About Me

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Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a seasoned music and film journalist, having written for venues such as Blabbermouth.net, The Big Takeover.com, Fangoria.com, Noisecreep, About.com, Horror News.net, Metal Maniacs, AMP, Dee Snider's House of Hair Online, Pit, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained, Impose, DVD Review, Music Dish and others. His blog The Metal Minute won Metal Hammer's Best Personal Blog Award in 2009. Ray is the host of "Comic Books" at ReadWave and is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut. Ray has been a local beat reporter and photographer for newspapers and journals such as Metromix, an affiliate of the Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine and The Northern News. Ray is the winner of Quantum Muse's short fiction contest for 1999 and his original character superhero stories were collected in the paperback anthology "Playing Solitaire." In 2013, Ray published fiction stories at New Noise Magazine and Akashic Books and he appears in the horror anthology, "Axes of Evil." He recently contributed work to Neil Daniels' Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Sounds About Right (Or Is It Write?)

                                 Annihilator - All For You

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Classy Gesture, Orioles

Following their four game set with the New York Yankees this past weekend, the Baltimore Orioles and Hall of Famer Boog Powell gave retiring Yankee legend Derek Jeter a basket of steamed crabs as a farewell gift.

Ages ago the fiercest "rivalry" in baseball, this gesture of goodwill between Baltimore and New York goes to show the artifice of sports rivalries, played up to hype fans and sell more beer.  In the end, it comes down to respect.  Kudos to the Orioles in this regard.

Magic number for the O's clinching the AL East as of today is 1!  Feels like old times in this town.  Ain't the beer cold...

                            Listenin' to: Annihilator - Feast

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Alice Cooper # 1

Uncle Alice, the Prince of Darkness, the Lord of Nightmares, Steven, Spider.  Call him whatever you like, but Vincent Furnier has had more lives, figuratively speaking, than a cat with an ankh charm on its collar.  As Alice Cooper, the original shock rocker, he's come and gone and come again in regular intervals in the music scene.  He haunted the Muppets a long time ago, he rubbed elbows with Jason Voohees in the video clip for "He's Back (The Man Behind the Mask)" from Friday the 13th Part IV:  Jason Lives and with far less theatricality, Alice has lit up the links as a diehard golfer. 

As a multimedia sensation through five decades and running, Alice Cooper is no strange to the comic book realm.  You'll recall the 1979 Marvel comic for Alice and his Marvel-backed media crossover project with Sandman maestro Neil Gaiman:  The Last Temptation album and comic.  The latter is scheduled for re-release this year as a 20th anniversary hardcover compendium. There's also the "100% Unauthorized Material" comprising Rock 'n Roll Comics' take on Alice.  Alice even contributed a storyline to Bongo Comics for Bart Simpson's Treehouse of Horror series, where, ironically, Homer Simpson turns into a Jason Voorhees-inspired mass murderer.  How could an artist whose ghoulish stage persona where guillotines, hedonistic re-enactments of murder, lopped baby dolls and monster dispatching not be tailored for comic books?

Dynamite Entertainment (who will also be responsible for The Last Temptation hardcover redux) has initiated a brand new Alice Cooper comic book, this time as a regular series and in many ways, the rules of have changed.  Writer Joe Harris and artist Eman Casallos aren't concerned as much about comical beheadings and monster dogs with Alice Cooper.  In this series, Alice is split into two apposite personalities.

Cooper himself has historically used his alter ego Steven in his recordings such as Welcome to My Nightmare, Alice Cooper Goes to Hell, Hey Stoopid, The Last Temptation and his most recent sequel album, Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  Fans can speculate if Harris and Casallos are trying to subversively bring Steven to life in this series, but one half of Uncle Alice appears to be trapped in purgatory, resurrected by his pet boa, Kachina.  The other half is embodied (purportedly) in the real world as a snuffed star and slave to the system (this being of the more hellbound variety), victim of a changing entertainment climate that's grown hostile toward rock music.

In this first issue of Alice Cooper, Harris snipes at the music industry (and with good reason, given the less-than-favorable sales returns of conventional music formats) with the second half of Alice being exploited by a pint-sized, nihilistic manager, Lucius Black.  It's safe to assume Black is a tool of the devil.  Alice is engineered by Black as an underling, forced to sign a boy band singer, Jordan James to soul-selling contract.  Consider all of it parable and metaphor on Harris' part.  Once this side of Alice Cooper rebels at this mistreatment, we're left to wonder just where in the hell this series is going.

The subplot involves a persecuted youngster, Robbie, who is handed a freebie of one Alice Cooper's albums on vinyl at a yard sale.  Tormented by bullies who have no clue who Alice Cooper is or ever was, they shatter the album to spite the kid.  Unfortunately, Harris borrows liberally from the heavy metal horror flick Trick or Treat (starring Marc Price with cameos by Ozzy Osbourne and Gene Simmons) as the album supernaturally mends itself and plays backwards, summoning the top hatted, carny-huckstering Lord of Nightmares side of Alice Cooper into the picture.

Tres bizarre, suffice it to say.  Despite the Trick or Treat swipe, Joe Harris thus far offers readers something nobody expected.  Even more interesting, Dynamite permits a few hard expletives, boob cracks and the mention of a "b.j." (use your imagination there), which is a bit strong for their norm, never mind the occasional bare butts that have cropped up in Vampirella, Miss Fury, The Blood Queen, Warlord of Mars and even Red Sonja.  Sidebar, the skinny-dipping scene in the Red Sonja vs. Thulsa Doom miniseries is the hottest, most risqué sequence Dynamite's ever published.

That being said, it stands to reason how far Dynamite's going to go with Alice Cooper.  This ain't your papa's Alice Cooper comic, even if it's mainly papas who will to flock to this thing.

                          Listenin' to:  Sodom - Agent Orange

Friday, September 12, 2014

I Wouldn't Trust Her, Officer

Amanda Conner's crazy hot cover art of the New 52 Harley Quinn.  Don't trust her, 5-0, someone's got a key and this Harley swings more than mallets.  Like David Bowie sings in "Lady Grinning Soul,"  she'll be your living end.  Caveat, Mr. J.

                    Listenin' to:  System of a Down - Hypnotize

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Ray's Reviews at Blabbermouth

Now up at Blabbermouth, my reviews of the latest from Nonpoint, Dragonforce, Hammerfall and thrash legends Rigor Mortis' final album.

More to come.

                    Listenin' to:  System of a Down - Toxicity

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Before He Was a Walking Carpet

                            Listenin' to:  Mission of Burma - Vs.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 9/7/14

It Came From the Eighties highlights this week's Triple Play.  As I'm a (mostly) proud Gen X'er, I always find myself trolling through a lot music from the 1980's after I finish my review queue each month.  As my generation is now one of the most catered-to (outside of the Boomers, of course) by marketers, it's both fun and unsettling to see a lot of love being cast toward the Eighties.  Most of it's designed to get us to buy recycled crap we grew up with that have been rebranded for our children.  However, riding through the movies and the music of the Decade of Decadence, I can't help but drown in the nostalgia of it all.

Here are three clips that are not always highlighted by Eighties retrospectives, save for maybe After the Fire's poppin' cover of Falco's new wave jam, "Der Kommissar." Following that song is the obscure Boys Don't Cry with their nutty one-hit goof-around, "I Wanna Be a Cowboy."  This song is silly as all hell, but it has an undeniable groove and look, there's Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead as one of the bad guys in the video!  Win-win, in my book.

Finally is the Divinyls with their modest hit, "Pleasure and Pain."  I prefer this song to their breakout "Touch Myself" since it has an all-around dirtier hum than the latter cut.  Whereas Chrissy Amphlett was more blatant lyrically in "Touch Myself" amidst a near-innocuous soundtrack from the band, "Pleasure and Pain" writhes with a sex hump from all stations.  The late Amphlett's an aphrodisiac from head-to-toe in this video, and the song's her motoring vibrator.  This is the sound of the Eighties I'm probably most fond of outside of punk, alternative and heavy metal.

After the Fire - "Der Kommissar"

Boys Don't Cry - "I Wanna Be a Cowboy"

Divinyls - "Pleasure and Pain"

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Spawn # 1

There was a time I was forced to sell half of my comic book collection.  While I muse and groan silently about the losses I parted with, I am happy to see many notable survivors still lingering around, including the first 36 issues of Todd McFarlane's game-changing Spawn. 

Do you remember where you were when Spawn # 1 came out?  McFarlane was undeniably the hottest comics personality of the early nineties.  I remember somebody offering me a good chunk of change for McFarlane's run on Amazing Spiderman when I was in college, and that was during the man's ascension in comics.  I hadn't yet known I was sitting on gold until I started working in a comics retailer when I saw all those McFarlane Spidey issues going for what I considered at the time to be astronomical markups. 

I held onto those McFarland Amazing Spiderman issues for a very long time until they were surrendered, casualties of the heated dickering with my zealous buyer later in life, who took advantage of my desperation to get out of a hole.  He wanted my Spawn issues too, but I refused him on those.  Number one, they represent a part of my life I can never get back, the final semester at college when I was working two jobs including the comics shop and going to school full-time.  Spawn was one of my drug books that got me through that post-adolescent, crazy busy time in life--along with a string of ladies including my future wife, natch.  I lovingly think upon that era as the "sex 'n Spawn" period, since I was engaged with either of those when not working, running track or in class.

All nostalgic bits aside, Spawn # 1 was a major event in comics and I was there for it, behind the counter at the store as that issue flew off in almost quicker fashion than DC's phony "Death of Superman" arc.  Our store had a customers-first rule that employees only had access to the stock after the doors were closed on release day.  My guts were gnawing all throughout my shift as the regulars came in and gobbled up Spawn # 1 like it was launch party.  To some extent, that's exactly what it was, since McFarlane fans showed up en masse that day.  Fortunately, my bosses had ordered a generous amount of the debut issue and me and my co-workers were able to snag our copies, with about ten issues left to spare.  Suffice it to say, those were scarfed within the first hour of business the following day.

I don't need to rehash the plot of the Spawn series, since if you're reading this, you're a fellow comics nerd like myself.  However, what can be said at this point is how fascinated I am that Spawn marked the birth of a then-new imprint, Image, that could take on the Big Two.  Supreme, Savage Dragon, Shadowhawk, Youngblood, Pitt and The Maxx were all other pretty successful launches for Image back then, Youngblood in particular.  I'm fascinated how quickly that first issue of Youngblood jacked in value as a momentary hot commodity and now, seldom few even remember the thing.

Spawn, however, is still kicking out there.  In some twisted fashion, we readers identified with Al Simmons, a son of a bitch soldier under orders in his mortal form before he was plucked off and forced to stomach the indignity of his best friend doinking his wife.  We wanted justice for the man, as much as we wanted the mass public and J. Jonah Jameson in Spiderman's fictitious world to cut the dude a break for putting his life on the line every damned day of his broke-ass existence.

Simmons' thirst for vengeance created the Hellspawn and thus we have a comics icon who ruled the nineties.  If you'll recall, there was the pretty decent Spawn movie, the outstanding HBO Spawn animated series, McFarlane's line of Spawn toys (which spurred an empire built upon hulking, detailed action figures) and even the heavy metal band Iced Earth did a full concept album based upon Spawn, The Dark Saga

I admit, I haven't kept up with the series in recent years, but I salute what McFarlane and Image were able to achieve back then and God willing, my child will inherit the Spawn issues I have along with the rest of my collection.  I've seen Spawn # 1 going anywhere from $10.00 to $810.00 out there online depending on the grade.  For me, it's worth a hell of a lot more to share these books and these stories with my kid when he's of the appropriate age.

               Listenin' to:  Stiff Little Fingers - Nobody's Heroes

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

A Master Builder of a Different Breed

                       Listenin' to:  Andrew W.K. - I Get Wet

Monday, September 1, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Silver Surfer # 5

One of the definitions of "cool comic" lately has been the Silver Surfer reboot.  You can check out my little essay at ReadWave about how Marvel's getting away with murder, specific to the strategic polka dots on Dawn Greenwood's dress in this series.  That's one element to this series' coolness.  The abstracting of Silver Surfer in comparison to his wondrous environs is another.  The frequent Silver and Bronze Age-replicated artwork is yet another.

The biggest appeal for me about the new Silver Surfer series is its sense of shtick and mod.  You can take a gander at the cover of Issue # 5 and predict it's a teaser only, but not too much of a cheat--unlike, say, The Spectacular Spiderman # 168 from 1990 and its fake promise of a scrap between the Webhead and She-Hulk.  Do The Hulk and Silver Surfer trade fisticuffs here?  It's definitely set up that way and I'll leave you find out the answer.

What's fun about this issue is that Norrin Radd, i.e. the Silver Surfer, is trapped on Earth due to his unlikely alliance (and perhaps future love interest) with human Dawn Greenwood.  After all, Greenwood is considered "The Most Important Person in the Universe."  Dawn once made a wish upon a shooting star as a child, which was established in the previous issue to be the Surfer himself way-back-when.  Now forming a chemical bond together, this story focuses on Infinity haunt, Nightmare, who is unwittingly about to plunder the Earth into perpetual dreamscape due a special lunar alignment.

There's no irony lost that Dawn Greenwood's name is Dawn (nor for that matter, her twin sister being named Eve) as she plays a pivotal role in preventing the Earth from becoming a somnambulist hellhole.  With she being the last waking being on the planet, it's up to Silver Surfer, along with the astral form of Dr. Strange and the Hulk to keep her from falling asleep.  A mite reminiscent of Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3, these dream warriors fend off Nightmare's monster squad while the Surfer and Hulk are forced to put their differences aside.  No matter the fact they're Defenders teammates, of course.

The resolution to this story is a bit silly but it feels like classic Marvel and that's why it's cool.  As we look forward to Norrin Radd having his innocuous, polka-breasted companion along for the ride upon his celestial surfboard, the Earth sky is hardly his limit now.  Dan Slott and Michael Allred have thus far woven a left-of-center, frequently amusing sojourn through the stars that's much lighter in fare than Silver Surfer's past.  This time, Radd is allowed to bleed a little more emotion into his often deadpan seriousness, and having an Earth girl to hang ten with should reveal even more depth, hopefully with continued comedic effects.

Listenin' to:  Goblin - Zombi (aka Dawn of the Dead 1978) soundtrack

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 8/31/14

Howdy, folks, hopefully most of you are enjoying a three-day weekend for Labor Day.  Aside from knocking out the final round of album reviews for Blabbermouth this month and doing daddy duties, my brain is turned off.  Thus, this week's Triple Play has no rhyme or reason, just three jams I've got noodling around in the gray matter. 

First are British punk icons the Subhumans with the scathing "Apathy" from their start-to-finish brilliant album, Worlds Apart.  The title should be indicative enough of what you're getting if this is your first step up to it.  Next is a complete mood changer with The Cure's shoegazing dream-a-rama, "Out of This World," one of the most soothing songs I've ever heard.  Finally, a monster hit from the Scorpions and my vote for the greatest love ballad of all-time, "Still Loving You."  If you never made out to this song, you've missed out.  Point, endpoint.

For those readers looking for yesterday's pre-empted Cool Comic o' the Week selection, drop back here tomorrow!


Subhumans - "Apathy"

The Cure - "Out of This World"

Scorpions - "Still Loving You"

Friday, August 29, 2014

Batman Rules Tokyo, Not Gotham

Yes, there's the Batman of Japan in the DC universe as part of Bruce Wayne's international army, comprised of Batman, Incorporated.  However, a real-life, would-be Batman was seen cruising the Tokyo highways as captured in this photo.

Apparently this cat has the same kinda bank roll as Wayne himself.

                         Listenin' to:  Zero 7 - When it Falls

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Scorsese to Film Ramones Movie for 2016

Photo of The Ramones with Punk Magazine editor John Holmstrom and famed music journalist Legs McNeil, 1976, by Tom Hearn, courtesy of Spin.com.

The Ramones will always be dear to my heart as the band that saved my life, and one of my finest moments as a music journalist was spent in the company of Marky Ramone.  Joey's passing is still the only celebrity death I took badly, but with the entire original lineup now snapping off four counts in the great rock club of the afterlife, I'm feeling bittersweet about the announcement of a forthcoming Ramones movie.

Thank God it's Martin Scorsese doing it, since he's one of the greatest directors of our time, and his closeness to New York and Jersey gives him tremendous cred to take this project on.  I've no fear he'll nail it, even though his Ramones film is reported to be a biopic drama instead of a documentary. 

Gabba Gabba Hey, suffice it to say!

                             Ramones - End of the Century

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 8/24/14

This week's Triple Play features three awesome cover tunes.  I'm not a big fan of covers per se, but in certain genres such as blues and country, the cover tune is part and parcel and serves to honor those who've come before while sustaining the genre for future generations.

I have one simple criteria for the enjoyment of covers, no matter what genre:  Make it your own.  For instance, Grace Jones does a banging dance version of Roxy Music's "Love is the Drug" and Anthrax nails a metalled-up version of Joe Jackson's "Got the Time."  Janis Joplin and Big Brother crushes Erma Franklin's (though the song was written by Jerry Ragovoy and Bert Berns) "Piece of My Heart" like nobody else, so much most people think it's their song.

The covers I've chosen for this week are as left-of-center as you can get to the original versions and are thus my top three favorites.  First is a lightning fast take on The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby" by obscure thrashers, Realm.  This could've turned out a sick joke, but it's highly proficient at such velocity and it remains a cult favorite of metalheads worldwide.  Afterwards is Devo's hilarious, manic dismantling of The Rolling Stones' hump classic "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," perhaps the greatest cover in rock history.  Finally, the Stones themselves get the last say with their incredible honky tonk jiving version of Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away."  I was never the same as a young boy when I learned it was a cover. 

Let 'er rip, not rip off...

Realm - "Eleanor Rigby"

Devo - "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction"

The Rolling Stones - "Not Fade Away"


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman (2014) #1

DC Comics roots through their Silver Age archives to resurrect the classic Sensation Comics, the World War II-era forum that showcased the Amazonian dynamo, Wonder Woman in her salad days. Part of the big hype to the rebooted Sensation Comics is not just the fact Wonder Woman will be pitted against foes she's normally unaccustomed to, but it being a digital-first serial publication prior to mass print release.

Gail Simone, who just can't lose these days as writer of Batgirl, Red Sonja, Tomb Raider and now Sensation Comics, returns to her one-time post as Diana Prince's chronicler.  She's reunited with her Firestorm creative partner, Ethan Van Sciver on Sensation Comics, which has completed its first arc online and has now been issued in full as a standard issue in comics shops this week. 

You couldn't ask for a more intriguing opening yarn, "Gothamazon," as Simone and Van Sciver not only pit Wonder Woman against the main bulk of Batman's infamous rogue's gallery, they turn the pages back (or perhaps create an alterverse, since that's uber-vogue in comics these days) to bring Oracle back into the picture.  Barbara Gordon is featured in this story, not as the butt-kicking Batgirl, but back in her clandestine ops center, paralyzed post-Killing Joke.

As it's established in "Gothamazon" that Batman is injured, Oracle sets about recruiting someone else from the Justice League to clean house in Gotham once the gaggle of main baddies including Joker, Riddler, Two-Face, Penguin, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and Man-Bat begin turning Gotham on its collective duff.  Choosing Wonder Woman over Superman, Green Lantern and Flash, Oracle guides Diana Prince into a fray that sets up one of the cooler premises DC's dished up recently.

As an Amazonian princess, Simone has Wonder Woman carry herself with a bit of a swagger and when it seems apparent she can mop up Batman's adversaries with relative ease, the story takes a wild twist.  Summoning her Themyscirian sisters to the battle when things heat up, the failure to contain the massive threat finds Wonder Woman begrudgingly demanding help from two unlikely allies:  Catwoman and Harley Quinn.

I'll leave you to see how this all plays out, but what I loved best about Sensation Comics # 1 is its back-to-basics comics ethos.  The regular Wonder Woman series by Brian Azzarello is a complex, entwined arc detailing a bloody power struggle of the gods, to which Diana finds herself an unwitting mediator.  I've championed Charles Soule's superb Superman/Wonder Woman series, though I'll be more than happy when it bows out of the annoying "Doomed" storyline.  With all the serious, brainy writing required for most mainstream comics these days (Avengers nowadays being one where a physics degree is prerequisite for reading, much less writing), the new Sensation Comics is thus far a different, welcome beast.  Like the Captain America:  Homecoming one-shot from a few months back, this is old-school comics fun.

"Gothamazon" is a well-played bash 'em up tale where even The Joker is dealt a trump card courtesy of Two-Face that figures into the story's ending.  Simone has all of Batman's villains (as they used to be before the New 52) nuances down pat, while Ethan Van Sciver draws the characters via how they appeared in the eighties and nineties.  Even Harley Quinn is back in her playing card-themed jester tights instead of her contemporary Riot Grrrrl revamp, and that's just too hard to resist.  Wonder Woman herself is depicted by Van Sciver with a merge of two eras, where the bottom section of her outfit drapes just enough over her hips at certain angles like the shorts-shorts height-era Wonder Woman.

The supplemental story in Sensation Comics # 1, "Defender of Truth," by Amanda Deibert and Cat Staggs brings Wonder Woman back into the New 52 era, including a quick reference to her romance with Superman.  Diana is pitted against the feministic Circe, who's turned loose gargoyles and sorcerous spells for Wonder Woman to thwart.  The best part of "Defender of Truth" comes at the end with a poignant statement by Deibert focusing on a boy getting harassed by his young male friends for thinking Wonder Woman's cool, only to receive a kiss from the Big W.W. herself for his loyalty.

While it's tempting to get on my high horse in denunciation of a favor toward digital media potentially killing off prints (since I've been firsthand collateral damage following the demise of numerous magazines I wrote for), the comics shops aren't doing too bad in adverse times.  Part of it is the success of superhero films, part of it from variant covers and part of it from Free Comic Book Day.  Mostly it's because this medium caters to something special many of us aren't willing to surrender, no matter what age we get.  It's something base yet escapist in nature we inherently have a need for.
Sensation Comics feeds that need in a big way.

                   Listenin' to:  Ace Frehley - s/t Kiss solo album

Friday, August 22, 2014

More of Ray's Blabbermouth Reviews Are Live

A few more of my Blabbermouth reviews are live: Entombed A.D., Seether, Grave Digger, Vallenfyre, Goatwhore and a couple of late catch-ups, Helstar and Autopsy.

Even more to follow...

                         Listenin' to:  Joe Jackson - Look Sharp!

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Real Classy, Rook

Not even an official NFL season and not yet officially the Cleveland Browns' starting quarterback, Johnny Manziel commits a rookie's faux pas by flipping off the Washington Redskins' sideline in last night's preseason game.  Tempers flare, nasty words are traded by players on the field and taunting is always part of a game infested by showoffs and loudmouths (generally speaking, of course).  Still, you compose yourself if you call yourself a professional, rookie or not.  Even more so if you're vying to be a team's leader.

Caught on national t.v., expect this to be the hot topic amidst the sports press that already can't go ten minutes without bringing up Manziel's name.  Though the Atlanta Falcons have provided a good show so far, you have to figure HBO quietly wishes their Hard Knocks cameras had been swarming over Cleveland's camp this year.

                                   Listenin' to:  U2 - Boy