica.  He was on top of his heavy metal.

That is, until 1986.  That is when Ian Johnson dropped the metal and went full-bore new wave.  “Girls don’t like heavy metal,” he explained to me during a heated argument.  Girls.  PAH!  Like many kids, Ian turned from friend to bully later in school.

This one is for Ian Johnson wherever you are.  I’m sure he’s still out there, consulting Disney on the new Star Wars movie backed by a squad of fully trained ninjas.

REVIEW: AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 deluxe CD/DVD)

AC/DC – Iron Man 2 (2010 Columbia deluxe CD/DVD set)

For the second time, AC/DC have supplied the soundtrack to a movie (see: Who Made Who, the soundtrack to Stephen King’s Maximum Overdrive). This release basically amounts to a cool “best of” CD. While Who Made Who had some new material, Iron Man 2 is the straight oldies, with a few unexpected surprises thrown in. Since AC/DC have never released a proper “best of” CD, this is about as close as you’re likely to get. And it’s just fine.

I’m guessing Jon Favreau had a lot to do with the picking and choosing and sequencing of songs, and he’s obviously an AC/DC fan. I mean, “Evil Walks”? There is even a song (“Cold Hearted Man”) from the Backtracks box set and one from the more recent AC/DC opus, Black Ice. As such, Iron Man 2 is a pretty damn good single disc overview of the whole AC/DC shebang. It flows well, it has an excellent mix of Bon and Brian, and the sound is as good as any of the AC/DC remasters available. Lyrically, it even (very) loosely relates to Iron Man 2 (“Shoot to Thrill”, “War Machine”, “Evil Walks”, “Back In Black”; use your imagination). In short, it rocks. Buy this with Who Made Who, and you will essentially have all the AC/DC that a newbie needs to get kickstarted, with a fair chunk of deep cuts as well.

The deluxe edition packaging is awesome to behold, with (very fragile) shiny cover art, a generous booklet (loads of Iron Man and band photos in here) and a DVD. The DVD is nothing to write home about: the new video of “Shoot To Thrill” and a making-of featurette being the main draw. The live stuff is great, but a fair bit has been previously released on official AC/DC DVDs before (including the aforementioned Backtracks box set). Still, I have no complaints.  It’s just a bonus DVD from a soundtrack representing a Hollywood action movie; it’s not meant to cater specifically to me.  It’s good viewing and you may as well consider it a freebie at this price.

Die hard fans who already own the whole AC/DC back catalogue won’t need this, but I bought it anyway. As a car disc it’s fun due to the inclusion of obscure tracks. But it works. The album flows and rocks, and those obscure tracks deserve a second look-see. I’d forgotten how cool the song “The Razors Edge” is, and it totally fits the Iron Man vibe.

If you need some more AC/DC in your life, some more iron in your blood, go for it. You won’t be let down. Personal highlights for me include:

  • “The Razors Edge”
  • “If You Want Blood (You’ve Got It)”
  • “Cold Hearted Man”
  • “Rock n’ Roll Damnation”

But the whole thing is great, not a weak track in the bunch!

4/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – The Last Temptation (1994 CD, comic books)

Warning:  image heavy review!

LAST TEMPTATION_0001ALICE COOPER – The Last Temptation (1994)

When this album first came out, the local music geeks and I spent a lot of time discussing it. The foremost argument was, “What influence did grunge have on The Last Temptation?” While this is by no means a grunge album, I think there is a subtle grunge influence, and The Last Temptation is all the better for it.

The Last Temptation was heavier…more serious…more raw in production. These are all trends that grunge helped usher in. Alice had taken a bit of a slip, quality-wise, in the late 80’s and early 90’s. The Last Temptation was the album he needed to release in 1994.  While it was not a commercial success, it excited the long time fans.  It was the kind of thing we’d really missed from Alice, since the 1970’s.

The most obvious grunge influence is that Chris Cornell of Soundgarden wrote two songs and co-sings one. “Stolen Prayer”, the best song on the album, is Cornell’s, and his pipes have never sounded so good. Grunge forced a lot of hard rockers to drop the glossy production sheen of the 80’s, get serious a little bit on the lyrics, and write harder songs. This is evident in the world of Alice. This album spends a lot of time on the temptation of drugs, and while many rock fans might cringe at the idea of Alice delivering a “message” to us, this really is nothing new for our favourite masked rock star. He’s been serious before, on some of his finest moments in fact, but he always makes his messages fun to listen to and sing along with. West Side Story has always been a huge influence on Alice as fans know, and The Last Temptation is another album that shows this Broadway influence. “Bad Place Alone”, for example, has a chorus that sounds influenced by musicals.

LAST TEMPTATION_0007Alice is nothing if not ambitious. The Last Temptation was Alice’s first “true” concept album since DaDa in 1983. In fact there was a even three-part Neil Gaiman comic book available at the time to help flesh out the story. One edition of the CD came with issue #1.  Here you can find images from all three issues.

Marvel went all out on these comics.  The covers are hard stock, and the artwork inside by Michael Zulli is detailed and, at times, horrifying.  The colour palette evokes autumn (the story is set in October).  Even Alice himself appears as the Showman character, but the protagonist is (of course) Steven.  These comics were later reissued in a trade paperback, but all are affordable today, running at about $4 each.  The most desireable edition is probably the rare one that came backed with the CD:  issue #1, with a white border.

Musically, Alice is at the very top of his game here. Gone is the gloss. In fact, the opening track “Sideshow” sounds so much like the 70’s that you could swear it’s from the original Welcome To My Nightmare record. Awesome horn sections, great riff, killer lyrics; you’ll be singing this one for days after hearing it. “Nothing’s Free” rips off “Billion Dollar Babies” somewhat with the opening drum hook, but you won’t be complaining when you hear it. Most likely you’ll be pumping your fists to it. The first single “Lost In America” is a fast, tight rock song with insanely catchy lyrics, very different from a lot of stuff Alice had done in the 80’s.

The rest of the album is strong, with “It’s Me” being the sole ballad. “Stolen Prayer” is an absolute diamond.  Chris Cornell sings on the choruses with that classic, incredible 90’s Soundgarden voice.  Although the song is largely acoustic and mellow, the best word I can use for it is “epic”.  It’s a classic, and I believe that to be the reason that Alice used it to close his comprehensive box set, The Life and Crimes of Alice Cooper.  (Cornell also wrote the track “Unholy War”, solely — even the lyrics, which Alice used without modification.)

Overall the direction of the album is dark and catchy, with great playing from the entire cast and Alice spitting out the words as only he can. The fact that most of these songs were played live on tour is a testament to the strength of the material and Alice’s confidence that he had made yet another classic album.

The Last Temptation is a record that is sadly unknown to many casual rock fans. However, anybody who loved Welcome To My Nightmare would be well advised to pick this up. They might find that Alice has built a musical time machine, an album that sounds timeless despite its 1994 release date. It may not be a grunge album, but I think we owe a thanks to the grunge movement for helping Alice make the strongest record he’d done since 1975.

What happens to Steven? You’ll just have to listen and find out.

5/5 stars

 

MOVIE REVIEW: G.I. Joe: Retaliation (Extended Action Cut) 2013

“We’re the Four fuckin’ Horsemen / Back for a second time.”

G.I. JOE: Retaliation (2013)

Directed by Jon M. Chu

I’m sorry if you saw the first movie, G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (2009). That lowly turd of a film is one that I own, but can only sit through by splitting it into two or more sittings. Never in one. I saw it this way recently, and I managed to make it through. The movie was crap, and so was the toyline that went with it. All garbage. I don’t care to review the movie again, so to quote from my own old Amazon 2/5 star writeup:

The acting here is bad bordering on terrible. This Channing Tatum guy can’t act at all. Dennis Quaid pours the cheeze-wiz on every line of dialogue that General Hawk delivers. Marlon Wayons (Rip Cord), Rachel Nichols (Scarlet), and Sienna Miller (Baroness) are passable. The heavies tend to get the best roles and the best actors: Arnold Vosloo (Zartan) steals every scene he is in, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt is surprisingly serpentine as Cobra Commander. Christopher Eccleston is good as the Scottish arms dealer Destro, just menacing enough while also dignified and cool. Also, it’s nice to see Jonathan Pryce in anything…The direction by that hack Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) is gawd-awful.

Pryce was in the first movie far too briefly to be of any consequence to the finished product. That and many of the other weaknesses with the first film were dealt with here in G.I. Joe: Retaliation. Most of the cast was jettisoned. Wisely, Ray Park and Lee Byung-hun were retained as the iconic ninjas Snake-Eyes and Storm Shadow. Cobra Commander was re-cast (Gordon-Levitt being unnecessary and expensive behind a silver mask). Otherwise only Pryce, Arnold Vosloo and Channing Tatum survive to the second film. Even though Dennis Quaid was contracted to do three movies, leadership has fallen to Tatum’s Duke. Newcomers include Duke’s buddy Roadblock (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson) and new recruits Jady Jaye, Flint, and Jinx.

Another issue that I had with the first film was that I felt the tech was too sci-fi and outlandish. This is tamed down a tad in this movie, although everything is still futuristic enough. The bad guys don’t all have ray guns and anti-gravity jets and shit this time. They usually fire bullets and fly helicopters and jets and stuff. The characters and vehicles look more like the original toys did. There are things such as the HISS (High Speed Sentry) tanks that look like the toys you had. Roadblock looks like the figure you had, or wanted (in my case the latter). So does Cobra Commander, finally.

JOE 46Anyway that’s all window dressing if there’s no story. The story is this: Master of disguise Zartan is still impersonating the President of the United States (Jonathan Pryce, who is the real star of the movie). Cobra Commander and Destro are still imprisoned, but the Commander is freed by his ninja Storm Shadow. With the explosives expert Firefly (another toy you wanted), they engineer the betrayal and destruction of the entire G.I. Joe team. Only a handful survive. Then the President replaces them with the services of a new security contractor called Cobra.

There’s also a new Ultimate Weapon called Zeus which is pretty silly physics-wise, because in real life it wouldn’t work. (If a satellite merely “dropped”, ie: let go of, a rod of tungsten, the tungsten would simply settle into the same orbit as the satellite.) We’ll overlook this because BOOM! DADOOOM! KABLAAAMM! SLASH! SWISH! SWING! There’s action. There’s a frickin’ battle with ninjas hanging off the side of a mountain, people. It makes no sense in any sort of real physical way but it looks nifty and must have looked great in 3D in theaters. I found it odd that the G.I Joe team is the only military force in the world today operating without any sort of helmet or hat or head gear of any kind.

Pic from yojoe.com

Joe Colton pic from yojoe.com

Back to the story, G.I. Joe has been wiped out.  The Rock and his friends need help, so they go to the only man they know they can trust: Bruce Willis. In the original Marvel comics and Hasbro toyline (fuck Sunbow), Joe Colton was the original, retired G.I. Joe. In fact his code name was “G.I. Joe”. Willis is the perfect choice to play this hard-ass and I have to admit it’s big fun to see him and the Rock kicking ass in the same scenes.

As a self-proclaimed Marvel Comics Joe nerd, the original gospel of Larry Hama is all. I enjoyed that this movie tended to go back to the original source material for ideas more so than the original film did. I won’t get into specifics too much, except to say that certain things especially in relation to Snakes and Stormy reflect events that happened in the comics. Staying truer to the strong source material (Hama was no slouch) only helps the movie which otherwise is just a collage of BOOM!

As for the Blu-ray, I was pleased to hear a balanced 7.1 surround mix.  I was a bit baffled to hear The Four Horsemen’s “Back In Business Again” in the movie soundtrack, but more power to ’em.  I didn’t watch too many of the special features.   I did watch both versions of the film (the “Extended Action Cut” is on the Blu and the theatrical on the DVD) but I don’t have any impressions of which is better.  Most recently I watched the extended version and it was plenty cool.

3/5 stars

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