Tales of the Cool and The Wicked

Explore the limits of Science Fiction Noir and Femmes Fatales with publisher, Robert Stewart. Featuring the high octane graphic novel...AFTERBURNER

John Wick -2014                    

Score: 4 0f 5                                            Recommended Album: Gary Clark Jr. Live

This was a fantastically enjoyable movie that will thrill any car guy or girl.  We’re talking a V8 engine extravaganza with John Wick driving a trifecta of muscle powered cool. Starting with the opening salvo of a 1969 Ford  Mustang to a mid course of a 1970 Chevrolet Chevelle SS and the porterhouse finale of a 2011 Dodge Charger RT, this movie rocks. In addition to the great cars we are also treated to several well-executed scenes of close quarter combat, combining gun play and awesome pugilist fury.  The trailer for John Wick promises action and this film delivers on that promise. The premise is pretty straightforward. A retired hitman is drawn back into the game when thugs kill his dog and steal his car. The ensuing carnage is stylish, swift and righteous.  The cast, headed by Keanu Reeves and William Defoe provide solid performances that stay within the context of the movie. Reeves is in full on Samurai mode. As John Wick, Reeves does not try to over reach his boundaries. He plays this character close to the vest by keeping his dialogue sparse and addressing his mission with a Zen like finality. While this film can easily be enjoyed just for surface value as an action movie there are some key points to notice. For example, Wick’s wardrobe is a welcome departure from the hoodies and sloppy attire that dominates current social taste.  French cuffs, pic stitching and double vents denote Wick’s attitude as a professional. Perhaps that air of rouge professionalism is what appeals most in this film. The characters depicted are criminals at the top of their game. They all conduct themselves to a code of conduct and they each extend professional courtesy. Further, Wick is motivated by the loss of a woman who was not only his wife but also his best friend. Not many films are willing to present such a spartan clarity of purpose.  At its strongest, John Wick is a 4-barrel salute to car guys everywhere. Overall, it is a solid movie that will entertain action fans. John Wick. Yeah, I’m down with this.-Stewart



Score: 5 of 5             Recommended book: Blazing Combat


This movie is a hardcore  portrait of a tank crew during the later days of World War 2. Comic fans will remember titles such as Our Army At War and the penultimate Blazing Combat. Well, FURY is the closet depiction yet of the mental and physical conflict depicted in those books.  From the opening scene to the closing credits we are presented with a rare representation of camaraderie, moral conflict and the destruction of war.  Brad Pitt leads a wolf pack including Shea LeBeouf,  Micheal Pena and Jon Bernthal.  Also, along for the hell ride is Logan Lerman as the team's reluctant wolf cub. Pitt's character, Don "Wardaddy" Collier leads the crew with a volatile mix of violence and fatherly guidance.  When a crewman needs encouragement to complete tank repairs, Sgt. Collier delivers  a couple of swift kicks as a way of motivation.  Collier continues to deliver counseling by "The fist and the boot" at various stages along the brimstone trail through Germany.  Alternately, there are scenes that show the inner  struggle and anguish that the grim Sgt. Collier is enduring.  The brutality of the war demands that he prepare his men for the worst but  there is little doubt that he cares for them like brothers.  The crew argue and posture among themselves, consistently testing Collier's alpha dog status. This is to  be expected in a situation where the number one job requirement is the ability to endure.  Let me say that I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It fires on all cylinders from the excellent camera work, compelling characters, engaging actors and the grim reflection of history. It is at  times difficult to watch and there heartrending scenes of cruelty and destruction.  But there are also moments of peace and compassion. For the most part,  our society has become isolated from the themes depicted in Fury.  We have been led to believe that we  live in a world of computer guided precision bombing and surgical strikes. Yet we rarely see the true impact of suffering that is the result of war. Fury brings that reality up close.  -Stewart



Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D #1 - 1968                  Recommended Movie: Dr. No


Popular movies like Iron Man, The Avengers and Captain America have introduced modern audiences to the character, Nick Fury. Not surprisingly most folks associate Nick Fury through the portrayal of the great actor, Samuel L. Jackson. Admittedly, Jackson does an incredible job of channeling the intensity and raw cool of Fury but Jackson's version is a stylistic departure from the original character in the 1960's comic.

First a little back-story, Nick Fury is a legacy character with publishing roots that go back to the early 1960's. Fury was initially introduced as a rough hewn Army sergeant back in 1963.  Along  with his crew of Howlin' Commandos, Fury fought some fairly standard punch 'em up, shoot 'em battles against the Axis.   As the 60's spy craze took over with properties like James Bond, Our Man Flint and Man From U.N.C.L.E., Marvel Comics and the peerless Jack Kirby reinvented Fury as a tough secret agent in the pages of Strange Tales. The series  galloped along admirably under Kirby's helm but the gallop was soon turbo-boosted, afterburnerated and super sonic-fied with the arrival of writer/artist Jim Steranko.  Jack Kirby is the undisputed King of Comics but Jim Steranko is quite simply  a Rock Star. You cannot discuss Nick Fury without  an acknowledgement  to the Jedi Master, Jim Steranko. Seriously, Steranko is "That Dude"...a triple threat, all singing-all dancing, Superfly TNT with the kung-fu grip. Steranko took comic  art to the next level by fuel injecting the predominate elements of pop culture into his designs and layouts. It went beyond just having characters dress in, the then, current fashion styles. No, Steranko found a way to bring the essence of cool and the cinematography of Hollywood  onto the printed page.  The man has a list of accomplishments that  stuns and amazes. He is a writer, an artist, a publisher, a magician and an escape artist. Yeah. That's right, I said it... an escape artist.  Remember, the DC Comics character Mr. Miracle?  Miracle was married to that smoking hot brunette, Big Barda...but I digress.  Anyway,  Mr. Miracle "the world's greatest escape artist" was inspired by Jim Steranko.  Still not impressed? Well check it out ,fanboy.  Steranko also had a hand in the production and layout of the 1981 film, Raiders of The Lost Ark. Best of all, Steranko did all of those things with impeccable  style. If all that doesn't add up to some serious street cred then I would like to see what you're bringing to the table.

Okay,  if you're on my site you're obviously a comic book cognoscenti and you're looking for something a little different than the usual play by play review.  So,  let's talk about the book. Steranko did such a great job on Strange Tales that Marvel gave Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D  a solo title. The book is a masterpiece. Starting with the front cover we are greeted with an intriguing design that showcases elements of pop-art, images foreboding danger and inspired, classical composition. Notice those triangular stacking pattern of the cubes on the cover? Sure, the cubes are colorful and flashy but they also create a composition technique used by classical painters. The layout scheme of that fundamental triangle guides the viewer's eye in linear fashion from the top of the image, down to the base, and then back to the top. Steranko double downs on this technique by superimposing  the main characters  in circular positions on top of the base triangle. The end effect causes the viewer's eye to travel in a continuous loop around the cover image. Finally, after your eyes have taken in the scene, Dum Dum Dugan points the way to the bottom right corner of the page.  Dugan is literally guiding the reader to the inside of the book. Brilliant! You can see similar application of this subtle guiding technique in paintings such as The Mona Lisa and countless pieces from the Renaissance.

Steranko continues the innovation and measured momentum in the books interior. Since Nick Fury's back story was covered so extensively in the pages of Strange Tales, Steranko makes no pretense about telling an origin tale. In fact, the book has a caption-less three page opener that revels the apparent death of Nick Fury.  Soon our hero is on the trail of a jet setting villain and most writers would use that setup to tell and standard tale.  Instead,  Steranko employs a clever story telling technique that I usually associate with the great storyteller, Will Eisner.  Much like Eisner did in his award winning Spirit comic strip, Steranko interweaves two tales into this story. One the one hand, he chronicles Nick Fury's investigation into identity of the mysterious killer known only as, Scorpio. It should be noted that we also  get to see some of the obscenely expensive and high energy consumption  gear that S.H.I.EL.D. is buying on the taxpayer's dime.  Concurrently, Steranko lays out the everyman  tale of Flip Mason,  a bad luck gambler who is on the run from the crime syndicate. The characters of the two opposing dramas never actually meet, however their respective actions have interweaving effects in desert outside of Las Vegas.  The inclusion of the gambler's sad tale is a way of humanizing the over-the-top world of Nick Fury.  Flip Mason is a comedian...a family man with a gambling addiction and through a case of misidentification he appears to gain fortune's favor.  There's a touching moment when Mason phones his wife in San Francisco that serves as a capstone for the book.  Steranko manages to pack a considerable amount of action, drama and super spy goodness into this first issue.  It is a solid representation of Marvel's Silver Age and one of my favorite comics.-Stewart