Monday, March 31, 2008

...no nurgh for you...

I've always led a nomadic existence, but I've kept to Houston suburbs for the last 15 or so years, and that allows me a sense of stability. Still, I've tended to move from apartment to apartment every few years, and tiring of that scene, I decided to search out a roommate. My first was a passive-aggressive banker-weasel, who at least had a damned nice home. Unfortunately, I felt so uncomfortable there I drove 100 miles out to visit my father's place just about every weekend for the 4-5 months we lived in the same domicile. My next and current roommate turned out much better, as I've been living with her for nearly three years now. Holy shit-- I can't believe it's been three years! Anyway, I'm still paying the same all-bills-inclusive rate we initially agreed upon, which when you look at the rate of inflation, is itself seriously fantastic. Also, she's allowed my Classic car to rust away in her garage for most of that time, which gives her additional karma points. The only down side is that she's more than a little flakey, so when all those bills include the cable/phone/internet package, and she forgets to pay it, the Idol-Head and ...nurgh... get no updates for the better part of a week. Now you know.

Tomorrow, I'll reply to Damon's lengthy rebuttal of assertions I made about Iron Man and the Marvel Universe in my previous post. Also, I'll finally proof read that post, as if memory serves, it was a rambling monstrocity that sort of belly-flopped into a point way at the deep end...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Why I Don't Hate Iron Man



Sometimes I repeat myself, but I've always taken the notion that "every comic is someone's first" to heart, even if the industry hasn't in decades, and look how well that insular error has worked out. So on the notion that every blog posting may be someone's first, I'll not that I've been reading comics for well over a quarter century, and spent virtually none of that time reading Iron Man. I started out like most kids, with "gateway" heroes like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man and the Hulk... oh, how I hated the Hulk. I'll save that blog for when the crappy looking Ed Norton movie comes out.

Moving on, I have some difficulty pinning down my first exposure to Iron Man. It may have been a selection of Layton/Michelinie back issues my friend Charlie had, dated around 1981, with an appearance by Blacklash coming to mind. Black clad characters weren't that common in my experience, and between the energy whip and green hair, he seemed pretty bad ass. However, for some reason I skipped an issue of Marvel Team-Up in 1984 with the character, even after buying the issues immediately before (Moon Knight!) and after (Nomad!) Yeah, that's right, I passed on Iron Man and Whiplash, but Nomad made me swerve. Obviously, this is going somewhere.

Alternately, I might have first discovered Iron Man on a spinner rack in a Gemco department store in 1983. By that point, the creative reigns had been handed over to the less heralded Denny O'Neil and Luke McDonnell, who grabbed my attention to a greater degree. You might think my previous issue was with Bob Layton, but see, I bought the second Hercules mini-series by him, so that couldn't be it. Maybe it was because Stark had been replaced as Iron Man by Jim Rhoades, a second banana of color.

You see, I grew up in po' town, so most of my friends were either low income whites or black. There were Latinos everywhere, as the area skewed barrio even then. At that point though (late 70's/early 80's,) most of them didn't speak English, and routinely stole my shit. Not being racist here, as everyone stole everyone else's shit, but I could actually keep tabs with and even retrieve the shit my non-Latino friends ganked, so I tended to hang with them. Also, since there were fewer of us, sticking together helped keep us from getting our asses kicked by large groups of people to whom English was a second language, if any. This meant I associated with black heroes more strongly than most people as pale as my honkey ass happens to be, and of course my black friends were more likely to pick up comics featuring people like Luke Cage, Storm, Black Panther, or Stalker. They tended to buy Marvel, as DC Comics didn't care about black people, beyond Cyborg. However, the only friend I had who bought Iron Man was white, and he wasn't my friend anymore by the time Rhodey took over, and for some reason I didn't really dig on him either. I bought a What If...? Starring Sub-Mariner instead. I repeat, Namor, the avenging son of Atlantis, was more interesting to me than Iron Man.

Somehow, I assume through one of those bagged three-packs that used to be sold everywhere, I ended up with a Jim Rhoades Iron Man issue. It actually wasn't a bad read, but I still wasn't into the character. Also, it read "mature." I had the same problem with the odd Yeates or Moore "Swamp Thing" I'd find on the newsstand. They weren't bad, but as a kid I felt they were too sedate and sophisticated for my reading level. Seriously, I was precocious enough to be objective about that kind of thing. Now, Layton & Michelinie eventually returned, and they were clearly not writing anything over my head, but I was just as clearly not interested. Even when they ran that cool freakin' "Armor Wars" ad about it being time for the Avenger to start avenging. A similar vibe off the "Shadow War of Hawkman" totally turned me on to a dude wearing a bird head and fake wings, but I could not get it up for Iron Man.

Why is this, I asked myself then and now? Sure, Tony Stark was an affluent white male, a segment of the population I was raised to hate/fear/distrust, but that doesn't explain my disinterest in Rhoadey. Maybe it was the suit itself, as I've never cared about technology, whether it was car, jets, robots, or robots that could turn into cars and jets. Then again, I liked Robotech, even if it was mostly for the vinyl suits, blue hair and the boom anime babes that make me think the wrong thing. What was wrong with Iron Man? I tried it during the brief Byrne/Romita Jr. stint-- nothing. One of my best friend's favorite character is Iron Man, so he got me to read some Kaminiski, but I wasn't feeling it. He had me read the "Demon in a Bottle" trade, and in fact it did turn out I thought Layton & Michelinie sucked, so that was a non-start. When Lobdell and Portacio relaunched the title, at a time when Whilce was still one of my favorite artists, I read without conviction. Busiek and Chen fared worse. Ellis and Granov were terrible, regardless of my feelings about turning Tony Stark into a cyborg in the lamest fashion possible. The only saving grace was that I read more O'Neil/McDonnell, and they really did have a well crafted run with two heroes I don't care enough about to piss on if they were set afire.

Today, I visited Occasional Superheroine, which linked to Sean Kleefeld's post discussing why he hates Iron Man. His hang-up seems to amount to Tony Stark's having a personality, where Iron Man was always a put-on "bodyguard" with no distinct character. He may well have had a point... prior to Civil War.

Here, you see, is where it all turns around. Now, I love Captain America more than I love the Martian Manhunter, to whom I've dedicated the better part of a decade researching for the purpose of constructing one expansive website a ran for a few years, and now a daily blog that I've worked on for over 200 consecutive days. Even after all that effort on my part, I think it would be a task to sustain a Martian Manhunter series of quality for an extended period of time. On the other hand, I could write Captain America every month until the day I die. I'd love to take on Mark Gruenwald's record, and I'm confident I could outperform him. Captain America helped form my identity and moral code. If I am at all patriotic, especially in this day and age, it is because of Captain America. It was a given that I would root for Captain America and his band of costumed objectors in the political schism between super-heroes caused by a tragic event claiming thousands of lives, and of course I did, until I didn't.

You see, for years, Iron Man did what was normal for super-heroes: he put on a sort of costume, pretended to be two different people, and fought other people with similar powers and interests as himself. I never had much interest in "straight" super-heroes. Flash was always nabbing bank robbers, as if I gave two shits about FDIC-insured fat cats losing a few bills. Spider-Man was always catching muggers, as if such a thing had any bearing on a poor boy from Texas. Iron Man was the worst, a rich white man protecting his company's trade secrets from super-thieves. I loved Captain America because he fought terrorists, Nazis, and other idealogues that ran counter to liberal values. After 9/11 though, Marvel's icons like Cap and Shell-Headed started revealing their secret identities. This led to lots of stories in which Steve Rogers searched his soul about the meaning of his life and America itself in the face of this national tragedy. I was cool with that in the post-Watergate years of the Man Without A Country, or in the face of Reagan's jingoism as personified by Super-Patriot/USAgent. After 9/11 though, I felt there were only two ways to go: address America's dirty hands that led to these terrorists hating on us, or socking proxy Osamas in the mug like he handeled Hitler in '40! Since in any way speaking about American culpability was verboten in the first half of this decade, the only thing to do was deliver on the comfortingly simplistic iconography of the war on terror. Captain America's writers instead straddled the fence, effectively going nowhere, and selling us the non-adventures of Steve Rogers, namby-pamby.

Meanwhile, Iron Man stood revealed as a raging hypocrite. Yes, he lied to people in his personal and professional life for years. Yes, this essentially constitutes grievous fraud. Yes, Stark the alcoholic was also the various rampaging Iron Men. Yes, he illegal entered foreign countries, caused enormous loss to property and life, yet still tried to play at taking the "high road" by abandoning arms manufacture, as if his own armor wasn't the source of continued threat throughout the world. These revelations earned him a government post, and later, directorship of S.H.I.E.L.D. In this Civil War, after decades acting as an unlicensed corporate policeman, he had now forced through legislation to outlaw any acts of vigilanteism in the United States, while simultaneously pressing for similarly action abroad. Iron Man effectively reinstated the draft when it came to super-heroes, and jailed anyone, even Captain America, who did not tow the line. Iron Man and Tony Stark were now inseperable, unavoidable, and utterly fascistic. Many now consider him the greatest super-villain in the Marvel Universe.

Not I. Somehow, my left-leanings be damned, I wholeheartedly support Iron Man's campaign. Despite all the nefarious shit he got up to with Reed Richards and Hank Pym, and despite the obvious parallels with George Dubbya, can you honestly say you think ungoverned super-heroes are a good idea? Perhaps in a universally and unbelievably altruistic comic book universe, but Marvel has always been considered "realistic." Their heroes are not Justice League goody two-shoes, but the people you know, with super-powers. I don't know anyone I'd trust with super-powers, and super-heroes are a inherently fascistic concept. Maybe in the early days when Superman beat down the doors of wife-beaters and rescued innocent persons from death row, the prospect of instant and unequivocal social justice was desirable. Even as a child though, it wasn't hard to see those hoodlums Batman likes to beat senseless being a degree or two seperate from the circumstances I grew up in. Desperate people in desperate times, hustling to get by, only to have some psychotic thug give them a concussion. It reminds me of when I read Jim O'Barr's "The Crow." On the one hand, it wasn't as comically stupid as the awful movie, with it's multiracial super-villain team of home invaders. On the other, a man so white he painted himself up as a mime kills a group of very black and mostly indistinguished black men who raped and murdered a couple on a roadside. Am I reading too much into that? Maybe, but the subtext seems pretty textual there. Oh, how many drug peddlers have Green Arrow and Speedy shot through the motherfucking hand? Am I the only one who thinks that's maybe a little excessive? I want someone to rein in the real crazies, those self-appointed gestapo in tights!

Finally, Tony Stark is Iron, and Tony Stark is the Man. No more soft-peddling the fact this cat is hard-drinkin', armor-wearin', fast-drivin', slow-lovin', cash-blowin', underling bossin', 100% U.S. Grade A Republican Son-of-a-Bitch! No more eqivocation. No pussy-footing. Tony Stark makes you feel he's a cool exec with a heart of steel. As Iron Man, boot jets ablaze, he fights and smites with repulsor rays. Iron Man is about fucking up Commies, Skrulls, and any other douchebags that don't get the meaning of the word "invincible." Iron Man is about power, not feet of clay and detox. Iron Man is about having what every man in this wants, and working it like he knows how. Iron Man is about what Superman would be like if he were a Marvel character and still retained his true heart. Comic book creators tend toward liberalism, and that is exactly why Iron Man hasn't worked for most of fandom in forty years. Now is the time for the fantasy of strength and righteousness, especially as the reality of overbearing, ill-considered self-righteousness looks to have launched us deep enough into a recession to scare everyone shitless. I don't want to think like a Steinbeck character while I scrape by for the next decade, because I expect that's the shit we'll all be living soon. I want to be Iron Man!

And that is why I now like Iron Man. Also, the new movie stars Robert Downey Jr., and pits him against a bald Jeff Bridges. These are two of our greatest living actors, in a super-hero movie! If Batman fans weren't such deluded fuckwits, they'd think about mixing their own medications in the face of that overwhelming coolness. Too far? Too soon? Just trying to roll like Iron Man, blogging like a waterboard...

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Iron Man: Hypervelocity




For years, I've been drawn to Adam Warren's work, and yet avoided actually reading any of it. You see, he was one of the first heavily manga influenced artists, and worked on American adaptations of manga characters. This made him a favorite of grown men who carry vinyl "Hello Kitty" wallets in their back pocket. Nevermind that his best selling work seemed to be on "Gen 13" related projects. I have the same problem with Gen 13 that I have with most manga-- if it doesn't involve schoolgirl tentacle rape, I'm probably not going to be able to feign interest. I've been exposed to lots of anime over the years, and it seems to me entirely too much of it targets the most base interests of either gender. Whether its animated slash fiction romance or exploding heads, even my sorry ass seem to have developed past being entertained by that dreck.

Anyhow, I still liked Warren's artwork, which led me to read preview pages of his new series "Empowered" many moons before the first issue/trade was released. I enjoyed it a great deal, and not just for purile reasons. It was funny, smart, and portrayed one of the few super-heroines I've ever read who in any way resembled an actual woman. Sure she's a raging neurotic, but again, I'm talking about real life women. They're not exactly uncommon.

I've continued to buy and enjoy "Empowered," though somewhat less so as the gags have subsided or repeated while dreaded longform narrative has reared its ugly head. Still, Warren seemed capable with playing straight as needed, and when the opportunity to read his work for Marvel on a iconic character came up, I took it.

"Hypervelocity" is not quite an Iron Man book. There's room for a No-Prize to explain Tony Stark's newly acquired hipster snark, but that doesn't cover the entirely too kewl S.H.I.E.L.D. team pursuing a seemingly rogue, semi-sentient armor. While Image artist Brian Denham brings a thoroughly modern sheen and edge the Iron Man character has rarely enjoyed, Warren's layouts still bring the mangacentricities and gags. The book is awash in high concept where one usually finds more hoary concerns, while the villainess Absynthe has a transgressive sexuality far removed from the Hugh Hefner approved cornfed girls of the Layton years.

All that having been said, I guess it's a damned good thing I never liked Iron Man, huh? One of my best friends is a huge fan, and while reading I wondered if he would see this collected mini-series as a sacrilige or get his geek on as Tony was finally allowed to move past the 70's into the age of adrenaline junkies and sex bombs. "Hypervelocity" is a true page turner, more likely to impress fans of Joss Whedon, Grant Morrison, and (perhaps) the Robert Downey Jr. take in the upcoming major motion picture. If the film does good box office, I'd expect this to fly off the shelves of Barnes and Noble at a much faster clip than any Essential volumes.

My only caveat is that the book kinda sorta doesn't have an ending. It's one of those ambiguous numbers, in a story that otherwise seems exceedingly forthcoming with the details. Either there's room for a sequal, or more likely, you just have to accept that those darned Japanese influenced yet another "that's it?!?" Regardless, the trade is worth reading, especially for free. Fuck you, capitalist swine in a tin can! You won't get my money until opening weekend!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

"C": Things I learned from "The Superhero Book"



  • The syndicated, semi-animated "The Marvel Super-Heroes" show from 1965 was a daily. Monday: Captain America; Tuesday: Incredible Hulk; Wednesday: Iron Man; Thursday: Mighty Thor; Friday: Sub-Mariner. Also, the process used on the show was called "Xerography." Makes sense to me.
  • Captain Atom by Steve Ditko predated the Marvel Age by a bit under two years. He was also a violent Commie smasher, though his first run lasted only 10 issues. Ditko's return to Charlton after Spider-Man was better received, but was still canned after 11 issues. His second costume was only worn for about half of the latter. Also, he was always a government agent, something I previously assumed began Post-Crisis.
  • I've never "gotten" Captain Britain, and it doesn't seem like anyone else ever has either. His creation was inorganic, and his life thereafter seems more a curiosity than anything.
  • I've never "gotten" Captain Canuck either, but I've never read any of his comics, and his entry doesn't make me want to. A Boy Scoutmaster struck by alien rays? But hey, his native country put him on a postage stamp, which is all the reason anyone needs to start lobbing cracks at Canada again. Eh.
  • I didn't know Carol Danvers was introduced at the same time as Captain Mar-Vell. That legitimizes her more in my eyes. Maybe I'll pick-up that upcoming "Essential" collection and read up on the pre-Starlin material.
  • Why have we never seen, to my knowledge, Captain Marvel Junior's rogues gallery in modern times? Dr. Eternity? Pied Piper? Captain Nippon? Wait, I think I understand that last one.
  • Shazam briefly had a "sambo" comic relief named "Steamboat?" File with Captain Nippon.
  • I've grown very tired of deconstructionist super-hero tales, but someone like Rick Veitch needs to go all "Brat Pack" on Cat-Man. Your vocabulary word of the day is ephebophilia.
  • Since I used to pull odd issues of Charlton's Action Heroes with high numbering out of cheapie bins in my 80's childhood, I always assumed they were plentiful and long-lived. Turns out few lived much past the two year mark. Shame I no longer have any. They were fun, especially Peter Cannon... Thunderbolt.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Justice League of America / The Avengers (1983)

I'm currently reading the Avengers/JLA Compendium, which reprints the twenty pages of art produced for the abortive 1983 team-up plotted by Gerry Conway and pencilled by George Pérez, with liner notes and an ending as recalled by Pérez. Since I got no blog work done this weekend, and expect lots on non-virtual work all next week, I plan to milk this book as a whole and in parts. We'll start with a review of as much of the book as is available.



Back in '83, Jim Shooter didn't like the story, and I can see his point. You've got three pages spent on Kang the Conquerer tracking down the vague deus ex machina "Time Egg." Then obscure JLofA villain the Lord of Time shows up, so underwhelming as to have been a b-story/foe in the first Felix Faust appearances. That led to 5 1/2 pages of generic Avengers character moments, a quick fight with Kang that served no real purpose, and a bunch of exposition to allow the inclusion of several extant/non-members. The JLofA then got 3 1/2 pages of the same, substituting the Lord of Time, and then including Kang for an additional 3 pages of exposition. Are we having fun yet? The other DC/Marvel team-ups got moving far more smoothly by quickly establishing all the heroes lived on the same planet and knew of each other for the purposes of any individual story. Now, with far more characters to juggle, 15 pages, just under a quarter of the book, was spent on set-up with no interaction between the two super-teams. My string theory parallel self, having paid a substantial premium on my budget for this thing, after journeying to a remote specialty shop, is seriously pissed. Hell, my Earth-1 self is at least annoyed, as after finally seeing all of Pérez's finished pages, I get only 6 of team-up action.

A World War I battlefield served as backdrop for the only confrontation to be drawn. Starfox had nearly reached the temporally displaced "egg" when Hawkman whacked him with a chain mace. Does that seem as severe to you as it does me, especially considering Katar had no way of knowing whether he'd crack Eros' own egg wide open? Starfox punched a hunk of mortar into the Thanagarian's mug in retribution, downing the bird for the duration. I suppose I can buy that, but I'd hope Hawkman could pull off better evasive action than that. Zatanna managed to capture the Scarlet Witch, but the freed-up Starfox sexed her up with his love touch, allowing Wanda to lay the zap on. Batman and Captain America fought to a draw, which I will whine about in the near future.

Per George Pérez, there were many additional match-ups, as I note at today's Idol-Head of Diabolu listing. His favorite took place on Galactus' ship, which had to be prevented from eating Krypton in the distant past. That all sounds fine, but all-in-all, the project sounded in line with the dissatisfying fan wanks that preceded it among the DC/Marvel crossovers. The quality of Pérez's art was also uneven, with some awkward anatomy and some pages skewing toward amateurish. I'm actually somewhat pleased this remained a "lost" project, as all appearances were that that the execution would fall short of the potential, not unlike the actual JLA/Avengers book released twenty-odd years later. The real saving grace, had the original incarnation reached fruition, was that these were the "iconic" takes on all the heroes. All Silver Age DC, excepting the nigh-universally approved adjustments to Green Arrow and Batman, plus the inclusion of fan-favorite Firestorm. A classic Avengers line-up, excepting Starfox and Photon, but with Iron Man's beloved red & gold. I still cringe at the later incarnation's use of dog-collar Kyle Rayner, harpoon-hand Aquaman, hangers-on like Triathlon, and general over-stuffed/under-cooked nature.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Godhead, or Icarus Too Close to the Sunlamp

I hate to leave a day open without a post, but between holiday nonsense and my crushing work schedule, something substantial would be pushing it. Instead, I'll backdate a brief anecdote to Saturday. and move forward from there.

Many months back, I raided the music collection of a girlfriend (formerly emphasis in full, now simply on the "friend.") For whatever reason, she specifically wanted me to check out the band Godhead. I did, and found them to be a thrift store smash-up of Smashing Westward and Filter, themselves poor man's Nine Inch Nails. So I'm sorry I was exposed to the indigent's industrial band, assuming as beggers, they can't be choosy.

So I'd been hitting the gym hard and heavy at that time, having at one point come perilously close to 190 lbs. of sedentary girth, now a more svelt 150. Hard labor was my primary tool, but maintenence was required while I was exclusively in a CNA program (which proved unnecessary, as the course was a cakewalk.) Anyhow, I would hit the elliptical for 1-2 hours about five days a week while rockin' the tunage on my MP3 player. All was well with the world. This one night though, I'd really been pushing hard, dripping sweat with the blood pounding in my eyes. I headed out to my car, as I preferred to shower at home, a garbage bag saving my upholstery from the stank. Well, I'd forgotten I had the stereo significantly cranked while Godhead played, and the sonic assault was seriously damaging.

I've always preferrred to sleep with music playing, but that has now become something of a need. Thanks to Godhead, I now have tinnitus, a constant ringing in my right ear. I'm not sure that I would wish a band I liked to have been associated with this affliction, but I am in no way consoled by having to reference a thoroughly unimpressive band as the source of my malady.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Unpublished New Titans/Pantha Cover by Tom Grummett

Pantha lives, motherfucker! In the hearts of myself and her 23 other fans, at least. Ironic that the shading here allows for the possibility her crushed and disembodied head could have be reunited with the rest of her on the vengeance trail. That is until the potential timelessness of the piece is lost to Dick & Garth's dueling mullets, though Red Star's "white man's afro" has made a minor comeback...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Fantastic Comics #24




I know it might seem like a stretch to treat a 64 page oversized comic as a trade worthy of spotlight review, but its my blog and I'll do what I wanna. My enjoyment of the various stories in Image Comics' initial outing for the Next Issue Project, continuing cancelled public domain comics with modern creators...

  • Samson by Erik Larson: 13 pages seems a bit long for a "40's" tale, but that wasn't exactly what was agreed to, so I can't bind them to it. Actually, I wish the story had run a bit longer, as it was a pleasant diversion resolved a bit too quickly for my taste.
  • Flip Falcon in the Fourth Dimension by Joe Casey & Bill Sienkiewicz: As is often the case with these creator's efforts, by first response was "the hell?" Sadly, while I enjoyed Casey's old CBR column, my response to his scripts rarely progress past that point, as they do when I pick up work by his co-columnist, Matt Fraction. This story was such an obvious detour from the source, was so irreverent, and yet still played like a dour, straight-faced origin story for a bold new direction straight to oblivion. In short, you'll only enjoy this if the second year of the New Universe line was your cup of tea.
  • The Golden Knight by Thomas Yeats: As always, easy on the eyes. In this case, I think the writing was intentionally bad, combining tounge-in-cheek humor with counter-intuitive story turns leading to a total anti-climax. Just okay.
  • Yank Wilson, Superspy Q-4 by Andy Kuhn: Owes more to 60's art and 90's S.H.I.E.L.D. appearances than anything from the big war era. Cute but obvious comedy beats.
  • Carlton Riggs and the Flaming Cavern by B.C. Moore: A text piece that continues the increasingly tiresome pattern of anachronistic meta snark. Everyone's trying to play it too cool for the material, emphasis on "try."
  • Space Smith by Tom Scioli: Sixth verse same as the first, but the Godland artist hews closer to underground comix transgressive lampoon, with the results leaving me hopeful the "cliffhanger" might be picked-up at a later date.
  • Captain Kidd, Explorer by Jim Rugg & Brian Maruca: I dislike this type of strip very much, and had to fight off the urge to skip it entirely, especially as it was coming from an unknown creative quantity. Glad I did, as this 6-pager played mostly straight, looked the most like the real thing, and read far better to boot. Easily the best story in the book up to this point, and would have remained so if not for another exceptional entry to come.
  • Professor Fiend by Fred "Boris" Hembeck: I don't get it. Well, I think I get it, but I thought there was supposed to be something funny here somewhere.
  • Stardust the Super Wizard by Joe Keatinge and Michael Allred: Wow. Worth the $6 for this alone. I wish "Project: Superpowers #0" were near this good, and I gave that book a nice review. The art is gorgeous and the story is poiniant and inventive. My only complaint is that it makes too much sense and is far too kind to be a suitable Stardust story. Where is the thinly veiled id monster of Fletcher Hanks? Ah well, I'll just have to console myself with this truly Fantastic Comic story, with an additional shout-out to colorist Laura Allred.
  • Sub Saunders by Ashley Wood: Again, wow. Not the good kind. What pretentious dreck. Mostly written in German, with the negative version of John Byrne's old "Snowbird fighting a polar bear in a blizzard" gag. Maybe after the Stardust piece, the editor needed to lower the bar as far as possible to avoid overwhelming expectations from the next Next Issue?


In summary, too much of the first Next was wiseass from out the ass, which makes me worry about upcoming volumes. On the other hand, Larson is likely to feature into each of these, and his submission was solid. The cream came from two scripts by people I'd never heard of though, and a third from an artist-turned-writer. Maybe the best thing would be to turn this into something more akin to the try-out anthologies of modern era Marvel/DC, but paired with veteran artists? We'll see how it goes next time...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

"A": Things I learned from "The Superhero Book"




  • It never occured to me that AC Comics is pretty much the longest lived "independent" publisher of comic book periodicals in the U.S. I read some AC back when they were still "Americomics," but never warmed to them. I also never recognized that much of their business was from mail order, which helps explain their longevity. In eight years I only had one subscriber ever to an AC Comic, specifically "Femforce," and that was alongside most of DC & Marvel's full super-hero line. I took it as being some vestigial element of 80's collecting.

  • A short list of presumed public domain characters published by AC over the years: "Black Terror, Commando Yank, Golden Lad, the Flame, Captain Flash, Cat-Man, the Green Lama, Pyroman, Miss Masque, the Owl, Black Venus, Captain Wings, the Eagle, Yankee Girl, the Fighting Yank, Black Cobra, Rocketman, Dynamic Man, the Grim Reaper..." Feel free to Wiki the ones not already repurposed for "Project: Superpowers," as though that were anything new, to stay ahead of the curve.

  • Quoting an African-American butler serving the Vision in Marvel Mystery Comics #13 (1940): "Ise sorry, gennilmun, de doctor is pow'ful busy, experuhmintin!" There's a whole article on that type of thing, reminding me of that line from Barack Obama's speech on Tuesday,"The anger is real; it is powerful; and to simply wish it away, to condemn it without understanding its roots, only serves to widen the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between the races."

  • Show of hands for those in favor of Erik Larson adding a second edition of 1947's "All-Negro Comics" to his "Next Issue Project?" If he doesn't, I swear to God I'll do it myself!

  • Famed early adopters of racist caricature for humorous effect in super-hero comics: The Spirit, the Young Allies, Midnight, Mandrake the Magician...

  • Early defenders of the negro and racial harmony: a black serviceman used to show unfairness to our dark-skinned defenders in "World's Finest Comics #17" (1945) and the Batman in his 57th issue, breaking up an interracial squabble.

  • I never realized what a hanger-on Hank Pym was. Not only didn't his solo series ever amount to anything, and he was booted from the Avengers book after barely a year, but he spent most of the 70's on the bench. I never sat down and read a bunch of Avengers issues in one sitting, so I'd always assumed all his identity changes played out through most of that decade. Instead, it seems that was all in the 80's, making Pym a sort of Martian Manhunter in that he's considered a team mainstay despite many lengthy absences and little solo merit. Sad to say, it seems Pym is actually inferior in popularity to J'onn J'onzz by a fair margin. Woe unto Dr. Ant-Giant-Yellow-Man-Goliath-Jacket. He wasn't even a hero in Fox's short-lived Avengers cartoon, just a supporting character. (UPDATE: Or not... see comments section for valid rebuttal...)

  • Due to to my interest in the Mighty Crusaders toys and great cover art on the "Red Circle" line, I've tried many times to like the old MLJ/Archie heroes with little headway. This might explain why I've never retained the knowledge that the original Comet was kill-happy anti-hero who was himself murdered after only seventeen stories by mobsters in 1941. He was replaced by his brother, the equally if not as fantastically bloodthirsty Hangman, who stayed in print until 1944. Seems to me that's one of the first "event" stories leading to a long-term major character death, and the first true "legacy" character.

  • I always thought it was Mr. A that allowed a criminal to drown, not the Question.

  • Both the Punisher and Wolverine premiered in the same year the Watergate scandal was unfolding.

  • The Golden Age Hydroman wore a see-through shirt and had a sidekick named Rainbow Boy? That fairly screams for the Log Cabin Comic treatment.

  • The Jaguar rubbed his magic belt to gain all the power of the animal kingdom? Besides ripping off The Fly, that just sounds like my house on a Saturday night.

  • The Black Hood had his own radio show and pulp magazine? And he continued having adventures as a plainclothes detective after being unmasked by hoods in 1946? Seriously? Nobody seems to like this guy, but you must admit the accomplishment there.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

"B": Things I learned from "The Superhero Book"



Growing up poor and nomadic in the 1980's, I didn't have many options to entertain myself beyond newsstand comics, magazines, and action figures. We almost never had cable, didn't get a VCR until 1986, and couldn't keep it or the television out of hock more often than not. The library was obviously a great comfort to me, but I regularly heard about things in other media I never got to experience for myself. This developed into a love for books about the movies, music, comics, and so forth I couldn't enjoy for myself. Reviews, synopsis... not unlike what I do at the Idol-Head and here at ...nurgh... Anyhow, I developed an encyclopedic knowledge of several aspects of pop culture, specifically comic books. However, while I often feel like an expert, between all the reading and those years in retailing, I'm delighted when I find something like "The Superhero Book."

It's easy to find titles that give a brief overview of most every example of comic book character under the sun. This book is different, as its many authors don't so much write entries as articles of varying lengths concerning a creation or aspect of the medium. If anything, it reminds me most of the "Steranko History of Comics," really taking a subject by the horns with a candor alien to the authorized/whitewashed biography submitted by the actual publishers. Like "Steranko," there are disputable and plain erroneous "facts" in evidence, but this is the kind of effort that expects the reader to bring a critical mind to play. I'm so enamoured of the book, in fact, I plan to submit bits of information gleaned from it I did not previously know, or at least recall. As I've mentioned, I'm a bit of a know-it-all, so don't expect anything especially obvious here. I'm not saying I don't have my gaps, but if you find yourself going "rrrreally" like I did on the entries to follow, I imagine you'd find even more interesting bits by checking out the book for yourself.

Anyway, as I needed to write that introduction, I'll be starting the alphabetical overview with "B." The letter "A" ran much longer, as "C" promises to, and will each follow in due time...



  • I have a better understanding of Badger's whole deal. I never could get into the Nexusverse, so its details and longevity always mystified me.

  • The Blackhawks were the only hero team to survive into the Silver Age?

  • Black Canary began her career as a "Robin Hood" thief, except she stole from the crooks and gave to herself. An encounter with Johnny Thunder set her straight, and as thanks she only stole two more things-- his slots in Flash Comics and the Justice Society of America. All the hooey about being "inspired" by Batman came later. I also thought Larry Lance was a plainclothes detective, but it seems he was a private investigator whom Dinah Drake frequently rescued.

  • Marvel's Blonde Phantom was a big hit in late 1946, where she replaced the heroes that would form the Invaders in "All-Select Comics" in a series of violent and provocative tales. Louise Grant worked for and routinely saved her own P.I. boy friend Mark Mason, a year before Black Canery's debut. Hmm. The Blonde Phantom's success, not to mention the Archie Comics boom, led to the creation of Timely's short-lived line of female super-heroes.

  • I knew Blue Beetle was one of the worst long-lived super-hero features of the Golden Age. I did not know he had a radio show, started off as a Green Hornet rip-off, traded in Lev Gleason style sex & violence, and saw his first publisher switch (and switchback) before 1944. I also thought the Steve Ditko revamp lasted longer than a year.

  • Note to self: write a blog disputing the time span of the "Bronze Age."

  • Bulletman was way more popular than he should have been, with a Bulletboy and Bulletdog in tow, his adventures spanned 150 comics. Bulletgirl was also one of the first super-heroines, and partner in a unisex duo.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Vertigo "Preacher" Promotional Flier (1995)

I sold a bunch of these on eBay years back. Pure profit is so rare in comics retailing...

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Frank Review of "Scanners" and "A History of Violence"

SCANNERS


Somehow, I saw David Cronenberg's "Rabid" and "Videodrome" before puberty, but missed on this classic until just the other day. I'm not going to say it's a great movie, but it deserves a reverent seat in the hall of bugfuck. This is full-on comic book pseudo-science, and it's great fun for what it is. I was introduced to Michael Ironside through "V" and much more thereafter, and it's easy to see here why he was one of the go-to bad guys of 80's film. It's also pretty clear why Stephen Lack received second-billing in a movie that features him in nearly every scene. The first porn movie I ever saw with Chloe featured her as a super-heroine brought to life by a lusty fanboy. Her acting was as wooden as her partner's johnson, and I couldn't tell if it was on purpose. Then she had one of her infamous "Chloeville" orgasms, and I figured, "oh, she's clearly acting her--um-- heart out." Well, it turned out I was half right. Anyway, Lack is supposed to be just barely human, and he's marvelous at it, but also annoying as hell. I'd like to check out one of the sequals, against my better judgment.

A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE


This was Cronenberg's comeback after years spent in the wilderness, but to be honest, I'd rather watch Existenz again. It isn't that "History" is bad, but it seemed to me like it just sort of happens. I think the film needed more of Ed Harris and William Hurt's Dustin Hoffman impression. Viggo Mortenson's hick schtick wears thin quick, while Maria Bello is mostly just compelling in her MILFyness. The screenwriters make not the slightest mention of the graphic novel basis for the work, not that I've read it, but it still bothered me.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Fact File #9 [J24] (June-July, 1969)

I'm trying to make use of old back issues of books I now have collected editions of before tossing them (as has been the case since my days as a retailer.) I found several nice bits from "The New Wonder Woman" #183 I'll share over time, first being this text feature on the Seven Soldiers of Victory. I always had trouble with their math, which is mentioned in the article...

Friday, March 14, 2008

The World's Greatest Super-Heroes (2005)




My first major exposure to Alex Ross was a DC retail poster I bought around the time of "Zero Hour" showing the then-state of the DCU (Supermullet/Aquaman with obscured right hand/gestalt Hawkman in silhouette/Kyle Rayner/Steel/etc.) I dug it, and went on to collect lots of "Kingdom Come" merchandise, Wizard Magazine appearances, reissues of "Marvels," and so on like a good little fanboy. However, the issue arose that, like Neal Adams before him, omnipresence of even the most formidable artists can lead to the contempt of familiarity. As early as 1998, I was feeling the burnout of all those haughty icons peering at me with their judgemental eyes... the whole quasi-Christian propaganda thing got me down. I also honestly hated aspects of "Kingdom Come" that began to creep into the DCU proper, fulfilling a prophesy the book seemed intent on averting through example. You might imagine, when I heard Ross would be starting a series of tabloid "message books" featuring DC's big guns moralizing, I was less than ecstatic. That they would begin with Superman and Batman embittered me further. Add in the things would be $9.95 in the grossly oversized tabloid format, and I plain said "no, thank you, I'll wait for Captain Marvel." Shazam came and went, and by the time now fourth place Wonder Woman showed at the party, I was all about waiting for the trade.

It took about ten years, two after the suckers were finally bound in hardcover, but I finally read the lot.

SUPERMAN: PEACE ON EARTH- I believe a friend of mine loaned me his copy to read on release, even though I owned a comic shop and could have just taken a copy home if I'd wanted to. I'd forgotten all about reading it. This means something. It takes a lot to make me care about Superman these days, and Ross dealing stock poses and high-minded principles don't cut it. I must admit there were a number of highlights: pouring from a giant feed bag into bowls to serve hungry villagers; the spread where he wrestles various animals during a stampede; Pa Kent seeding the field. That said, if you ever imagined a story about Superman trying to cure world hunger for one day, you would have come up with this. It is rote.

BATMAN: WAR ON CRIME- This entry worked better for me, as it's further afield from standard Batman action, looking at the social causes behind crime. Paul Dini has repeatedly shown he has as much interest in Bruce Wayne as Batman, and enough experience I suspect he helped steer Ross outside both creator & character's comfort zone. I loved Wayne's thoughts concerning the junkie waitress, and I am surprised how surprised I am after reading all those Denny O'Neil lectures how liberal the character is in thinking. He comes off as such a secretive, maverick jerk that it's easy to miss how "Great Society/Big Government" he truly is. The most brisk read of the bunch, which at a tenner would have cost points, but when collected in hundreds of pages is a blessing.

SHAZAM!: POWER OF HOPE- The fan fiction. Dude, I don't care what you took from terrible live action Saturday morning fare from the 1970's, neither Captain Marvel nor Plastic Man are DC icons of standing alongside the Justice League. This does not diminish them as super-heroes that have entered the public conscience. Having the Fonz join C.H.iP.S is off, no matter how much validation of your childhood you feel you must foist onto the buying public. This book is a perfect case for my argument, as "sick kids" seems more than a stretch for inclusion amongst fare that reads more like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. WAR! FAMINE! Jerry's Kids! PESTILENCE! Wha-wuh? The Make-A-Wish-Foundation is the most meandering & episodic of the lot, relying on the charm of the lead character to coast.

WONDER WOMAN: SPIRIT OF TRUTH- Okay, each of these solo stories features a two page origin spread, and the first three cases fairly scream "obligatory." I'd be willing to give Captain Marvel a pass, since you know a book like this will garner new readers, but there was nothing new to see. For the Amazing Amazon though, you have two pages worth the cover price. Diana's story has been revised and overcomplicated so often, even I as a serious fan of the character cannot think of a clearer, more concise and appealing telling of her basic story than this. It looks fantastic, mythical, and has the indispensable lines, "Weary of constant warfare, we beseeched our patron Goddess for sanctuary. The will of gentle Aphrodite guided us away from the battlefields to the shores of Paradise Island." Something said so simply, but I felt my understanding of the Amazons magnified with that statement. It erased every bias and misconception of Themyscira from my mind. "Amazons Attack," in my world, never happened. A blessing for certain!

Diana's story also worked better than the rest, as her goals and means have always been more ambiguous than the rest, and solutions therefore more elusive. Gone is the harsh and frankly repulsive Wonder Woman of previous Ross efforts, hewing more closer to a Lynda Carter grace without sacrificing formidably. Despite misgivings about Paul Dini's work at times, I mourn his lack of input into Wonder Woman's characterization in the Justice League cartoon. I loved the invisible jet effects, and the fear/distrust Wonder Woman's appearance inspires. Folks, I sold comics for eight years, and rare is the female reader who likes, much less relates to Wonder Woman. Metatext aplenty here. Aside from the problems faced by the nature of the project and sameness of it all, I must also noted my hatred for the inclusion of Clark Kent. For some reason, Wonder Woman is the only book compromised by the inclusion of another super-hero, and this man serves as a mentor to our heroine. Fuck that, as is it was entirely unnecessary, and robbed our lead of vision and self-determination.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA: SECRET ORIGINS- The monochromatic 2-page spread shtick got old when lumped together, as did the Silver Age fetishism. Then again, the all-Ray Palmer Atom entry was all right with me. Someone needs to retcon John Stewart a better origin, and I only forgive Prince Nam--er, Aquaman's "lighthouse" backstory because the "Aquababy Sr." panel was so swell. Martian Manhunter's was great about capturing the Post-Crisis vibe of the character without bringing on excess baggage, though I felt cognitive dissonance at seeing Professor Mark Erdel but reading "Dr. Saul." Hawkgirl was lumped in with her headlined man, I'm sorry to relate, with no hint of the Egyptian lineage. Black Canary sadly rated a single panel in Green Arrow's origin, while Zatanna received same in a Satellite Era group entry. So too Red Tornado, but I hate that guy, so fuck him. I'd be more inclined to give Plastic Man's two pages a free pass, were this not a JLA book that shafts Elongated Man out of the same treatment.

LIBERTY AND JUSTICE: After all that first person narrative text, it was a nice change of pace to read J'Onn J'Onzz first person narrative text. What-- he's never getting a tabloid of his own, a'ight? Okay, also nice, if a bit jarring, to also find dialogue balloons at play in this tale of a super-plague. Aquaman is treated very well for a change, and the story has actual tension and a sense of stake the introspective nature and pre-determined mission failure of the previous volumes would not allow. The hardcover ends on a high note by avoiding those pitfalls, and the lengthy review of other JLA-related Ross works in the auxiliary section doesn't hurt any (though there was much redundancy if you have a copy of "Mythology.")

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Review: JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #13-17 (2007-8)



JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #13-15
Written by Dwayne McDuffie
Art by Joe Benitez & Ed Benes
Covers by Ian Churchill

I missed the Wedding Special, but I was able to jump into the storyline cold: JLAers captured by Injustice Gang, drawn extra-skinny by a former Top Cow artist. The very black Milestone Comics co-founder writing the book has also upped the profile of darkest League membership ever, meaning more than one at a time, with John Stewart in a leadership role. I can live with this. The story is fun and fast-paced-- perhaps too much so. Despite the Image art style, the pages have plenty of panels, but they're often near silent action beats. Should I be surprised a former scripter for animated series has turned the comic into a glorified storyboard? Umm... not after slogging through those tedious Brad Meltzer issues.

The second issue (third, I suppose) misplaced Green Lantern, but Black Lightning represents. Shame about his lame current costume (Newell design FTW) and "negative combover." Note to artist: a great many black men like hair on their heads. Another note, this time to Ed Benes: If you must draw heroines as pin-ups, at least put some meat on them. Bad enough Black Canary must again be bound helplessly and eroticized, but can her butt look slightly more developed than playground pedophile fodder? Also, just start drawing Wonder Woman nude. It would be more respectable than strategically placing her outfit the very cusp of every one of her naughty bits. Points earned for the Legion of Doom headquarters, minus quite a few for reminding everyone of the kraptonite shank from "Superman Returns."

Final chapter calls Jason Rusche off the bench, more dynamic than the 25 or so issues of Firestorm I suffered through expecting it to finally turn a corner. Not to be. Great collection of iconic and under appreciated villainy, as well.

No disassemble Red Tornado! Johnny Smith is alive! No thanks-- leave him in the hard drive to replace Oracle or (yet again) J'Onn. Much hate here for stupid Red Usurper!


JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #16
Written by Dwayne McDuffie and Alan Burnett
Art by Joe Benitez and Allan Jefferson

Here is where balls drop. Super-heroes behave stupidly. "Red Arrow" (ugh) is overplayed. I will always dig Speedy, but he's a hand-to-pussy man, not a fightin' machine. I'd be seriously pissed about paying $2.99 for a preview of an external event mini-series if I hadn't read it free at the library. That would be you I fucked, Dan Didio. Expect more where that came from. You're owed.

Speaking of Speedy love, a back-up feature rescues a sorta-kinda Roy Harper rogue from the pawn shop. The story isn't worth reading, and it sets up another event mini-series, but there went your silver lining.

JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA #17
Written by Dwayne McDuffie and Alan Burnett
Art by Ed Benes, Jon Boy Meyer and Sandra Hope
Cover by Ethan Van Sciver

OUTSTANDING cover! An instant classic if the interior story is half as good! Welp, fuck you readers, as this is more novelty and marketing for other DC titles. Members of the Cadre pop up to be beaten by Black Lightning alone. This is why Vibe will never, ever be resurrected. Crowbar specifically needs to just give up the life of crime in favor of playing Tuesday night open mic in a Village People cover band. These characters are drawn better than ever, proving soundly their utter lack of worth, as they're still laughable. I almost sent this review over to the Idol-Head, as the Human Flame cameos with the Cadre, but even I found that too much of a teach.

Dwayne McDuffie continues to waste space on the lousy Vixen subplot Meltzer should have resolved his own damned self. I like Vixen, which is a good thing, because she's having her personal "Steel in 52" spectacle here where the awfulness of her arc will probably drive any potential new fans to lingering animosity toward her.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Book vs. Movie: Slaughterhouse-Five (1969/1972)



"I love George Roy Hill and Universal Pictures, who made a flawless translation of my novel Slaughterhouse-Five to the silver screen ... I drool and cackle every time I watch that film, because it is so harmonious with what I felt when I wrote the book." -author Kurt Vonnegut.

"Whoever *did* write this doesn't know the first thing about Kurt Vonnegut!"- Dr. Diane Turner (played by Sally Kellerman) regarding a term paper about Vonnegut ghost written by Vonnegut in the movie "Back To School" (1986)

"You were just babies then! You were just babies in the war-- like the ones upstairs! But you're not going to write it that way, are you... You'll pretend you were men instead of babies, and you'll be played in the movies by Frank Sinatra and John Wayne or some other glamorous, war-loving, dirty old men. And war will look just wonderful, so we'll have a lot of them. And they'll be fought by babies like the babies upstairs." -Mary O'Hare

I read a book. It was about a fellow who happened to be a POW during the bombing of Dresden. He decided he would author a great book on the subject. Two decades later, he still hadn't managed the feat. He visited an old war buddy to drink in his kitchen and remember bad old times. Bernard O'Hare's wife didn't appreciate this, as she had strong feelings about sending babies to war. The author agreed, and swore to write an anti-war book (and perhaps an anti-glacier novel after,) called "The Children's Crusade." He did so, though his story was more like a pleasant, rambling, possibly drunken series of anecdotes told out of sequence about an archtypical character representing all those babies. Billy Pilgrim was a fragile little boy who was sent to places he did not belong, not that anyone did, and never recovers. His mind is functional, for the most part, but he remains a passive spectator in all things until the end of his life.

------------------

I saw a movie. It was about a good-natured young man who has a series of serio-comic adventures in a wacky POW camp. It was like "Hogan's Heroes," by way of "Catch-22." No one told the story, at least no one with a voice. It just sort of happened. The fellow becomes unstuck in time, and bounces from era to era, and eventually to other worlds and a future. He was heroic, in that he tried to save people from tragedies he is aware of from his many travels. Also, he is assertive when necessary, like when he demands privacy while sleeping with a porn star within the first few minutes of meeting her. This may be because he has a huge wang. You never know who'll get one.

A great many events from the book appear in the movie. It is a depiction of events from the book, you see. I do mean, "you see." As in, you see actual breasts that were only drawn on one page of the book. You see a plane crash, and far more of a car wreck than you'd expect from the author's telling. But as I said, the author doesn't tell this story in the movie, and a story really is all in the telling. Also, the wang does not appear in the movie. It isn't even mentioned. There is a coo. It does not go "Poo-tee-weet?"

------------------

If I were to direct my own version Slaughterhouse-Five, I would not mention the aliens. They are described at length in prose, but I would let that go. I think I would focus entirely on the war. That may seem like a deep cut, but movies are short, so time is a factor here. Obviously. It takes time to show with pictures lethargy, starvation, and the depths of squalor. The book is about an ordeal that never ends. Without seeing the trauma, hearing the reflections, nor really the effects, you're left with a series of events told in a clinical fashion in the style of only the most pretentious 70's cinema. The movie is a thing. It is a series of photographs that could be projected while reading the book, except there are discrepancies. These were ill-considered.

------------------

I read a book. It was impactful. The phrase "so it goes" was recited 106 times.

------------------

I watched a movie. It was a thing. It did not move. It was a lovely shade of azure. I don't recall the phrase "so it goes" being used in the film. The film did not repeat itself much at all. They loved it in France. So it goes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Kurt Vonnegut's "Slaughterhouse-Five, or The Children's Crusade"




When I was growing up, I had a voracious appetite for young adult novels and comic books. As I got older, I began to develop a strong feeling of "been there, done that," with regard to most any fiction I tried to read. Also, I'd begun intuitively deconstructing the various techniques employed. I tried to transition to more adult fare, only to realize that every great work in history had been processed and regurgitated by every fair-to-middling work in history, so that it was all terribly familiar. I've always been especially fond of first person narrative, and I came to realize perspective was more important to me than plot. I also prefer the versimilitude of true accounts over the artifice of fiction. Therefore, I still read constantly, but prefer reviews/editorial/so on. Rarely does a book instill true feeling in my own heart anymore, but listening to someone else's reflection on what was stirred within themselves, I'm allowed a voyeuristic second-hand emotion.

Feeling a bit insecure about my no longer being well-read, however, I've decided I ought to make a greater effort to seek out fiction of the highest quality. My interests seems to incline me toward someone like Kurt Vonnegut, who I had never previously followed. Since "Slaughter-House Five" seemed to be his most revered work, and I had to start it somewhere, it started there. I did enjoy it quite a bit, certainly enough to seek out more of the author's work. In a voice singularly the writer's, of a highly anecdotal tone, we are told the tale of one Billy Pilgrim. This already unsteady soul is sent off to participate in the waning days of World War II, only to be promptly captured and sent off to several makeshift POW camps. He survives the experience through a combination of dumb luck and the numbness allowed by mental disorder. Upon returning home, Billy sleepwalks through the rest of his life, until he comes to believe he's become unstuck in time. The story is told in a decidedly non-linear fashion, as Billy bounces through his personal timeline like a cripplingly passive Sam Beckett, even when presented with the prospect of alien visitors from distant Tralfamadore.

It would be a mistake to dub "Slaughter-House Five" science-fiction. The author is instead concerned with the terrific candor of the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder sufferer who is willing the discuss the circumstances behind the condition. One horror after another passes through Billy's life, but you couldn't really call his experiences horrible, as he essentially is so far gone as to at best serve as a rubber-necking onlooker to his own tragic condition. The thing about horror is that it either curls its victims into a ball, or gifts them with a madness that allows them to make light of the grim proceedings. Billy is inclined toward the former, while Vonnegut embraces the latter, making much gallows humor at Billy's expense. I was typically amused by this schism, with Vonnegut only losing my favor with sometimes deeply problematic sentence structure. He makes up for this with great lines like, "She was a dull person, but a sensational invitation to make babies. Men looked at her and wanted to fill her up with babies right away. She hadn't had even one baby yet. She used birth control."

I adored Vonnegut's similarly casual, hysterically blunt notation of the great indignities suffered by the cruel fate inflicted upon his subjects. They never seem overly embellished, said plainly for maximum impact in their simple and indisputable injustice. Vonnegut is incomparably apt at making naked the frail, arbitrary nature of life and our choices. There are no villains in the book, just fools who need to inflict their delusions upon others, mostly to mutual detriment. It is the best kind of anti-war statement: one that takes the piss out of all participants, rather than redirecting the same sort of rhetoric that gets us into these bloody messes in the first place.

One portion of the book has a German war widow making soup for the POWs. One was the middle-aged gym teacher Edgar Derby, who enlisted with his son to combat the evil Axis. One was our hero, Billy Pilgrim, draped in a curtain and silver boots from a makeshift production of Cinderella. The third was their teenage guard Werner Gluck, who had just immediately prior seen a naked girl for the first time.

"She asked Gluck if he wasn't awfully young to be in the army. He admitted that he was.

She asked Edgar Derby if he wasn't awfully old to be in the army. He said he was.

She asked Billy Pilgrim what he was supposed to be. Billy said he didn't know. He was just trying to keep warm.

"All the real soldiers are dead, she said. It was true. So it goes."

Monday, March 10, 2008

NURGH! Greatest Songs Of Our Time!!!! #3: "Skip A Rope" by Henson Cargill (1968)

I first heard this song a good decade or more back, and it gave me chills. I can't think of anyone I ever played it for who didn't love it. Per Wikipedia: "The song became a huge hit, spending five weeks at Number 1 on the country charts in 1968 and also making the Top 25 on the Pop charts." I don't know who made the video, but one comment caught my eye...

"I tried to post a comment a couple of hours ago about "Skip A Rope" but it hasn't shown up. As one of the writers of the song, I only wanted to thank the people who had made such wonderful comments about the song. Do you have some rule that a writer can't make a comment.
I am confused.
D.G. Tubb"



Oh, listen to the children while they play,
Now ain't it kinda funny what the children say,
Skip a rope.

Daddy hates mommy, mommy hates dad,
Last night you shoulda heard the fight they had,
Gave little sister another bad dream,
She woke us all up with a terrible scream.

(CHORUS)

Cheat on your taxes, don't be a fool,
Now what was that they said about a Golden Rule?
Never mind the rules, just play to win,
And hate your neighbour for the shade of his skin.

(CHORUS)

Stab 'em in the back, that's the name of the game,
And mommy and daddy are who's to blame.

Skip a rope, skip a rope,
Just listen to your children while they play,
It's really not very funny, what the children say,
Skip a rope, skip a rope.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Demon #40-45 & Annual #2 (1993-94)




After growing disenchanted with Marvel Comics in the early 90's, I began casting about for a replacement universe. Marv Wolfman's controversial revitalization of the Titans led me to DC, which I became increasingly enamored with. Hoping to sample a wide variety of titles, I decided I would collect the 1993 Annual event, "Bloodlines." I expect I will attempt to defend that decision someday, but for now I'll just point out that this led to my buying the second Demon annual.

When I was in junior high and truly over the kind of education you receive whilst being yanked from school to school a couple of times a year, I started doodling an extended comic strip called "Gunner." It was about a scraggly looking degenerate assassin who was always seen in a ball cap, chunky shades, and usually a jacket. These strips were ridiculously violent, featured low humor, and were what you would generally expect from a misanthropic loner. Color me surprised when I bought the Etrigan comic book, which introduced a hard-drinking Irish Hitman who looked and acted very much like "John Gunner" in adventures comparable to Gunner's. Artist John McCrea was even prone to the same awkward angles and panel layouts. Literally, there's a scene where a grenade is tossed into a villain's gaping mouth that was near identical to one I had drawn, including the general lack of craft.

The book wasn't entirely amateurish. Certainly John McCreas drawing abilities far outstripped mine, especially when it came to the book's title character. McCrea imbues Etrigan with a queer combination of gangly droop and sinewy menace. For once, Etrigan seemed scary, as he shifted gears between cackling mayhem and seething fury at the drop of a hat. His remains my favorite interpretation of the character. On the writing side, this was one of the earliest U.S. works of Garth Ennis, decidedly less polished, but very much in keeping with the anarchist piss-takes he would become famous for. I was immediately a fan of these kindred spirits, and went back to the comic shop the following week for the team's debut issue on the ongoing series.

Now, Ennis and McCrea's Demon run has been treasured by myself and friends for years. One owns the last few pages McCrea produced for the book, featuring a closing soliloquy-- or at least as close as a doggerel-spouting abomination can get. When Hitman was spun off into his own series, I drew a life-size half-standee of Tommy Monaghan as part of a dump display to promote the series in my shop far more effectively than DC ever did. The problem is, on rereading these early issues, I'm afraid they're just not very good. The art on the annual is at times rushed to the point one assumed an inker took over the pages in a deadline crunch, but none are credited. Hitman's origin is an afterthought, his character still a stock bad ass. The plot moves from one action piece to another, most punctuated by the dismembering of Gotham City grotesqueries and fat jokes at the expense of the alien menace Glonth. The team's debut stories are similarly plagued by episodic violence, painful poetry, and obvious debts to Grant, Wagner, Bisley, and Fabry. A period fill-in by Batman: The Animated Series writer/artist Kevin Altieri a relief fifteen years down the line.

The story arc that followed presented a more familiar Monaghan, joining Etrigan against an arch-demon, ridiculous evangelistic crusaders, and more. Fun, but frivolous, aside from setting up future stories. All in all, I'm disappointed I didn't enjoy this stroll down memory lane more. Perhaps my growing disenchanted with Ennis' writing had less to do with his changes than my own. I'll get back to you ion that, as I continue my reading.

Note: This is a review of a run of issues for which no trade collection is available.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Audio Neurotic Fixation: Prince's "The Love Symbol Album"



There are a good many artists with whom I have a love/hate relationship. Prince would be such a case. He's in the ...nurgh... banner, has produced some of my favorite music ever, and I even bought the 1991 "Prince: Alter Ego" comic by future Milestone creators Dwayne McDuffie and Denys Cowan at full cover price. However, he also generates more unwarranted pretense and godawful filler crap than any remotely comparable artist, and I'm speaking as someone who likes "Rock-A-Hula Baby" by Elvis. He has never appeared in a good movie, very much including "Purple Rain." In fact, DAMN U, 4 EYE have seen "Under the Cherry Moon." Especially DAMN U 4 popularizing the inane alpha-numeric/iconographic interchangeability prevalent on the web, in rap, and text messages today. Also, I can't comfortable post the cover of "Alter Ego," or the album art above, because Prince is currently going all Lars Ulrich against the entire internet in a bid to remove any instances of his likeness appearing without consent or payment.

Still, I've decided he's an excellent candidate to inaugurate music coverage within the nurghosphere. "Audio Neurotic Asphyxiation" will suffocate its readers with either the dizzying highs of its track-by-track reviewers, or send them to meet Michael Hutchence, another 80's favorite of mine. Further, I've chosen to start with an album with an unpronounceable symbol for a name and a dim history of positive reviews. My own thoughts on the release?

  1. My Name Is Prince: A first attempt at a quasi-rap, and I enjoy it very much. If anyone has a right to swagger and talk shit, it's Prince. Again, his name is Prince. You expect humility?
  2. Sexy M.F. : One of the worst possible songs to hear edited, as it was in the music video. Sure, "motherfucker" is only uttered 7 times in the first 3 1/2 minutes, but another 20 times audibly over the remaining minutes, discounting the chants of same buried by production. It works great, but seriously, are you still that pissed at Tipper Gore nearly a decade on from "Darling Nikki?"
  3. Love 2 the 9's: cutesy, jazzy number far from my speed, but inoffensive.
  4. The Morning Papers: The first ballad, once again to the type of underage virgin Prince favored. Still, "If he poured his heart in2 a glass and offered it like wine, she could drink and be back in time4 the morning papers" remains a swell line.
  5. The Max: The first subtle but direct reference to this being a concept album. Not coincidentally, also one of the limpest tracks present. WTF guest rapping, some weak glory mongering-- ugh.
  6. Segue: Dialogue "skit" setting up the hero's only vocal adversary on the album, a reporter played by Kirstie Alley.
  7. Blue Light: Nothing special, but the faux reggae and likely anecdotal lyrics keep it palatable.
  8. Wanna Melt With U: A thumping, semi-industrial number that makes the mistake of recalling the classic Modern English single in title, but not in quality by any stretch. Pretty sloppy regardless of association, in no way helped by shoddy rap from NPG frontman Tony M.
  9. Sweet Baby: I swear, I consistently forget this song exists, even while its playing.
  10. The Continental: Sounds more like a parody of this period's work by Prince than a legitimate entry.
  11. Damn U: As above, but his time parodying 60's crooners. So blah they tacked another skit onto the end of it, and I never bothered to care.
  12. Arrogance: The pseudo chop-socky music at the opening is far better than the rest of this cacophonous wreck. Seems more like a bridge to more cryptic details relating to the "concept" than a song. Even still, the forced intrigue tweaks part of my lizard-geek brain, compelling me to learn more about the half-conceived conceit here.
  13. 7: ...muchly because of this, one of the Prince songs I've been known to sing along to without being conscious I'm doing it. I adore the imagery and hopeful feeling this song invokes, plus the engaging chorus managed to work in "savoir faire," which rates mad props. If I were a minister instead of negative creep, I'd make my congregates sing this on every sabbath day.
  14. And God Created Woman: I swear, I started this with the intent of bucking the trend and giving a positive review. What happened? Prince filler can really sneak up on you.
  15. 3 Chains O' Gold: I never have gotten my hands on the comic book follow-up to "Alter Ego." I'm sincerely curious if it managed to make more sense of the muddled concept than the album or video collection. Also, I want to see a Prince "Who's Who" entry someday. Say, did the Ann Nocenti "Ace" analogue from those Spider-Man annuals with Mark Beachum ever get a Marvel Handbook entry? Also, with his fervent assertion that he'd "sho nuff" save the princess, doesn't the repeated line "If one of us has 2 go, U will go before me" seem like Prince's equivalent to Captain America's classic faux pas "ONE of us is gonna walk OUT of here -- under his own steam -- and it won't be ME!"
  16. Segue 2: I recently rewatched the 80's "Flash Gordon" movie, and with Prince's fixation on "Barbarella," wouldn't it be great to see him score Robert Rodriguez's upcoming (and hopefully true-to-camp) remake ala Queen? "Baaaaaaaaah-ba-re-lla! Her juices will quench your thirst. Baaaaaaaaah-ba-re-lla! That girl's coochie... will sho' nuff save this Earth!"
  17. The Sacrifice of Victor: Sounds like a testimonial of import, but I'm not sure where it's going, and I myself never got anywhere. It works great as metafiction, though. "Victor" dies and is reborn as the "Love Symbol," just as Prince did. Also, while no satisfactory answer comes frok the music, I understand the Artist Formerly Known As Prince totally tapped the underage princess. Hello marriage #1!


So, okay, "Love Symbol" isn't such a great album, but I still got swept up in its mythology, because I'm a stupid dork. I will continue to defend my love of "7" and the other singles, and I'll even say it's a better album than "Diamonds And Pearls." Maybe, Tune in same (INSERT TAFKAP SYMBOL) Time, same (TAFKAP SYMBOL REMOVED per Cease & Desist Order) Channel!

Friday, March 7, 2008

A Frank Review of "Masters of Horror: Imprint"

IMPRINT


I'm always willing to give a film directed by Takashi Miike a shot, because he never fails to deliver images that stick to your brain. His films are often excessively violent, even by my liberal standards, and are jut as likely to be nonsensical. Regardless, he has a gift for finding a new way to present a horrific circumstance in such a way that the viewer has never experienced. "Imprint" is no exception. This is actually something of a dark fairy tale, and could potentially be quite enjoyable and mostly palatable for a good half of the film. Then, as when "Audition" transformed from a mild romantic drama to a David Lynch-style mindfuck, "Imprint" diverges quite heinously. A twice told tale darkens considerably when revisited, and a lengthy sequence made clear why this one could never make the cable broadcast rounds. At this point, the film turns to torture of a sort that only the most desensitized person of highly suspect empathy would be disinclined to turn away from.

The acting is servicable. English is clearly not a first language for the Asian cast, and even Billy Drago had me wondering at times. I imagine Takashi Miike's on-set translater disappearing for long periods of time on a heroin binge or somesuch-- leaving his sole direction to Drago much stomping of feet and the resonate intonation of "bigger. BIGger! BIGGAR!" Drago is usually to Jack Palance as Christian Slater is to Jack Nicholson, if anyone decides to go all Gus Van Sant on the Burton "Batman" film. I've loved Drago since freakin' "Vamp," and his characters tend to be broad, but he's completely off the map here. You can smell the ham wafting out of your speakers.

Aside from a perhaps too obtuse ending, the story works wonderfully, and the author of the source novel makes a deliriously effective leap into acting in a cameo. The production design is fantastic, mingling authentic period with intentional anachronism and strong elements of anime (including primary colored hair to differentiate between the female characters.) Most of these "Masters of Horror" entries have served as reminders of why these once famed directors are working on direct-to-cable "movies" today. In Miike's case, it was an opportunity to see why horror must look to the future instead the past. Horror is like comedy, it must stay fresh, surprise, and push boundaries. In this too rare instance, mission accomplished.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A Frank Review of 2 Films to Die For

I suspect a good many folks were like me in late 2006, bopping along the internet, when a interesting banner caught your eye: an attractive woman with a wolfman tattooed on her nude backside. I passed over the banner, only to have the wolfman spring up and scream at me. Ha ha, nice, whatever. I followed the link for the first round of 8 Films to Die For, uncovering a variety of trailers, with several looking interesting. There were no reviews at that time, and when ads for the event started hitting the papers, I asked friends if they'd be interested in checking this business out. Well, then the reviews started trickling in, revealing the movies too intensely graphic for mainstream release were in fact mostly tepid direct-to-dvd crap spun through marketing into an event. Worse, every time I visited a geekcentric web page, my mouse would inevitably graze that stupid ad, turning any once positive notice into scorn. I steered clear, but one of my friends retained interest, and loaned me her copies of the two films I had the most interest in.

Penny Dreadful


The basic premise: Penny parents were killed when she was a child in a grisley car accident she survived. This was the best, most effect scene in the picture, and its about five minutes in. As an adult, Penny has a serious car phobia, so her therapist suggests a road trip onto an isolated mountain road in winter. Oh yeah, the premise is that thin. So a creepy hitchhiker is picked up, and the mayhem begins.

In all honesty, I only wanted to catch this picture because I find Rachael Miner to be really, really hot. Sadly, she spends pretty near the entire movie in a huge furlined coat, possibly on loan from Penelope Cruz's character from "Vanilla Sky." Mmm, Cruz and Miner. So the thought advanced by my previous sentence was better than anything this film had to offer. Woman, trapped in a car, hounded by a psycho. Since in itself that should take ten minutes tops, lots of additional roadkill are introduced half-heartedly and dispatched with little more care. Also, the mostly unseen killer is exposed in the final reel, which almost always means a huge letdown. Yup. Remember that rumor that Josh Saviano from "The Wonder Years" had grown up to become Marilyn Manson? No, that's this kid.

The Hamiltons


Dead parents? Suspicious nomadic family of anti-social teenagers? Insinuation of incest between the fraternal twins? Potential fratricide? Hot chick butcherbait held in captivity? Homicidial gimp in the cellar? Directed by "The Butcher Brothers?"

How did this all go so terribly un-wrong? This could have been the "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" for the "Scream" set. Instead, it's "Party of Five" to the... wait, I think this is just "Party of Five." Little violence, some bothersome misogyny outweighed by days spent with crying victims, entirely too much first person narrative from the little bitchboy POV character... just bad all over. Pretty much every "twist" is spoiled in the trailer, which is okay, because they would have otherwise been spoiled in context by context.

Two duds out of 8? Or maybe it's just best to get out before I'm really upset by the loss of my precious time...

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Frank Review of "Day of the Dead 2: Contagium" (2005)

The Short Version? Dirty Cheap Zomedy.
What Is It? "Horror." "Comedy."
Who's In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? Not if you have brrr-AInnsss. Altered states optional.



Over the last few days, I've been talking quite a bit about my experience with horror movies, specifically George Romero's "Dead" films. After the landmark "Dawn" and a new appreciation for the original "Night," the third of these films left a great deal to be desired. In the classic clip movie "Terror in the Aisles," there's a wonderful excerpt from "Day" in which a mad soldier leads an army of the dead onto an elevator platform. As the flesh eaters begin their business on the soldier, he presses a button that begins to lower the platform. His fellows look on in horror as this terrible throng is ever so slowly presented before them, the mechanism moving as deliberately as the dead themselves, but with the same dire consequence. This excerpt, combined with my love for "Dawn," set me up for a massive fall when seeing "Day" as a whole failed to deliver on this promise. I've revisited "Day" many times since, and forgive it more of it's weaknesses with each viewing. Still, so much emphasis was placed on the grisly effects and overblown characters, it could never stand next to the prior installments.

The zombie craze that began with 28 Days Later... and continued throughout the Bush presidency freed up money for a pair of 2005 direct-to-DVD sequels to "Day," obviously with no input from and little regard for George Romero. As might be gleaned from my review of Diary of the Dead and mentions of "Land" and the original "Day," I see this as no great shame. I rented "Day 2" with no more prejudice than I would have toward any D2DVD movie with clearly dubious production values. From interview material during production, it's clear the filmmakers were passionate about the material and excited by the results of their efforts. I appreciate their enthusiasm, though it also makes me sad, because the movie they created is pretty darn terrible.

The flick starts in 1968, and purports to be a prequel to "Night of the Living Dead," seemingly with a lower budget than the original (without adjusting for inflation.) A dirty Ruskie stole a mystery substance from the Americans, before a defector returned it, but not without exposing himself to zombie dust. Seriously, this stuff is in some sort of mod sci-fi salt shaker that periodically opens up and releases glowing white pixie things. Like most of the movie, the effect is so unbelievably ill-considered, you're left wondering if the whole thing is a gag. So anyhow, a random hospital orderly steals a salt shaker in the midst of a zombie outbreak for reasons unknown, hides it in a thermos, and tries to escape a military clampdown. He trips, then gets back up as an insta-zombie, and is gunned down. This opening sequence is an excellent gauge for how gloriously awful the film is, and somehow manages to get worse when it jumps to the present. Let me count the ways:




  1. Between the zombie salt chess piece dispenser thingees and the ethereal light of the living dead, the movie recalls 1987's "*batteries not included." How's that for weird association?

  2. CGI jeeps, helicopters and classic cars that look like a cut scene from a video game. We're talking Sega CD here.

  3. Several obviously fake guns and rifles-- possibly made of wood or carved out of a bar of soap.

  4. There wasn't enough money for blanks, so soldiers just pretend to fire their weapons by jerking them upwards when "shooting." Sometimes directly into the camera during close-ups.

  5. Blood is cheaper than blanks, so that goes everywhere.

  6. ...but squibs are used sparingly, in favor of just falling down.

  7. Classic "look everywhere but at the approaching monster" stupidity.

  8. Zombie Patient Zero looks, acts and talks like Baron Zemo.

  9. Did I mention Zombie Patient Zero talks? As do all of the other major zombies.

  10. Vague references to and a pseudo-sequel of "Night of the Living Dead" is a trademark of the "Return of Living Dead" franchise, all rights reserved.

  11. An uncredited cameo by Adam Carolla as the military chief? Nah, his quote was much too high.

  12. All persons changing into a zombie must first drip Hershey's Chocolate Syrup from their mouth.

  13. Anyone being eaten must drip Hershey's Strawberry Syrup from their mouth, even if it's a leg wound.

  14. This is supposed to be a "sequel" to "Day of the Dead," which took place well into the global zombie apocalypse. Instead, its serio-comic tone fits better after "Return of the Living Dead Part 2," which itself sidestepped the nuclear holocaust at the end of its prior installment.

  15. The zombie thermos is found forty years later by mental patients forced to clean a park, who treat it as an object of great interest.

  16. "Mental patients" could easily double as leads in a D2DVD "Revenge of the Nerds" sequel, and can also double for more generally "mentally challenged," because I suppose some people find the conditions interchangeable.

  17. Each character, aside from the lead, is defined entirely by their neurosis.

  18. The males are mostly a freakshow. The females are all reasonably hot...

  19. ...which might explain why two of them get into a catfight.

  20. Zombies in an asylum is (c)1989 "The Dead Pit."

  21. Since the movie takes place in an institution, there must be a creepy head doctor conducting unholy experiments with his patients...

  22. ...and the abusive, rapist orderly, 'natch.

  23. ...and the "Patch Adams" good guy doctor, though he's responsible for most everything that goes wrong in the picture.

  24. The black mental patient seemed to take his acting cues from Wiploc and Zeebo of 1988's "Earth Girls Are Easy."

  25. We can give the evil head doctor a thick German accent, or make him sound like he's deaf? Hey, why not both?

  26. Zombie fist fights?

  27. Zombie sympathy pains?

  28. Zombie telepathy?

  29. Zombie cure?

  30. Zombie puns?

  31. Jerry, the Lone Gunman exposition geek.

  32. Hero cop Geraldo Rivera?

  33. At some point, when your monster is a virulent, talking bag of mutated meat, you're just not a zombie movie anymore.

  34. Especially when you have a clash between good zombies who don't eat flesh...

  35. ...and bad who taunt and gab with the intent to turn the good zombies to the dark side.

  36. Zombie immaculate conception? For no apparent reason? Even when addressed in the director's commentary?

  37. Instant zombie baby (c)1992 "Braindead/Dead Alive."

  38. I HAD to listen to the commentary track with the two (!) directors, which is the most patronizing thing ever...

  39. Stating proudly that you left the ending "wide open" doesn't make it artistically ambiguous, just vague and anticlimactic.

  40. Despite all of the above, still a better and more enjoyable picture than George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead."



Opening Minutes:

Monday, March 3, 2008

A Frank Review of "George A. Romero's Diary of the Dead" (2007)



The Short Version? The Blair Zombie Project
What Is It? Zombie Horror.
Who's In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? No, unless you were big on lonelygirl15.

Yesterday, I talked about my long history of watching horror movies, and I'm especially fond of the Romero-style "dead." I'm perfectly happy to call them "zombies," as I'm not one to stand on ceremony, and that is how the creatures are popularly known. In fact, I'm perfectly willing to cast the net more broadly than most, as I consider everything from the Rage-infected humans of "28 Days Later..." to the vampiric hordes of "Lifeforce" to the eponymous "Aliens" to be "zombie movies." I suppose I should take a page from "Resident Evil," and declare my love for "survival horror," but again, they're all just zombie movies to me. I like a small collection of smart, determined individuals struggling against overwhelming hordes of mindless abominations, preferably of the undead variety in a familiar backdrop.

This gets me back to the Romero-style dead. The horror in these creatures, when properly employed, does not come from their speed, capabilities, viciousness, nor visage. They are the creeping inevitability-- no matter how pathetic they seem, nor how easily they can be outsmarted, outgunned, or outrun. Ultimately, there are just too many of them, they cannot be stopped, and everyone will succumb to them regardless of their beliefs or abilities. We are all among the dead eventually. Great "dead" movies confront us with our mortality and our hubris more than ghouls and gore. They are moaning, mindless, and a reflection of our innermost failings and unavoidable doom.

I've been reading reviews of Romero's latest "dead" picture, which is 60% Fresh(ish) at Rotten Tomatos. The previous "Land of the Dead" and Day of the Dead" are at 74% and 79% respectively. Many reviews note that "Diary" finally broke Romero's streak of great "dead" pictures, being fair-to-middling. I don't fully understand this, as I haven't truly enjoyed a Romero flick since "Dawn," and in some respects "Diary" is better than the previous two installments. However, it is still a mostly joyless chore to watch, much like those other two.

I was supposed to see George Romero's "Diary of the Dead" with a friend, but his fiancee got sick, and I really needed a nap. I slept until 11:30p.m., and realized that the last showing of the film in town I was likely to catch before it left theaters was that night at 12:40 a.m. I was slightly apprehensive about the thought of walking out of what was guaranteed to be an empty theater alone at 2:30 in the morning after watching a zombie movie. However, there were 2-4 other patrons in my theater, and the movie was in no way disturbing. The best moment was when someone's head kept bopping over the corner of the exit stairway, likely cursing the few of us keeping him from cleaning the auditorium, but resembling one of the shambling dead while obstructed.

In the film, Romero attempts the same ham-fisted social commentary as in "Land," this time targeting the emotional exhibitionism and egocentric detachment of the YouTube/reality programming era. Now, a good social critic can watch some poor soul on a streaming video trying desperately to connect with humanity and express themselves via an inherently impersonal barrier medium. Romero, unfortunately, just sees their delusions of grandeur in the midst of an opportunity at unlimited access to information and "truth." His subjects are supposedly contemporary, but his mindset is still entrenched in 1960s radicalism, so that his characters are just soapboxes to express his editorializing. This problem is made worse by Romero's actually having money to pay "talent" rather than whoever was around that could speak dialogue, begging impotently for the audience to respond to PYTs of both genders going through his motions without an inkling of verisimilitude. Very much like every "dead" movie since "Dawn," come to think about it.

Where "Diary" improves on the post-70's installments is in returning to realistic surroundings, as opposed to the underground military facility and the "Mad Max" post-apocalyptic ridiculousness. "Diary" also has a visceral pull thanks to the first person perspective from his subject's video cameras. This mode puts the viewer into the action, without the nausea of "Blair Witch" jerkiness, and with the limited scope that allows the bogeymen to reach out of the blackness at you. There was much gnashing of teeth when Romero was removed from "Resident Evil" in preproduction, but based on "Diary," the real loss is that he wasn't hired for "House of the Dead" instead.

On the other hand, there's so very much wrong with the movie. The "characters." The "actors." The dubious motivations. The episodic nature of the narrative, which plods through such silly territory as the militant black militia and the deaf Amish man communicating via chalkboard. To a large degree, "Diary" seems to exist to either criticize or crib from the many zombie movies of recent years. It's less a story as a storehouse for bits Romero didn't manage to get into his other films. At a mere 90 minutes, it's amazing how long and meandering this mess felt while watching. I hope I never feel a compulsion to see it again, but I'm confident I will, and will be the poorer for again wasting my time.

For such a revered figure, George Romero hasn't made very many good films. The more I look at his filmography, the more I feel he absorbs the material around him and spits out a byproduct. The late 60's and 70's were an excellent time for subtle, relevant, sophisticated films. The 80's were a time for excessively violent action fests. The "Dead" films of those decades reflect their time, and I suppose I'm sad that the dead of the oughts are so empty, slick, and self-important, because it speaks ill of us all.

...nurghophiles...

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