Sunday, January 24, 2021

Book Review: Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, and Other Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television, Films and Video Games by Peter David

Book Review: Mr. SuluGrabbed My Ass, and Other Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television,Films and Video Games by Peter David

How are you guys and gals doing? Well, I hope.

With all the crazy going on in the world—the ongoing pandemic, political unrest, economic woes—it’s important to carve yourself out some healing “me time” anywhere you can get it, including from the world of popular culture.

For me, the publication of Peter David’s new amusingly titled book, Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, andOther Highlights from a Life in Comics, Novels, Television, Films and Video Games, was a great way to escape real-life drama for a while, have some laughs, and reconnect with an old colleague (of a sort). McFarland, a company that has published some of my books, sent me a review copy, and it was a welcome sight in my mail box.

Before I get to the book, let’s discuss the author.

A “writer of stuff,” Peter David isn’t exactly a household name—such is the lament of many a writer toiling in relative obscurity—but he is well-known among comic book fans for his critically acclaimed 12-year stint on The Incredible Hulk, plus his work on such titles as Aquaman, Supergirl, and Spider-Man 2099. Star Trek fans still ask him about Imzadi, his Star Trek: The Next Generation novel where Commander Riker and Counselor Troi get it on, and he’s had work appear on The New York Times Best-Seller List. If you’re the type who reads TV credits, you may have seen his name attached to such shows as Babylon 5 and various superhero cartoons, including Young Justice.

My first recollection of seeing Peter David’s writing was in 1990, when I worked at Lone Star Comics, a retail chain in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. During my lunch breaks, I would read the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide, a weekly, tabloid-sized newspaper that began as The Buyer's Guide to Comics Fandom in 1971. David’s always-entertaining, often-provocative “But I Digress” column ran in CBG from 1990 until it closed up shop in 2013. I wrote reviews for the Comic’s Buyer’s Guide for over a dozen years, and I was proud that my work appeared in the same publication as such an accomplished writer.

David’s titanic talent with the typewriter (or computer keyboard) is indeed on display in Mr. Sulu Grabbed My Ass, an autobiographical trade paperback weighing in at 219 pages, with a cover price of $29.95. Yeah, it’s a little pricey for the format, but it’s a fun, breezy read that covers the highlights of David’s writing career, his run-ins with various celebrities, and certain aspects of his personal life. David is a bit of a nerd (in a good way), so you’re not going to get the kind of salacious revelations you might read in a rock star bio (which is actually refreshing), but his encounters with Hollywood hotshots are fascinating. Was he really Will Smith’s bodyguard? Did he watch Star Wars with Mark Hammill? And exactly why did George Takei’s grab his ass? I won’t spoil the details behind those anecdotes here.

Oh, and Stephen King visited him in the hospital when he had a stroke (a particularly interesting part of the book), and he got to interview William Shatner when he was just a teenager—thanks to author Robert Ludlum!

There’s something in this book for just about every geeky persuasion. Comic book fans will love the “Make Mine Marvel” and “Comics Stuff” chapters, aspiring writers as well as comic book junkies will enjoy David recalling how he got back into comics and became a professional writer, and science fiction fans will absolutely gobble up David’s stories about writing Star Trek novels, scripting Babylon 5 episodes, and dealing with the late, great Harlan Ellison—there’s an entire chapter on the acerbic dark fantasy and science fiction author. It seems that everyone involved with science fiction has an Ellison story (including yours truly—I met him at a Diamond Comics retailer seminar and will likely relate that memorable encounter here at some point), and David is no exception.

By the time you finish David’s autobiography, you may know more than you ever wanted to about the author, such as the fact that his daughter Caroline never learned to crawl and that it was difficult getting another daughter, Shana, to take a nap when she was little. However, the book never gets bogged down too heavily by any one topic, and David injects enough humor into the proceedings that you’ll likely never get bored by any chapter. He speaks glowingly of his kids and his current wife while resisting the temptation to trash his ex. I can certainly respect that, though the trashing, which he implies in the book is something he could easily do, probably would have made for fascinating reading.

Overall, Mr. SuluGrabbed My Ass is a well-rounded autobiography that never overstays its welcome. You wouldn’t necessarily want to binge-read it in a single afternoon, but it is fun to read a chapter here and there in your spare time, such as during your subway work commute or while you’re waiting in line at the post office. Or, when you just want something agreeable to read while you’re unwinding after a long day at work.

Now, excuse me while I go research a short-lived TV show called Space Cases, which I had never heard of prior to reading this book. David created the show with Billy Mumy, who played Will Robinson on Lost in Space. Not unlike this book, it sounds well worth checking out!

Friday, January 22, 2021

Top Celebrity Deaths in 2020

 Celebrity Deaths in 2020

Many celebrities die each year, but with 2020 being so notable as a terrible time thanks to the novel Coronavirus, the celebrity deaths last year seem especially poignant. A number of the famous people who passed during that time impacted my life in a positive way, so I decided to highlight some of them here.

The celebrities in question are listed in order of importance to me personally, but that of course doesn’t mean their lives were more valuable than the others—just that they made a difference in my life.

1. Eddie Van Halen

I saw Van Halen blow the roof off of Reunion Arena in 1984 and headline the Texas Jam in 1986. I drew Van Halen's cool logo countless times on my school folders. Smiling when so many rock stars snarled, Eddie had the creativity and power of Hendrix. He could make his guitar sound like a rocket ship taking off or a volcano erupting. He was a virtuoso who continued honing his craft through the Van Hagar era, even though we metal head teenagers preferred “Ain't Talkin' About Love”—in fact, that's my first memory of Van Halen—listening to the brilliant, mind-bending opening riff of “Ain't Talkin' About Love” in my brother's car. He had a Pioneer stereo with four speakers and a 100-watt amp and would play Van Halen’s debut album so loud I thought my ears would split open. But I loved it.

2. John Prine

When my brother-in-law and I went into the comic book business together during the early 1990s, we spent a lot of time together, ordering new comics, pricing inventory, doing trade shows, running our two stores, etc. And there was usually music in the background. While my musical tastes tended toward the harder stuff like Black Sabbath, KISS, and Iron Maiden (though I enjoy a variety of other genres), he was more of a folk rocker, listening to Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Tom Petty. During this time, he introduced me to country folk singer John Prine, one of the greatest songwriters in the history of popular music. To this day, I listen to Prine on a frequent basis, everything from the heartbreaking “Hello in There” to the whimsical and hilarious “Dear Abby.”

3. Mary Higgins Clark

When I was a kid, my mom did me the tremendous favor of taking me to Half-Price Books and a couple of mom-and-pop bookstores fairly near our house. We also went, as a family, to thrift stores on occasion. It was at these second-hand shops where I discovered that you could buy comic books, Peanuts paperbacks, and copies of MAD magazine for as little as 10 to 25 cents each. After one of these excursions, Mom introduced me to the works of thriller author Mary Higgins Clark, an author I read before Clive Barker, Stephen King, Robert Bloch, Richard Matheson, or Rod Serling. So yeah, Clark, famous for such novels as Where Are the Children? (1975), A Stranger is Watching (1977), and The Cradle Will Fall (1980), was a big influence on my literary genre of choice.

4. David Prowse

In 1977, I was 10 years old. Wow, what a time to be a kid. Not only did the Atari 2600 come out that year (it was too expensive for us, but I played the heck out of Atari at various friends’ houses), Star Wars debuted on the silver screen. Inspired in part by the old Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials (check out the opening text crawl on 1939’s Buck Rogers), Star Wars changed cinema forever and made quite the impression on me, who saw it at the local mall theater with my brother. While David Prowse didn’t voice Darth Vader (that was James Earl Jones), he struck an imposing figure in the black costume—virtually every gesture he made and every step he took was menacing. Years before, he played Frankenstein’s monster in a couple of Hammer films. Darth Vader + Frankenstein = awesome.

5. Olivia de Havilland

Decades before most people considered it problematic, Gone with the Wind (1939) made its broadcast television debut on NBC on November 7, 1976. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell, the classic film aired in two parts to huge ratings, with the second part airing the following day. My dad had no interest, so my mom and I went to the back bedroom and watched, transfixed before the colorful characters, Old South charm, and grand visuals and sweeping musical score. We watched it together several times over the years after that. I thought Rhett Butler (played by Clark Gable) was the epitome of cool, and I had a major crush on Scarlett O'Hara (Vivien Leigh). But it was sweet Melanie Hamilton, played endearingly by Olivia de Havilland, who gave the movie its heart. She was also great in The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), another one of my favorite films of the era.

6. Fred “Curly” Neal

I grew up in a suburb of Fort Worth, but we rarely went into town. We drove to Dallas for the occasional Mavericks basketball game and were frequent visitors to Arlington to go to Six Flags and Rangers baseball games, but I guess my dad didn’t see much reason to go to Fort Worth, despite such tourist attractions as the historic Stockyards, the Water Gardens (prominent shooting location for Logan’s Run), several world classic museums, a world class zoo, Trinity Park, the botanic gardens, etc. But one cold winter night we ventured downtown to the Tarrant County Convention Center to see the Harlem Globetrotters, which featured the charismatic and comical “Curly” Neal at point guard. I had seen them on TV before, but there was nothing like witnessing their antics live: the half-court shots, the buckets of confetti, the crazy dunks and even crazier dribbling, the punking of their foes (The Washington Generals). In short, the Globetrotters were super entertaining, and it was great watching them in their heyday.

Honorable Mentions:

Dawn Wells: As the adorable next-door type girl on Gilligan’s Island, she was my first crush. I cringed when she got shot in the face in The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), my first experience seeing an R-rated movie at the theater.

Kenny Rogers: Such hits as “Lady,” “The Gambler,” “Lucille,” and “Coward of the County” were a big part of the soundtrack of my young life.

Charlie Pride: I loved listening to Charlie Pride in my dad's truck when I was a kid. "Burgers and Fries and Cherry Pies" takes me back to the '70s as much as any song by any singer or band.

Max von Sydow: He was great as Ming the Merciless in Flash Gordon (1980), one of my favorite films, and even better in Hannah and Her Sisters (1986), where he played a snooty artist.

Fred Willard: My brother and I grew up watching Fernwood Tonight, and Willard was great in a small role in This is Spinal Tap (1984), where he told the band: “We are such fans of your music and all of your records. I'm not speaking of yours personally, but the whole genre of the rock and roll.”

Jerry Stiller: The comedy legend entertained for decades and decades, but he’s perhaps best known for playing George Costanza’s father on Seinfeld, one of my favorite sitcoms. “Serenity now!”

Little Richard: He did nothing less than play a major role in inventing my favorite genre of music: rock ’n’ roll. “Good Golly, Miss Molly!”

Chadwick Boseman: I was stunned at the passing of Boseman, who was only 43. He had quite the career, playing such iconic figures as Jackie Robinson and James Brown. His portrayal of Black Panther actually made that relatively obscure Marvel Comics character iconic.

Joel Schumacher: Some blame Schumacher for ruining the Batman movie franchise with the campy Batman & Robin (1997), where the Dynamic Duo’s costumes had nipples. However, I’ll always remember the director for creating The Lost Boys (1987), the endlessly entertaining hair metal vampire film.

Alex Trebek: What a class act. Smart. Articulate. Semi-funny. My son loves Jeopardy, and we have a good time watching it together as a family. We’ll miss watching him host the show when his episodes run out later this year.