Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Trouble With Nightwing



I've been a fan of Dick Grayson since about 1983, when I realized the useless tool that was Robin had grown up to become a formidable detective, strategist, and team leader amongst the New Teen Titans. Grayson was the first kid sidekick, and was among the first to graduate to full hero status, in a new adult identity. Sadly, what was a wonderful development for the character and an opportunity to legitimize the protege for modern audiences instead marked the point where Grayson essentially ceased to progress. This isn't so unusual, as Wally West was the only contemporary of Dick's to become an A-lister, though through the acceptance of the mantle of his mentor at his passing. However, unlike Tenpest, Troia, and the rest of the virtual also-rans, Dick Grayson remains one of the most recognizable alter egos in comic book history and through mass media. Like Ginger Rogers, the original Robin had to keep up with his more acclaimed partner while prepubescent and wearing booties. That should count for a lot, given the company. As a longtime fan, I'd like to offer DC Comics my opinions on how to finally take the Nightwing concept to the next level, before Dan Didio manages to force his death in a future inter-company crossover.

  • Unlike every other Robin you'll ever introduce, Dick Grayson has the seminal sidekick origin, and it's strong enough to work without Batman. "Son of circus acrobats witnesses his parents plunge to their deaths due to sabotage from extortionists. Boy wonder dons a variations on his parents' performing uniform and employs his inborn agility and keen mind to solve their murder. The youth continues both his studies and his crime busting into adulthood, until he sheds the gaudy garb of Robin to embrace his new role as one of the greatest super-heroes in the world: Nightwing." Think outside of "Batman and..." to see the story potential based on that simple, effective origin.
  • That said, what exactly does a "Nightwing" do? The "acrobat detective" is a shorthand description of most every street-level vigilante since the Golden Age, and it just isn't enough on its own. Without Batman, Nightwing is just Daredevil with better vision, two sticks, and a fraction of the depth. That means you need to either invent a whole new gimmick, or embrace the Batman.
  • Why would the ward of a multi-millionaire patrol a city with nothing but escrima sticks? Again, while Robin was the lesser partner, he can still claim 50% of the Batman mythos from 1940-1980. Batarangs, Batcopters, Bat-Shark Repellant: so much of the paraphernalia associated with Batman has been discarded or downplayed in recent decades. Nightwing can claim all of it as his heritage, and that deep resource and legacy should be exploited.
  • You have the excuse that Dick wants to prove he's his own man? He's been trying since the early 70's, and been essentially stunted since the mid-80's. I think it's safe to call that angle a failure. Dick Grayson works best as a bridge builder and team player. There's no reason he can't work closely with Batman and the DCU as a whole without pretending like he can rebuild his heroic persona from scratch. Besides which, one of the most important steps in adulthood is acknowledging your debt to the people who raised you and their influence, from which no one can ever escape, Nightwing most of all.
  • Nightwing can replace Batman, to assume his true role in the DC Universe. You see, since Denny O'Neil decided to take the Dark Knight back to his roots as a grim, isolated avenger, he's been unable to fully serve his iconic role within comics continuity. He's an "urban myth," antagonistic, and loathes leaving Gotham City. Batman has difficulty functioning outside a narrow range of story types and emotions, which is a handicap Nightwing is free from. He can stand before reporters as the brilliant leader of the Justice League of America-- amongst virtual gods to prove the value of human determination. He can fly a starship through a space opera, romance a vampire, battle super-intelligent apes, bounce off the keys to giant typewriters: anything Batman could do at one time, but now can't.
  • Again, virtually every comic book Batman appeared in for over thirty years co-starred Dick Grayson, so those are all his stories, too. There's no reason Nightwing can't operate out of Gotham City and confront any villain from their mutual rogues gallery. Attempts to create a new cadre of villains expressly for Nightwing have met with slight success, so why not make use of established evil-doers?
  • Despite that lengthy shared history, Nightwing has some of his own that has gone mostly untouched. As with Batman, Nightwing has a shared interest in thirty years worth of Teen Titans adventures. Those experiences should be referenced and explored.
  • Nightwing's current costume, with minor alterations, was designed by Brian Stelfreeze in the mid-90's. It is simple and reasonably effective, but it's hardly Alex Toth's Space Ghost or anything. The fact is, Nightwing has never had a good costume, including his current gear, which so lacks in imagination as to not pass muster for a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes. Yes, his old suits were often embarrassingly hideous, but the paradigm shift to lifeless "safety" leaves anyone not already enchanted with Nightwing with the impression that he's simply bland and obligatory, not a viable hero who can bring in new fans.
  • Just as with the "rebellious youth" nonsense, Nightwing should be too old to be seen with "Teen" Titans, and his reputation in general isn't helped by constantly forming super-teams with the likes of Tempest, Troia, Arsenal, and such. Go big or go home. As much as I tell you to look back on where Nightwing has been, the purpose is to help guide the character to a new future, not wallow with the same underachievers forever.
  • Dick Grayson's adventures predate nearly every major Marvel character's by nearly a quarter century. He was a contemporary of the Justice Society of America, and active long before Hal Jordan, Barry Allen, and the rest. He deserves respect and a definitive place in the DCU that will never come without a concerted publishing effort. People the world over knew him as Robin. One wonders how it would react if there was more of an attempt to point out "Hey! Look! Robin's grown up into a new character!" That may be old news to fanboys, but the concept hasn't penetrated the general consciousness. Build a catalog of noteworthy Nightwing stories, and then resell him to the public.
  • A major part of that effort should be giving Nightwing a purpose to exist beyond "Dick got tired of wearing shortpants." Nightwing doesn't need a new origin, but he does need a stronger motivation for why he continues to operate and to what end. Without that, it's no wonder he's just brawling with one empty villain after another.
  • Dick Grayson was a distant cousin of the 40's Robotman. Bet you didn't know that.
  • Nightwing as a police officer never worked, because he has the wrong temperament. It also speaks poorly of him as a role model to have dropped out of college nearly thirty years ago and never return. Part of the character's growing up should be putting aside fantasies of cops and robbers, figure out what he wants to be when he grows up, and get back to school to pursue that end. In fact, I suspect his lack of direction has soured his reputation with Tim Drake, to whom he once was himself a mentor. If the latest Robin can't respect and follow in the footsteps of the original, what value will readers find in Nightwing?
  • Nightwing needs to solve his own cases, and win his own battles, consistently. Otherwise, he'll never be A-list, and this kid was friggin' Robin! Do you want the greatest child star gone mediocre on your hands, or can you bring up your game already?

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

nurgh's Greatest Songs of Our Time #4: "Midlife Crisis" by Faith No More (1992)

Written By: Mike Patton (Music & Lyrics,) Roddy Bottum, Mike Bordin, & Billy Gould (Music)
Released: May 26, 1992
Album: Angel Dust
Single?: #1 on Billboard US Modern Rock Tracks, #10 UK Singles Chart, etc.

A brief history of my interest in music: I grew up on AM country, 50's Rock n' Roll (especially Elvis,) and only the most mainstream of pop (Michael, Madonna, etc.) During one of the worst periods of my life, my year living outside Vegas, I abandoned the entirely too depressing western music for a deeper appreciation of pop (still the 80's) and rock (mostly 60's.) Going into my teens, I started to diversify somewhat with hip-hop and metal, but I was still too milquetoast to plunge very deeply into those waters. My brother was very into both those forms however, so he heightened my exposure to bands like Metallica and Faith No More, even while I tended to keep them somewhat at arm's length. While I enjoyed quite a few tracks off their masterpiece, "Angel Dust," it was many years after initial exposure before I recognized it as a work of art. Matter of fact, I'd pretty much forgotten the spotlight single of the day, only to have revisitation elevate it to one of my favorites of our time.



Go on and wring my neck
Like when a rag gets wet
A little discipline
For my pet genius
My head is like a lettuce
Go on and dig your thumbs in
I cannot stop giving
I'm thirty-something
Sense of security
Like pockets jingling
Midlife crisis
Suck ingenuity
Down through the family tree
You're perfect, yes, it's true
But without me you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleeding enough for two
It's a midlife crisis...
What an inheritance
The salt and the kleenex
Morbid self attention
Bending my pinky back
A little discipline
A donor by habit
A little discipline
Rent an opinion
Sense of security
Holding blunt instrument
I'm a perfectionist
And perfect is a skinned knee
You're perfect, yes, it's true
But without me you're only you
Your menstruating heart
It ain't bleeding enough for two
It's a midlife crisis...............

Monday, April 28, 2008

1977 "Superheroes Assemble" Marvel Comics Subscription Ad



What can I say? 1977 was a good year for Marvel subscription ads. Happy but dynamic Jazzy Johnny Romita Captain America! 70's icons Howard the Duck, Captain Marvel and Conan the Barbarian, the latter two playing a big part in my childhood. Spidey! Thor! Hulk! Human Torch! Iron Man! All iconic and ready for application on Slurpee cups, beach towels and the like. Even Daredevil, anticipating the noir cool of Frank Miller while remaining marketable! When did we lose our way? When did we decide the path to multi-media glory lay in giving Tin Head 30 bajillion different armors, Cap a gun, or the Odinson that lame ass black and silver armor? You're all bloody fools!!!

Sunday, April 27, 2008

JLA/Avengers: The Collector's Edition tabloid hardcover




Often in these crossovers, you long for more space to have characters interact outside the main story. Somehow, with 218 pages, this is still true. It seems to me the problem was inclusionism. Rather than giving the primary heroes of interest room to interact, the space was taken up by more in-jokes, locations and characters, to the point you just get tired and want it all to end. Worse, this book seems to follow-up Jim Shooter's concern regarding the first attempt at this pairing, that the core story was weak, by layering the plot with details and complications. That's all well and good, but I found myself in the Dick Giordano camp of not giving two shits about the stupid goddamned set-up, because all I want to read about are the heroes meetings with one another.

I've never been fond of the unwieldy tabloid format, but it serves this specific project well. Perez draws so many intricate scenes and in such massive scale, you need the format to do it just. The hardcover is also an enhancement, as the original cardstock issues prevented readers from really opening up those two page spreads and basking in their glory.

A problem I had with the book was the clear favoritism. For instance, the Scarlet Witch single-handedly defeated Starro, with a plan generated by the Vision. This was done at the protest of her brother Quicksilver, who'd just been released from Starro's sway. The Scarlet Witch taps into the overwhelming chaos magic of the DCU, knocking the JLA about while teleporting her Avengers to wherever they wish. Quicksilver twice loses the object of his pursuit to the Flash, who in one instance leaves the Avenger all wet. Quicksilver fares well against Plastic Man, Hawkman, and Blue Beetle, but Scarlet Witch has to save him from Black Canary to secure their victory. Maybe there's an issue with speedsters, as Flash proves powerless on Marvel Earth, gets beaten by an angry mob who mistake him for a mutant, and can't even retrieve a power battery from Kyle's apartment without Iron Man and Hawkeye beating him down. On the other hand, the script seems to overcompensate by having him retrieve two more artifacts on his own, both times denying the inferior Quicksilver.

Iron Man, a character so favored by Busiek that he wrote his adventures in both a solo title and the Avengers for several years, just constantly owns. He's the one who comes up with a means of detecting and tracking the JLA on Marvel Earth; devises a weapon that can send the JLA back to DC Earth with a shot; is given a Mother Box that ramps him up further; teams-up with friggin' Hawkeye to beat Flash, Green Arrow, and most incredulously, Captain Atom (who's erroneously treated as having radioactive powers susceptible to lead shielding, not the quantum energy that allows no such quick fix.)

Wonder Woman is never shown performing above her abilities, but it's so uncommon for her to be treated with proper respect in these sort of affairs, you know George Perez had a hand in the matter.

Batman and Captain America proved the most level headed and deserted to pursue an investigation. That's swell, I suppose, but I still wanted to see the Dark Knight get his ass handed to him. As a partnership, these guys proved a two-fold bore, with the only livelihood provided by a guest appearance by Ben Grimm.

How's this for an oddity: Plastic Man shouting in Batman's face for going off-mission and being unprofessional. It occurs to me he pulled a similar turn with Superman after "Our Worlds At War." Who knew Eel O'Brien had such huevos and the moral indignation to bust others of such magnitude. He kind of reminds me of Mr. Pink.

Zatanna, despite her power and the opportunity to properly showcase them here, got virtually no play. Are we certain Gerry Conway had no hand in this incarnation?

I know the Mighty Thor is one of the big three Avengers, but the severe reaction of his fellows to his defeat at Superman's hands felt wrong. That would be more of a Cap reaction, y'know?

The third issue of the mini-series was fucking dreadful... 48 pages of spinning wheels caused by an editor who seems to have offered criticism rather than solution. We'll go into greater detail later. I took a nap partway through my reading. A purposeless waste of time and talent that would have been better served by cutting the issue altogether. Also, what was up with the super-villain team of Silver Swan, Killer Croc, Shrapnel, Mammoth, Bloodsport, Sonar, Silver Banshee and Poison Ivy? A Secret Society of the 80's that never was? So random.

The opening pages of the finale were among the best of the crossover. It was great seeing the heroes working together, and the poignancy of some reunions (Vision & Wanda; Hank and Janet) were deeply felt. Somewhat less so with Hal and Barry, since DC flogs itself so routinely with that sort of pathos. After acting like assholes for three straight editions, the respectful nods between Captain America and Superman were important.

Things went downhill with the assault on Kronus' citadel, which threw in everything, including the kitchen sink, to numbing excess. Seeing Batroc get the drop on Batman was hilarious. I dug the Extremist Masters of Evil, two of my favorite villainous tastes, made great together. The deaths of Barry and Clint and Green Arrow's seemingly portentous words should have been paid off, but were instead cheated. Again with the favoritism slighting a potentially memorable character moment right into the dustbin of history. Captain America's certified ownership of Prometheus was swell, as were the martial arts collective versus Batman's impromptu troop. It was so, so nice to see Perez finally draw a proper Aquaman in a spotlight moment. Toward the end, the barrel scarping for characters was quite audible. So was the creaking of the shoddy resolution under all that weight. Still, seeing two of my favorite characters, Captain Anerica and Martian Manhunter, working so seamlessly together made it all worthwhile.

Left field moments I dug: Lobo vs. the Imperial Guard; Thanagarian Wingmen vs. Skrulls; Mongul vs. the Brood; how much cooler the Starros looked in the MU and under Perez's pen; Atom's subdued but consistent presence; Hawkman looking bad ass; Wonder Woman's choke hold on Hercules; Black Panther stealthily snagging an artifact with no resistance; Bruce Wayne's severe slickback look.

I think I'd have preferred to read all of the original version of this meeting from 1983, but this still served well enough.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Nightwing: The Lost Year




"I’d still recommend “Love and War” to just about any Nightwing fan. I just hope the next collection allows the hero a chance to succeed at, well, something?"


Those were the words I used to close my review of the last Nightwing trade, "Love and War." In the time since, I've read a number of reviews hailing the new team of Pete Tomasi and Rags Morales as being a massive improvement simply by being any good at all. I took offense at this type of remark, as I'd enjoyed Wolfman's recent and classic work on the charcter, and felt the criticism was unfair. Then, of course, I read his follow-up.

What. The. Fuck?

I'd bought the title under the impression this would cover the time between the Robin becoming Nightwing, a period already covered by Chuck Dixon and Scott McDaniel, but by a creative team I hated on this character. My presumption was unfounded, as Wolfman instead covered the time between the disbanding of the Teen Titans and his work on the reformed New Teen Titans. None of this really matters however, as this is a total miscarriage of storytelling. Jamal Igle, continuing his attractive work from earlier in the run, quits the book after two issues. It's revealed that despite all the girlfriends Dick Grayson had in the 70's, he busted his cherry with an evil Asian villainess somehow not named Cheshire (not that she was likely heroin-boy Roy's first, either.) The new supporting characters barely make a peep in this edition. The new tech support for Nightwing turned out to be a carryover from the old Vigilante book, and he fails to make an appearance in what turned out to be an extended backdoor pilot for a new Vigilante book. In fact, evil Asian villainess, who works for evil charismatic male Asian villain, seem to also be intended for the new Vigilante book. You can tell by the way Nightwing again fails to defeat or capture either of them, though it gives him a chance to get his ass repeatedly owned by the new Vigilante, who will likely kill the Asians in his own book.

I suppose with all these Asians running around, it made some sort of sense to switch from Igle realistic art to Jon Bosco faux manga style, his issues seeming to have been hacked out in the weekly format popular in Japan. Everything in this book comes off as amateurish and arbitrary. The i-Tunes assissin pops up for a page, presumably to remind us of how he'd previously beat down Nightwing and intended to do so again. The evil Asians perform a minor massacre at the same super-villain club Bride and Groom performed a grander massacre in previously, with much less cause. Absolutely nothing is resolved in the end, with the "Lost Year" serving only token mention of Dick's being previously and now continuously powned. Responsible parties should be pelted with unsold copies of this piece of shit when the returns come back from Borders. Those great Ryan Sook covers sure sold a false bill of goods.

The book's saving grace made me sad for two reasons: I'd already purchased it, and it was a lead-in rather than a follow-up. Marc Andreyko and Joe Bennett had done very nice work on the second Nightwing annual, filling in cavities in Nightwing's continuity left by people like Wolfman. As a fan of the romantic relationship between Dick and Barbara Gordon, it was a pleasure to see it treated so respectfully and augmented with grace. That portion of the book was just damned pretty.

I'm pretty confident I'm going to stay the hell away from any more Wolfman trades in the near future. His woek here was absolutely wretched, and only deepened the concerns I had in the first round. Man, I can't wait to read the new work by Tomasi and Morales. It might just be any good at all...

Friday, April 25, 2008

Superman Red State/Superman Blue State



A few weeks back, I broke down the political alignment of the Avengers line-up based on their iconic status quo more than continuity minutiae. That's how you have to roll when you read Marvel Comics as sporadically as I have since our falling out in the early 90's. DC Comics, on the other hand, I followed religiously until a few years back. This allows me much greater familiarity with their characters, so I'd like to discuss their alignments in greater detail.

Might as well start at the top of the hill with the Man of Steel. However, Superman is tricky, as part of his appeal is being all things good and right to all peoples of the world. Well, not miserable bastards like me who'd like to see Marshal Law pound the nails into his crucifix, but I'm talking about normal people. Let's look at the evidence...


SUPERMAN BLUE STATE

  • Superman crusaded for social causes in his earliest appearances.
  • Superman was a close friend of President John F. Kennedy, and seemed fond of Bill Clinton.
  • Superman appeared in many PSAs in the 60's and 70's promoting racial harmony.
  • Since the mid-80's, Superman has routinely opposed the agenda of politically independent but decidedly conservative tycoon Lex Luthor.
  • Worked closely with lesbian police chief Maggie Sawyer for many years.
  • He can tolerate Batman for extended periods of time.



SUPERMAN RED STATE

  • Despite being resolutely blue collar, Kansas consistently votes Republican.
  • Kansas, and quite obviously Superman, skew toward high-minded moralism and against liberal causes like abortion rights, freedom in the arts, and are possessed of a downright libertarian dogged self-determinism. In fact, Kansas seems to openly hate liberals, skewing far to the right.
  • I'm not sure a non-white character appeared on a Metropolis street before the 1970's.
  • I don't recall any recurring non-white characters who worked for the Daily Planet before the early 90's.
  • I don't recall any recurring female characters at the Daily Planet besides Lois Lane prior to the late 80's.
  • Since the late 80's, Lex Luthor has been one of Metropolis' most beloved and influential figures.
  • Superman abandoned most social causes by the mid-1940's to become an authority figure most concerned with foiling theft and maintaining the status quo.
  • Superman was a close friend of President Ronald Reagan.
  • When Lex Luthor was a mad scientist, he went to jail at the end of every appearance. When Lex Luthor became an evil businessman, he rampaged largely unchecked until winning the presidency, and even after resigning in scandal he remains at large.
  • Lois Lane is a self-possessed ball buster that would send Ann Coultier crying to mama.
  • Excepting Luthor, most of Superman's foes are underprivileged, disfigured, and are often illegal aliens.
  • Most of Superman's foes are either far stupider or exceedingly more intelligent than himself.
  • Pretty near all of Superman's foes are far less powerful than himself.
  • When in doubt, Superman punches something.
  • He calls himself "Superman."
  • Superman is anti-interventionist with regard to foreign conflict, except when he takes a personal stake, like when he used to invade the Arab nation of Qurac on the third weekend of every month. Come to think of it, how often has Superman had trouble with non-Arabic nations?
  • His best "pal' wears a bow tie.
  • Once a year, Superman likes to read his mail and bestow token wish fulfillment to people. Also, he sometimes try to feed the world's hungry for a day. The he goes back to punching the Parasite for the other 364 calender days.
  • Superman is one of the most powerful beings in existence, but chooses to remain hands off in most instances.
  • Despite his power, he takes a high paying white collar position at a major metropolitan newspaper, where he writes columns instead of housing the homeless.
  • Three words: Fortress of Solitude.

    Jeez, I thought this would be more fair and balanced, but I'm just droning on at this point about what a total GOP the MOS happens to be...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Wed. Is Any Day For All I Care #3

So maybe two months is a long wait on a review column? Time is not relevant to my reviews! I will not be cowed by your bourgeois sensibilities!



Booster Gold #0 (DC Comics, $2.99) Back in the 90's, I had begun moving out from Titans and JLI fandom into the greater DC Universe, and saw two event projects as excellent opportunities to try out the full slate of titles: "Bloodlines" and "Zero Hour." Perhaps not the best of choices, but at least DC's "Zero Month" allowed new readers easy access to properties as unwieldy as "Legion of Super-Heroes," which I continued with for many years. DC has on special occasions returned to the #0 ploy, and while my complete set was busted up years ago, I'm still willing to buy these things as they pop up. The Booster Gold iteration was cute, though not nearly as entry level as it should have been. Oh, we get an origin recap I didn't actually need, but all this convoluted new status quo involving guardianship of time, multiple incarnations of Blue Beetle existing concurrently, Booster's rather familiar looking "dad," direct ties to multiple "event" series, and the promised salvation of two characters left unresolved had me feeling a bit overwhelmed. The main problem remains Booster Gold himself, whether as a bland cypher or a self-serving cypher, but never a character that stands on his own for me. I believe I'll explore this in greater detail soon.

Dark Ivory #1 (Image, $2.99) I was big on Joe Linsner in the CFD days, and helped talk the owner of the first comic shop I worked at full time into buying about four times as many copies of Dawn #1 as "X-Men." I believe he died before he sold them all, but between the 1-in-25 incentive covers and the eventual 300% mark-up on the regular books, he cleared a massive profit. You'll notice though that I just spent a couple sentences talking about the marketability of Linsner instead of the strength of his post-CFD writing? Yeah, purposeful, as I haven't read anything by him I've really enjoyed since the "Drama" one-shot. This new work is co-written by studiomate Eva Hopkins, and is much less pretentious and more accessible than anything Linsner's done since he went all "Barry Windsor Smith" on us. That said, it's still teen goth angst and a moon-faced protagonist, and we've all been there already. Further, I expect it to descend into the romantic Anne Rice vampire fare Linsner and Monks used to piss on, but it was good enough for what it was that I'd consider a heavily discounted trade.

Tiny Titans #1 (DC, $2.25) A little while back, I was surfing the net, and found a flash animated Teen Titans "adventure" in which "Slade" deals Raven some decidedly unwholesome violation. I'm no blushing virgin, and this isn't the first time I've seen children's tv fare molested in such a manner, but in this instance I was appalled by how oddly appropriate this horror was (speaking in a strictly canonical sense.) Remind me again who decided to feature a known ephebophilic master assassin named Deathstroke the Terminator in comics, none of which made it past the TV censors, on a kid's show? You know, the villain who returned to prominence through the 1-2 punch of kneecapping a pubescent boy and defending a rapist from a cadre of super-heroes? And let's not forget Raven, the daughter of an other dimensional demon who seduced Kid Flash to gain his protection? The same Raven who finally gave in to her father's unholy nature and committed acts of sapphic rape against several victims, including teammate Starfire, whom she impregnated with a "demon seed?" Maybe, just maybe, the producers should have stuck with safer teen heroes and their rogues.

All this leads me to Tiny Titans #1, and why exactly this series exists. Sure artist/co-writer Art Baltazar's doodles are cute, but his strips with Franco are weak sauce. Much of the humor is derived from in-jokes for aged fanboys and mild snark, only the latter of which would hold any interest for uninitiated children. For old fogies like me, there's a cognitive dissonance in seeing characters like Donna Troy and Cassie Sandsmark playing together as twin Wonder Girls, where young readers familiar with the cartoon series have a pint-sized Legion of Unfamiliar Heroes to sort out and fail to be entertained by. The book is confused, unfocused, and unfunny.

Reich #1 (Sparkplug Comic Books, $3.00) I had never heard of controversial psychoanalyst Wilhelm Reich and his theories about "orgone," a harnessable sexual energy, until reading this book's solicitation text. It all sounded fascinating, and I'm pleased that I followed up on that lead, but sorry the actual comic failed to impress. The impressionistic cover image gives way ill-suited cartooning inside, and Elijah J. Brubaker seems to have picked the least interesting point in Reich's life to start a decompressed biography. We see a brief wartime tryst, his being an opinionated ass at university, a brief first encounter with Sigmund Freud, and entirely too much freeloading and womanizing. If the goal was to make Reich recognizable in the manner of that slacker douchebag you ran into at Starbucks, mission accomplished, but the opening paragraph on his Wikipdia entry had more meat on its bones than this pamphlet. I pre-ordered the second issue sight unseen, so at least I can expect resolution of the cliffhanger ending in this first edition (WTF?)

The Last Defenders #1 (Marvel, $2.99) I'm a Dr. Strange fan, and I appreciate the other three founding Defenders as well. That said, I thought the mini-series by the old JLI creative team of Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire, seemingly designed to take the piss out of all of them, was still a great pleasure to read. The Defenders have always been a bad idea made viable by accepting the improbability of the team dynamic and running with the idiosyncrasies. I shouldn't have had any problem with a totally new assortment then, now produced by Joe Casey and Jim Muniz with the returning Keith Giffen, but I think maybe I do. Nighthawk has since childhood bothered me as a concept-- an open Batman analogue consistently mishandled and maligned by one writer after another, all while wearing a poorly designed outfit that somehow managed to get worse with time and effort. His loser status seems to be embraced here, as he's allowed by Tony Stark to lead a new team intended to represent New Jersey in the 50-State Initiative. He's joined by the unjustly dismissed Colossus, not that he's ever been a compelling figure, a mildly transgressive take on the Blazing Skull, and She-Hulk. The make-up seems intentionally unbalanced and due to be changed near immediately, but I bought the first issue expecting entertainment, not transiency. The group prove themselves to be an incompetent disaster by design, but again, what does that do for me as a reader but sigh at money wasted? A really nice cover by Steve McNiven that reminded me more of Travis Charest than the real thing does today, and a cute flashback to Damian Hellstrom as a failed applicant for Sorcerer Supreme are the only saving graces here.

Bluewater Comics Presents #1 ($0.99) ...several random pages from books in our super-heroine comic book line, all of which feature art heavily indebted to 90's Amerimanga favorites like Joe Madureira, Humberto Ramos, and so on. "The 10th Muse" had that faux animated cel computer coloring that was in vogue a few years, nothing resembling a character introduction, and an incomprehensible story excerpt(beyond "the fat chick with the mech is evil.") "Judo Girl" was far better, as far as that will take you from nowhere. At least here the basic premise is alluded to: a 60's martial arts super-hero transported to the present, where she faces her now aged old foes. Gearz suffered from comparison, as it used the exact same self-referential non-linear narrative device as the previous piece. The art was worse and the lead character the type of clueless super dork only seen in media, but at least she's well established. A two page centerfold of nearly twenty of the line's heroines failed to impress beyond the "hey-- even I could draw that better" sense. I'll give points to "The Legend of Isis" for allowing its heroine realistic belly fat, but it was otherwise too obtuse to follow (beyond "the giant lizard man is evil.") "Insane Jane" had the most original art style, realistic body types, and still no actual story. "The Blackbeard Legacy" seemed like it really wanted to be "Tellos." In summary, if you fondly remember the Marvel post-bust work of guys like Roger Cruz and Al Rio on C-list titles, Bluewater may be the place for you, and no one else.

Gunplay Preview #0 (Platinum Studios Comics, $0.99) By my count, this represents one-quarter of the upcoming graphic novel, bu which point we still have no protagonist, vague caricatures instead of characters, and a wealth of hateful violence with the slightest motivation. The story is meant to take place in a version of late 19th century West Texas populated by seething, unreasoning racists that I don't believe actually existed. There's some supernatural hoo-ha and a suspect preacher, but no actual story. Its just a collection of transgressive acts intended to sicken or titillate, depending on the audience. The only material of interest here were five pages of prose by Christopher Priest, a brilliant but challenging comic book writer consigned to the hell of lending support to this dreck. He covers no new ground in three chapters, but does it with so much more style and conviction than the main story as to shame its author by comparison.

Birds of Prey #111 (DC, $2.99) I try to make clear in the title that I don't care if my reviews are weeks or even months old, but I felt I should point out I waited over four months to read my final issue of BoP because the book had become such a chore to me. I started reading it mid-way through Gail Simone's run, double back in trade, and intended to move forward in the same format. However, DC was still waiting a year or more to collect her issues, so I switched to floppies about the same time the book began to sag in quality, before the bottom really dropped out in #100. I'm not a huge Black Canary fan, but the character's departure seemed to take much of Simone's interest with it, turning her last extended arc into a fan fiction clusterfuck of every girl power heroine she could snag. Come on now, Ice had managed to stay dead for over a decade without an excessive of tears, and while I always thought the character was shabbily treated in her last days, there was a perfectly good replacement Ice Maiden lying around. Where was Simone to keep a second ice woman out of the refrigerator, when she was skinned alive in a JSA: Classified story?

Anyhow, I've yet to warm to Sean McKeever, but I still had fond memories of Tony Bedard's Valiant work, so I decided to stick around for what became a mini-run of fill-in issues of descending quality. Thankfully, this final installment allowed Oracle a chance to shine as a differently-abled field agent, and even confront the Calculator, her second arch-nemesis in as many years. I think it's wonderful Barbara Gordon has been given the rogues gallery she was never allowed as Batgirl, but the story itself has some damaging pitfalls in the logic department, and it still confirmed that despite Bedard's soon returning as the book's designated writer, I won't be joining him.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

A Frank Review of the Kids in the Hall 2008 Tour



So Dave and I saw the Kids in the Hall stage show last night, and it was swell. It almost didn't happen, as this was a Tuesday night in Houston, as Scott was clear to point out in a rather graphic manner. We actually got our tickets late enough to enjoy Buy-One-Get-One-Free pricing, and only one lone nerd seemed to miss out as we entered the theater. There we were greeted by more nerds. My last couple times at Verizon Wireless were "Toadies" and "Deftones" concerts. I'm used to couples looking for darkened corners to tap that ass there, not tap their mana. Anyhow, the show only cost me twenty-five bucks, whereas the dinner we had at a jazz restaurant ran $58 with tip, no drinks. The place was lit almost entirely by candlelight, so it struck me as a great place to take a date if you have a sudden breakout. My dish, which also cost more than my ticket, was called "Seafood Infusion." It stood about nine inches tall, involved mahi-mahi, and was flanked by four scalloped potatos. Dave hated it, but it happened to have these great commercial art posters from the 30's up and oh my fucking god we're both straight men, okay?



Anyhow, before the show Dave and I entertained ourselves by discussing constellations that could be formed throughout the audience's bald spots. We were among the youngest and fittest in the room, which says something when you consider my own hairline and Dave's slowing metabolism. Still, it's great to find belly laughs and a superfiscial sense of superiority in Houston on a Tuesday night. The crowd was clearly more liberal than the norm, especially as Buddy Cole discussed how Jesus Christ was a raving homosexual, Mary Magdalene his fag hag, while name dropping the Montrose to roars. In fact, devoted KITH were especially rewarded by the show's 90 minutes of mostly new material, at least as of July 2007, since the set list was very nearly identical to the one performed at the 25th Annual "Just for Laughs" festival per their Wiki entry*. Not listed there was the Chicken Lady's turn as a phone sex operator**, not the first time "Failure To Launch" was referenced; Gavin, the young tall taler, greeting Jehovah's Witnesses with unintended ridicule, and Cathy and Kathie discussing weight loss through meth addiction. I knew*** a girl who did that, actually. Weight gain and aging came up often, as the Kids have gotten pretty old and fat****. Still, I got a thrill out of sitting a few hundred feet from Dave Foley, who I've had a man-crush on for years, possibly because he looked so good in a black cocktail dress back in the day. Classic a/v transitions and recurring gags were in full effect. They closed with "Superdrunk," worth noting on a comic book blog but one of the weakest skits, and the Mr. Tyzik encore coasted on goodwill, though it was surely earned. Below is a list of dates and more clips, so do give them your money if they pass your way.


* Bits #'d 5, 8, and 9 were replaced, and the set was in a much different order.

** At least twice as long and considerably varied from the clip above.

*** More Bible talk.

**** I had no idea they formed in 1984, not many years after Dave was born.



April
4 - Merrillville, Ind. @ Star Plaza Theatre
5 - Milwaukee, Wis. @ Riverside Theater
6 - Columbus, Ohio @ Wexner Center Mershon Auditorium
9 - Austin, Texas @ Paramount Theatre
10 - Austin, Texas @ Paramount Theatre
17 - Boston, Mass. @ Wang Centre
18 - New York, N.Y. @ Nokia Theatre
19 (7 p.m.) - New York, N.Y. @ Nokia Theatre
19 (10:30 p.m.) - New York, N.Y. @ Nokia Theatre
20 - New York, N.Y. @ Nokia Theatre
22 - Houston, Texas @ Verizon Theatre
23 - Dallas/Grand Prairie, Texas @ Nokia Theatre
24 - Kansas City, Mo. @ Uptown Theatre
25 (7 p.m.) - Madison, Wis. @ Barrymore Theatre
25 (10 p.m.) - Madison, Wis. @ Barrymore Theatre
26 - Minneapolis, Minn. @ Orpheum
27 - Winnipeg, MB @ Burton Cummings Theatre
30 - Glenside, Pa. @ Keswick Theatre

May
2 - Niagara Falls, N.Y. @ Seneca Casino
3 - Washington, D.C. @ Warner Theatre
4 - Easton, Pa. @ State Theater
8 - Anaheim, Calif. @ The Grove
9 - Los Angeles, Calif. @ The Orpheum
10 - San Francisco, Calif. @ War Memorial
11 - Portland, Ore. @ Arlene Schnitzer
13 - Salt Lake City, Utah @ Kingsbury Hall
15 - Seattle, Wash. @ WaMu Theatre
16 - Coquitlam, BC @ Red Robinson Show Theatre
17 - Calgary, AB @ Jack Singer Concert Hall
18 - Edmonton, AB @ Jubilee
20 - St. Louis, Mo. @ The Pageant
21 - Nashville, Tenn. @ Ryman Auditorium
22 - Orlando, Fla. @ Hard Rock Live
23 - Clearwater, Fla. @ Ruth Eckerd Hall
24 - Atlanta, Ga. @ Cobb Energy Center
25 - Charleston, S.C. @ North Charleston PAC
29 - Chicago, Ill. @ The Chicago Theatre
30 - Detroit, Mich. @ Royal Oak
31 - Cleveland, Ohio @ Playhouse Square

June
1 - Green Bay, Wis. @ Weidner Center
3 - London, Ont. @ Centennial Hall
5 - Toronto, Ont. @ Massey Hall

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Justice League of America #221-223 (12/83-2/84)




To be honest, I'm more of a JLA fan in theory than practice. I was familiar with "Super Friends" and other sideways exposures, but I didn't start picking up the title regularly until the International period. I then skipped out, returned for "Breakdowns," and left again with Giffen & DeMatteis. I came back for Gerard Jones' largely execrable run, but again steered mostly clear until Morrison finally fulfilled the promise of the classic team. I did eventually go back to the early and quite painful Gardner Fox and Denny O'Neil runs, plus a smattering of Satellite issues before diving into the Detroit train wreck.

My point in telling you all this is that unless Showcase reveals the 70's to be a golden decade, the Justice League of America has trended toward the suck for nearly its entire existence. In my experience, the "classic" membership sucks all the life out of the stories, leaving it up to the aberrant and inappropriate to produce anything worthwhile to read. The three issues I'm spotlighting here are no exception, as they deal mostly with a criminal cartel run by were-corporate executives given to grisly gladiator combat, and the League's stepping into their arena is as curious and exciting as it is plain wrong. Allow me to detail why:



The story opens with filthy, amorally rich spectators sent into orgiastic fits when splattered by blood ejaculated into their faces from the killing floor of a metropolitan coliseum. This was followed by Superman and Wonder Woman being battered unconscious by an anthropomorphic killer whale. A man-rhino then gores the Flash and leaves him for dead. Hawkman us at an archaeological dig where scientists are skewered and crushed by giant hybrid scorpions, one of whom's stingers penetrates the winged warrior's backside and leaves him deathly limp and the bloodletting continues. Elongated Man is savaged by attack birds and a steam press run by an old... Chinese... wait, that wasn't were-creature related. Ralph Dibney just sucked, and got his ass kicked by a geriatric Yellow Peril leftover. Oh, and writer Gerry Conway's pet character Firestorm avoids getting powned by taking a renegade cat woman into his care. As I hope I've illustrated, this story is gory as fuck and uncompromisingly brutal in a manner that grabs your attention span by the collar and dick slaps it across the face.

Things slowed down considerably in the second chapter, as the catwoman revealed she was part of the board of an insolvent company that chose to mutate itself and turn to technology theft to buoy their fortunes. I know it seems ridiculous, and it is, but imagine the pleasure of seeing the League combat a Ken Lay jackal-man and you'll forgive the excess. Besides, there's an extended arena clash between evil leader lion Rex and a traitor that ends in barehanded disembowelment and decapitation, which is always distracting. Hawkman being gassed in his sickbed along with Hawkwoman while Wonder Woman is beaten into submission and taken hostage also works. I only wish it were the Amazing Amazon that got gored, as the subtext would add a sexual component to this great mound of wrongness.

By the final chapter, so many life fluids were flowing that they had to start coloring it purple to get past the Comics Code Authority, or else it was expelled in such haste as to have not yet taken on oxygen. The surviving Leaguers invaded the were-Republicans secret island base, where Superman was pelted with red sun radiation and crucified. Aquaman fared better, using his telepathy to lobotomize the whale man, never to be heard from again. The sea king also choked a snakeman, making him the big winner in backsliding to barbarism amongst our heroes. Zatanna even managed to be useful, though the were-men were devolving throughout the arc, and ended up regressed back to seemingly lifeless animal form. Somebody call PETA?

The full arc was pencilled by Chuck Patton, who by rights could have been the Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez of the 80's if he'd just stayed the course. He even managed to overcome the inking of Romeo Tanghal, a feat even George Perez struggled with. I don't know that anyone has ever drawn so iconic and dynamic a Justice League, which only furthered the contrast with the savagery of their foes. It was wonderful, and of course all to brief, and the rest of Patton's career would be defined by his guilt in co-creating Vibe, the breakdancing wonder. If only we could get the inter company crossovers up and running again, so that Patton and Steve Ditko could craft the perfect coda to their respective careers-- a team-up with Speedball.

In summary, do go find these three back issues and relish them. It was all pop locking and BWAHAHA for the next couple decades. If anyone can recommend a similar diversion from Satellite Era shittiness, do leave a comment. Stories like this I could make room for.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Obscure Character Handbook: Madam Fatal



Real Name: Richard "Dick" Stanton
Dual Identity: Secret
Occupation: Retired stage actor turned altruistic social crusader.
Legal Status: Citizen of the United States with no known criminal record.
Marital Status: Widower
Known Relatives: Unnamed wife (deceased) and daughter.
Known Allies: Tubby White, Scrappy Nelson, talking parrot Hamlet
Major Enemies: John Carver (deceased)
Base of Operations: Mobile
Extent of Education: Unknown, but likely extensive.
Hair: Blond
Other Distinguishing Features: Adam's Apple
Intelligence: Unknown, though the strip itself was pretty dumb.
Strength Level: Surprising.
Skills: Accomplished actor, expert swimmer, pugilist and acrobat
Superhuman Powers: None.
Special Limitations: None known.
Special Weaponry: Walking cane and disguise.
First Appearance & Origin: Crack Comics #1 (May, 1940)
Publisher: Quality
Status: Public Domain
Created by: Art Pinajian

History:
On April 30, 1930, Richard Stanton, famous character actor and master of makeup played the last role of his long and successful career. Mr. Stanton portrayed an old woman in a performance that thrilled and amazed his audience. A millionaire through the stock market, Stanton had married and produced an heir, only to have his daughter kidnapped just a year after retiring. The culprit was crimelord John Carver, who waited two years from the day the woman he loved married Stanton to make off with their child. Knowing her shady past was responsible for the crime and unable to touch Carver, Stanton kept silent from police, though his bride died of a broken heart. For nine years, Stanton perfected a new identity, recreating his role as an elderly woman to perfection. He then spent the next eight years pursuing Carver before a break in the case led the pair to meet. Stanton revealed his long simmering plot, as he'd worked to help others and develop his skills for this final confrontation. Carver attacked, but shot himself in the chest when Stanton literally pulled the rug out from under him. With his dying words, Carver assured Stanton his daughter was still alive. Stanton decided to continue to employ the Madam Fatal disguise in pursuit of justice in general and his missing daughter specifically.

Stanton had many more rollicking encounters in the Madam Fatal disguise, doing the same duty as most heroes while managing in a skirt and heels. There were clear benefits to opponents assuming Stanton was an elderly woman, and the actor proved plenty capable of holding his own when the charade was revealed. One suspects he took some special pleasure in the role, since he generally passed on any other. Madam Fatal's foes often veered toward the "queer" as well, such as a cross-dressing thief who caught Stanton's eye because he so resembled Fatal; or Dwarf Rogan, a famous gang leader of slight stature but rough disposition who literally stole the wife of a friend of Stanton's before being left to die at sea.

Madam Fatal eventually gained a fame all "her" own, becoming a Miss Marple type in interactions with police. To my knowledge, the only people ever made aware of the Madam's little secret were a medical team that tended to a Fatal bullet wound, though the doctor chose not to reveal the truth to Stanton's cohorts.

A good many online resources have deigned to correct the author and refer to the character as "Madame," but the strip title remained "Madam" through to the end, by which point Stanton was teamed with a pair of bumbling dicks from the makeshift Sure-Fire Detective Agency: Tubby White, condemned with Ed Grimley hair and Fatty Arbuckle girth; and Scrappy Nelson, a gap-toothed and mangy redheaded child. Also, the internet suggests that Stanton eventually rescued his daughter, but if that's so, it doesn't seem the child ever came up again.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Ms. Empowered



It goes to show how tired and overworked I am that it took me two weeks from reading about Dr. Doom's recent out-of-character comments to Ms. Marvel specifically when revisted when John Byrne rewrote the dialogue for his blog, that I finally made the above connection. I've been reading and very much enjoying Adam Warren's "Empowered" series since I came across preview pages at CBR many months before release of the the first volume. The short story of her creation was the Warren came up with a generic super-heroine for a serious of BDSM commissions, developed sympathy for her plight, and began developing a personality and backstory for the character he shared with friends. Single images became short comic strips which snowballed into an actual narrative about a well-intentioned "super-chica." The ironically named "Empowered" suffers from a complete absence of self-esteem and an abusive circle of "Superhomeys," which leads her into one compromising situation after another in a vicious cycle of self-loathing and unappreciated potential. She's a sort of sexualized Charlie Brown, inescapably sympathetic and adorable while frustratingly incapable of moving beyond her circumstances. It's a great book about one of the best realized female personalities in comics, if you can get past the bondage, violence, exploitation and generally wretched souls to find the absurdist humor and biting social commentary.

Speaking of which, we return to Brian Michael Bendis' over-the-top dialogue and the impact on Ms. Marvel's ego, a situation consistently mined for humor in "Empowered," to examples given above. In light of his recent handling of Tigra, readers crying "misogyny" can be forgiven for missing what should have been an obvious swipe. Our heroine is a derivative super-wannabe viewed as a place-holder amongst her more popular crime fighting "betters." She has flowing blonde hair, a blue-black costume, and serious issues. She wears a less-than-concealing face mask, an angular yellow chest icon, and can't seem to avoid bearing more skin than in appropriate in her chosen field. How power levels are in no way consistent, ranging from awe-inspiring to virtually nonexistent, typically leading her to become battlefield fodder despite high aspirations. Quick-- did I just describe Ms. Marvel or Empowered? In the featured story, Carol Danvers is even in seriously tattered gear, an Empowered necessity. So what I'm saying ism amidst all this moral indignation, let's not forget to call a swipe a swipe, eh?

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Old Negro Space Program

While looking up reference for tomorrow's post, coming sooner than later, I stumbled upon a fellow Houstonian comic book blogger's work. I've been out of the comic shop scene for years, though I was still a bit disappointed I don't recognize the fellow, and he does solid work here. For instance, I liked this brief, very funny, NSFW pseudo-documentary post enough to steal it for ya'll...

Friday, April 18, 2008

A Frank Review of "Karla"

I'd first become aware of the "Ken and Barbie" serial killers of Canada when Karla Homolka was being released from prison in 2005. Essentially. she and her husband, Paul Bernardo, were involved in the rape and murder of three teenage girls, including Homolka's 15-year-old sister, Tammy Lyn. Homolka also became aware Bernardo was the already infamous "Scarborough Rapist" before their marriage and concealed this fact from police. The account was fairly sickening, but I'd forgotten about the case until I went searching through Netflix's "Watch It Now" options and saw a film dramatization of the events starring former "That 70's Show" star Laura Prepon. Unfortunately, Prepon is among an all-American cast and crew of underachievers bringing FOX-quality television docudrama to bear in portraying a deeply sociopathic couple with less grace than caricature. Canadian filmmakers refused to touch the material, which after seeing "Karla," may or may not be a shame. Prepon plays Homolka as a cardboard standee who's sole motivation seems to be maintaining an idealized view of her disturbing relationship, and she does it with an accent that surfaces only as an embarassment. I've come to view Scarlett Johansson as the female Keanu Reeves, an attractive but empty vessel through which roles pass unaltered from the type on the script. With her bleached hair and blankness, Prepon seemed to be channeling a Johansson performance, which while light years from her sunnily charismatic former sitcom role, in no way captures the Homolko from case notes and even elements of the script. In fact the whole production is numbing, skewing in favor of Homolka's highly suspect account of events while relying on a text only denouement at its rushed conclusion after wasting gobs of screentime on Bernardo's cartoonishly extreme sadism. One assumes the portrayal of Bernardo was intended to recall Ted Bundy, but the actor is in slimeball mode from his first scene onward, without the slightest depth or any indication of motivation. Curiously, Brandon "Superman" Routh pops up as a glorified extra in the last few minutes of the film, and it struck me that even if his natural humanity wouldn't have better served the role of Bernardo (played by Misha Collins,) his own "lightness" might have complimented Prepon's to create a couple that exited the reality of their actions altogether. Also, the framing device for the narrative involves a prison psychologist who's accent is distractingly similar to Anthony Hopkins' from the Hannibal Lecter movies.


Again, I'm not sure if Canada should be ashamed for allowing Yankees to film their hometown horror story. While they could be commended for not racking the muck a year after Homolka's release after twelve years in prison, the nation is given a black eye by the ineptuitude of the actual handlers. As Bernardo is a complete cypher for mania in the film, no mention is ever made of his life before Karla, including his adoptive father being a child molester who assaulted his daughter, or his mother revealing he'd been conceived during an extra-marital affair. Nowhere is it mentioned that Homolka aided Bernardo in a kidnapping and rape after the videotaped rape/accidental death of her sister, and before the murder of Leslie Mahaffy. The film never makes explicit that murder was not part of Bernardo's m.o. prior to the death of Tammy Homolka, and the biased perspective of the narrative downplays the probability that Karla either comitted or instigated the commission of two premeditated murders. The police assume Tammy Homolka's death was accidental, and their linking DNA evidence provided by Bernardo to the Scarborough Rapist years after the fact is never explained, making them look imbecilic and partially responsible for the deaths that followed the gross oversights. The film actually covers for the police's failure to find videotapes of the rapes hidden in Berbnardo's bathroom, which were located by Paul's lawyer under his instructions after the expiration of search warrants. Homolka's helplessness is constantly reenforced in the film, despite her videotaped participation in the rape of her own virginal sister evidenced in trial, nor her dolling herself up before raping Leslie Mahaffy. The movie plays on Homolka's surprise at seeing Mahaffy's dismembered body parts encased in cement, despite evidence she in fact washed pieces of the girl before their emersion to enable the process. After the instance of spousal abuse that finally saw Homolka turning in her husband on said count (but not for other crimes for which she was accountable,) the terrifically miscast Prepon shows up from the hospital with two black eyes straight out of an "Our Gang" short, a far cry from the medical report citing a "hemorrhage in the left eye resulting from strikes to the back of her head which drove the brain forward into her skull." Further, "she suffered a contusion to the forehead, bruises down the side of her neck and along her arms, bruises and swelling to 75% of her legs from the mid-thigh down and a puncture wound from a screwdriver on her right thigh above the knee."


Argh! I could go on, but enough is enough. Ultimately, all I get out of the film besides irritation was Laura Prepon in her underwear, and even that was sullied by the bleach job-- and the whole murder/rape thing. Duh! So far, this is the only Rotten Tomatos reviewed movie I've ever seen with a 0% rating. Not an abstain, just universally negative reviews.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Fury"



I remembered seeing parts of this movie on cable in the early 80's, so I threw it in my Netflix que. Specifically, I recalled Kirk Douglas and Parker Stevenson on the beach, the latter using superpowers to send Arabs flying to their deaths off a Ferris Wheel, and eventually, Amy Irving causing a woman to hemorrage out of every orifice with her mind. You might ask yourself, "my god, how could you have such vague members of such a potentially traumatic feature." Possibly because the script was so half-baked I couldn't even get into it as a kid. This was Brian DePalma's follow-up to the much more memorable "Carrie," whose finale is still in my top ten nightmares, and pretty much a pseudo-sequal as well. They even got Carrie's frienemy Amy Irving to take her place as the bloodspilling psychic girl. However, DePalma employing all of his stylistic tricks at the time on a Stephen King adaptation is quite a different thing from a more resigned DePalma seemingly adapting a 70's comic book script verbatim.


Firstly, we have Kirk Douglas playing a C.I.A. agent who's teenage son turns out to have telepathic/telekinetic powers. All well and good, until his fellow agent and good buddy of 20 years uses evil Arabs to seemingly kill Kirk so as to increase his influence over the boy. Now, the seemingly not only reflect Kirk's survival and pursuit of his son, but also the doubt about the evil John Cassavettes motivations, since they're never explained. We never really see Kirk deny access to his super-spawn, and even though Kirk evades Cassavettes fellow government agents/minions for the rest of the film, he's apparantly too stupid to figure out his former buddy is E-V-I-L. Not only is Cassavettes a one note thug for the whole film, but when Kirk cripples him in the first reel, he runs around in all black with a sling pointing to his limp arm like a Bond villain from then on. Now, I did mention Kirk spends the entire film evading capture and tracking his son. I like Kirk, but that's exactly the problem. This was Douglas on the down side of his career, but this is still Spartacus at 60. Everyone knew and loved Kirk in 1978. It would have been like casting Harrison Ford in 1993 or so, before things really got bad (see: zombie Kirk of the 90's/ anything in the Flockhart years.) We don't need to spend literally half the film getting to know/respect Kirk, as that happened as soon as he put his clothes back on after the beach sequence in little more than a speedo. You have to use Kirk sparingly, because the movie is supposed to be about the psychic teenagers, not the adventures of a pensioner.


Secondly, and speaking of, we the audience don't like the kids. While Kirk's story eats up half the screen time, son Parker Stevenson pretty much disappears until well into the second reel, where he's turned evil by John Cassavettes in eleven months time off-screen. Seriously, Stevenson manages to be more wooden and less sympathetic than Hayden Christensen as Anakin Skywalker in whatever Star Wars: Last Gasp was called. "Revenge of the Sith," or was that Episode 2? Anyway, much like Jake Lloyd in the first installment of those disappointments, instead of having a menacing youth like Lucas Black set-up Darth Vader in short points, Parker goes from zero to asshole before anyone has a chance to care. No development, no bonding, just a creep (seriously) you want to see dead. Every single time we see Stevenson after his first appearance, he's murdering someone without just cause (in one case, a flat out hate crime massacre) or simply being an indefensable prick. It's hard to keep up the dramatic impetus when you're rooting for Kirk Douglas to give up and shack up with girlfriend Carrie Snodgress, because you know as soon as the film returns to Stevenson things will end badly.


Thirdly, Amy Irving could have been replaced by a cardboard cut-out for most of the film. My impersonation: "Oooh no! A terrible vision! I wake to someone bleeding nearly or completely to death because of me, and moan 'oooh' some more!" We get two scenes and a montage of her as an ordinary, uninteresting girl before she becomes the whaling seer. Her motivations for finding Parker Stevenson are also absent, as he seems unaware of her existance until the pivotal moment where he becomes, basically irredeemable. Is she so impacted by his psychic tumult that she's compelled to heal him, despite his obvious descent into sociopathy? Is there a sexual component, or a need for greater understanding of her power? I dunno! The movie is so concerned with advancing the plot through violent actions that actual character and motivation takes a back seat to one circumstance after another.


Fourthly, again speaking of, DePalma is clearly on autopilot here. The movie moves fast enough and is filled with enough solid character actors to help you forget its giant plotholes and underwhelming focal figures (Kirk excluded,) but lacks to verve one expects from DePalma. He seems to like framing Kirk, but otherwise only comes alive during the many excessively bloody sequences. We're talking Italian giallo level violence here, with literally puddles and whole drenched rooms at times. It is hilarious that the heavily edited all-audiences green band trailer would itself rate a PG-13 today. The film's conclusion can't even be shown on basic cable, for fuck's sake, based on a giddily repeated final image of ultraviolence that makes the David Cronenburg of 1981 look like a pussified latecomer to the party. These sequences are striking, if only by highlighting the lack of engagement on both DePalma's and the audiences part for the rest of the running time.


Fifthly*, most of this is moot, because if you're anything like me, the film was kind of a non-starter. As soon as Amy Irving is on screen (and again, an important element of that scene is left to the imagination in favor of a gag involving Douglas' character taking sitcom hostages,) you're waiting to see what happens when she meets Parker Stevenson. You expect that to happen by the end of the second reel, or at least a build in momentum toward this epic occurance. Yeah, no. They meet for a few seconds in the last ten minutes with questionable impact (no pun intended.) You also expect the movie to be about the psychics, seperately or as a duo. It really isn't. As Irving remains underdeveloped and Stevenson is a little seen but permanant asshole, more screen time is eaten by Kirk Douglas doing spy shit and going through motions best left off camera. Since the viewer is sticking it out more for Kirk's sake than the kid's, the assumed main story sits on the backburner while we passively observe his episodic confrontations with the bad guys until we realize that is pretty much all there is.


Finally, I again mention the Star Wars prequals, because like them this is a film I imagine the entire audience walking out of correctly presenting and debating better scripts for the movie they'd just seen. Some might look at the film's phyrric resolution as ballsy, but I suspect most would see it as among the first of DePalma's many disappointing fan disservices. Not only is a key element of the film's resolution nonsensical, but even if you're going dark, there were more fucked up and entertaining options readily apparent to any asshole who paid for a seat. It remains a shame that modern creators waste their talents remaking either great films into at best good ones to mediocre one-weekend wonders. "The Fury" is a perfect example of a film that is all potential and no realization, beyond a level of violence that would now imperil an R-rating. Someone really ought to jump on this bandwagon, but for goodness sake, take another couple passes at that screenplay. It's one thing to be a poor man's Carrie retread or a precursor to the superior "Firestarter," but when even Tobe Hooper's infamous debacle "Lifeforce" pays off better than your film, you've got to feel like John Cassavettes in that finale...

* Who ever makes it to fifthly? Is it even a word?)

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Ace The Bathound (Ambush Bug #3, 8/85)



By Keith Giffen, Robert Loren Fleming, Bob Oksner, Anthony Tollin, John Costanza and Julius Schwartz. If you liked this, try Jupiter, the Dog with the Martian Master.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The Day The Clown Cried



It occurs to me, I never was much of a book person. I read constantly, mind, but I think I've always preferred the conversational tone of articles, interviews and the like to the plots and staged dialogue if fiction. Prose is expected to progress in a logical, and therefore predictable fashion, which betrays artifice since life is plainly messy and as prone to violent digression as painfully obvious delibertation and action. If nothing else, nonfiction is at least earnest, and since it reflects true occurances, can often broadside you without the need for an elaborate set-up to telegraph the action.

Where am I going with all of this? The Holocaust, of course! Much drama has been derived from the years in which that inhuman travesty took place, both in the retelling of personal accounts and the dramatizations sprung from the screenwriters mind, and both revisted so often as to make the end goal to seemingly tell every single story of anyone who ever breathed the same air as a camp occupant. I've heard my fair share, and quite possibly an excess, of these tales. However, I'd long forgotten one of my first exposures until an article at CHUD.com jogged my memory. As a child I often read books about movies, as noted by my predilections above, and the image of Jerry Lewis in full clown make-up in a concentration camp is one to carry to your grave even from that early exposure.

In 1972, Jerry Lewis was convinced to star in a film about a self-centered circus clown who is sent to prison after a drunken and unkind impersonation of Hitler attracts the wrong kind of attention. Through a series of contrivances familiar to fans of Lewis' work, Christian "Helmut Doork*" would find himself in Auschwitz. There he would come to love and entertain the Juden children, until finally leading them and himself into the gas chamber like a Pied Piper. As you might imagine, many considered this concept more of an abomination than an adherence to the principle of never forgetting, while others think it really puts the "camp" in "Nazi death camp." Sadly for the latter, the production fell victim to one upheaval after another, a combination of Terry Gilliam trials and Uwe Boll execution. Thirty-five years later, the film remains as only an unreleased rough cut and a legendary testament to misguided hubris. Surely, the story of it's creation and the surrounded mystique are more interesting than the actual film, and you'll have an opportunity to consider the matter further at Clownspy. Reprinted there is an old article from Spy Magazine regarding the work and the few people who've born witness to it's crapulence. Outstanding illustrations by Drew Friedman really drive the point home, as Harry Shearer notes, "seeing this film was really awe-inspiring, in that you are rarely in the presense of a perfect object. This was a perfect object. This movie is so drastically wrong, its pathos and its comedy are so wildly misplaced, that you could not, in your fantasy of what it might be like, improve on what it really is. 'Oh My God!' - thats all you can say."



*Maybe Jerry, who altered the screenplay's "Karl Schmidt" into this silly appellation, remembered the comic gold Groucho Marx mined by noting that "Peter O'Toole" was a duophallic name?

Saturday, April 12, 2008

The Super-Hero Registration Act and the Common Good



Let's go back to the seminal super-hero, Superman. People are always arguing the difference between his creation and that of mythological figures and pulp heroes. To me, the major deciding factors were that a) the super-hero was active in our modern world b) the super-hero had unimpeachable ethical character; c) the super-hero clearly fought to protect and serve the common man; d) the super-hero focused his attention on social ills, from domestic violence to crime to errors in the justice system. The super-hero, as originated by Superman, had fantastic powers that allowed them to act as urban secular demigods in pursuit of justice and equality for the people.

Now, somewhere along the way, the original super-hero concept was perverted by the more violent and prurient interests of the pulp fiction set, and further corrupted by crusading moralists who helped force the renegade social champions to become the servants of the establishment. Where once Superman represented the fantasy of an empowered populace, he was now an authoritarian used to teach the young and simple-minded proper respect for the law and property.

The Marvel revolution of the 1960's was partially based on taking the super-hero back to the genesis point as agents of social change, while miring them in the dilemmas of the average person's daily life, transforming them to be relatable contemporaries more than ideals. As with the previous generation of heroes, Marvel was co-opted by corporate interests more concerned with keeping politics and of the equation and keeping the line palatable to all. Creators continued to fight for progressive notions, but ultimately focus lingered more on the neurotic melodrama and more generalized notions of heroism.

Sadly, a third generation of socially-conscious super-heroes has yet to find a foothold in the public consciousness. The need for artists to address our times remains, as does the wish for super-heroes that reflect those desires. However, to fill the vacuum, Marvel heroes with established continuities have been recontextualized in a manner that does not sit well with longtime readers. I understand that irritation, but there is no new company of concepts to reflect the neo-fascistic leanings of our era. Marvel creators have instead returned to the seminal point of the super-hero, and forced certain characters into roles that cause displeasure, but are not entirely unprecidented nor outside the concerns of our time. Marvel bread and butter has always been their being the home of a realistic, relatable universe.

Our government continues to rubberstamp torture, indefinate imprisonment without trial, extraordinary rendition, a potentially endless foreign occupation hinged on utterly insubstantial motivations... in the absence of a new generation of heroes, it falls on Marvel to represent our modern existence in super-heroic terms. Otherwise, they're just DC Comics, a corporate entity only allowed to make a point through vague metaphor or within the ghetto of extant lines. The question you have to ask yourself is, if you're a true Marvel fan, shouldn't you want social ills to be addressed, or do you just want broad fantasy in tights?

Friday, April 11, 2008

The Two American Avengers

Okay, let me see if I've got this straight: Columnist and author Hannibal Tabu has a great bit where he equates the Mighty Avengers to Republican super-heroes and the New Avengers to the Democrats. In my Iron Man comments, Damon Owens and I have gone back and forth about whether Tony Stark was every a good fit as a dem (I feel it was never a good idea, myself,) but I think we can all agree his recent orientation has been fairly hard core Neo-Con. As of right now, this is how I see the historic Avengers dividing up under the current U.S. polemic...

Red State
  • Thor (still, though currently more of a maverick.)
  • Hank Pym (Skrull or otherwise)
  • Wasp (c'mon, WASP...)
  • Swordsman (all guys with moustaches like that are...)
  • Vision (always seemed like an establishment type in adverse circumstances)
  • Black Knight
  • Black Widow
  • Moondragon (even with the lesbianism, a total Shannon Doherty)
  • Ms. Marvel
  • Wonder Man (embezzlement? failed businesses? all he needs is a coke habit...)
  • She-Hulk (though clearly a moderate)
  • Firebird (you know those evangelicals)
  • Moon Knight (where did he fall in the Civil War again?)
  • U.S. Agent (Marvel's Guy Gardner, after all)
  • Human Torch (Golden Age)
  • Darkhawk
  • Namor (this guy will invade New York if you so much as spit in Atlantis' direction)
  • Mister Fantastic
  • Quasar
  • Sersi
  • Justice (a felon, but he's got that vibe...)
  • Triathlon
  • Captain Britain (voted for Thatcher, I suspect)
  • Spider-Woman (still)
  • Sentry
  • Ares

Blue State
  • Hulk (obviously soft on crime)
  • Captain America (R.I.P., and Bucky appears to have been a pinko for decades...)
  • Hawkeye (sleeps with felons and Commies...)
  • Quicksilver (oppressed minority)
  • Scarlet Witch
  • Hercules
  • Black Panther (total progressive type, and a certified mutie lover)
  • Mantis
  • Beast
  • Falcon
  • Tigra (what is it with animal characters and liberalism...?)
  • Photon
  • Starfox (the Bill Clinton of super-heroes, sadly sans actual charisma)
  • Mockingbird
  • War Machine
  • Living Lightning (a queer Latino? unless he's deeply self loathing...)
  • Spider-Woman II (single mom)
  • Machine Man
  • Invisible Woman
  • Doctor Druid
  • Spider-Man
  • Sandman
  • Crystal
  • Thunderstrike
  • Firestar
  • Silverclaw
  • Jack of Hearts
  • Ant-Man II
  • Luke Cage
  • Wolverine
  • Echo
  • Dr. Strange
  • Iron Fist


Thoughts?

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Indian Nipple Song

At some point, I really must fill my Netflix queue with Bollywood musicals. Ever since seeing the "Jaan Pehechaan Ho" clip on "Ghost World", I've been a sucker for this stuff in small doses. Enter Buffalax's humorously transliterated memes, which initially amused, but the joke wore thin. Even still, I got enough of a kick out of one of his disciples, woodbulb, I decided to share. Below is the Nipple Song, as well as Indian Thriller...




Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The Otherwoman by Franchesco!

While finishing up reading this month's Previews, I found on the very last page (as I was reading it) the last item I intend to order, Contract #0 from A First Salvo. Being only twenty-five cents with art by Dave Ross, it was a given purchase, but made all the more so by the cover. You see, much to my surprise, the piece by Franchesco! just so happened to feature a character bearing a strong resemblence to the my conception of The Otherwoman. Again, this was the failed submission to Shadowline's "Create A Superheroine" contest I've mentioned a time or two. Anyhow, as the actual *mutter*grumble* winner will have their entry drawn and co-owned (HAH!) by Franchesco, I thought I'd do a crappy Microsoft Paint-enabled mock-up of what could have been. The massive rifle isn't completely out of place, but would be more an exception than the rule in my book....

Monday, April 7, 2008

"G" & "H": Things I Learned from "The Superhero Book"

I'm beginning to think I only have time and energy enough for maybe 1 1/2 daily blogs. Sorry to forsake images of late, but I added one for the D, E, F entry that clears up some potential confusion, and today there's another. Cheers.






  • Why wasn't the Gen 13 movie ever released in the U.S.? I'd like to see it, now that I've been reminded. Besides, I'm totally hot for Alicia Witt, even if it's just her voice.


  • The Ghost Rider reminded me of how much I love it when super-heroes and horror are well aligned. The Midnight Sons skewed too far toward the creature feature, where what I dig is a genuine hybrid. I had a copy of the Legion of Monsters only appearance growing up, and remember it fondly, aside from stupid Man-Thing.


  • Golden Age Super-Heroes that followed Superman by order of appearance: 2) Crimson Avenger 3) Sandman 4)Batman, 5) Wonderman.


  • Other early adopters: Silver Streak, Doll Man, Shock Gibson, Amazing-Man, the Green Mask, the Archer (Centaur Publications,) the Iron Skull, the Fantom of the Fair, the Wizard (MLJ Publications,) the Masked Marvel, the Human Torch, Sub-Mariner and the Angel.


  • Golden Age "Good Girls" of reknown: Sheena; Senorita Rio, Queen of Spies; Flamingo, the Gypsy Gal; Flying Jenny; Sky Girl; Mysta of the Moon; Miss Victory; Lady Luck; and Phantom Lady.


  • DC tried to sue "The Greatest American Hero."


  • Green Arrow's original rogue's gallery: the Wizard, Clock King, and Rainbow Archer.


  • I always turned my nose up to Now Comics, so I never had a gateway in my youth to the Green Hornet. He seems like a really interesting character: Playboy turned crusading newspaper publisher. When his distinctive car, the Black Beauty, is found suspect by police at a crime scene, Britt Reid uses the notoriety to create construct the "criminal" mastermind Green Hornet and sting the bad guys from the inside. Still looking forward to the Seth Rogen production.


  • Alfred Harvey was a cartoonist turned managing editor at the low rent Fox Features Syndicate before establishing his own Harvey Comics. Their "pedestrian" super-hero line included the Black Cat, the Champ, Duke O' Dowell, Neptina, the Liberty Lads, Jungleman, the Human Meteor, Doctor Miracle, Spitfire, the Clown, Fly-Man, and properties acquired from Brookwood: Shock Gibson and Captain Freedom of Speed Comics. Simon and Kirby's Stuntman briefly followed, but aside from licensing and their animated successes, their main draw post-war were grisley horror comics (96 total, 5 more than EC.) In the 50's and 60's, more duds followed. Only "Sad Sack" and "Black Cat" are still owned by the Harvey family.


  • Hawkman was the only hero to star in all 57 issues of All-Star Comics.


  • The 60's Incredible Hulk theme song was the worst thing since polio.


  • The 1977 Hulk television pilot was released theatrically overseas, and performed.


  • The Golden Age Human Torch made nearly 300 appearances, only just trailing Captain America as Timely's top performer.


  • Toro was human, had a weird backstory, and debuted in Human Torch #1.


  • Mickey Spillane wrote some Human Torch.


  • Torch's 50's relaunch: Captured by crime boss, coated with a solution, and buried for 5 years. Freed by nuke test, liberated a Toro brainwashed by Korea and went back to work against the mob and the reds.


  • Just an observation: Couldn't Huntress be Bruce Wayne or Dick Grayson's long-lost half-sister?

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Audio Neurotic Compilation: Garbage

Audio Neurotic Fixation is intended to encompass my album reviews and general music compulsiveness. Especially when I go track-by-track, those can be wearying. With this new variation, Audio Neurotic Compilation, I'll try to keep things more stripped-down. While I recognize the 80-minute burnt CD is becoming increasingly obsolete, I can't imagine artists churning out much longer than 45-60 minute albums in the future without doing more harm than good. In fact, with the age of the MP3 download upon us, it seems like the return of singles is the new wave. Still, offering a selection of tracks in a specific sequence intended to spotlight the best and longest-lived tracks by an artist will remain a valuable service to the public.

Today's group is Garbage, who are responsible for numerous singles that, following a decade of heavy rotation, are now unbearable to me. Despite being dismissed as more corporate unit shifters than an actual band, I honestly believe the group's best stuff tends to be album cuts that stray from their proven airplay formula. That said, I usually love sneaking in rarities with the b-sides, but with Garbage, I pulled up only one such offering. A box set, they don't need...




  1. Vow (Garbage, 1995)
  2. I Think I'm Paranoid (Version 2.0, 1998)
  3. Kick My Ass (Sweet Relief II: Gravity of the Situation - The Songs of Vic Chesnutt, 1996)
  4. A Stroke of Luck (Garbage, 1995)
  5. The Trick Is to Keep Breathing (Version 2.0, 1998)
  6. Bleed Like Me (Bleed Like Me, 2005)
  7. Drive You Home (Beautiful Garbage, 2001)
  8. As Heaven Is Wide (Garbage, 1995)
  9. Hammering in My Head (Version 2.0, 1998)
  10. Supervixen (Garbage, 1995)
  11. You Look So Fine (Version 2.0, 1998)
  12. Cup of Coffee (Beautiful Garbage, 2001)
  13. Medication (Version 2.0, 1998)
  14. Queer (Garbage, 1995)
  15. Metal Heart (Bleed Like Me, 2005)
  16. Untouchable (Beautiful Garbage, 2001)
  17. Parade (Beautiful Garbage, 2001)
  18. Happy Home (Bleed Like Me, 2005)

Friday, April 4, 2008

"D," "E" & "F": Things I Learned from "The Superhero Book"



  • I never knew Lev Gleason was so socially conscious in their work. I guess it's easy to lose sight of that with all the injury-to-the-eye hubub. Cue rimshot.


  • There was going to be a cartoon starring Daredevil in the 80's teaming him with Lightning the Super (Seeing-Eye) Dog? So besides ripping off the Lev Gleason DD and Dr. Mid-Nite, he was also going to riff on the Quality Comics Manhunter & Thor?


  • The Daredevil movie was well received? I think that one deserves a recount.


  • Jim Shooter wrote "Dazzler: The Movie?" Anyone ever read that? I'm suddenly (very mildly) interested.


  • The "CW" should develop a "Deadman" tv series. It could be like "Incredible Hulk" meets "Quantum Leap."


  • Doll Man ran until 1953? He outlived most every other super-hero, almost surviving into the Silver Age? Wowee wow.


  • I always thought those "Elementals Sex Specials" were Bill Willingham's idea, what with "Ironwood" and all. I recently ordered the "Pantheon" trade, and if it holds up, I might ought to go looking for more of Willingham's proper work. UPDATE: SEE *EDITED* IMAGE CREDIT ABOVE. Always trust yer gut, or whatever other organ is applicable.


  • There was a short-lived Fantastic Four radio show in which the Human Torch was voiced by a young Bill Murray. Must make a mental note to read a F4 back issue soon in his voice.


  • I wish the Corman Fantastic Four movie would get a DVD release. I liked it better than the Tim Story blockbuster, mostly because Rebecca Staab was both superfine and well cast as Sue Storm.


  • Fighting American only lasted seven issues, with a single issue "revival," before DC and Awesome tried their hand at the character. All failed. Cleary a greater effort should be afforded to restoring Doll Man and Bulletman-- proven winners!


  • Jay Garrick fought the Thinker, Star Sapphire and Thorn? And Thorn was censored from comics for being too "suggestive?"

...nurghophiles...

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