Sunday, January 15, 2017

Death has been busy

Inasmuch as people began complaining about how a lot of famous persons were passing on during the last year, 2017 has started off with more of the same.

Author William Peter Blatty, the man who not only wrote The Exorcist, and shepherded its transition to the big screen in the 70's, passed away earlier this week. So did Tony Rosato (ex-Saturday Night Live), whose career went on a downward spiral after leaving SNL. Buddy Greco was 90 when he was called home more than a week ago.

And the WWE has known loss as well. First, Timothy Smith, who worked as Timothy Well, 1/2 of the 90's team of Well Dunn, and as Rex King in other areas, had passed after a lengthy illness. Now comes word that Hall of Famer Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka has lost his battle with stomach cancer and other illnesses at 73.

Last month, Snuka was declared unfit to stand trial in the death of his ex-girlfriend, which happened in the 80's, during his first go-round with the then-World Wrestling Federation. Today, Jimmy's daughter, Tamina, works for WWE, and is training to return to action after being out with an injury for much of 2016.

As Vince McMahon himself would say, let's take you back to Snuka's debut on Championship Wrestling in the winter of 1982, as a heel managed by fellow Hall of Famer Lou Albano. McMahon & Pat Patterson are at the mic's, and Howard Finkel does a voice-over promo for live cards in Utica & Syracuse, so this may have aired on WKTV.



Back in Hollywood, Dick Gautier, best known as Hymie the Robot on Get Smart before landing the lead in Mel Brooks' 1975 sitcom, When Things Were Rotten, left us at 83. Here's a clip:



Finally, as I'm sure you've heard, there is a different kind of passing, and that is the long running Ringling Brothers & Barnum & Bailey Circus, which is folding its tents due to rising operating costs after the current season, which does not include a visit to Albany this year.

From 1966, here's a highlight reel of that year's tour, hosted by Roy Rogers & Dale Evans:



May our stars and Mr. Blatty rest in peace.

On the Shelf: A new age Nancy Drew and other things

One of the best things about Free Comic Book Day last May was my first exposure to Hope Larsen's teen sleuth, Goldie Vance. Already, comparisons have been made between Goldie, a 16 year old African American, and Nancy Drew, who will be on comic shelves in March via Dynamite Entertainment.

The first four issues of Goldie Vance have been collected by Boom! Studios in a sweet little trade paperback that does capture the essence of the Drew classics credited to "Carolyn Keene", with an urban spin, aided by a healthy dose of Disney. How, you might ask?

Goldie and her father work at a Miami hotel, where Goldie aspires to become the house detective when she gets older. The artistic style is a blend of DC's Batman Adventures of the 90's and Disney's Proud Family, among other influences. The hotel setting suggests The Suite Life of Zack & Cody, but without the twins. Goldie's first adventure follows all the predictable tropes of amateur teen sleuths, plus a willingness by Goldie to go against the law to find pertinent clues. Older fans will think it's a more saccharine, watered down, juvenile clone of 70's sleuths John Shaft and Christie Love, but it really isn't. It's safe and family friendly.

Rating: A.

On the other hand, former Marvel executive Bill (Pa) Jemas is back with a new company, DoubleTake. A collected miniseries, Soul, happened to pop up the other day, and the local shop owner was giving copies away, if but because the publisher dropped off a bundle for a test run. I couldn't wrap my head around the plot. Not enough dialogue, not enough real story. It may have carried a $10 cover price, but it'll be in the remainder bins very shortly if there are copies left.

Rating: D.

Ever since the Crisis on Infinite Earths rewrote the rules for comics writing in the 80's, DC has repeatedly rebooted Justice League of America, due in part to the perception that there is still a hysterical market for first issues, and a generation of executives who just don't have clue one.

When the series was relaunched in 1987, it was known simply as Justice League, and turned into a modern day festival of camp craziness mixed with adventure, courtesy of writers Keith Giffen & J. Marc DeMatteis (currently on Scooby Apocalypse). Eventually, a spinoff series, Justice League Europe, led to the parent book being rechristened, Justice League America, leaving "of" off the title.

When DC launched the infamous New 52 in 2011, having learned nothing, they stuck with Justice League, then added Justice League of America as a spin-off title, not once, but twice. The 2nd time around, the book was entrusted to writer-artist Bryan Hitch, whose penchant for being deadline-challenged left the series at a glacial pace.

And so it is that after Rebirth and a new Justice League #1, Justice League of America is spun off again, and returns in February, preceded by a series of 1-shot specials featuring the Atom, the Ray, and Vixen, among others.

On an impulse buy, I picked up Justice League of America: Vixen Rebirth the other day, having seen both seasons of the animated Vixen on CW Seed. Bear in mind that this would actually be the first first issue of a Vixen comic book to see the light of day. Mari McCabe, aka Vixen, was originally meant to be introduced as part of the infamous DC Explosion in 1978, but her book never came out, and subsequently was issued as part of something called Cancelled Comics Cavalcade (good luck finding that). In current DC continuity, Mari is a supermodel-turned-social worker who goes through a bit of personal introspection to get her careers back on track. Nothing like the cartoons, which is a good thing, because if they tried to adapt the animated series, there would be some comparisons to how Marvel is using Black Panther these days. The artwork, however, looks a little too busy for my tastes.

Rating: B--.

In the post-Crisis era, DC gave three of Charlton's best known heroes their own books. Of these, Blue Beetle, written by Len Wein, had the shortest run, and presented a more serious Beetle than the one appearing at the time in Justice League. Denny O'Neil & Denys Cowan were given The Question, which gave O'Neil a bully pulpit for his interest in martial arts and Zen. Veteran writer Cary Bates, best known for his work on The Flash & Superman in the pre-Crisis era, teamed with co-author Greg Weisman and artist Pat Broderick to completely reboot Captain Atom, where we were introduced to General Wade Eiling before he became a totally corrupt military wackjob.

Nathaniel Adam's story is retold by Bates & Weisman in the new miniseries, The Rise & Fall of Captain Atom, nearly 30 years after DC's launch of the series. There's some backstory that will be covered beginning in issue 2, but if you're familiar with the series during its run in the late 80's-early 90's, you may be ahead of the game. There is a reason Captain Atom has that metallic blue bodysuit instead of the standard costume that Steve Ditko gave him, and I think that origin will be revisited next month. Me? I'll wait for the trade paperback.

Rating: Incomplete.

Oh, by the way, Weisman went on to a successful career in television animation, with credits including Gargoyles & Young Justice, that has made him more of a fan favorite than when he was at DC.

Scooby Apocalypse artist Howard (Pret-a-) Porter has been pulled away from the series to work on a crossover project involving The Flash, so Ron Wagner and Bill Reinhold are filling in beginning with issue 9 (out now). Dale Eaglesham drew the back-up feature, and wait until you see what Giffen & DeMatteis have done to Scrappy-Doo. Bigger, meaner, but still a smart cookie with some compassion. His story will finally move to the front in short order.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Musical Interlude: Can't Stop Loving You (1995)

Van Halen's 1995 CD, "Balance", landed at #1 right out of the chute. It also marked the end of Sammy Hagar's tenure as the band's vocalist after 4 albums over a 8 year period.

I just happened to flip on MTV Classic (formerly VH1 Classic) earlier today, and this nugget of joy came on. I was originally going to save this for next month as a Video Valentine, but since it's still fresh in my head, I figured, why wait? This was the end of Van Halen as a "pop-metal" band, as "Can't Stop Loving You" appealed to the adult contemporary crowd just as much as the hard rock/heavy metal audience that had been with the band from day one.

What Might've Been: The Celebrity Game (1964)

Many say that Heatter-Quigley's 1964 entry for CBS, The Celebrity Game, was a forerunner to the much more successful Hollywood Squares, which launched on NBC two years later. However, Celebrity was actually the second step in an evolution of what would become Squares.

In 1963, H-Q had sold People Will Talk, a daytime game show, to NBC, with Dennis James as host. There were 15 celebrities on the panel for that short-lived series, way too many by today's standards, so after People was cancelled, H-Q went back to the drawing board.

The basic concept of Celebrity Game had three contestants trying to read the minds of nine stars on simple Yes or No questions posed by host Carl Reiner (The Dick Van Dyke Show). Unfortunately, this didn't last very long, either.

Let's take a look at an episode from June 1964. The panel includes Mickey Rooney, Louis Nye, Lee Marvin, and Connie Stevens.



Rival Goodson-Todman would co-opt the Yes/No line of questioning for a short lived 1979 daytime game, Mindreaders (previously reviewed), which landed at NBC. Seemed as though the contestants were getting almost as many laughs as the panel.

Rating: B.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Musical Interlude: A Hazy Shade of Winter (1966)

Time for some seasonally appropriate music from Simon & Garfunkel.

"A Hazy Shade of Winter" was first released as a single in the fall of 1966, and peaked at #13 on the pop chart. However, it was not included on the "Parsley, Sage, Rosemary, & Thyme" album. Instead, it was later issued on 1968's "Bookends".



In 1987, the Bangles recorded an edited cover of "Winter" for the movie, "Less Than Zero". Fittingly, both groups recorded for the same label (Columbia).

High School Fridays: Bethlehem @ Troy (boys' basketball), 1/13/17

Fittingly for Friday the 13th, there was a full moon out. Unfortunately, that spelled trouble for Troy High.

The Flying Horses welcomed back senior point guard Ryan Carmello, who missed the last 4 games with an ankle injury. Troy went 1-3 over that span, but tonight, they still had someone important missing. This time, it was coach Richard Hurley, as assistant coach Greg Davis ran the team in his stead. Not sure what the story is, be it illness or something else entirely. Just the same, it was a bad omen.

Bethlehem provided the opposition for Troy tonight, making their 2nd regular season visit to Zotto Gym. The Eagles won here in 2014, when Troy was an independent. After Troy jumped out to an early 10 point lead in the first quarter, the Eagles chipped away, then, in the second period, applied a full court press that Troy had trouble breaking. Bethlehem took the lead during the second period, and never looked back. Daniel Buie led Troy with 18 points. Brandon Holmes chipped in 11 before fouling out late in the fourth quarter, Joe Casale added 7, and Carmello, in his first game back, had 4. Bethlehem led by as much as 14 in the fourth, but left with a 63-56 win, as Troy has now lost four of their last five to fall 3 1/2 games behind front running Schenectady in the Suburban Council's Grey division.

Next week, the boys are on the road at Guilderland and Averill Park before returning to Zotto Gym in 2 weeks to host Burnt Hills. Five of Troy's final eight regular season games are on the road.
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Meanwhile, the girls' struggles continued, as the Lady Horses dropped their 4th straight, 75-52, to Bethlehem. Shallie Frierson returned after missing the last two games, and led Troy with 20 points in a losing effort. The Lady Eagles are now 4-0 against Troy over three seasons. The girls are home next week vs. Guilderland and Averill Park. The Lady Warriors moved ahead of Troy in the standings, as Troy falls to 3 games behind Albany. Second place, then, will be on the line when Averill Park makes its first regular season visit to Zotto Gym next Friday. The only time I've seen them play is when they beat Troy in an overtime thriller in the Class A title game 2 years ago at HVCC.
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On the ice, LaSalle ran their winning streak to 9 in a row, blowing away Niskayuna-Schenectady, 8-3. The Cadets remain undefeated (10-0-2), and will be on the road to visit Shenendehowa on Wednesday night. The Mohawks will get one more crack at LaSalle when the Cadets return to Schenectady on January 28. With 8 games left, the race may actually be for 2nd place in the Capital District High School Hockey League.

Revenge is a dish best served cold or warm: NFL Divisional Playoff predictions

All four divisional round games this weekend are rematches from earlier in the season. My heart's telling me one thing, my brain another. Your actual mileage may vary......

AFC:

Houston @ New England (Saturday, CBS): The oddsmakers, noting that the Evil Empire pitched a 27-0 shutout earlier in the season, also at Gillette Stadium, made the Patriots a 15 1/2 point favorite. Please. Houston QB Brock Osweiler has beaten the Pats before----while with Denver. There's no reason to think he can't do it again. New England didn't have Tom Brady the first time (suspension), and you can bet that there are some Texans supporters who think their team wasn't just outplayed on a Thursday night in September, but screwed. I didn't see the game that night, so I can't judge. Very few outside of New England believe the Patriots can win without some kind of shortcut. I'd rather see a more competitive game, but I won't be watching. Why should I?

The pick: Patriots, 27-17.

Pittsburgh @ Kansas City (Sunday, NBC): In October, the Steelers blew out the Chiefs. Because of that, the homestanding AFC West champs are a 1 point favorite, the diametric opposite of their likely next opponent. It's guaranteed to be tight. Kansas City gets defensive lineman Justin Houston back from injury, and that may make all the difference in the world. As much as I'm a Steelers fan from way back, I can't see them beating KC a 2nd time.

The pick: Chiefs, 28-24.

NFC:

Seattle @ Atlanta (Saturday, Fox):
This is the time of year when the Seahawks are at their most dangerous, regardless of where they're playing. They'd like nothing better than to get to their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years, and a possible rematch with New England, whom they beat earlier this season, handing the Patriots one of their two losses. You don't sleep on Atlanta at home, but I can't see the Falcons overcoming Seattle's defense.

The pick: Seahawks, 24-20.

Green Bay @ Dallas (Sunday, Fox): The absolute game of the week. In October, the Cowboys came to Lambeau Field and had a field day with the Packers. This time, Aaron Rodgers and the Pack are on a 7 game winning streak, headed to the Temple of Excess in Arlington. Cowboy rookie Ezekiel Elliott knows all about the post-season environment, having won a national title with Ohio State two years ago. This will be another tight seat-squirmer, right down to the wire and the kickers.

The pick: Cowboys, 44-41. Yes, they'll light up the scoreboard all day long.

Of course, I could be wrong.