Christa Faust’s Choke Hold: The Sequel to Money Shot

Today’s going to be kind of an odds-and-ends day, I can tell.

I haven’t read Christa Faust’s Money Shot yet, but I love the concept of a porn star’s trying to solve the mystery around her own attempted murder. Now Hard Case Crime is announcing the sequel to that story (coming next February). In Choke Hold, Angel Dare is helping the Mixed Martial Arts-fighting son of a recently-murdered former co-star.


Graphic Novel and Comic Book Writing and Illustrating Conference

Here’s a cool opportunity for any comics writers and illustrators – or those who’d like to be – living in the Twin Cities area. It’s the Graphic Novel and Comic Book Writing and Illustrating Conference on Saturday, June 19, from 10a.m. – 7 p.m. It’ll be held at Open Book/Loft Literary Center (1011 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis), but is sponsored by both the Loft Literary Center and the Hennepin County Library.

Admission is FREE, but you do need to register to attend. Just go to the Hennepin County Library website and search for “graphic novel” where it says, “Search for events by word or phrase.” Or you can just call 952-847-8529.

Gene Luen Yang (American Born Chinese, Prime Baby) will be the keynote speaker, but there are also breakout sessions that include:

  • “Writing for Comic Books and Graphic Novels
  • “Introduction to Caricature”
  • “Self-Publishing a Graphic Novel (in 8 Hard Steps)”
  • “Poem as Comic Strip”
  • “Web Comics for Beginners”
  • “Cartooning for Beginners.”

I’ve registered and am signed up for the sessions on writing (taught by Zander Cannon) and web comics (by Barb Schultz). There’s also a closing session on next steps for both writers and illustrators. Sounds like a really fun day.

Grading Aquaman: Justice League of America #11-15

When people talk about how lame Aquaman is, they usually compare him to other superheroes and highlight his helplessness in the Justice League of America and the Super Friends. I thought it would be interesting to look at Aquaman’s membership in the JLA and document exactly how he contributed (or didn’t) to the cases they took in their early years. Is his perceived ineptness actually just perception? Or is it fact? (Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.)

Justice League of America #11: “One Hour to Doomsday”

The Case: The Justice League continues mopping up the Lord of Time’s armies from the previous issue. In the process, they find themselves 100 years into the future from their own time; right when Faust’s demons (also from last issue) have gained complete freedom and are taking over the world.

Aquaman, Attack!: The demons’ spells are able to make quick work of the League at first, but it’s Aquaman who comes up with the plan to defeat them. Since the demons’ power over the League is based on their knowing the heroes’ names, Aquaman figures out that the spells will have no effect if the demons use the wrong names in the invocations.

Green Lantern uses his ring to disguise the heroes as each other, so that Superman appears to be Aquaman, for example, and vice versa. The story’s gimmick then is that the heroes have to fight the demons, but use their own powers to mimic those of the person they’re disguised as. That way the demons won’t know what’s going on until they’re already defeated.

Superman pretends to be Aquaman by swimming to the bottom of the ocean and fashioning a fake sea monster out of the debris he finds there. Pretending to ride it, he manipulates it to make it look like it’s moving. This keeps his demon distracted enough to let Green Arrow and Batman (respectively disguised as Flash and Wonder Woman) capture him.

Meanwhile, Aquaman (disguised as Superman) and Martian Manhunter (pretending to be Green Lantern) fight another demon who’s conveniently operating on a floating platform at sea. Aquaman pretends to use Superman’s strength to rip the craft apart, but he really has whales and octopi do it from below the surface. Manhunter actually makes the capture, but only because Aquaman gets the demon off the platform.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: B+

After the break: more aliens, the debut of Dr. Light, and the return of an old enemy.

Mystery in Space #75: “The Planet that Came to a Standstill”

The Case: Kanjar Ro, the alien despot the Justice League defeated in Justice League of America #3, escapes from his prison and devises a way to beat the League. Reverse-engineering the way Superman developed his powers, Ro figures that if he bathes himself in a certain type of radiation on the planet Rann, he’ll become more powerful than the Man of Steel and more than a match for the rest of the JLA.

Rann, of course, is the adopted planet of Adam Strange, who learns of Ro’s plan. Though Strange is unable to prevent Ro from gaining superpowers, he comes up with a counter-scheme to capture him. Part of Strange’s plan involves traveling to Earth where he meets the JLA for the first time and they learn what’s going on.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman does absolutely nothing in this adventure but become de-evolutionized by one of Kanjar Ro’s new powers. Then again, the rest of the JLA is equally ineffective. This is Adam Strange’s comic and he gets to save the day. The JLA’s just there to show how powerful Ro has become. Still, some of the other heroes at least get to throw a punch and Aquaman doesn’t even have that.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: F

Justice League of America #12: “The Last Case of the Justice League”

The Case: Doctor Light makes his criminal debut by using various lights and rays to take out the Justice League before he takes over the world.

Aquaman, Attack!: Since Aquaman has no secret identity, Doctor Light determines that he’ll be the easiest to find and starts with him. (How he knows that the other heroes have secret identities isn’t revealed.) In an off-panel struggle, Light overcomes Aquaman and activates his JLA emergency signal to draw in the other heroes. He then sends each of them to another world where their powers won’t work. Aquaman of course is exiled to a desert planet.

Superman and Batman thwart Light’s attempt to exile them and are able to rescue the rest of the team. They then deduce randomly guess the villain’s light-themed targets and split into teams to stop him. Aquaman teams up with Green Arrow and Green Lantern to prevent the theft of the Colossus of Rhodes, which was more or less an ancient lighthouse. (Apparently, the statue that was destroyed by earthquake in 224 BC was a fake. Aquaman knows that the real one was hidden at the bottom of the sea to prevent theft by invaders.)

The team arrives just as Light is raising the Colossus, but he’s able to hold them off with yellow lightning for Green Lantern, “hard” light that encircles the Arrowplane, and a heat ray for Aquaman. Aquaman’s able to defeat Light though by distracting him with a dophin that Aquaman’s taught to imitate his voice. (You see, according to Aquaman, “scientists are teaching dolphins to talk” all the time, so this is entirely believable.)

Unfortunately, it’s not the real Doctor Light whom Aquaman’s captured, but a hologram. The other teams figure this out too when they bring in Doctor Lights of their own. Green Lantern realized this though during the fight over the Colossus and trailed the hologram’s projection back to its source where he found and defeated the real Light.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: C+

Justice League of America #13: “The Riddle of the Robot Justice League!”

The Case: Aliens from another dimension will destroy our universe if the Justice League can’t defeat them in an arena battle on the aliens’ homeworld. This isn’t the first time the aliens have pulled this trick and no other universe has ever produced a champion that can defeat them. The aliens’ tactic is to create robots that not only duplicate the powers and abilities of their challengers, but are also slightly better.

Aquaman, Attack!: When the Justice League arrives at the alien arena, Aquaman is told that he can’t participate in the fight because “there’s no water on Skarn.” Instead, Green Lantern uses his ring to create a pool that hovers over the arena floor. That will let Aquaman survive and give him – as Green Lantern says – “the best ‘seat’ in the house.” As if that’s some sort of consolation for being left out of the fight. It’s like running out of cake at a birthday party and telling some poor kid, “You can’t have any, but here, have this sucker. You’re the only one who gets to have a sucker instead of cake. Isn’t that special?” Adding to the insult, Martian Manhunter and Superman tell Aquaman that he can be their “coach” and “one-man rooting section.” Yay. Aquaman gets to be cheerleader for the entire issue.

Writer Gardner Fox tries to make Aquaman’s humiliating role sound exciting by having the heroes take his advice and put it to successful use against their robot doubles, but even then a lot of Aquaman’s guidance is unintentional. Like when he shouts to Batman that “You can’t let a metal man beat a human” and Batman suddenly figures out how to use the robot’s metal body against it (in a highly unrealistic manner, by the way). Or when Green Arrow’s down to his last arrow and Aquaman tells him that he could win if only he got a break. Green Arrow then breaks his arrow in two and uses both pieces to confuse and defeat his opponent. Even the times when Aquaman’s suggestions are directly helpful, it’s unclear whether he intended them to be or if he was just shouting platitudes.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: F

Justice League of America #14: “The Menace of the ‘Atom’ Bomb!”

The Case: When the JLA counts its votes for their newest member, they’re all surprised that they’ve voted for a man they know nothing about, the Atom. Fortunately, Green Lantern’s ring recalls enough details about the Atom for the team to offer him membership. Martian Manhunter is elected to go inform the “tiny titan” and let him know about the memory weirdness. Meanwhile, the other members begin experiencing severe memory loss again, but this time about themselves. While they’re disoriented, their various enemies capture them and take them to a central location. Ultimately, even Atom and Martian Manhunter are affected.

Aquaman, Attack!: This is really the Atom’s adventure. In spite of having no memory of who he is, he’s able to follow Martian Manhunter and captor to the location where the JLA is being held. He frees them and then it’s fairly easy work for the JLA to figure out who’s behind it all (Professor Fortune from JLA #6; now calling himself Mister Memory) and defeat him. Aquaman does nothing but stand around and get rescued.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: F

Justice League of America #15: “The Challenge of the Untouchable Aliens”

The Case: When the entire world decides to test its most powerful weapons on the same day, an invisible force turns them against major cities. The JLA learns that it’s the work of aliens, but unfortunately the heroes are useless in battle against them. The aliens can touch the heroes, but the heroes can’t touch them.

Aquaman, Attack!: Aquaman joins Martian Manhunter and Green Arrow to defend Tokyo against a nuclear missile. Manhunter stalls the weapon, but is captured by the alien who’s using it. Green Arrow uses trick arrows to cause the missile to fall harmlessly into the Sumida River where Aquaman discovers a second alien with a rocket launcher who’s getting ready to fire another missile.

Aquaman and some fish stop the second missile and Aquaman uses his own strength to hurl another missile at the rocket launcher with enough force to make both explode. That’s pretty impressive. Unfortunately, Aquaman’s just as useless against the alien itself as the other heroes are and the alien escapes.

Green Lantern is able to trick the aliens into taking his ring with them when they return to their home. The ring then pulls the JLA to the aliens’ world, which the heroes learn is their own Earth, but “separated by a single minute in time” (whatever that means). The aliens explain that they were also testing weapons at the same time as the humans and the simultaneous explosions caused a “time-shift” that was narrowing the gap between the two worlds. If it shortened to nothing, then both worlds – trying to occupy the same space at the same time – would be destroyed. Green Lantern is able to use his ring to return the time gap to its correct size and save both worlds.

I have a couple of thoughts about this story that I need to get out, only one of which is tangentially related to Aquaman. Aquaman doesn’t get a lot to do in this story, but neither do most of the other characters. It’s all about Green Lantern, who’s on something of a streak lately and gets to save the day a lot. Superman doesn’t get used in these early JLA stories much, presumably to prevent him from single-handedly winning all the time, but that’s what’s happening with Green Lantern. And Martian Manhunter to a lesser extent. As overly weak as Aquaman is often portrayed, Green Lantern is overly powerful and imbalances the team. If the stories continue in this fashion, the team will become Green Lantern and his Super Friends. I’m curious to see if that happens or if Gardner Fox corrects for it in some way.

The other thought about this story has nothing to do with Aquaman, but is just something that really bugs me. There’s much ado made at the end about how the aliens and the JLA were both working toward the same goal of trying to save both their worlds and the JLA beats themselves up quite a bit for not realizing it right away. They spend the last two panels preaching about “learning the whole story” and understanding each other “no matter what their race, color, or creed.” Which is a nice lesson, but totally ignores the fact that the aliens’ solution to the dilemma was to freaking destroy three major cities full of people. Not on their Earth, but on ours. I’m not sure how much “understanding” is called for there.

Aquaman’s Participation Grade: C

I’m not nearly done with this project, but I thought it would be interesting at this point to determine Aquaman’s Participation Grade Point Average so far. According to my math, he’s got a strong C average. Which frankly is higher than I expected, but not so great as to effectively combat the general perception that Aquaman’s lame.

My observation is that he usually contributes to missions in meaningful, but mostly supportive ways, sometimes being sidelined, but also occasionally saving the day for everyone. Looking at the math, I don’t see how it’s any fairer to call him lame than some of the other team members. Not that I’ve been grading them too, but it looks to me like Flash and Wonder Woman are about as useful as Aquaman while Batman is considerably less useful to the JLA.

For now though, the stories are still following the format of breaking into smaller teams to battle multiple threats. That gives Aquaman more of an opportunity to contribute as well as pick a team that’s going to operate near a lot of water. When that format eventually goes away, it should be really interesting to see how the writers handle it and how Aquaman’s GPA adjusts.

TV News: Hawaii Five-OMG

The new Hawaii Five-O theme and trailer

I don’t know whose job it was to tell me that Grace Park was also in this thing back when she was first cast, but man that person dropped the ball. This is now the best show in the history of the world. I don’t like that they’ve shortened the theme, but that’s almost made up for by using many of the same landmarks from the original theme sequence and even that same zoom-in shot of McGarrett on the balcony. And when I say “almost made up for,” keep in mind that I’d be perfectly happy with the entire show being nothing but a video for an hour-long version of that theme. [Brother Cal]

Oh, and here’s look at the show with quotes from some of the stars and some shots from the pilot. It does nothing to contradict my “best show in the history of the world” prediction. It’ll be on Monday’s at 10:00 (Eastern Time).

(Unless something’s changed in Blogger’s technology in the last day or so, I’m guessing that some of you can’t see one or both of those videos above. Try reading the post without the page break and you should be okay.)

After the break: Katee Sackhoff, Nikita, Chuck sings, The Colorado Kid, Looney Tunes, and Keri Russell.

Not Katee’s Finest

Boston’s Finest, the cop drama that Katee Sackhoff turned down a season of True Blood for, won’t become a TV series. I’d love to see Sackhoff on a regular TV show again, but she’s not making the best choices. Bionic Woman, 24, and now this. Maybe USA will still let her do a show for them? That I’d love to see. [The Ausiello Files]


The CW’s version of La Femme Nikita will be on Thursdays at 9:00 (ET). I haven’t done the research to see what all else is airing at that time, but if I have a TiVo slot open, this will go in it. You can see a trailer here.

Some of the dialogue’s goofy and plot sounds stale (“You were free. You were gone. You had gotten out. What the hell are you doing back here?” “Someone has to stop Percy.”), but still… lots of spying and butt-kicking.

Chuck sings

With American Idol‘s Katherine McPhee. And sounds pretty good doing it.


Hard Case Crime sent out an email to let us know that The Colorado Kid, the Stephen King novella they published, is becoming a SyFy show debuting July 9. According to the show’s website:

The series follows the shrewd and confident FBI agent Audrey Parker (Emily Rose from Jericho) who has a lost past, and arrives in the small town of Haven, Maine on a routine case. Before long, her natural curiosity lands her in the epicenter of activity in this curious enclave, which turns out to be a longtime refuge for people that are affected by a range of supernatural afflictions.

As the townspeople’s dormant abilities begin to express themselves, Audrey helps keep these forces at bay while discovering the many secrets of Haven — including one surrounding her own surprising connections to this extraordinary place.

New Looney Tunes

This might be crossing into Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me territory, but Warner Brothers has repented of their sins and is trying again to re-launch their Looney Tunes franchise. They’ve apparently realized that you can’t just stop making new content and still expect people to buy the toys.

A lot of attention has been given to how lame the “extreme” Loonatics Unleashed concept was, but as a kid who grew up watching Looney Tunes reruns with my brothers every Saturday morning (and passing up other, brand-new cartoons to do it), I need to add the Michael Jordan and Brendan Fraser feature films onto the stink pile. I know a lot of people liked Space Jam and Back in Action, but I don’t think you need big-name stars to showcase what makes the Looney Tunes characters special. If any thing, live-action stars are a distraction.

You know what worked really, really well as an update of these characters? Tiny Toon Adventures. I used to race back to my dorm room in college every day after my last class to watch that show with my friends. It didn’t need gimmicks; it understood that it just needed to be funny. Hopefully this new effort – a combination of 3D theatrical shorts and a 2D series on Cartoon Network – will get that as well. I have high hopes for the theatrical shorts, but the cartoon is a bit riskier with it’s concept of suburban-dwelling Looney Tunes all living around the same cul de sac. That sounds limiting to me. Like a sitcom. Part of the charm of the original shorts (and Tiny Toons) was that absolutely anything could happen and you never knew what to expect. Without that element to it, I don’t have a good feeling about the new show. [The New York Times]

Running Wilde trailer

This is definitely in the Stuff Nobody Cares About But Me category, but here’s a trailer for Keri Russell’s new show. I sure do wish it was funnier, but it gets kind of touching at the end and I’ll settle for that in a Keri Russell show.

Movie News: Drew Barrymore and Flying Monkeys

Dawn Treader poster

Saw this poster at the movie theater last week. It’s been so long since we’ve had any updates that I’d almost forgotten about the movie. Which is a shame because it’s my favorite Narnia book and so by all rights should be the best film in the series. These things take so long to crank out though that I’m skeptical about the chances of the series’ continuing far past this one. Hopefully it’ll do really well as the holiday release that Prince Caspian should have been and the next ones will get fast-tracked. [/Film]

Another 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Because it’s not tough enough keeping track of two Three Musketeers films, now there are two 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea movies in development as well. Disney’s (captained by David Fincher) and now one by Ridley and Tony Scott; written by one of the guys who wrote the Clash of the Titans remake. The Scotts’ version will be set in the future to connect it more closely with Jules Vernes’ scifi intentions than with his actual nineteenth-century setting. I can’t say that I’m excited about that. [The Hollywood Reporter]

After the break: a sea monster, Alpha Flight, Empires of the Deep, the Robin Hood post mortem, Three Musketeers, Hitman 2, Salt, and after Oz.

Bleak Sea trailer

Though none is seen in the trailer, the filmmakers promise that Bleak Sea is about a giant, undersea monster. They’re being cryptic enough about it though that I suspect there’s a lot more to it than just that. The trailer and the movie’s tagline – Nietzsche’s famous “abyss” quote – imply that the horror may be as much psychological as it is huge and tentacled. [Undead Backbrain]

Alpha Flight movie?

The director of Splice would love to make an Alpha Flight movie. I say we let him. [MTV’s Splash Page] [Marina photo-manipulation by Viridis Lament]

Empires of the Deep update

Robert Hood is all over the continuing development of Empires of the Deep. In his latest post, he talks about the troubled history of getting a director to stick, confirms that Olga Kurylenko is playing the Mermaid Queen, has footage from a Chinese press conference that includes images from the film, and shares tons of development photos that reveal the look of the thing. Some of the make-up is a bit worrying, but I’m keeping in mind that a lot of that can be fixed with CGI and I’m hoping that it will.

Robin Hood post mortem

I’ve enjoyed these post mortem exercises that /Film occasionally does. The one for the Clash of the Titans remake was enlightening and now they turn their attention to Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and how it might have been different had it stayed on its original path.

I like Robin Hood much much more than /Film did. Knowing that it was a prequel movie before I went in lowered my expectations immensely and let me enjoy the movie for what it was. I liked the cast (even William Hurt!), I liked the story, I liked the action, I liked the romance and chemistry between Robin and Marian, and I’m ready for a sequel. The CSI: Nottingham and Fight Club takes sound much more shaky to me than what I saw on screen, but it’s very interesting to read about how the film evolved.

Meet Queen Anne

Paul WS Anderson’s Three Musketeers now has its Queen of France. That was the main character I was curious about after the initial round of casting announcements. Now I’m curious to know if her handmaiden (and D’Artagnan’s girlfriend) Constance will be in the movie and who might play her. [/Film]

Hitman 2

It’s on, but no word yet on whether Timothy Olyphant will reprise his role. My further interest in the sequel hinges entirely on that occurrence (or their getting someone equally as cool). It would also be great to have Olga Kurylenko back as well. [/Film]

Salt poster

This one’s way better than the first one, which was just a generic shot of Angelina Jolie’s face. This one lets you know you’re in for some beautiful, beautiful butt-kicking. [/Film]

Surrender Dorothy

Several years ago Drew Barrymore was attached to play Dorothy in a sequel to The Wizard of Oz in which the Wicked Witch of the West didn’t truly die and came to our world to take revenge on the ruby-slippered heroine. That never took off, but Barrymore’s still interested in the project. As a director.

And as a huge fan of Whip It, her directorial debut, I’m excited for whatever she works on next. Flying monkeys are just a bonus. [/Film]

Stagecoach (1939)

I came at John Ford’s Stagecoach from kind of a weird angle. I was never a huge John Wayne fan growing up. He was my grandfather’s cowboy. Clint Eastwood was my guy. But in 1986 there was a TV remake of Stagecoach starring Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, and – most importantly – Johnny Cash. I was a fan of most of those guys, so of course I wanted to see it. But I was also aware that it was a remake and my special brand of nerd-related OCD prevented me from watching them out of order. It’s taken twenty-four years, but I’ve finally seen them both, plus the one from 1966 that I just learned about as I started writing this. I’ll focus on the original one today and write about the other two soon.

I can see why Stagecoach is a classic. It’s a great, tight story with powerful themes about outersiderhood and acceptance. It’s a tight story because it’s so simple: a stagecoach full of passengers has to make it through Indian country with Geronimo on the warpath in order to reach its destination.

What complicates it is that each of the passengers has his or her own reasons for being aboard, which brings out a lot of opportunity for building relationships and shifting allegiances. Buck (played by Andy Devine, who was also the voice of Friar Tuck in Disney’s animated Robin Hood) is the coach’s driver, a cowardly man who would just as soon not make the trip except that he’s forced into it by US Marshal Curly Wilcox. Curly’s found out that a wanted criminal named Luke Plummer is holed up in Lordsburg, the coach’s ultimate destination. Meanwhile, Dallas (Claire Trevor) is a prostitute who’s being run out of the town of Tonto by a league of women who’ve set themselves up as the community’s moral police.

After the break: the stagecoach becomes a clown car, trouble with WWII-era Indians, and John Wayne.

Also being run out is Doc Boone, whose perpetual drunkenness makes him worthless as a medical professional. He’s made friends with Mr. Peacock, a liquor salesman on a circuit with a full case of samples. Lucy Mallory has been on the stagecoach for a while. She’s traveling from the East to join her husband, a cavalryman stationed at Dry Fork, one of the stops along the way to Lordsburg. The final passenger – or so we think at first – is Hatfield (John Carradine), a gambler who seems to know Mrs. Mallory and boards the stage when he finds out she’s on it.

A couple of other passengers board later. Henry Gatewood is Tonto’s pompous banker who’s trying to get out of town with a bag full of payroll money he’s just embezzled. He catches the stage just before it leaves Tonto. A good ways outside of town, the coach meets its last passenger, the Ringo Kid (John Wayne). Ringo’s on his way to Lordsburg to find Luke Plummer too. Plummer and his brothers killed Ringo’s family and Ringo wants revenge. Curly takes Ringo into custody, partly because Ringo’s just escaped from jail himself, but mostly because Curly likes the Kid and wants to prevent a gunfight between him and the Plummers.

When the coach reaches Dry Fork, they learn that the cavalry has been called away suddenly to Apache Wells. Pressing on to Apache Wells, they learn that the military is no longer there either. And when the cantina-owner’s Apache wife goes missing in the night with some of the horses, the passengers realize that they won’t be able to avoid Geronimo forever.

Of course, this is the ‘30s and the depiction of Geronimo and his warriors is very one-sided. In fact, I caught the movie as the opening film in TCM’s Race in Hollywood: Native American Images on Film marathon. Before the movie, Robert Osborne and Professor Hanay Geiogamah (Director of the American Indian Studies Center at UCLA) talked about the time period in general and John Ford’s evolving portrayal of Native Americans in particular. Geiogamah made a very interesting point about how besieged Americans felt by the rest of the world as WWII was ramping up and pressure was on for the US to get involved. Geiogamah contends that Hollywood used Indians to project American fears onto a safe target. It’s a fascinating thought and one thing I wanted to do as I watched the remakes was to see how – or if – this one-dimensional portrayal changes.

In Ford’s version, Geronimo and his men don’t talk or have personalities. They’re simply a force of nature. The stagecoach might as well be racing a deadly sandstorm and there would’ve been the same amount of dramatic tension. Except of course that we would’ve been robbed of a hell of a chase sequence and shootout.

Something else that doesn’t quite work for me is Hatfield’s motivation for wanting to stick so close to Mrs. Mallory. Maybe I missed something, but that was never adequately explained to my liking. We learn that he’s connected to her family’s activities during the Civil War, but the specifics are elusive. There’s something about a silver cup that he’s carrying that’s supposed to be a clue, but I didn’t connect it. I think a large part of my problem was the casting of Carradine as Hatfield. I’m so used to his being sinister in other films that I never once gave him the benefit of thinking that he actually wanted to help Mrs. Mallory. I suspected him of having ulterior motives the entire time and when they were never revealed, I got confused. I suppose that it’s possible he owed her family a debt and was just selflessly paying it off.

A final flaw in the movie is the revelation that Mrs. Mallory is pregnant. Again, maybe I just wasn’t paying attention, but she certainly didn’t look pregnant to me. When she faints partway through the film and everyone seems very concerned about her well-being, I figured it was just one of those nineteenth century things where stress and a fall were a lot more dangerous back then than they are today. Imagine my surprise when Doc Boone has to sober up to watch over her and later produces an infant. I seriously had no idea she was pregnant until I heard the baby crying. Was it considered bad taste in the ‘30s to portray a pregnant woman on screen? Was she showing and I just missed it?

The lack of a tummy bulge aside, I really like what the birth of the child does for the group. Doc Boon goes through a kind of redemption as he tries to save Mrs. Mallory and her child. The event also highlights Mrs. Mallory’s relationship with Dallas. Mallory is more or less on the side of the women who tossed Dallas out of town, so while Dallas constantly tries to reach out to the only other woman on the journey, Mrs. Mallory wants nothing to do with her. This comes to a head with Mrs. Mallory lying helpless on a bed and Dallas determined to assist Doc Boone in any way she can.

Dallas herself is a treasure. She sounds quite tough when we first meet her, but that’s soon revealed to be nothing more than anger and hurt feelings over being forced out. As soon as she settles into the stagecoach, she melts and seems to crave validation and acceptance by the others, especially from Mrs. Mallory. Not in a simpering, whiny way though. She’s very quiet and heart-breakingly noble about it. It’s sort of hard to imagine her lasting long as the sole prostitute in a frontier town, but I can see how she might have created protective feelings in her clients if they weren’t total roughnecks.

Speaking of which, I loved Dallas’ relationship with the Ringo Kid. With Mrs. Mallory and Hatfield’s shunning her, it falls to Ringo to stand up for her socially, which he unfailingly does. I’m a sucker for these kinds of romances with two outsiders finding acceptance in each other, so even though it’s a hasty courtship, it works for me. I’m not sure I’d want to visit them in five years’ time to see if they’re still together, but I liked them as a potential couple for this story.

And I liked the Ringo Kid in general. He’s driven by revenge, but not blinded by it. He wants to kill the Plummers because of love and duty, but he’s not one of these characters that has nothing else to live for. Even before he gets to know Dallas, you know that he wants to survive the gunfight and get back home to his ranch. With Dallas in the mix, the stakes are raised even further. Even without her though, Ringo’s a likable, easygoing guy and you want him to be okay. It’s easy to see why John Wayne became a huge star because of this film.

Four out of five hookers-with-a-heart-of-gold.

My Favorite Book: Casino Royale

I had to think about this one for a while. Unlike movies and musical albums, I don’t re-read a lot of books anymore. When I was a kid, I wore out the Star Wars novelization because there was no other way to relive the adventure without another trip to the movie theater (which I made 30-something times – and that’s not an exaggeration like my number of Lost Boys viewings from last week were – but that still wasn’t enough). In high school, I read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings many times, but owning Peter Jackson’s version on DVD has eliminated the need to do that (I’ll say it: I like the movies better than the books). These days, my book collection has swelled to the point where I’m not sure I’ll ever read everything on it, and I’m still adding to it every week. There’s not a lot of time for re-reading old favorites.

But there are a couple of books that I would enjoy re-reading when I’ve got the time. Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan of the Apes is one. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is another. And I’m sure I’ll make several more trips through Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. More than any of those though, I love Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale.

I don’t particularly like James Bond more than Tarzan or Holmes. In fact, pound for pound I tend to like the Tarzan series better than the Bond series. My affection for Casino Royale is for how well written it is. It’s well known that Fleming was working through some pre-marital jitters when he wrote it and you can see that working in the novel in a stunning way. Though Bond is often labeled a misogynist, that’s an over-simplification of his attitude about women and Casino Royale powerfully captures those conflicting emotions that I imagine Fleming was sharing as he approached his wedding day. I don’t want to overstate my fondness for this aspect of the book, because I don’t have those same conflicts, but it’s a fascinating character study and – added to his mixed thoughts about patriotism and even good-vs-evil – makes Bond a character that you have to know more about.

Fleming was a brilliant writer who could make details like cocktail recipes and the rules of baccarat exciting. He was one of the first writers I read who knew how to end every chapter on a cliffhanger and was the first writer I ever read to use non-linear storytelling to plop me into the action and then later flashback to earlier events and fill in important details.

Most importantly though, Casino Royale has the best last sentence in the history of literature. But don’t sneak a peek at it without reading the rest of the novel first. It won’t make any sense and you’ll spoil the whole book for yourself.