Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Sunday Review

Here are reviews of the DCBS comic books that I've gotten around to reading and reviewing, sorted by the original shipping date:
  • Feb 3rd
  • Green Lantern #49 - I'm really not entirely sure what's going on in this book, but as a stand-alone, it works ok. Green Lantern comes to the rescue with some quick thinking, the day is saved, and there's some touching family scenes.
  • Batman Beyond #9 - I really don't know what to think about this book, and those last couple of pages just confuse me more. If they are alive, then how did all that happen? If they aren't, then what are those? Huh.
  • Doctor Strange #5 - So, that's the price paid for his recoveries. Wong is right that Strange would put an end to it if he knew. As for the rest... well, let's see what happens next.
  • Legend of Oz: The Wicked West #5 - And we reach the Emerald City and meet the Wizard. It all seems more abrupt than I remember from the first time I read this through. I'm liking the backup feature with the four witches, but I feel like the story needed another draft to make it right.

Fortean Times #30
Fortean Times #30 (Autumn 1979). So, I got some very old issues of Fortean Times on eBay as part of my effort to update my cover gallery and index, and of course I jumped in to read the issues as well. Naturally, I'm looking at these in a completely different way than the original readers, but I'm still getting a lot out of them.

The first issue I'm looking at is #30, which was published when I was about seven years old. At that point in time I was fascinated by the Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot, but really didn't have much comprehension that there was a whole universe of things that science ignored or laughed at - that nevertheless contained information on human nature and possibly better understanding of the real world as well. In fact, at that point in time I also had no sense of history. The first time I truly understood that "history" was still happening was when Mt St Helens erupted, and that was a few months after this issue was published. Anyway, enough about me... into the book itself.

I love the painted cover. At first I looked at it and thought it was just a nice nature scene. It's not until you look a bit that you start to see all the faces. These are illustrating the cover article on simulacra by John Michell. The article is about the tendency to see faces, in particular, in all kinds of natural phenomena, but it also looks at a few other types of simulacra. I'm unsteady as to how Michell felt about it... the implication of the article is that observation changes something, and the mere fact that we are seeing a person/face/hand has meaning, but that meaning is not made clear. This is Fortean at its purest. He presents the facts, with some opinions, then leaves it to the reader to make their own judgement. Of particular interest to me in this piece is a throwaway comment on photography: "What is it that distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one when both have steady hands and the same equipment?" The implication is that the photographer involuntarily projects something into the photo. As a person who has to take photos every day, I wish this were true, because then all my photos would be fantastic. *sigh*

A second feature article is about Clemente Dominguez, who I'd never heard about, no surprise. It's quite the story, and much better told in the article by Bob Rickard than on Wikipedia. In short, while the shenanigans are of slight interest to Forteans, it's the apparent stigmata that put this tale into the basket of needing a closer look. Good stuff.

The third feature is on the Fish Fall of 1859. Instead of trying to draw any conclusions, the piece gathers up the known facts from as many sources as possible to try to determine what facts are correct, or most likely to be correct. No attempt is made to explain it, which is good, because it doesn't really seem to have a good explanation. Not the best piece, but interesting, especially to a small-town reporter who can see how the facts might have so easily gotten confused.

The last feature is about the Son of Sam, and argues that the man who was captured and jailed did not do it alone, and names another suspect. I'm mostly unfamiliar with the case, knowing the name and the fearsome reputation, but little else, so I can't speak to the accuracy of the claim in the feature. The writing style is bizarre and uncomfortable, so I'm not impressed with this one overall.

There are several columns, and the first one in this issue was "Enigma Variations" by Nigel Watson, which was a nice round-up of UFO beliefs. I liked his conclusion to the column, which asked what is driving the beliefs. I cringed at the name of Steve Moore's column, "Tales from the Yellow Emporium", but the column itself isn't bad. This particular column is about a mao hai, a hairy child who was born covered in hair, and other such people. It seems to me to harken forward to FT274, which has two such individuals on the cover.

Loren Coleman contributed a column called "On the Trail" in which he details cryptozoological events. This one is about a road trip in the US. Coleman makes the observation that people who live in trailers tend to live on the fringe/frontier of American society, because as towns are established, they tend to zone out trailer parks. So the stories he tells concentrate on people who live in trailers. He starts with panthers then moves on to thunderbirds, with a revisit to Marlon Lowe, who suffered endless taunts after his story about being picked up by a giant bird went public. From Coleman's report, the poor kid suffered immensely, and his family had dead birds left on their front porch by nasty neighbors apparently upset at the publicity. Makes me want to go smack some sense into them, but that's 37 years ago.

The last column is "Under the Eye" by Steve Burgess and concerns itself with the rock group Klaatu, which was apparently still a mystery at the time.

Unlike the modern Strangedays, this issue has section headings (with art by Hunt Emerson) that introduce specific topics. The first one is "Out of Place" and mainly talks about big cats, which are not native to the British Isles, being seen in the British Isles. There's a bit of snark at an "expert opinion" that determined cast paw prints were from a dog, not a cat, and plenty of witness descriptions. There were also two cartoons, thought I'm not sure who drew them. One features a "Young Turk" at the Natural History Museum studying a live chicken instead of various stuffed animals. This is a callback to the article, in which the experts were from the Natural History Museum. The second cartoon is at the end of the article and shows two bigfoot hunters finding a very small bigfoot with enormous feet.

The next section is "Strange Deaths", which I usually read in the modern version but generally do not comment on. I'm going to observe the same standard with this issue.

Next up is "Plants", and it starts with the question of whether or not plants are conscious... I hear the screams of the vegetables? The section starts out with glowing plants, including potatoes later used to make "super chips" and referred to by locals as Identified Frying Objects. Then we learn about plants that spent time in space and seeds preserved in time and later grown. Giant mushrooms are next on the menu, but the finish of the article is an "ugly sort of rubber plant gone wrong" that was growing next to a television set and reportedly grew away from the light and, when watered, uttered moans. Yikes? Of slight interest, one of the cases mentioned is about Harry Potter, a keen gardener who discovered a wooden clothes peg he was using to mark a row of seeds took root.

Poltergeists is the next section, although it's just about ghosts in general. Well, ghosts with dishonorable intentions, in this case. Sexy spectres and randy wraiths are covered, with just a pinch of snarky commentary to keep it all PG-rated. Following that is a section on synchronicity, and in particular, twins. Loads of good stories in this one, including a bunch on twins separated at birth. More twins are in the "Freaks" section, which starts with sad stories of cojoined twins and other odd mysteries of birth, and finishes with some miracle babies before getting sad again with a story of an 83-year-old woman with a calcified foetus from when she was a young woman. Both sections have photos, including two very hard to see photos of two-faced kittens.

The next section, "Wild Talents", is about psi abilities and such. This one is about people able to see without their eyes. Moving on to "Lightnings", we get stories about lightning strikes, both fatal and not, and a listing of such strikes. The final section is "Trends" and starts with the story of Skylab. I vaguely remember it... I was thrilled with anything to do with space exploration, so I would have read anything I could have gotten my hands on about it. I remember it falling, and I remember the reports... this has a little more than I remember. There are other pieces, some fun, some depressing. There's a bit on Loch Ness, including an ill-advised attempt to search for the monster with trained dolphins (!). Another whole piece is about priests being attacked, including Pope John Paul nearly being hit by a large iron cross in Pompeii, Italy.

There are comics in this issue, called "Comix" in the table of contents. The first one is called "Telly Kinex" and has a skeptical reporter bothering a guy, presumably from the title, who happens to be using his telekinetic powers. As might be expected, the interruption of concentration has bad results for the reporter. This issue also has an installment of "Phenomenomix", which is still running in the modern version. I can't really say much about this, except it's about the progression of what happens when you mess with psychic powers, maybe? The final listed comic is "Facts You Might Forget" and seems to be about something called remote photography.

The reviews... oh, the reviews. Eight dense pages of pure reviews, with some truly amazing and scary stuff up for inspection. The reviews were as strong as they've always been, but lacking the numerical ratings. It still isn't hard to tell if something impressed the reviewer. There aren't many I'd actually be interested in getting, but some are truly funny and/or bizarre. With the advantage of time, I can look back at some of the works and see what history has said about the authors (sometimes not good at all), which put a slight damper on my amusement in at least one case. Still, it's a reminder to take everything with a grain/spoonful/cup/barrel of salt.

A size comparison shows that old Fortean Times were a bit smaller than the current issues.
The letters are pretty good, with probably the one that most quickly sparked my interest being a letter about creating a Fortean Classification System - how does one categorize the uncategorizable? Overall, this is an incredible little package. Much smaller than current Fortean Times issues, but much more densely packed with information. I'm certainly glad to have gotten my hands on it, and hope I can get more of the older issues in time.