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Book and Comic Reviews


State of Fear by Michael Crichton (Nicky's take on this)  If you are a fan of his other books (which I am) you are sure to be disappointed by this one.  It is complete with his knowledge for science and scientific method and jabs at the "Hollywoodesque" need to make themselves feel better (in their SUVs) by hypocritically supporting sometimes hollow causes for the sake of "humanity."  It hits hardest at the extreme environmentalist (and their lawyers) that use scare tactics to earn public support (and money in their pockets) through uncorroborated and untested "scientific research."  The book takes you through extreme cases and argues...and argues...and argues points on both sides of the environmental spectrum.  Most importantly, it opens your eyes (if they are not already opened) to the idea that the some media contribute in propagandizing any catastrophe (substantiated or not) for the simple need for better ratings(....the snow crisis...the hurricane crisis...the drought crisis...the oil crisis and of course our favorite, the police car chase...crisis).  Unfortunately for Crichton, he should have written an essay instead of a novel.  But what better way to get the point across than to dramatize these ideas through several spectacular events and locations.  He steered his way from continent to continent with a few main characters and neglects to tie up several important loose ends.  After the first couple of chapters, there is no doubt who the villain is and you are not fooled by some obvious slight of hand.  Also, the dialog and characters are written as if it were a hopeful movie script.  Of course, the way he portrays Hollywood, I doubt any producer would touch this with a ten foot pole.

State of Fear by Michael Crichton.  (Chris' take on this)  That loud ripping sound you heard emanating from the Left Coast was a battalion of enraged Hollywood executives tearing Crichton's contact info out of their Rolodexes.  (Yes, I know that most of them have probably long since switched to cell phones… but silent deletion makes for a much less compelling image.)  The author of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and other popular "techno-thrillers" goes merrily a-bridge-burning as he stages a full-scale assault on fear-mongering environmentalism.  A well-heeled, celebrity-studded, "frighteningly certain" environmental group plans a series of fake "natural catastrophes" in order to scare people into believing that the theory of global warming is true.  It's up to a band of motley nerds (and one tag-along lawyer who undergoes the book's one obligatory "conversion" from an environmentalism based on slushy sentiment and ad hominem attacks to one grounded in hard-eyed, illusion-free science) to save the day.  The book's didactic purpose is underscored in bright red ink by a series of dialogues (illustrated with charts and graphs) in which various characters' ignorance as to the dubious and contradictory nature of the evidence for global warming is cruelly exposed for all to see.  Crichton's desire to write a didactic novel may have gotten the better of him in the creativity department: the characters are all one- or at most two-dimensional, the villains are easy to identify, and one extremely major plot "surprise" is anything but surprising.  I've read the transcript of Crichton's important speech at CalTech in which he criticized "crisis"-oriented science.  He probably would have been much better off writing a non-fictional work, on the order of Bjorn Lomborg's The Skeptical Environmentalist (which he praises in State of Fear's lengthy bibliography), than trying to "reach the masses" with a rather disappointing "thriller."

The Pin-Up Art of Dan DeCarlo (Fantagraphics Press).  Dan DeCarlo is considered by many comics fans to be the quintessential Archie artist -- and considered by all comics fans to be the best delineator of Archie's rival girlfriends, Betty and Veronica.  DeCarlo, who died in 2001, also had a prolific career as a pin-up artist for humor magazines, and this little tome collects some of his best work from the late 50s and early 60s.  DeCarlo had a knack for making his women appear funny and sexy at the same time.  While most of the gags aren't much, the girls are simply TOO much.  There's some (relatively tasteful) nudity here, but most gags involve skimpy clothing and lingerie, so I'd rate this between a PG-13 and a "soft" R.

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #654 (March 2005).  Having eviscerated rap music, rock concert promoters, and similar cultural scum in previous stories, William Van Horn engages in yet more curmudgeonly grumbling in "Busy Bodies," wherein Donald Duck becomes obsessed with the odd activities of his new neighbors but winds up getting himself entangled in a reality TV series.  "Silly Billy" really should go after harder targets, but who can blame him for this broadside?…  In "History Re-Petes Itself," Mickey Mouse gets an unexpected opportunity to raise his long-time nemesis Black Pete from babyhood – and, in so doing, lead the old reprobate onto the path of righteousness and truth.  Of course, complications develop.  David Gerstein and Romano Scarpa's tale for Egmont Publishing is a fine tribute to Pete's 80th birthday (yes, really – Pete even predates Mickey himself!) and features a nicely ambiguous ending that I particularly enjoyed…  We also get a Gus Goose/Grandma Duck epic (also penned by the indefatigable Gerstein) and three vintage reprints: two tales from the 40s and 50s drawn by Paul Murry, plus Carl Barks' early adventure story, "Frozen Gold," which features the "Old Duck Master"'s own take on a semi-original "Pete-like" character – this one with a decidedly nasty (even homicidal!) streak.

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"The Good, the Bad, and the Sparkly" (A Tale Spin: High Flight fan-fiction story: available at URL address

For those not in the know – or even for those who used to be (since the "franchise" has been quiescent in recent years) – Tale Spin: High Flight is a series of tales generated by some fans of the classic Disney animated TV series Tale Spin, set several years after the events of the series. I was once a (rather peripheral) member of the High Flight "crew" but thought that they had gone the evanescent way of most ber-ambitious fan groups until my friend Mark Lungo informed me that this latest story had been released. Interestingly, it does not feature any of the series' principal protagonists, focusing instead on a trio of archeologists who had one-shot roles in various episodes, plus two original creations: daring adventuress/archeologist Arizona Johnson and her orphaned, street-smart ward, Li'l Bit. Tale Spin, one of Disney's best series, was notorious for its creation of numerous fascinating one-shot characters who were never seen again. This entertaining yarn simply re-proves the point. The plot is pretty straightforward Indiana Jones-type stuff, but with an eye towards the use of several plot points in future tales (hey, I told you these guys were ambitious). The High Flight-created Arizona and Li'l Bit do not hog all the best ideas and lines, a sure sign that the "crew" takes its task of fashioning a believable continuity for the future of the Tale Spin "universe" seriously. Be prepared to do some back-reading (and viewing) if you're not familiar with Tale Spin, but for devotees of the series, it's a must read.

Donald Duck and Friends #325 (March 2005). Carl Barks' classic 1949 Donald Duck adventure "Lost in the Andes" is reprinted between slick covers for the first time in 18 years. The saga of Donald and his Nephews' search for the Peruvian source of a clutch of square eggs (yep, you read it right) has never looked better, thanks to Susan Daigle-Leach's exquisitely detailed color schemes. (I just loved the green-gloriously woozy expressions on the faces of Donald and a group of scientists after they've unwittingly partaken of an omelet made from some square eggs that are decidedly past their "sell by" date.) New Gemstone staff member (and Baltimore resident) David Gerstein provides an introductory essay-let. I do wish he hadn't used the tired academic buzzword "subversive" to describe Barks' famous tale. "Cynical," I'll buy. The unsentimental Barks spares no one, from highfalutin scientists to hustling Andean natives who're out to make a buck off of Donald's desire to acquire more square eggs. Anyone who'd like to know why Barks rated a "Disney Legend" award before his death in 2000 couldn't find a better place to commence their acquaintance with "The Old Duck Master."

The Boys of Winter: The Untold Story of a Coach, a Dream, and the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team by Wayne Coffey (Crown Publishers). Curiously, though the event has rated an HBO documentary, a made-for-TV movie, and a full-blown theatrical retelling, the complete story of the "Miracle on Ice" has never been put between covers in a real, live book (as opposed to a tome of the "instant paperback" variety ). Unfortunately, it still hasn't. Coffey does a good enough job of telling the only story that people seem to care about anymore – the February 22, 1980, shocker that the U.S. hockey team pulled off against the unbeatable Soviets – but he reproduces each and every hockey movement of the game to such an excruciating degree that it's all the harder to forgive him for paying scant attention to the rest of the games that the Americans played to cop the gold. The interstitital mini-biographies of the various players and Coach Herb Brooks (whose 2003 funeral following a fatal car crash serves as the book's curtain-raiser) break the game narrative up to the point that the book is a bit confusing to read. It's an OK effort, but Do You Believe in Miracles? (the HBO documentary) and Miracle (the Disney feature flick) remain the best reminiscences of this epochal moment in sports history, now almost exactly a quarter-century old.

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 Intellectual Morons: How Ideology Makes Smart People Fall For Stupid Ideas by Daniel Flynn

This is a successor of sorts to Paul Johnson’s 1980 book Intellectuals, in that it eviscerates a succession of public intellectuals whose ideological prejudices led them – and others -- to absurd, and frequently damaging, conclusions.  Flynn doesn’t spend as much time as did Johnson on the private cruelties that many of these worthies imposed on others on the way to imposing their “heartless tyrannies of ideas,” but the subjects’ ideas are frequently so ridiculous in and of themselves that he doesn’t really have to.  Though most of the “morons” are (unsurprisingly) on the left, Flynn does go after the likes of Ayn Rand and Leo Strauss (the neoconservative guru) as well.  It’s a somewhat depressing read, but Flynn’s exhortation not to let ideology distort one’s perspective on the world allows it to end on a hopeful note.

 Uncle $crooge #338

“Italian Duck Maestro” Romano Scarpa is back with “The Secret of Success,” an early-60s tale in which American readers are introduced to Jubal Pomp, a would-be tycoon who’s obsessed with divining Scrooge’s secret of … you guessed it.  David Gerstein does his usual bang-up job of dialoguing the tale.  Pomp would’ve been an ideal addition to the DuckTales cast…  The volume also features a reprint of Carl Barks’ “The Horseradish Story” (1953), a classic tale in which Scrooge and his nephews must perform a decidedly bizarre “delivery run” in the Caribbean in order to save Scrooge’s fortune from the scoundrelly Chisel McSue.

 Walt Disney’s Comics and Stories #653

After being submerged for six years, Pat and Shelly Block’s Donald Duck adventure “Duck of the Deep” finally breaks the surface.  Thanks to Joe Torcivia, I was able to get an advance peek at this epic back in 1999 -- and I was rather underwhelmed.  I still am, unfortunately.  The heavy-handed moralizing about environmental degradation leaves me colder than a mackerel (O Ron Fernandez, where art thou?).  Block’s artwork seems a bit on the drab side, too, especially when compared to his earliest stories from the mid-90s, when he seemed to embody a whole new generation of American Duck creators.  Now, his career seems more like a grand promise unfulfilled…  Noel Van Horn and Donald Markstein team up for another fine Mickey Mouse story, “Mickey for Mayor,” in which Mickey falls victim to some “pit bull” political journalism… A reprint of a John Lustig and William Van Horn’s DuckTales tale from 1990, “Sky-High Hi-Jinks,” isn’t one of the better representatives of that duo’s memorable run of stories in that “Gladstone I” title, but I’m certainly not going to complain about its reappearance.

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Movie Reviews

"Mary Poppins" (40th Anniversary Edition)

This magic movie still hasn't lost it's touch.  The DVD offers more than just the movie.  Like most, it offers great behind the scenes insight to the making of the movies and the personalities involved.  Chris and I watched it with the commentators track and loved every minute of it.  Andrews and Van Dyke's commentary is particularly amusing given the fact that neither of them have seen the movie since the premier.  The only weak point I have to make is that any comments by Karen Dotrice (Jane Banks) seems a bit self serving in a "look at me and how great I am" way.

"Numb3rs" CBS TV

I rarely watch any network shows (since Friends) but thought I'd stay up and take a look at this "math crime solving" show.  As most of you know, Chris is a Mathematician and certainly had his doubts but as they said...and said...and said during the many play-off commercials, "it's always about the numbers."  NOT REALLY, this show is all about the idea that every genius mathematician is portrayed as a certified NUT.  And, it was more about physics than math.  The GOOD thing -  it's NOT another SCI show

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