THE SUPERVILLAIN HANDBOOK by King Oblivion (and Matt D. Wilson)

There's something about the instructional tome that makes it a fine format for comedy. Or there aren't enough books written on how to battle a spandex-clad nemesis and conquer the world. Either way, The Supervillain Handbook: The Ultimate How-to Guide to Destruction and Mayhem is a funny look at the tropes of comic book supervillainy.

The Supervillain Handbook, written by Matt D. Wilson, is "told" by King Oblivion, Ph.D., founder and overlord of the International Society of Supervillains. Using the "Psychomonitor thought-reading device" to sense the questions people might have about a career in evil, King Oblivion provides a step-by-step guide to what the hopeful villain might need for this career, from initial motivation to planning and limitations. There are also training exercises, profiles in lame suoervillainy (highlighting actual ridiculous bad guys from comic books), and lists like "Ten Celebrities We'd Like to Recriut" and "Branding Baseness: Nine Corporations to Emulate." Each chapter has an evil sponsor, and the book ends with a timeline of the ISS and a conveniently evil supervillain glossary.

As a fan of comic books, I recognized the cliches (and most of the lame suoervillains) listed through the book. I also found it pretty amusing. King Oblivion is the uber-typical arch villain, complaining about his adversary (Mister Wonderful), offering "good (bad)" tips for aspiring baddies, and giving such "useful" advice on becoming evil without having powers, pros and cons of common hideouts, contempt for henchmen, and the importance of a name: "You're going to be stuck with whatever you come up with for pretty much the rest of your career. It's like a band name. Do you think Hootie and the Blowfish still want to be Hootie and the Blowfish? No. No they don't."

Fortunately, The Supervillain Handbook is too over the top to actually inspire actual mayhem, theft, or crimes. What it does is provide a hysterical trip through the world of the comic book villain. This is a great read for anyone who enjoys comic books -- or villains who are completely full of themselves.

Overall grade: A-
Reviewed by James Lynch


MAXIM Hot 100 2012

Democracy can be a strange thing. The current issue of Maxim magazine includes their annual Hot 100 list, which claims to be "the definitive list of the world's most beautiful women." This year, though, instead of choosing the people on the list, the Maxim staff let their readers vote to determine the list. The results are... different.

The format of the Hot 100 supplement is the same as in the past. The list counts down from 100 to 1, with several entries to a page and a few women getting a whole page of their own. (Numbers nine to two all get a full page, while the number one entry has two pages.) The entries also have a paragraph about the subject, whether career notes (Yvonne Strahovski: "This Aussie has been a superspy (Chuck), went up against Robert De Niro (Killer Elite), and will have direct contact with Frankenstein (I, Frankenstein)," trivia (Sarah Hyland, teenager Haley Dunphy on Modern Family, is actually 21), or plenty of bad jokes. The list is largely made of the usual suspects: actresses, singers, supermodels, athletes, and other celebrities.

This year, thanks to voting the net for "the world's most beautiful women" got cast quite wide. There are Victoria's Secret models here -- but there are as many past Disney stars (Selena Gomez, Miley Cyrus (below), Vanessa Hudgens) and one Nickelodeon star (Victoria Justice). It makes sense that Dominique Storelli (the winner of the Maxim "Hometown Hotties" contest) is here -- but why once-convicted murderer Amanda Knox? An animated character made the list (which I suppose could open the door for a slew of comic book and animated film characters), as did a dude (Stephen Colbert, who I so hope covers his "win" on The Colbert Report). There are enough grown daughters of celebrities I grew up with (Eddie Murphy, Phil Collins) to make me feel old. And while any list like this inevitably omits people who "should" have made it (this is the first year in ages Britney Spears didn't show up), how did they miss Beyonce, who was voted People magazine's Most Beautiful Woman in the World?

The Maxim Hot 100 is bundled with the current issue in a sealed, black plastic bag, presumably to keep people from finding out who got the number one spot (and possibly to give the impression it's somehow more titillating than the usual issue of Maxim). While this collection doesn't redefine society's current icons of female beauty, the voting element resulted in some interesting choices.

Reviewed by James Lynch



Playwright Tennessee Williams knew quite a few things about the South, and in his 1956 movie Baby Doll he explores several of them: prejudice, desperation, and barely-repressed sexuality. The movie stirred up quite a controversy when released, and it's easy today to see why -- but it's still very effective, mainly due to a stellar cast and great director.

Baby Doll (Carroll Baker) was married to cotton gin owner Archie Lee Meighan (Karl Malden) when she was 17 -- and with his promise to her father that he wouldn't sleep with her until she turned 20. At the start of the movie, Baby Doll is two days away from her 20th birthday, and it shows on both of them. He acts like a leering pervert, while she plays the nymphette. (The movie opens with her sleeping in a baby's crib and sucking her thumb, while he cuts a hole in the wall to spy on her.) Archie Lee promised to put her in the best house in the valley, but their home is a crumbling mansion surrounded by junk -- with almost all the furniture repossessed. She continually complains about what her late daddy would do if he could see her and talks about leaving Archie Lee to find work -- but she never finished school and can't do anything. Meanwhile, Archie Lee is laughed at by the townspeople in Mississippi, seeing a middle-aged man with such a young wife. And Baby Doll's senile Aunt Rose Comfort (Mildred Dunnock) wanders around aimlessly.


Stephen Colbert, I AM A POLE (AND SO CAN YOU!)

The TV show The Colbert Report began as a fake promo on The Daily Show, so I suppose it makes sense that when Stephen Colbert pitched the fake book I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) during an interview with Maurice Sendak, it would wind up being an actual book. Fortunately, much like The Colbert Report, I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) is a lot of tongue-in-cheek fun.

Designed as a children's book, I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) focuses on, well, a pole. This hero is out to find his purpose in life: "So I've spent a lot of time, In pursuit of one clear goal: Finding out where I fit in. What is my true pole role?" The pole bounces from job to job, often with disastrous results (and always in rhyme). There are also the wished roles: "I wished I was the North Pole, And marked the home of Santa... Or even just a Gallup poll, calling voters in Atlanta."

While I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) may not exactly be a children's book (have fun explaining to kids what a stripper is, parents!), it captures a lot of the shameless self-aware promotion of The Colbert Report, from pitching other (fake) pole books and movie rights to Colbert's appearance. There's also a good innocent sense of humor throughout the pole's journey, and the art by Paul Hildebrand complements the children's-book feel quite nicely. I Am a Pole (and So Can You!) is a nice, amusing, simple little book that's most definitely inspired by The Colbert Report.

Overall grade: B

Reviewed by James Lynch


XCON World V Convention

This past weekend was XCON World V, the South Carolina science fiction, fantasy, superhero, steampunk. video game, horror, and other genres fan convention. Fortunately, it was located just two miles away from where I work. Since I was working at different times during the convention, I didn't get to attend the whole convention. That turned out not to be a problem.



No book has enjoyed as much popularity or stirred such controversy in the past few years as Fifty Shades of Grey by E L James. Beginning as online Twilight fanfiction, Fifty Shades of Grey (first in a trilogy; it continues in Fifty Shades Darker and concludes with Fifty Shades Freed) is essentially a kinky take on the traditional romance novel.

Anastasia "Ana" Steele is a college student on the verge of graduation. When her roommate Kate Kavanagh is sick, Ana helps her out by interviewing entrepreneur Christian Grey. Christian is rich, handsome, powerful, self-assured, and leaves Ana completely flustered. Apparently she has a similar effect on him, as he begins courting her, from giving her lavish gifts (she mentions she's into literature; he sends her a first-edition Tess of the D'Urbervilles, worth about $14,000) to flying her to exotic restaurants to exchanging emails (on the state-of-the-art, not-yet-released laptop he gives her, of course).


Hollywood loves a good heist caper, and where better to have a high-stakes, high-reward caper than Las Vegas? Ocean's Eleven, the remake of the Rat Pack showcase film, delivers a tremendous amount of style and planning in the city devoted to risk and reward.

At the film's opening, Danny Ocean (George Clooney) is out on parole -- and ready for some big action. After meeting up with his buddy Rusty Ryan (Brad Pitt), Danny reveals his big plan: rob three casinos -- the Bellagio, the Mirage, and the MGM Grand -- in one night, walking away with $150 million in cash. The three all happen to be owned by Terry Benedict (Andy Garcia) in this twist on the classic gambling movie.

As you can imagine, such a big feat requires both a big plan and a big team. Bankrolled by Reuben Tishkoff (Elliot Gould), Danny and Rusty assemble an eleven-man team, with skills as varied as computer hacking, gymnastics, pickpocketing and grifting. (The ensemble for the supporting cast is an impressive collection of acting talent, including Matt Damon, Don Cheadle, Bernie Mac, and Carl Reiner.) They stake out their target (which holds the money for the three casinos), make their plans, and get ready for the big score.


United Stats of America

Much of what I do is based upon stats, and knowing them at my fingertips.  For example, 10% of appendicitis has a normal white count, and 50% of auto accidents have alcohol involved.  Or a running joke in medicine is that 85% of statistics are made up on the spot.  Anyway, I think you get the point.

A new show on the History Channel is the United Stats of America.  The idea is to come up with a question, and then get some opinions from folks on the street, and then to build an episode around what the real stats are on the item in question.


Apricorn Aegis Padlock 3.0

For portable storage needs, a USB flash drive on a keyring is a constant companion these days. However, there are two weaknesses to this ubiquitous device. The first is that the capacity is limited, and the second is that very few are secure in any way. In other words, when it is time to do some serious data moving, in a safe fashion, then the Aegis Padlock 3.0 becomes the right tool for the job.

This latest Padlock updates the line to the latest in portable hard drives. The Aegis Padlock now has a 1 terabyte (TB) capacity, which means it will be large enough to backup most system drives out there... with room to spare. The other is that the USB is now the faster 3.0 standard that we should start seeing in more systems soon.



A supernatural soap opera may sound like a creation of Tim Burton, but the new movie Dark Shadows is his take on the television soap opera of vampires, witches, and ghosts. And despite some camp, the movie may be too close to the original.



The dice game Zombie Dice is a simple, fun game where the players are zombies, rolling special dice to try to eat brains (and win), see a target flee (not good), or get blasted with a shotgun (bad). So what more could you want? How about two dice representing Hollywood heroes? And one that's Santa Claus? Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature adds three new dice -- and three new ways of playing with them -- to the pursuit of brrrrrrainsssssss...

As one might expect, the Hollywood dice are tougher, while Santa provides gift. The Hunk (black die with white images) has the following sides: 2 feet (to run away), 2 shotguns, 1 double shotgun (which equals two blasts), and 1 double brain (double points). The Hottie (black die with pink images) has these sides: 3 feet, 2 shotguns, and 1 brain. What's worse (for you, not for your intended meals), they can rescue each other: If you scored brains from the Hunk or the Hottie and the other die rolls shotguns, the die that had scored gets put back in the cup. So not only are these two harder to kill, but they're harder to keep.

As for Saint Nick, he's surprisingly generous to the zombies out to kill him. His die sides are: 1 brain, 1 shotgun, 1 feet, 1 double brain -- and two sides with gifts. If you roll the Energy Drink, you're fast -- and any green feet that are rolled for the rest of your turn are turned into brains. And if you roll the Helmet, you're tough and require four shotgun blasts to kill this turn.

These special dice replace certain regular Zombie Dice dice depending on the scenario: Big Summer Action Movie has the Hunk and Hottie; Santa Claus Meets the Zombies has Santa; and The Direct-to-Video Sequel has all three new dice (and they can all rescue each other). Much like the core game, Zombie Dice 2 is simple, oddly twisted, and fun to play. Adding only one-to-three dice means they won't come up every round but will almost certainly appear a few times during a game. They provide bigger rewards, but the Hollywood heroes also pose greater threats. And the new dice (and rules for them) fit nicely in the original Zombie Dice cup.

Zombie Dice 2: Double Feature is a fun, easy-to-learn addition to a fun, easy-to-learn game.

Overall grade: B
Reviewed by James Lynch


Carrie Underwood, BLOWN AWAY

It's time for some new popular country music with Blown Away, the fourth album from American Idol winner Carrie Underwood. This album features the singer's mix of vocal talent and earnest -- if sometimes cliched -- lyrics, plus a surprising dark side.

While Blown Away's first single "Good Girl" is the same sort of this-man-is-scum anthem as Underwood has done plenty of times (from "Before He Cheats" to "Cowboy Casanova"), she keeps exploring darker themes as the album opens: The title track is about a past with an abusive alcoholic father, followed by "Two Black Cadillacs" about a man's wife and mistress meeting at his funeral.

With that out of the way, the rest of the album goes on to lighter themes. There are nostalgic looks back as past loves, with songs like "Do You Think about Me," "The Good in Goodbye," and "Wine after Whisky." There are sentimental songs, like "Forever Changed" and "Thank God for Hometowns." And there are lighter tunes: "Nobody Ever Told You" is a don't-be-superficial female affirmation, "One Way Ticket" is a song about enjoying life (with a slight reggae sound!) and Underwood even tries for a Southern humor take on love with "Cupid's Got a Shotgun."

While I give credit to Carrie Underwood for going to some dark places, the rest of Blown Away is unsurprising -- but srill nice. Underwood has a very powerful voice, and she sings with passion throughout the album (even if the lyrics are fairly routine). Blown Away isn't an exceptional album, but it has plenty of good songs.

Overall grade: B-
Reviewed by James Lynch


Värttinä, Utu (Rockadillo Records, 2012)

I've said and written plenty about the Finnish musical ensemble Värttinä over the past two decades. I still haven't heard any artist or band from the 90s whose music I would rank ahead of theirs, and the band continued strongly into the 00s as well.  The story of Värttinä is one of constant change, though, as members have joined and exited the group at a fairly steady clip.  The band took a very long hiatus after their 2006 release Miero and the subsequent tour, and for a while it did not appear certain that they would return.  But singers Mari Kaasinen, Susan Aho, and Johanna Virtanen have recently regrouped with a mostly reconstituted supporting cast.  Their new album Utu lacks some of the ferocity of previous Värttinä albums, but it is still a fine effort.

The most significant new addition to the band's lineup is accordionist/keyboardist Matti Kallio, who who has become the band's primary music composer almost by default.  (As with the previous two Värttinä albums, Mari Kaasinen has written most of the lyrics.) Otherwise, bassist Hannu Rantanen is the only returning member from the previous Värttinä lineup.  Drummer Jaska Lukkarinen returns to the group after leaving before the tour for Miero; he is credited as a guest musician here, so I'm not certain if he is back in the fold on more than a temporary basis. The rest of the Utu lineup consists of Matti Laitinen (guitar, bouzouki, mandolin, mandocello) and Kukka Lehto (fiddle), with Sakari Kukko playing wind instruments on a handful of songs.

The first song "Ruhverikko (Dark Girl)" is the strongest connection with the band's musical past. Värttinä have made a habit of including one or two fast-paced, complexly-rhythmed Balkan flavored tunes on each album, and by opening with one here they make the statement that the new lineup can take a style that previous versions of the band have excelled at and do it just as well. From that point, though, the band shy away from repeating their past. This is mostly a good thing, but they sound like they held back a little too much on the second song and leadoff single "Tuuterin Tyttäret (The Girls from Tuuteri)." "Kaihon Kantaja (The Bearer of Yearning)," the third track, is the jazziest recording the band have ever done. In particular, Kukko's sax part sounds more like John Coltrane than anything Finnish. Then Värttinä move on to Middle Eastern percussion and Indian strings with the song "Vietaviä ( For the Taking)." This song is a bit ironic; the lyrics tell of a group of women who are too busy singing to make themselves presentable to prospective suitors, but they're sung with a sunny spirit which hearkens back to Värttinä's classic earlier material. The vocals hold the odd mixture of styles together and make this the strongest song on the album. On "Utuneito (The Mist Maiden)," the band aim for a smoother jazz sound than on "Kaihon Kantaja." The band seems to be at ease with the style, though, and Virtanen's solid lead vocal is an added bonus.

The subtle jazzy feel continues on the waltz "Iloni (My Joy)." The lyrics tell of a romance that needs to be kept in the dark, and the music reflects this by alternating between romantic and more ominous undertones. The more lively "Helleleo" starts out like a simple 4:4 folk rock song, but the verses have a little hitch in them, the rhythm shifts to 7:4 on the chorus, and the instrumental break at the end gets even more complex. The older lineups of Värttinä were masters at making rhythm shifts sound completely natural, and the new lineup happily follows suit. "Vaeltaja (The Wanderer)" starts as something of a chant, featuring Susan Aho's voice and just a drum initially, and evolves into a sorrowful minor-key lament with a gypsy flavor. The brief a cappella song "Suruni Suuri (My Great Sorrow)" leads into "Manattu (Conjured By a Seer)," featuring the Sami joiker Wimme. Wimme's contribution is not as dramatic here as the ones he made on some of the classic Hedningarna albums back in the 90s, but his simple chanting is intended to evoke the casting of a spell and works in that context.

From there, the band perform a four-song suite titled "Haltija-Suite (Elf Suite)." Since the song "Äijö" off their 2000 CD Ilmatar, Värttinä have frequently explored the darker side of Finnish folklore. In this suite (assuming I'm interpreting the translated lyrics correctly), an elf lures the sun into coming away with him, only to imprison it. The sun then has to implore the Creator to set it free. The suite begins with the ominous, mysterious "Kutsu (The Call)," in which the singers whisper a handful of words that translate to "Come to my elfin dwelling, come into the light." "Haltjia (The Elf)" features more rhythm shifting, but for all the complexity, the best part of the song has a straightforward waltz arrangement. This is followed by an instrumental, simply called "Tantsu (Dance)." Again, the band shifts rhythms as easily as shifting gears on a car. The style also varies, moving from Baroque to Balkan to jazz. The elf suite climaxes with "Haltijan Hallussa (Under the Elf's Spell)." This song begins with a steady driving guitar and a mournful minor key, but the dramatic second half of the song shows that the Värttinä singers have lost none of their power.

"Uinu (Sleep)," the final song on the album, is a pretty lullaby featuring the voice and lyrics of Johanna Virtanen. This song is particularly noteworthy for the choice of instruments that accompany Virtanen. The kantele was a major part of Värttinä's sound back in the 80s when the band members were young, but it has not figured prominently on a Värttinä song in a very long time. And I'm fairly certain that the piano, played here by Matti Kallio, is a first on any Värttinä recording.

Värttinä have a long history of periodically reinventing themselves by bringing in new members, and they certainly continue that pattern with Utu. They also continue to expertly blend the ancient with the modern. Most importantly, they can still mix and match styles and rhythms from their homeland and elsewhere with a degree of fluidity unmatched by any other band on the planet that I know of. The energy is scaled back slightly in favor of a bit more sophistication, which will naturally please some people more than others, but on the whole Utu is a worthy addition to a remarkable body of work.

Overall grade: A-

reviewed by Scott


Reprinted with permission from Sleeping Hedgehog
Copyright 2012 Sleeping Hedgehog



The Avengers is many things: the dream of Marvel comic book fans come to life; the culmination of Marvel's movies Iron Man, Iron Man 2, The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Captain America; and, thanks in large part to the writing and direction of Joss Whedom, an ensemble movie that manages to give equal time to all characters instead of focusing on one to the detriment of the rest.
The setup of The Avengers is pretty straightforward. Secret government agency S.H.I.E.L.D. is experimenting on the Tesseract (the ancient, powerful artifact seen in Thor and Captain America) when Loki (Tom Hiddleston) suddenly appears and steals it. He also takes mental control over several people there, including master archer Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). S.H.I.E.L.D. leader Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) fears the worst, so it's time for the Avengers Initiative. Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and martial artist Natasha Romanov/the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) set out to assemble a team of heroes, albeit full of flaws. Captain America/Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is their super-soldier, but he's still adjusting to the present day. Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is brilliant and has a powerful suit of armor -- but he's pretty self-centered. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is a demigod whose pursuit of Loki puts him at odds with the other team members. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is brought in to help track the Tesseract -- but there's the fear that he'll lose control and turn into the Hulk. And the Black Widow is worried about Hawkeye's switching sides.

But there's more going on than just personality differences and in-fighting (and physical fighting). S.H.I.E.L.D. has its own secret agenda. Loki's plan for the tesseract are complicated -- and include letting himself get captured. And of course, there's an alien invasion on the horizon...

The Avengers works amazingly well, both as an action movie and a superhero movie. Joss Whedon has plenty of experience writing and directing ensembles (from Buffy the Vampire Slayer to Firefly/Serenity), and he lets all the characters shine. The actors are all terrific in their roles, from the previous antics of the heroes to Johansson's alternating from vulnerable to manipulative, and Ruffalo (taking over for Edward Norton) oddly and appropriately self-contained as the scientist trying not to lose control. The movie has a wicked and frequent sense of humor, as well as some moving moments and scenes as well; and that's in addition to the exciting action sequences. Squeezing all of this into one film does make The Avengers run a little long at times, but it ultimately pays off.

The best summer blockbusters give more than just special effects, and The Avengers certainly delivers. This is one giant movie (with some of Marvel's biggest names) that delivers thrills, laughs, excitement, and (often missing from action movies) itelligence.

Overall grade: A-

Reviewed by James Lynch


MHQ Spring 2012 Issue for Kindle

MHQ Magazine has been the nation’s foremost journal of scholarly military history for more than two decades.  Its authors are all professionally published, and typically are noted authorities on the topics about which they write.  MHQ has been available for years in a glossy, perfect-bound format, appearing four times a year.  It has always been known for its elegant layout and wonderful artwork, in addition to its top-notch writing.  Now it is available as a download for Amazon’s Kindle family, and I decided to take a look at how the magazine translates to the electronic e-reader format.

Happily, it looks great, especially on the Kindle Fire, which is full color, and so does not lose any of the rich, vibrant hues found in the print magazine.  Navigation is relatively simple - nothing electronic will be so easy as thumbing through a print edition of course, but if you have used an e-reader before, such as the Fire, an older version of the Kindle, or the Nook, for that matter, you will quickly pick up the tricks of moving through the electronic edition.

The articles are the same as those that you would find in the print journal, and have not been abridged in any way.  Each article averages between three and four thousand words, and can be comfortably read in about twenty minutes.  This is important, as I envision that most will read the magazine on their Kindles an article or feature at a time, perhaps while on the train to work, or over a lunch break, not cover to cover.

The cover article is “The 27-Day Secret War,” which relates the remarkable achievements of a handful of American special forces who guided precision airstrikes against Taliban targets in late-2001. The rapidity of the fall of the Taliban regime was stunning, and only throws into stark relief the difficulties that allied forces have encountered since then, now that the Taliban have regrouped. The photograph of the commando on the cover, “Cowboy,” true name and rank unknown, is almost worth the price of the issue.

“Payback” is Alistair Horne’s telling of the Doolittle Raid on Japan in April 1942. Seventy years have passed since eighty American airmen in sixteen B-25 bombers took off from the deck of the USS Hornet on a one-way mission. They lacked the fuel to return to the Hornet, and even if they had carried it, they could not have landed their big aircraft on its deck. The actual damage that they inflicted on Japan was minimal, but the psychological impact of their raid was enormous. The Japanese would overreach themselves in trying to plug the gap in their defenses through which the Hornet had slipped, and lose four aircraft carriers at the Battle of Midway less than two months later.

“The Fireball at Zonchio” is the story of a Venetian-Ottoman Turkish naval battle of 1499. One of the many things that I enjoy about MHQ is that I learn something new with every issue. At Zonchio, the Turks sailed with two large carracks - think a primitive version of one of Nelson’s ships-of-the-line.  It was armed with cannon, but also, in a nod to the Mediterranean’s fickle winds, could deploy oars for use when the wind failed. I had never read of these Turkish ships before, which must have stood out from the great mass of low-slung war galleys that were the mainstays of Mediterranean naval tactics.  As you probably have guessed, the fireball of Zonchio was caused by the detonation of the gunpowder stored aboard one of these vessels in a truly horrific explosion that, in the fifteenth century, truly was something new under the sun.

But the Venetians had little to cheer after Zonchio. The civic spirit that had made Venice a medieval maritime great power was not in evidence in the battle, and internal rivalries hampered the Venetian battle plan. They failed to capitalize on their initial successes, not least of which was the destruction of the Turkish carrack, and the Turks not only survived the battle, which might otherwise have proved a crushing Venetian victory, but went on to win the war.

Joseph E. Persico has contributed an opinion piece, “Did Roosevelt Doom Us to a Longer War?” in which he takes President Roosevelt to task for unnecessarily delaying the invasion of Europe. Persico makes some valid points, but I think that all second-guessing of Allied military strategy in the Second World War tends to overlook or undervalue the crucial role played by the Soviets in breaking the back of the German Wehrmacht. The German army of June 1944 was powerful, but it was nothing compared to the mighty force that could have, and would have, been deployed to France if the Western Allies had opted to land there in the summer of 1943. Instead, the panzer troops, as well as dozens of crack infantry divisions, were decimated in the brutal 1943 combat at Kursk and elsewhere that eventually saw the Germans thrown back all along the eastern front. About 80% of all German losses occurred in the East. That just about says it all.

Features new to the magazine with this issue include Weapons Check, which is a look at an individual weapon of significance in military history.  I enjoyed this very much - an examination of the Danish “Viking” axe of around 950 A.D.  These were devastating weapons, and it is said, a wielder could fell a rider and his horse with one in a single blow.  That sounds pretty potent to me, but these big axes disappeared from European warfare, for the most part, by the end of the eleventh century.  In my previous reading the reason for this was never truly answered.  Was it simply fashion, or was it something more substantive?  The Normans came in for a big shock at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 when the Anglo-Danish huscarls of King Harold Godwinson showed up carrying these man-killers.  The author, Chris McNab, helpfully suggests that the introduction of longer swords, poleaxes, and halberds made the use of the axe inadvisable.  It simply lacked the reach to cope.

The old standby, Fighting Words, by Christine Ammer, which examines the development of military terminology, is also in the Kindle edition.  Did you know that “belfry” was originally a movable siege tower with a pivoting ramp at the top?  Later, it became the term for the church tower where bats hang out.  Also, a constable was a high-ranking official who held command of a castle, but when the title was switched to the civilian realm, it received a demotion, and a constable ranked below that of sheriff.  Today, it signifies a policeman in the United Kingdom.

MHQ for Kindle is available from Amazon’s Kindle Store by subscription for $2.99 a month, or $11.99 per single issue. The Kindle is a fine way to enjoy the magazine, possessing all of the advantages of portability found in an e-reader, without sacrificing the visual appeal of the print issue.  I recommend the Kindle Fire, on account of its color screen, but the electronic edition looked great on my older e-ink model too.

Marc blogs at Consolidated Pop Culture