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Andy’s Current Favorites: April 2019

Hey, gang! Andy Larson back with another monthly look at my own personal hit parade! Those comics, video games, music and more that have been scratching my itch in the past month enough for me to take some of my hard earned free time to chat about it.

But before I begin, I wanted to share another interesting comic book panel that caught my eye in recent weeks that made me giggle. It’s mainly the fact that Marvel’s First Family strong man, the ever lovin’ blue eyed Thing, has actually gotten a lot more handsome since his first appearance way back in Fantastic Four #1. I mean sure, he’s still a walking, talking pile of bricks for the most part, but compare his appearance in say the most recent wedding issue of FF that came out a couple months ago:

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To that of his first appearance ever…

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A wad of uncooked cookie dough that was left out in the sun.

So even if you are a lump of rock, there’s always room for self improvement!


Current Book I’m Reading:

Marvel Masterworks: The Avengers Volume 2

With the Avengers: End Game movie coming out in only little more than a week from now, I thought it was a great time to brush up on my Earth’s Mightiest Heroes classics. For a lot of you that read this blog regularly or listen to the podcast, you’ll know I have a very soft spot in my heart for the original 10 issues of the Avengers.

It was one of my favorite trades I had during my teenage years, a very special Marvel Masterworks hardback version I got as a Christmas present, and contains some of my favorite Avengers stories, such as the slug fest between the original Avengers vs. the Namor/Hulk team up, the first appearance of Kang, and an underrated first appearance of Wonder Man story.

However, as much I’ve read those 10 issues, is how little it seems I’ve read the next 10. Yes,  issues 11-20 will always be know to me as Marvel Mastersworks Avengers volume 2, somewhat of a red headed step child of Avengers book that I often skip in my re-reads of this classic series. And with good reason as I found when I forced myself to pick it up to get me in the mood for the upcoming movie.

I’m not sure if it’s the lack of Kirby’s influence, or the decision to dump the original classic line up in favor of Cap’s Kooky Quartet, but the whole thing as a lackluster repeat-like feel to it that smacks of half hearted nonsense.

It starts off promisingly enough with the promise of the Avengers teaming up with Spider-man to fight the return of Kang, but instead we get a pretty strange little tale involving a Spider-man robot and an Aztec-like temple of doom, upon which the real Spider-man shows up on the scene in the last few moments without any real rhyme or reason as to how he got there.

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There are not one but two battles with the joke of a super villain known as the Mole Man sandwiched in this volume, one with the old squad and one with the new, as if we were begging for more than one.

Then there are miscellaneous battles with a bunch of ass clown villains like the godless 60s commie stereotype The Commissar, a bunch of weird purple suited aliens that live beneath the Arctic Circle and are known for kidnapping prominent medical doctors, and Count Nefaria back when he was just some shlub that tickled the ivories like an gangster style Elton John.

A slight step up from those terrible issues are some at the tail end that introduce the Swordsman as a baddie/anti-hero, which are somewhat passable in terms of Avengers adventures, only because of some solid Hawkeye backstory bits and the fact that Swordsman was somewhat of an interesting rogue style character when he was first introduced before he became a C rate jobber villain for the many years following this story.

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The only issues worth a damn are 15 and 16 with the return of the Masters of Evil for a showdown with the Avengers, and of course “The Old Order Changeth!” which was the first time you could dare tell a super team story just about who was going to be on the team, an precedent that would serve the Avengers book well in the years to come as this idea was copied over and over again.

Yeah, for as fantastic as those first 10 issues were of the Original Avengers series, the second 10 are simply the opposite. They are the absolute god awful pits, and I can’t recommend anyone except for the most stall-worth Avengers fans to pick up this trade without wanting to gouge their eyes out with a pair of Jarvis’ cuff links.

On a side note though, the series does pick back up again with 21-30, with a great story line in Kang’s future empire, a showdown with Doctor Doom, The Collector, and the return of Giant Man/Wasp to the team, so it’s not like this series was doomed to the dregs of comicdom forever…

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Current Favorite Album While Reading Comics:

Gram Parson’s International Submarine Band, Safe at Home

Gram Parsons. The Man. Godfather for that beautiful Bakersfield country sound from which so much alt-country and Americana style music springs from. It’s amazing that with my love of this particular genre that I haven’t written more about this musician before now. However, I will say I have yet to write anything in this blog about Bob Dylan yet, and he’s my absolute favorite musician, so I don’t feel too turrible about not getting around to the Kingpin of the Fallen Angels.

Yes, but good ol’ Gram who was taken from us way too soon back in 1973 at the tender age of 26 after years of drug abuse, did indeed leave us with an impressive musical legacy that still is finding more and more fans with every year since his death. Although most might know his music from his more better known musical projects such as being a part of The Byrds, the Flying Burrito Brothers, and his wonderful collaborations with country folk siren, Emmylou Harris, while being a part of the Fallen Angels, it was the little known International Submarine Band with which Gram got his start.

Gram first formed the band when he was  a theology student at Harvard University with John Nuese, a guitar player in the local rock group, The Trolls. It’s publicly known that Nuese is credited with helping Parsons first develop that famous country-rock sound for with which he would later be so influential.

Despite getting rave reviews from the likes of Glen Campbell, Merle Haggard, and Don Everly, Safe at Home would be the only studio album released by the band as Parsons left in 1968 to join Roger McGuinn and the Byrds.  This is sad for me as I’m a pretty big fan of the sound on this album verses some other later Gram Parson’s projects. International Submarine Band has a more upbeat and twangy sound to it as opposed to the slow swan songy feel you get from his Flying Burrito Brothers stuff.

I still remember originally getting the EP collection of some of the stand out songs from the album with Blue Eyes / Luxury Liner / Miller’s Cave / I Must Be Somebody Else You’ve Known in 2008, and I must have listened to those songs on repeat for the rest of that weekend. To this day, I still find myself circling back to those tunes anytime I just want to have something familiar and relaxing on, especially Miller’s Cave for some weird reason (given the song is about jilted love and murder which are not relaxing topics). Recently though I’ve been listening to the remainder of the album which I missed out on with just the EP. That includes two more Parsons originals made for the album in “Do You Know How It Feels To Be Lonesome” and “Strong Boy“. Strong Boy in particular has joined the rest as another classic Submarine tune that I can’t help but hum along to.

However in the end, the best song off the album is still the instant classic “Luxury Liner“, which to me is one of my favorite Gram Parson’s compositions. It’s one of the first songs I play whenever I introduce anyone that has never heard of Gram or his music. It’s got an infectious beat, nice guitar work, and great harmonies on the chorus. Take a listen for yourself below and see if you agree.

 

 

 


Current Favorite Video Game:

Super Mario Maker

Well, I finally bit Fruit Stripes Gum and bought a Nintendo Switch for the ol’ Larson clan here. I won’t lie though as to the reason why I had been dragging my heels for so long on the decision. It was mainly because I was hard pressed to find a game on the Switch which I already didn’t own on Nintendo WiiU other than maybe Let’s Go! Pikachu! or Super Mario Odesessy, neither of which impressed me enough to shell out 300 bucks for a new system.

I mean for the most part all the games released including one of my favorite games of all time now Breath of the Wild, I had been playing just fine on my Wii U for years now, and in fact, for a long time, there was a really great Wii U game which you could only get for that system. I’m talking about Super Mario Maker!

Yes, the bad ass game that scratches everyone’s itch to build horribly complex death traps for our favorite plumber in the red overalls and see how long you can survive. I always thought this notion of having a build your own video game was a great one, as far back as the sandbox play in “Little Big Planet”. However, when you couple it with the unbeatable branding of one of the most famous video game franchises in history, I don’t think there’s a game out there that can beat it.

My favorite aspect of the game is the ability to switch graphics sets so that you get all the different looks and feels of the different games, whether you like the iconic SMB 1 8 bit chip set, the redesigned “world is a stage” version from SMB 3, or even the more modern New Super Mario Brothers version that first appeared on the Wii and subsequently moved over to both the Wii U and Switch.  And you don’t have to reset the game to move between them, you just click a button and automatically everything from the backgrounds to the monsters changes.

Plus this is an absolute bash to play with kids. Jakob and Johanna love developing crazy boards all by themselves even at 6 and 4, and then having their old Dad run the gauntlet as it were in trying to conquer them. I’m not sure my kids have a future in game design, but it’s sure great Friday night after a couple slices of pizza to see what new zany mixed up things they come up with. A Wall of Bullet Bills shooting Koopa Troopers? No sweat!

Listen to me…gushing about a game which is now nearly 4 years old at this point, but feel it’s still relevant given the fact that we’ll finally see a version released for the Switch in the next couple of months in the repackaged, Super Mario Maker 2. Will I get this new version despite already owning the game for the WiiU? Well if the rumors are true that the new version will contain the option to make boards using the SMB 2 chip set, you damn well better believe it.

As mentioned previously in my Top 10 NES games, SMB 2 is my joint. It’s my favorite Mario game even to this day, so to get the chance to design my own boards with Birdos, Shy Guys, and endless seas of sand to dig through, well, that’s like 9 year old Andy’s dream come true. Can’t Wait!


 

 

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