A Throwback to High Adventure

All you citizens of the Manosphere who gave up on literature 15 years ago and either spend your down time watching movies or playing video games…you might not have noticed that books are being written for you again.

The resurgence of old-school action-adventure began in earnest about 2010, and I’ve been up to my neck in it. I’m not talking about the stuff that trickles through the TradPub (traditional publishing) gatekeepers from big name authors who still have enough clout to produce something other than chick-lit, urban fantasy or gay/lesbian. This revolution has been taking place among the Indies (independently published authors), and some of it is even better than the action paperbacks of yesteryear (before the TradPub industry drowned in estrogen).

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I am fortunate to have rubbed cyber-elbows with (I think) the majority of authors producing good work in the big daddy genre of action-adventure. Nate Granzow is one of those authors and his latest novel is a humdinger.

Before I get into the nuts and bolts, I should distance Nate’s prose somewhat from my masculist rhetoric. The protagonist in Hekura (one of them, anyway–arguably the main one) is female; and though she is not a pixie ninja (thank-you, Mr. Granzow), I certainly would classify her as a strong character.

Deep in the rainforest of South America, an indigenous tribe (the Yanomani) has encountered a race of monsters they call the Hekura–the evil spirits of dead white men, they assume. But you know how much those superstitious jungle tribes exaggerate. It’s probably just some overblown legend about harmless albino apes that they use to scare children into obedience or something.

Wrong! They are real, grotesque, and plum scary.

It just so happens that a humongous pharmaceutical conglomerate is sponsoring an expedition into the very area where these monsters are rumored to dwell, in search of a medicinal plant with miraculous healing characteristics.

So far we’ve already got some promising ingredients for an adventure yarn–the exotic locale you can only reach by plane, then on foot, a dangerous, mythical antagonist (or whole herd of them, actually), an expedition to find the Holy Grail of medicine…oh, and there’s mercenaries and Third World drug lords, too.

But even with all these elements in the mix, thousands of published authors out there right now would still fumble the ball. Nate Granzow romps all the way to the End Zone unscathed, with aplomb.

As an author, he obviously knows that the way to make a tale like this bigger than the sum of its parts is through memorable characters. I could write a lengthy essay about the dimensionality of his cast, but suffice it to say that it is outstanding. I normally don’t yammer on about how great moral ambiguity is, like it’s the pinnacle of narrative or something. But it is nice to run into sympathetic characters who are not pure as the driven snow. And the hard-drinking, chain-smoking British pilot who shares the spotlight for a while with our heroine has had some…shall we say major moral lapses while trying to earn cigarette money. And the soldier of fortune would normally serve as just another heavy to hiss and boo at while waiting for him to get greased with extreme prejudice…well, circumstances turn things around and you wind up compromising right along with his would-be victims.

One final kudo, and this is probably a minor one for most, but there were fewer typos in this novel than I find in most TradPubbed mass market paperbacks. That contributes to a pleasant reading experience with minimal distractions.

Hekura is well-crafted adventure of a caliber that is timeless, and gets a strong recommendation from me.

The Amazing Spider Mash-Up

I’m going to break convention in this review and give you the good news first. This Spiderman flick has a few things going for it that make it worth a watch despite the bad news.

First and foremost, this one movie accomplishes something that Sam Raimi couldn’t pull off with an entire trilogy: it got the Spiderman character right. When this actor puts the costume on, he closely resembles the Spiderman of the comic books I remember: an incurable smartass; nerves of steel; bubbling over with cocksurity even when doom seems imminent; and a selfless hero in the truest sense of the word.

As Peter Parker, the character was somewhat less canonical…but I don’t mind that so much. (BTW, the Toby McGuire Peter was closer to the high school nerd of the earliest comics.) Frankly, Parker’s personal life in the comics was often so angst-ridden, disastrous and…real…as to be depressing. This Peter Parker is some kind of preppie-hip, though he certainly has his problems. Aunt May is different, too, and I guess that’s fine.

Another point in this movie’s favor is the film makers kept their mask removal fetish in check, for the most part. Spiderman only unmasked himself in public once or twice.

What’s truly amazing about this flick is that there’s not one amazon superninja in it. Maybe they just couldn’t figure out a way to stuff one into the plot. Still, I’m shocked that Gwen Stacy wasn’t revealed at any point to be some world-class master at hand-to-hand combat. In an age when pinkshirt white knight feminist tropes are obligatory, this is a major plus in the film’s favor.

There is one aspect of the film that was unfortunate because of its faithfulness to the source material, and that was the overuse of Spidey’s webs. Each web shooter–about the size of a Hot Wheels toy car, has an unlimited supply of the incredible web material (at least in the comics he occasionally ran out/had to reload), and he uses it for everything.  Maybe the film makers were just so pleased with the special effect that they had to show it off every chance they got. There’s one scene where Spiderman lands on a pipe, straddling it, and uses his spider-strength (nicely displayed earlier when he catches a police cruiser to keep it from crushing a cop) to rip it open. But rather than just grabbing it and tearing it open, he has to shoot his webs at it–from a range of about eight inches.

It’s a lot like Green Arrow’s tendency to shoot arrows (or threaten to do so) when he’s close enough to just clout the bad guys directly.

In the cinematic Spiderman universe, everybody is connected to Oscorp somehow. In this film, suddenly Peter’s father Richard is introduced as a former Oscorp employee involved in intentionally genetically engineering the radioactive spider which would bite Peter years later, turning him into a superhero.

The Osbornes are back, too. And Harry is especially creepy in this movie. I don’t know why they keep going back to the Green Goblin when they have such a largely untapped rogue’s gallery to draw from (in fact, why does there have to be a minimum of two villains per superhero movie anymore?), but here he is again. And he’s actually played fairly well.

BTW, (being careful not to spoil here) there’s a recreation of a famous/infamous (to Spiderman afficionados) confrontation between Spidey and the Goblin, involving Gwen Stacy which plays out in a way that could probably only be pulled off on film, yet which accomplishes the same results. Nicely done.

The biggest negative in this film is what they did to Electro. In a nutshell, they took the Jim Carey Edward Nigma character from one of the awful ’90s Bat-flicks, threw him into a tank full of electric eels and had him come out as Dr. Manhattan from The Watchmen. Only they call him Electro.

The Electro that Spider-fans know was a villain who could shoot lightning out of his hands. That’s plenty dangerous all by itself, and more than a handful for the NYPD, and Spiderman, to deal with. But screenwriters these days evidently don’t have the imagination or talent to tell any kind of story that doesn’t require epic destruction to keep the moviegoers awake.

So rather than a power company lineman, they made him an electrical engineer for…who else? Oscorp. He has some kind of childish fixation on people noticing him. Spiderman saves his life early in the movie and Max (Jamie Foxx) worships him afterwards in a very icky pathetic scene. But his adoration is fickle to say the least–when Spiderman doesn’t behave the way Max thinks he should, love turns to hate.

Electro… Dr. Manhattan…what’s the diff? Nothing, if you know as little about the source material as the screenwriters.

And after the eel attack, “Electro” is telekinetic (his electric bolts don’t just zap people or objects, but can lift them up and move them around), he can levitate, and materialize and dematerialize anywhere he wants. He’s even bald and blue like Dr. Manhattan. I rolled my eyes when he quipped some line about becoming a god, because the Hollywood cookie-cutter had already made him one. They might as well have named him Zeus–though I’m pretty sure the Greek deity couldn’t do all the nifty tricks Jamie Foxx does.

Sometimes it takes a while for me to accept the obvious, but I’m thoroughly convinced now that Hollywood film makers, even when restraining the urge to ram their politics down our throat, are a bunch of shameless hacks incapable of an original idea…and/or have a tremendous contempt for the intelligence of their audience. Take away their special effects and they couldn’t tell a story about anything.

Iron Man Clanks to a Cinematic Halt

Originally posted 2013

It’s a just about universally accepted rule of Hollywood that even the best movies have sequels that are full of suck. If you dodge the bullet on the second one, then the third is just about guaranteed to blow dog. And yet I kept an open mind when laying down a small fortune to treat my family to a theater viewing of the final chapter in the Iron Man trilogy.

Iron Man I and the Avengers, despite their faults, were thoroughly enjoyable and worth the small fortunes paid for those respective family nights.

Unfortunately, this flick followed the sequel rule. Don’t get me wrong—there’s plenty of explosions and other destruction; cool visuals and special effects; witty dialog, and even some character development on the part of Tony Stark. If that’s enough for most moviegoers (and it probably is), then it will go down a winner. Unfortunately, it’s also brimming over with a whole lot of stupid.

Tony Stark has created a whole lot of different Iron Man armor, including the new “Mark 42” prototype. Meanwhile, he is suffering panic attacks.

And a new slimy capitalist is on the scene, making overtures to Pepper Potts (who runs Stark International now, leaving Stark free to tinker). Turns out the slimy capitalist was a slimy visionary in 1999 whom Stark dissed, while enjoying a one-night stand with a chick who just happens to be a leading scientist making breakthroughs in the very same field being pioneered by the slimy visionary: cellular regeneration. (Wait a minute…didn’t Dr. Connors already pioneer the technology when he became the Lizard in both the comics and the Spiderman reboot movie?)

So after humiliating the seemingly innocuous weirdo (played by Guy Pierce), and forgetting about the one night stand, they’ve come back to haunt him. Kinda’ like how Jim Carey as Edward Nigma/the Riddler came back to haunt Bruce Wayne after a perceived slight in one of those awful Batman flicks.

Meanwhile, a terrorist is bombing and killing indiscriminately, punctuating his reign of terror with video clips. He is called the Mandarin (based loosely on the Marvel villain of that name) and he doesn’t just use bombs—he turns human bodies into bombs.

Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) is blasted into a coma by one of the Mandarin’s human bombs. Stark gets real mad. How mad? Try stupid mad. He threatens the Mandarin on national TV and gives out his home address, daring the terrorist to preempt his revenge. (Hey, joke’s on you, Stark: that’s not really Happy Hogan, but Daredevil/Matt Murdock’s buddy Foggy Nelson!)

Okay, there’s like this fetish with Hollywood film makers. I’m not talking about the sick sexual thrill they get from destroying fine automobiles for no reason. But this one’s pretty widespread, too. It has to do with revealing secret identities in superhero movies. Bruce Wayne was ready to tell Vicky Vale he was Batman after one flip in the sack. Now that must have been some hot sex! But he had cold feet about it, so Alfred game him a little nudge by just taking her down into the Batcave. I think at least one person per movie learned Gotham’s Dark Knight was Bruce Wayne up until R’as Al Ghul destroyed the Batcave the first time. Then in this latest Batfilm, Bane exposes Wayne’s secret underground Bat-labrinth for the entire population of Gotham City to find.

I lost count of how many times Spiderman lost or removed his mask on the big screen. Unmasking yourself in public is always a clever method for keeping your identity secret. So is confessing on camera, as Tony Stark did in the first Iron Man film.

So here he goes one better, broadcasting his home address as well. Of course said home is obliterated in a spectacular explosionfest during the chopper attack of the Mandarin’s invincible glowing human bomb henchmen. Ho-hum. I have no sympathy for an alleged genius capable of his unrepentant idiocy.

But did the supervillains of the world really need Tony Stark to tell them his home address on TV for them to figure it out? Why didn’t an attack like this take place right after the dumbass told them he was Iron Man in the first movie? Obviously his home defenses were inadequate to deal with a helicopter assault then or at any other time (not that a helicopter assault was needed to take his California cliff-dwelling, but it looks cool and is a good way to burn up millions of budget dollars renting choppers, shooting rockets, and blowing stuff to smithereens).

Big pretty fireballs everywhere, Pepper Potts almost dies, Stark barely escapes with his life, yada yada yada. Then through some contrived devices Stark winds up in Kentucky with his Mark 42 armor out of commission. But never fear: Stark breaks-and-enters a home to get out of the cold, and it just happens to house a boy genius and a suitable workshop in the basement.

Oh yeah: meanwhile, Rhodie’s moniker has been changed from War Machine to Iron Patriot and he loses his armor after stumbling into an ambush.

As we move toward the big climactic showdown, we find out that Stark’s Iron Man armor may have been destroyed in the attack on his house, but he had more armor stored away in a secret chamber underneath the secret chamber we knew about, and the suits can all act as flying robots when he’s not wearing them. That way the actor can show his purty face as he delivers wisecracks all during the epic fight scene.

I’ll leave the plot alone for now. It wasn’t monumentally stupid, relative to the genre. It was about par-for-the-formula for a superhero movie. Nothing impressive.

Be advised that I read Iron Man comic books well before any Marvel Comics character appeared on the big screen, and I have accepted, for the sake of entertainment, that a millionaire industrialist could build a flying suit of powered armor and, wearing it, fight bad guys and super-bad-guys. Unlikely, okay, but possible in theory. Some of what I’m about to point out, however, strains my suspension of disbelief beyond its tensile strength.

First off, Tony Stark built the Iron Man armor to fit his own body, and yet in this movie it comfortably fits anybody of any size and body shape. Rigid armor (such as the plate worn by the knights in the last days of chivalry) has to be custom made to the body of the person who will be wearing it, otherwise the pinching and scraping will become unbearable in no time, mobility will be severely limited and you might suffer serious injury. This might not threaten suspension of disbelief for most people, so I’ll move on.

Evidently, every piece of the new Mark 42 armor is equipped with rocket motors, invisible unlimited fuel supplies, and guidance systems which will home in on Tony Stark’s body no matter where he is, so that when he wants to become Iron Man, these items will fly through the air (sometimes from Kentucky) and clamp onto his appropriate body part. Oh, but be careful—they fly and clamp onto him really fast, sometimes smacking the hell out of anything that gets in their way.

Assuming such miracle technology were possible, once you cram each piece with the rocket motors, fuel, and electronics needed for this neat trick, where would you fit the circuitry, servos and other stuff you need to make the piece do what it’s supposed to do once it’s on Stark’s body?

Along the same lines is the use of these suits as robots. The internals of a robot would be built differently than the internals of a suit which amplifies the strength of the one wearing it (which Iron Man’s armor has always done). First of all, how would there be room for a man inside a man-sized robot? Secondly, if Stark can control these robots remotely, or put them on bad-guy-fighting-autopilot as he does in the climax, why did he ever put himself inside one to begin with?

Toward the end of this movie, Stark undergoes an operation to remove the shrapnel pressing in on his heart. There’s been no mention of a new breakthrough in medical science, so I guess he’s avoided it up to now simply because he liked the rush of existing millimeters from death. And he likes having a nuclear electromagnet in his chest. Girls dig it. It’s a…wait for it…chick magnet.

The aforementioned slimy capitalist has developed cellular regeneration technology. No, wait, that’s wrong. He’s a capitalist, after all, guilty of trying to make a profit and other evil motives. He didn’t build that—someone else made that happen. So anyway, the technology allows him to turn his henchmen into invincible superninjas. Not only do limbs and organs grow back when wounded, but these guys can do neat glowing tricks. Not only can they glow, but if they glow red enough they can become human soldering irons…or human bombs.

Stark really needs to work the bugs out of his armor, by-the-way, because evidently it can be crippled by the touch of a glowing finger. The glowing finger doesn’t knock out communications, life support, the onboard computer or the super-neato undressing/dressing back up functions. It doesn’t prevent the robotic (?) neck from turning the head. It only prevents Iron Man and War Machine from fighting back. Until, that is, the tension and suspense of the scene has reached a certain level. Then the arms, legs, repulsors and boot jets magically become operative. For a few seconds. Until the hero is rendered helpless again.

As in all the Marvel movies, the acting was good. There were plenty of jokes and humorous dialog, delivered by Robert Downey Jr. with his usual aplomb. The cinematography was equally high-caliber. The special effects were abundant and visually striking.

Style. Flash. Attitude. It’s got it. And that’s enough for a lot of people. If that’s enough for you, you’ll enjoy this movie.

Spec Ops Head to Head 2

But wait–there’s more! (Be sure to check out Part One.)

This time the original (not counting the OSS) specops warriors throw their ego into the ring to show they can trash talk too. That’s right–the SF “Green Berets.”

And in this corner…the new kids on the block…the USMC MARSOC!

Again, this will require the expert analysis of my elite piss contestants review panel. Let’s start with you, Rick.

RICK: Well Hank, not counting the limp-richard wannabes in this video, I just have to say the SF soldiers are totally un-sat. Their haircuts are UNACCEPTABLE! And the face armor? What a bunch of pogues! You gotta hand it to the Marines, though–they always look strac. High and tight, faces smooth as a baby’s fourth point, they’re just squared away.

THAD: I don’t necessarily believe this debate can be decided on the basis of grooming standards alone. That being said, both parties in this video are unshaven and disheveled.

DUANTE: Yo main, ya’ll white boys need to shave that mess, yo. Your hair be stickin’ all out of your faces at whacked angles…look like the Shaggy D.A. or somethin’. And my second point is, this is another racist video. Where the brothers at? This is like a good ol’ boy all white fraternity or somethin’.

SYLVIA: Yes, absolutely. Where are the people of color and where are the female soldiers? Where are the gay, lesbian and transgender soldiers?

RICK: As for the last three categories, I think they all transferred to the Bureau of Land Management. …Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

DUANTE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Now, going into this rap battle, the Special Forces have the obvious advantage of experience and reputation, and I think they sort of put MARSOC in their place.

RICK: UNACCEPTABLE! Look, I’ll knock some points off for the Marines’ gay-ass sleeve-rolling techniques, but they hit SF with two devastating shots in quick succession. First the line about force multipliers, then they burned ‘em with the zinger about the National Guard. They drew blood, big-time.

THAD: But come on, now. I thought that was effectively countered with “hey diddle diddle; straight up the middle.”

RICK: What’s wrong with a frontal assault, candy ass? What are you, queer? …Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

DUANTE: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

THAD: Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

SYLVIA: Hey, I didn’t get a “not that there’s anything wrong with that” out of Hank Brown!

HANK: Huh? Oh, sorry. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

SYLVIA: You better watch your ass.

RICK: The point is, I’d PT that pogue into the ground.

THAD: Who’s that–the MARSOC guy?

RICK: Him too. I’d smoke both their asses in the PT pit.

DUANTE: Yo, hey now, let’s get back on point, y’all. 1) this is totally racist, and B) white folks can’t rap for shit! Damn pink toes couldn’t find the beat with a road map, main. And 3) who taught y’all white boys how to handle guns, anyway? Don’t you know you’re supposed to turn the gun sideways?

RICK: Only if you’re shooting with your protective mask on, numb nuts.

DUANTE: Y’all look like a bunch of punks.

SYLVIA: And once again, the only females represented in the video don’t wear uniforms, but bikinis.

DUANTE: That is a ho’s uniform.

THAD: That was a female? I wasn’t sure, with all the tattoos…