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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.

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

Monday, August 18, 2014

A Few of Ray's Reviews Are Live at Blabbermouth

Currently live at Blabbermouth are my reviews of new releases from Ace Frehley, Fozzy, Belphegor, Society 1, Novembers Doom, SOS and the posthumous live DVD from Ronnie James Dio, Live in London:  Hammersmith Apollo 1993. 

Plenty more reviews to follow in the immediate future.

              Listenin' to:  Ace Frehley - Space Invader

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 8/17/14

This week's Triple Play's selections all come from the early nineties, a period of transition in my life also marked by a major transition in modern music.  I don't have any picks for grunge, the most obvious swing away from the commercial dominance held by party metal and hip hop.  Instead, I picked three vibes that got my attention in a big way back then, though an industrial band could've easily made this cut, since I was following that scene pretty closely then too.

However, I'm going with three artists, two who are no longer together, who really ramped up my enthusiasm as heavy metal music was taking a nosedive and I was turning to other styles of music throughout my collegiate years.  Quicksand were still pretty damned heavy and their methodic, slow-rolling Slip album is evidence how minimalist aggression can be a powerful, emotive thing.  It's one of my all-time favorite records and "Fazer" is as good a lead track as any ever put down.

I really miss the hell of Lush.  The UK alternative scene was monster and though I was a late comer to it in the late eighties, I fell in love with this act as they were able to take the shoegazing ether of Ride, My Bloody Valentine and to certain latitudes, The Cure, and frequently turn a melodic dime.  "For Love" is Lush's most accessible tune, even though they strove for a pop-fused blend of punk following their stellar Spooky album.  The ploy worked, but they were gone as fast as they ascended, sadly due to circumstances beyond them.

Sade, what else needs be said?  A divine diva if there ever was one.  Her classy style of soul and jazz hit immediate resonance with me as I started trolling through rap and R&B in this same period of personal music exploration.  I was raised on sixties and seventies soul from my mother, and Sade was the first artist to capture me like those classic singers of yesteryear did, even if her style is nothing like them.  "No Ordinary Love" is, for me, one of the top five sexiest songs ever laid down.  The smooth operator was hardly masculine; it was Sade herself, if you take my intent.

Quicksand - "Fazer"

Lush - "For Love"

Sade - "No Ordinary Love"

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Cool Comic 'o the Week: Creepshow

One of my absolute treasures aside an original fine grade copy of Tales From the Crypt # 44 is the Plume graphic novella for Creepshow. 

Obviously a cult film favorite, Stephen King's loving nod to EC horror comics was right on the mark in merging noir, camp and bloody mayhem with these five gruesome shorts.  They appear in the film by George A. Romero and of course, this comic adaptation that was drawn by the immortal Berni Wrightson.

You know the stories, or you damned well oughtta if you're a horror fan:  "Father's Day," "The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill," "Something to Tide You Over," "The Crate" and "They're Creeping Up On You."  I won't rehash each plot-for-plot, but this comic edition from 1982 is a mandatory grab if you can score it on the collectors' market.  Berni Wrightson alone sells this thing, but of course, Stephen King's creature features are the reason for the season and Creepshow the book transcends the film.

This comic version is gorier than the movie and Romero and King hardly slouched, especially with "Father's Day," "The Crate" and of course, the gonzo bug burst from E.G. Marshall that crowns the film as its most over-the-top gross-out.  Wrightson's graphic slaughter of Adrienne Barbeau's bitchy character (you know, "just tell it to call you 'Billie'") in "The Crate" will satiate any gore hound.  The film would've had to go unrated (or, actually an "X" in those days) in order to live up to Wrightson's visceral carnage in this book.  Then I've still yet to decide which gives me the shivers more, the comic or the film depiction of "Something to Tide You Over."   Each pricks my skin as the most plausible revenge-on-revenge scenario of the five stories in Creepshow.

The film sequel Creepshow 2 was decent and effective at times, if a bit hurried, though I can't chime in on the third movie since I've yet to catch up to it.  Kinda hard to make the effort when you crack open King and Wrightson's masterpiece of comic schlock and it's all you need.  Their take on The Crypt Keeper, The Creep, is a pretty nasty bugger himself and he's a convincing homage.  It would be cool of Mr. King to take another shot at a horror comic since both genres are red-hot right now.  A little penance for the atrocity that is CBS' criminal bastardization of Under the Dome.

Suffice it to say, you should dig this up, pun intended.

                       Listenin' to:  Deftones - Koi No Yokan

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

RIP Robin Williams

For my money, the best of the best of my times.  Unfair it had to end this way, but sometimes you just never know when someone with unrivaled talent and the propensity to stir the human soul on many levels is himself hurting deep inside.  For the funniest man I grew up with to be reportedly suffering from depression prior to his departure from life, that hurts as much as his passing itself.  Be at peace now, Robin, and thank you for the zillion laughs and the introspective performances you revealed to the world.

                 Listenin' to:  Lizzy Borden - Menace to Society

Monday, August 11, 2014

Just Because...

                         Listenin' to:  LL Cool J - Mr. Smith

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Triple Play - 8/10/14

This week, I have my son, Nolan, sitting at the desk with me as we troll for this week's Triple Play selections.  He and I voted on numerous video clips and came up with the following three.  First is my kid's new favorite song courtesy of The Specials, "A Message to You, Rudy."  It's the cutest thing watching him sing this track.  He's learned the words so quickly after only four listens, and I'm beyond impressed.

Though I can't play Nolan one-time electronic auteur LaTour's most famous song, "People Are Still Having Sex," we both started dancing around like goofballs to "Blue."  "Blue" is best known as the slamming dance track at the rave scene in Basic Instinct.  Finally, is Nolan's mandatory pick, The Great Wakkarotti from one the greatest cartoons of all-time, Animaniacs.  If you're a parent to a six-year-old or even a six-year-old yourself, it's a no-brainer why Nolan's all over "The Summer Concert."

Thanks, kiddo, great picks!

The Specials - "A Message to You, Rudy"

LaTour - "Blue"

The Great Wakkarotti - "The Summer Concert"

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Groo vs. Conan Miniseries

At long last, it's happened.  Comics and fantasy fans thought the threat had been thwarted, but not so. 

Long in development and finally come to fruition is the mash-up some and none have wanted:  Groo vs. Conan.  What stemmed from non-serious comic book geekspeak of the nineties is now a reality.  Robert E. Howard's enduring pulp hero Conan the Barbarian is pitted in a four-issue frolic against Sergio Aragones' caricaturized and brain-dead doppelganger, Groo the Wanderer. 

When Groo became an overnight sensation for Marvel's one-time sister imprint, Epic Comics, many readers were found joking (usually over a spliff) about how the wakizashi-brandishing buffoon might fare against his hulking inspiration.  Well, now that Mad magazine doodle icon and Groo creator Sergio Aragones has recovered from a sidelining back surgery, Dark Horse Comics takes up an old cause with Groo vs. Conan and aims to settle the nutty debate once and for all.

In the first of the four issue miniseries, both Groo and Conan are introduced, but exposition of the story actually belongs to Aragones and writer Mark Evanier.  Conan gets a quick trad carve 'em up rescue operation to set up the story, but oddly, Aragones and Evanier become a part of the tale.  Set in a purported real-time, Aragones and Evanier trip across a comic book shop that's slated for decimation by developers.  Compelled to see what's up by the gaggle of protestors trying to preserve the store, Groo vs. Conan takes a zany twist as Aragones becomes victim of a series of slapstick head injuries that compels him to think he's Conan himself at times, and a confused artist at others. 

Evanier sells Aragones out to the cops who are busting up the protest and the brain-mashed Aragones escapes from the hospital (hilariously with his butt on parade from the back of his bed gown) and disappears into the woods. There, Aragones' addled, conflicting personae vicariously assemble Groo's tale, using his art boards as reference. 

Using reality (that being subjective in this case) to spin the yarn, Groo finds himself bumbling into a town where a bakery is about to be razed by the local bourgeoisie seeking to build a castle worthy of their liege.  At first it appears Groo is on the townsfolk's side, but being the bumbling idiot he is, Groo finds himself inadvertently hired by the king's would-be developers.  Naturally, Groo sacks the king's army by mistake, but is sent back to strong arm the same townsfolk he'd (sort of) bonded with. 

Thus prompts the townies looking to save their bakery from the king and Groo by tracking down none other than Conan the Barbarian to perform a hit on you-know-who. Thus the wacky stage is set for an assumedly wackier brawl, and we'll have to wait to see how it pans out. 

It's not just a contrast of art styles at stake in Groo vs. Conan.  Following an amusing but off-kilter intro for the first issue, it should be a zany ride from here on out.  Kudos to Dark Horse for having the guts to put themselves on the line for this project where brawn is sure to be undermined by doofy luck at times and ineptitude is glaringly exposed by a warrior's cunning.  Also sure to happen are more than a few bruised dweeb egos with outrageous deliberation over who's going to win this damned thing.

Personally, my money's on Rufferto.

           Listenin' to:  The 2 Tone Collection:  A Checkered Past

Friday, August 8, 2014

Preaseason Fun - San Francisco 49ers vs. Baltimore Ravens

Preseason action, Ravens and 49ers!  Football is back!  Thanks for the mad ticket hookup to my boss and co-worker.  My buddy and I had a hellagood time.

Is that a photo bomb from the beer man?

All photos by Ray Van Horn, Jr.

        Listenin' to:  Thievery Corporation - The Mirror Conspiracy

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Answer Revealed in One Simple Sentence

Listenin' to:  Halloween III:  Season of the Witch Complete Original Motion Picture Score