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Andy’s Current Favorites: December 2018

Ho! Ho! Ho! Only 4 days until Christmas! Have you gotten all of your special Christmas shopping done?!?

I feel like that’s a stupid question nowadays as most people have their shopping done like the moment Black Friday weekend is over. Or that plus the combination of Cyber Monday. Me, on the other hand, I only use Black Friday to score the really big gifts in hopes that certain places will offer incentives like Kohl’s cash or something to come back later, upon which I buy any of that knick knacky small stuff for pretty much pennies or less.

But I know right. This is why you clicked on this article. To hear me drown on about how I buy my Christmas gifts. But no seriously, you probably clicked on this link to hear me drown on about the current comic books, tv shows, music, and video games that have been occupying my free time recently. Or as my co hosts, Chad and Stew, on the Ghosts of the Stratosphere podcast would call it:

That knick knacky small stuff Andy writes about in hopes some stray dog will accidentally click on a mouse somewhere and get him a page view”.

Well, in hopes you are one of those stray dogs or someone trying to kill time at the office until your Christmas vacation kicks in, I’ll try you give you something worth reading for the next few minutes to hopefully earn that page view you just gave me.


Current Book I’m Reading:

Deadly Foes of Spider-Man

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Sometimes on Ghost of the Stratosphere, we actually do somewhat coordinate our articles so that there are common themes for our readers to pick up on. Case in point, when we all decided that for the week of our “Into the Spider-verse” movie review show, we would all do Spider-man related articles to help plug it, my cohost, Stew, chirped up and said he wanted to do his review of “Superior Foes of Spider-man”. It was then shortly afterwards that I chirped up and said that I would do him one better and do a “Deadly Foes of Spider-man” review.

Of course, that was my mouth writing a check that my brain did not want to cash. You see the problem is the fact that Deadly Foes isn’t as great of a story as I remember from that summer of my youth in 1991, so I immediately mentally made a note that I would save this book for my Current Events article for December, so I wouldn’t have to write as much about it. Ah Ha! Tricky tricky Mr. Larson, you old sly boots!

It’s not my first rodeo, people. I always got something up my old sleeves.

In any case, I did read this 4 issue miniseries originally way back when I was 13 and at the time I was struck by the fact that it wasn’t so much a story about Spider-man but Spider-man’s villains, in particular the somewhat lamer version of the Sinister Six called the Sinister Syndicate. Gosh that name. It’s just awful. If I were Doc Ock I would have sued the whole lot of them for breach of copyright. It’s like if someone made a knock of of Coca Cola and called in “Coca Carbonated Drink”. I mean why didn’t they just call themselves the Sinister Sixicate for god’s sake, but I digress.

The story begins with the Syndicate planning their next big score, when their current leader, the Beetle, is challenged as top dog of the second bananas by the Boomerang, who’s stock in modern day comics has been on the rise, since they made him roommates and BFFs with Petey Parker. This dysfunctional group also includes Speed Demon who also has eyes on the Boomerang’s girlfriend, a beret wearing gun moll named Leila.

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Of course, playing the part of the only legit super villain in a room full of super shnooks, is the Rhino, who actually has some of the best characterization in the entire series, as an elder stateman of sorts, bringing order to the chaos and some sense of real menace to a group of disorganized children. I mean the guy did take a punch from the Hulk and not die, so I guess he gets bragging rights.

However, when you’ve got a team lead by the Beetle instead of say a real villain like Doc Ock, things tend to fall apart pretty quickly. Turns out Lelia is actually the widowed wife of another loser super villain named the Ringer, and she convinces Boomerang and Rhino to fight against Beetle, Hydro Man, and Speed Demon in some sort of “D” list bad guy Royal Rumble. In fact, just as I remembered when I first read the series so many years ago, Spider-man doesn’t really do much to stop the schemes of these would be super criminals as for the most part they are too busy squabbling amongst themselves.

However, unlike when I was 13 and I was sort of pissed that a book with Spider-man in the title didn’t have more do to with Spider-man, now I can see that this was a stab at, albeit not a very good one at telling a complete story about what happens living in the dangerous cut throat life of a villain in the Marvel Universe.

Danny Fingeroth, who wrote Deadly Foes, was really trying to write something somewhat original in that instead of focusing on the hero’s story, we get this insider glimpse into that seedy underbelly where the moment you are out of prison you have to take out loans for equipment from The Tinkerer just to have enough firepower to pull off a bank robbery with untrustworthy folks in hopes of paying off some of that money plus have enough to keep bigger fish at bay such as the Kingpin who always is manipulating forces so you never get too big for your britches.

I mean, it’s actually a pretty good stab at relating the “Ex Con” experience, what with the mediocre low paying jobs, constantly looking over your shoulder, hoping for that one big score so you can finally have enough money to get out of the life for good and just live normally.

I mean that’s all the Rhino wants to do. He just wants enough money so he can pay someone to remove his super suit so he can piss like a normal human being again.

And there’s a subplot with the Shocker, who is scared as hell of just being gunned down by the Punisher or the Scourge of the Underworld just because he wore that stupid quilt outfit one too many times.

It’s pretty good stuff if you take a moment and admire it from a far. The only problem is you have to admire it from a far, because up close, its just way too early 90s to be taken seriously.

Oh well, you can see how eventually series like “Superior Foes” would pop up taking these concepts and pushing them further with modern story telling, so from that perspective, I’m glad I re-read it.


 

Current Favorite Album While Reading Comics:

Bing Crosby Christmas Tunes

Y’know, I take a lot of shite for liking Christmas songs. Perhaps it’s because I never worked in retail.

During college I was strictly food service as my part time jobs, making steak sandwiches or pretzels or something like that. So I never got burnt out of working at Barnes & Noble or Macy’s or whatever and having to listen to Christmas songs from the moment I got to work until the moment I left. As a result, they are still some of the most soothing, life affirming, and downright pleasant songs I know of. They never fail to lower my heart beat, ease my stress, and make me think of happier times.

In short, Christmas music puts me in a great mood to do just about everything, including reading comics. All curled up in my warm bed late at night, some traditional Christmas music playing softly, with my wife and dog sleeping peacefully near by while it snows quietly outside my window. Yes sir, that’s the good stuff. That’s the time I wait for all year.

And if I haven’t mentioned it before, my favorite singer of Christmas songs is the one and only Bing Crosby. Gosh, Bing is one of my favorite singers period. Some people like Sinatra, others Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, or Nat King Cole. But for me, Bing’s voice is the one that can instantly mellow my entire mood.

Besides, he’s got some downright great Christmas movies in both Holiday Inn and White Christmas, both of which are holiday traditions here at the Larson house. Those movies are chalked full of wonderful Christmas tunes and with those plus some of the other albums like the one I listed above, there’s no shortage of music that I can play in the background while enjoying the latest issue of Immortal Hulk or Black Hammer.

I mean…C’mon..listen to these golden pipes on the below recording and don’t tell me that doesn’t put you completely at ease. It’s like begging you to snuggle up in front of a roaring fire in your favorite chair, with a mug of coco, and some old Marvel comics and let the snow just pile up outside.

 


Current Favorite Video Game:

The Banner Saga

With the Christmas Season comes the inevitable bitter winter weather here in the Northeast. However, unlike sub zero days of late January or February, it’s just the beginning of the winter season so the full harshness of what is come hasn’t set it in yet. It’s almost like you are welcoming those winter squalls with snow blinders on, thinking nostalgically about snow ball fights and sled riding and warm coco by the fire. And what better video game to play while thinking somewhat longingly about the winter time than a game set in the icy northern backdrop of Norse mythology.

The Banner Saga is a turn based strategy game similar to such classics and Ogre Tactics or Final Fantasy Tactics, for those of you that were lucky enough to play them on things like the PS1. Developed by Stoic Studio and published by Versus Evil, it originally started as a Kickstarter campaign in 2012 before seeing it’s initial release for PCs and mobile phones in January 2014. Since then it’s been ported to the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and most recently the Nintendo Switch, so there’s a wide variety of ways to play it now.

And I can’t recommend it highly enough especially for those of you reading my blog that are indeed comic book fans. With incredible hand drawn artwork for all the characters that looks like a cross between Game of Thrones and a Don Bluth animated movie from the 80s (aka An American Tale), this epic war story set in a Viking legend-inspired world is a visual treat for the eyes. At times I would find myself using a variety of different classes and character types just for a chance to see some of the exquisite animation in those battle sequences.

I gotta say though it’s not all style and no substance when it comes to game play. The game developers that worked on this project Alex Thomas, Arnie Jorgensen and John Watson previously worked for BioWare on Star Wars: The Old Republic, and if that isn’t an impressive resume building game, I don’t know what is. I definitely noticed that Old Republic influence in the “Choose your own Adventure” style storytelling in which you are given a variety of different choices at key moments within the game and your decisions influence the storytelling in a major way. Throw in some clever resource management and troop customization, and you got a winning combination that allows you to play the game multiple times with different paths to victory.

Not only that, but if you end up loving the game as I do, they have already out two additional sequels so you can continue the story of the unending war against the undead  “Dredge” army as you attempt to halt their quest to slaughter all the living in his land cloaked in perpetual snow.


Current Favorite Movie:

The Year Without Santa Claus

Speaking of perpetual snow, that’s one thing that my daughter’s favorite character from this month’s favorite movie would love to blanket the world in.

I’m Mr. White Christmas. I’m Mr. Snow. I’m Mr. Icicle. I’m Mr. Ten Below.

Anyone worth a salt in my life should know that the opening lines to the Snow Miser/Heat Miser Duet from one of the best Christmas related specials out there: The Year Without Santa Claus.

Making up the holy trinity of hour long Rankin/Bass Stop Animated Christmas specials with Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, YWSC (as it shall be known since I’m too lazy to write it out several times) was actually the last one of these I ever saw, as I went nearly the first 35 years of my life only seeing snippets of it in passing.

I blame it on the fact that even growing up YWSC was not really on network TV. The special I grew up on and had the most experience with was Rudolph mainly because even to this day you can always find that playing at least once a year on CBS, so for a farm boy in the sticks without cable that was my Yule Tide fix in terms of overly elaborate yet utterly charming tales based around these short little children’s holiday songs. I mean really it’s a song about a reindeer with a shiny nose, but it suddenly becomes the Lord of the Rings with a quest to save the Island of Misfit Toys with Yukon Cornelius playing the part of Aragorn. Gotta love this fever dreamesque stuff!

In any case, years went by and eventually I saw Santa Claus is Coming to Town at a friends house and it opened my eyes to the fact that there were more of these stop motion specials out there. And I mean a ton of them! The Little Drummer Boy, Rudolph’s Shiny New Year, Jack Frost, Rudolph and Frosty’s Christmas in July, Nestor, the Long-Eared Christmas Donkey and the list goes on and on…

Not all of them are great mind you. Nestor the Long Eared Donkey is pretty rough to be honest, so I thought I’d just stay away from most that weren’t about Reindeer games or BurgerMiester MiesterBurger. But then I had kids that got bored easy, and during Christmas, a good old Christmas cartoon is a sure fire way to keep them quiet for an hour, so I had to start branching out into those other ones. That’s when I finally bit the bullet on YWSC, the exciting tale of Santa getting seasonal depression and deciding slack off on his job. Oh yeah, and there’s this kid named Iggy running around in short pants.

Okay…okay…you got me. There’s a lot more to this movie, and we all know it. But let’s all be honest, the only reason we really love this movie is because of the “villains”: Snow Miser and his brother Heat Miser. Without these lovable scamps, this movie would be a complete dud.

 

However luckily, not only is their sibling rivalry written so deliciously playful yet antagonistic, but they have one of the most “hum”able tunes in the entire Christmas catalog. Thus, this movie through the sheer force of the Miser Brothers performance has elevated it to my current favorite Christmas movie, supplanting Rudolph which as anyone close to me would tell you was not an easy feat. It doesn’t hurt that it’s also my kids favorite as well, and as a Dad of young children at Christmas, you live for any of those sweet nostagic moments you’ll look back on fondly especially when they are hating your guts for grounding them as teenagers.

Singing along with this song is absolutely no exception!

 

 

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