Ray Van Horn, Jr. is a veteran entertainment journalist whose writing and live photography has been featured in Blabbermouth.net, Dee Snider’s House of Hair Online, Fangoria.com, Horror News.net, About.com Heavy Metal, MetalManiacs, New Noise, Music Dish, AMP, Hails & Horns, Unrestrained,Noisecreep, Impose, Pit, The Big Takeover.com, Rough Edge.com, Pitriff and others. His blog The Metal Minute won a “Best Personal Blog” award in 2009 from Metal Hammer magazine and he wrote and produced his own hard rock e-zine, Retaliate.

He has contributed essays to UK author Neil Daniels’ Iron Maiden and ZZ Top biographies. Ray’s fiction has been published in various periodicals and anthologies, including his flash fiction piece “Off the Record” for Akashic Books’ “Mondays Are Murder” noir series. His recent short stories “Before the Ball” and “Widow” were featured in subsequent editions of Alex S. Johnson’s Axes of Evil anthologies. Ray wrote serialized original superhero fiction for Cyber Age Adventures and five of those stories appear in the anthology Playing Solitaire. He was the winner of Quantum Muse’s fiction contest in 1999.

Ray is a former NHL game analyst for The Hockey Nut and one-time host of the forum “Comic Books” at ReadWave. He has done beat reporting, photography and lifestyle articles for Metromix, an affiliate of The Baltimore Sun, Carroll Magazine, The Northern News and The Emmitsburg Dispatch.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Cool Comic o' the Week: Captain America # 303

In honor of Captain America:  The Winter Soldier, which just hit theaters yesterday, I was riffling through my back issues of Cap and settled on issue # 303 from March, 1985.  Ah, to be 15 again, when I got this book at a local comic shop that was then the size of a warehouse and at one time, a local institution, Geppi's Comics. 

But I digress.  In this story, Cap and the third "Bucky," (Jack Monroe) who has long been running around at this point in the series as Steve Rogers' former alter-identity, Nomad (you got all that, folks?) are trailing after a trio of multicultural mercs (Batroc the Leaper, Machete and Zaran) who have stolen Captain America's shield and have sold it to a megalomaniac at a ballistics and metallurgy manufacturer, Stane, International.  The eighties were a flourishing period for megalomaniacs, mind you.  As impervious as Captain America's shield is, it's no surprise Stane, International turned to guns-for-hire to swipe the prized shield in order to copy its impenetrable alloy.

Nomad, trying to prove his worth as not just another sidekick, splits up from Cap to cover more ground in search of the shield.  Consider this mostly subplot.  Steve Rogers' trail leads to a very drunk Batroc, who begins shooting his mouth off to his comrades that he can beat Captain America and that he is the superior of all the three heavies.  Zaran and Machete challenge Batroc to a bet and here we have the story's cool twist.  After mopping up Batroc a few rounds in front Machete and Zaran, who are laughing their fool heads off, Cap gets the idea to give Batroc one good shot on him in exchange for information leading to his shield. 

Making good on his promise once Batroc spills it, Cap takes a pretty hard flying kick from Batroc to square up their deal.  Right after Machete and Zaran believe to have lost their wager with Batroc, Cap is back on his feet and he knocks Batroc cold.  The bad guy triad quickly disseminates as Machete and Zaran collect their winnings off of the unconscious Batroc before hightailing it with the story break coming as Cap vows to get his shield back.

Today, comic books are, by and large, so bloody serious.  It's just the times we live in and the stories call for deeper sophistication, so the books adjust accordingly.  However, a simplistic and frankly, hilarious, self-contained tale (still as part of an unwinding master plot) such as "Double Dare" in Captain America # 303 hits the spot like morning jove.  Writer Michael Carlin obviously had a great time on his stint with Cap and I can only imagine what he might think of the pair of new Captain America films, considering the two pathetic attempts to film Cap in the eighties are as forgettable as the Dolph Lundgren Punisher film from 1989.

I began reading comic books in the mid-seventies and a decade later, this is the kind of caped culinary savoir faire I was weaned on.  The writing in comics today is so off-the-chart, but "Double Dare" puts me smack into my teenaged bedroom, with echoes of Iron Maiden in my ears as I first read this issue and subsequently, one of the many Conan the Barbarian pulp novels I devoured like Cheetos and birch beer.  Glory days, I tell ya...

Note:  Stand by for an announcement later in the upcoming week regarding my new appointment at ReadWave as host of a comic book-themed section...  

   Listenin' to:  Roger Waters - The Pros and Cons of Hitchhiking

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