Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Abandoned (March, 2006)

I'm glad I wasn't running this blog back in 2006. Usually when I write a review here, I'm simply confirming that an earlier opinion was correct. Typically, the stuff I liked either holds or is slightly diminished, and the stuff I disliked is given a bit of a break or becomes even more tiresome. It's uncommon that I find myself needing to realy reconsider that first impression, but such was the case with Ross Campbell's The Abandoned. Initially, I found it to be a meandering hipster take on a zombie flick with forced alternative leanings. All of the major male characters are gay, and most of the females are lesbians, with no shortage of piercings and alterna-cool affectations. When most of the story was spent listening to these folks yammering on until a swift, catastrophic turn in the final act brings the story down, I was really put off. Studies have shown that audiences tend to prefer works when they already know the ending, a sentiment I very much do not share, and in this case what I needed to know was the middle. At first blush, I really felt like the book has wasted my time. Going in with a better understanding of the characters and circumstances, I realized this lack of focus was part of the point, and in keeping with traditional morals in the zombie narrative. You basically have a group of characters drawn together because they are outcasts who have survived outside the mainstream. Their unwillingness to abandon others as they had been forsaken gives them strength as a unit, but the rosey tint of the new norm also compromises them.

One area where there was never any issue was the gorgeous artwork of Ross Campbell, who has a gift for distinct faces and body types rarely seen in the industry. These are young, vibrant character, and Campbell finds the physical beauty in all of them, tall, short, petite or robust. The characters also inhabit a true world of screen doors, counter tops, tree branches and debris. The figures have weight, and the landscape has a tactile quality in the minds eye, making for a visually immersive experience. Unfortunately, the characters are not possessed of the same depth, with about 2-3 personalities divvied up between seven primary characters and the supporting players. No one is dumb as rocks, but they're not exactly brain surgeons, so the dialogue can become monotonous in its sameness. It's easy to overlook though, because every panel is a gift to the eye, and there is enough action or sex appeal to coast past.

There are a lot of callbacks to the greatest zombie movie, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead. I'm reminded of an old book review I read of the film, where it is noted that an audience member's perception of the ending can probably be divided in terms of the glass being half full or half empty. Where I was at first frustrated by the closing, on second reading I realized the book has the closure it needed, although not necessarily the one some may desire. It's easily worth the price of admission for the art alone, not to mention some strong death sequences, but the unique perspective and themes also make this a worthy addition to the canon of the undead.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Frank Review of "The Woman in Black" (2012)

The Short Version? The Victorian Ring
What Is It? Haunted House Spooktacular
Who Is In It? Harry Potter
Should I See It? Maybe

My girlfriend loves Harry Potter, and ghosts appear to be her horror of choice. I never had an interest in J.K. Rowling to begin with, which has grown into disdain with overexposure, and find most ghost stories terribly dull. I should also add that back in my childhood watching late night creature features, the least likely thing to hold my interest were the plodding British costume dramas from studios like Hammer.

Suffice to say that I entered The Woman in Black with very little enthusiasm, and perhaps as a result of low expectations, I actually quite enjoyed it. Holding true to Hammer tradition, the movie starts off slow, and the protagonist was such a straightlaced stiff that he's barely a character. He's just the instrument through which the audience is exposed to scary stuff. His background only exists to explain why he keeps involving himself in matters best left alone, up to the point of imperiling his young son in the requisite manner to build tension in the final act. As such, Daniel Radcliff is a decent enough audience proxy, whose stubble and sad dark eyes puts a bit of distance between this guy and The Boy Who Lived. Not a bravura performance, but not an embarrassment either. There is also good supporting work, but not so much that I feel compelled to google up credits at IMDb.

The real stars of the movie are the locations, sets, props and special effects. The direction is solid enough, but really, you're there for the atmosphere, the creeps, and the startles. This is a spooky story for the entire family that delivers for most sectors of the audience. These days, such a sure, effective effort deserves acknowledgement, even if it's more like turning in a satisfactory service evaluation that tossing roses onstage.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Wednesday Is DCNuey For All I Care #136

Aquaman #5 (2012)
Detective Comics #6 (2012)
The Huntress #4 (2012)

Aquaman #5 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
The strongest single issue of the book yet, as the non-linear storytelling is novel, engaging the reader in a way the rote tease at the heart of the story wouldn't have otherwise. Lovely art, high adventure, character work, and a prelude of things to come. Plus, the lizard was so cute!

Detective Comics #6 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I've said before and will say again that any given issue of a comic book series may be somebody's first. For instance, I believe this was the first Tony Daniel scripted comic I've read since The Tenth, and it's certainly my first issue of 'Tec since the New 52 reboot. That having been established, this appears to be a middle chapter in a multi-issue tale, and I don't know what the fuck is going on. There's a one-eyed bad girl and her sister is dating Bruce Wayne and there's a dude who can change his face but isn't a Clayface and there are a bunch of guys who look like Bronze Age Bat-villains but aren't and the Penguin has a floating casino and goddamned talons. The face guy stabs the good sister and there's a bunch of dead people in tubs and vampires come up (see I, Vampire #5, True Believer) and Batman's in a death trap the end. The dialogue was kind of cheesy, but I can't tell you if there was anything wrong with the story because what the fuck? Sandu Florea seemed to ink Daniel well, because it looked better than that scribbly shit he was doing with Morrison. That's all I've got.

The Huntress #4 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I'm really fucking tired of writing about this book. Huntress talks to the generic reporter helpers again, at least one of which needs to die or betray her before series end to justify there being two of them based on the economics of storytelling. Huntress climbs shit and eavesdrops some more and beats additional nameless goons and the bad guys abuse women again and also the law is corrupt and zzzzzz. Finally, the ending is a total cop-out that sees Huntress leave the shitbag that is the fate of the lower level boss to be handled by innocent women who likely already had enough emotional baggage to carry as it was. Cunt.

Monday, February 20, 2012

nurghophonic jukebox: "Here in Your Bedroom" by Goldfinger

Written By: John Feldmann
Released: February, 1996
Album: Goldfinger
Single?: Billboard #5 U.S. Rock Single

Here in your bedroom,
I can turn my head off
The less that I feel
Is the less that I'm on top

I wonder what you think
As we lay here in bed
I don't know what I'm thinking,
But that's better for my head

When I wake up tomorrow
Will you still feel the same?
When I wake up tomorrow
Will you have changed?


'cuz I still feel the same
'cuz I still feel the same
I, I still feel the same

Here in your bedroom
I can turn my head off
The less that I feel
Is the less that I'm on top

I wonder what you think
As we lay here in bed
I don't know what I'm thinking,
But that's better for my head

When I wake up tomorrow
Will you still feel the same?
When I wake up tomorrow
Will you have changed?


Here we go!

Here in your bedroom,
I feel safe from the outside.
I can tell that you're changing,
But still I feel so high.

I wonder what you think.
Sometimes I feel so old.
I don't know if it's worth it
When I just do what I'm told.

When I wake up tomorrow,
Will you still feel the same?
When I wake up tomorrow,
Will you have changed?


I, I still feel the same
I, I still feel the same
Won't you?

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Wednesday Is Martian Manhuntery For All I Care #135

Green Lantern Corps #5 (2012)
Legion Lost #6 (2012))
Stormwatch #5 (2012)
Stormwatch #6 (2012)

Green Lantern Corps #5 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
This was better than last issue in the sense that I now knew enough not to feel like I was starting cold, but it was worse in the sense that nothing happens but getting the people together who will stop the antagonists. Apparently, Lee Marvin, Charles Bronson, James Coburn, and I guess Telly Savales are now retroactively in the Corps, but between pale likenesses and paler characterization, one would be forgiven for not noticing. This one was about tough guys being tough and solving problems in the dumbest, bluntest way possible, including dumping Martian Manhunter into a thankless cameo to solve any problems with exposition for these shitheads. I'm really sorry to see the appealing art of Fernando Pasarin wasted on this dreck.

Legion Lost #6 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
I've only skimmed the previous issue of this book, but it was old school in plot density and necessary exposition, so I was able to follow everything pleasantly enough. The super-team was cool, and I appreciated yet another Martian Manhunter guest appearance where he did more and looked better than in his own regular title. I like these characters from years back, and found their handling more true under Fabian Nicieza than whatever the fuck Paul Levitz is trying to do with his 30th Century Legionnaires these days. Shame a proven shittier writer takes over next issue, or I might have hung around for more. Is solid artist Pete Woods staying, at least?

Stormwatch #5 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
Dear Pat McCallum, editor of this book,

The Shadow Cabinet was a team book that came out towards the end of Milestone Comics' existence. I think they still hold the trademark, so it's good you changed the name to the Shadow Lords, except that name sucks and you should have fixed it before "Shadow Cabinet" was used in #5 & 6 alongside "Shadow Lords."

The Martian Manhunter has made a lot of guest appearances lately, and been drawn by a couple of different artists in Stormwatch. Everyone draws him better than Miguel Sepulveda. Please ask your series artist to stop using an Atom symbol vector on the character's chest piece interchangeable with the "pie" symbol used here and elsewhere. Also ask him to stop drawing every male character with the same body type like he had them all programmed into a computer template that he can manipulate. Tell Mr. Sepulveda to look at how other artists draw that new ridge-thing on the back of J'Onn's head, since he's the only one who makes it look like a wash rag is dangling behind him all the time.

Typically, when a writer decides to give six consecutive issues one title, it's because they're telling one story. So far, this book has had numerous plots, the primary one resolved last issue, but none really qualify as much of a story. For instance, a bunch of stuff happens in this issue, none of it is adequately explained, and nothing is brought to closure. For instance, Adam One has been a sucky leader, but you don't have a writer proxy come out of nowhere, wish Adam into the cornfield, and then tell readers what each character's motivations are supposed to be. That's bad writing, and you shouldn't have to pay for it.

I'm not sure if the character of the Midnighter has ever been unmasked or given a "real" name before. I remember that in the old continuity, he even got married with a mask on. It seems to me these revelations are kind of a big deal, so revealing both in an offhand manner and having Midnighter look almost exactly like Apollo but with brown hair and a little scar on his cheek is cheesy. Also, your writer is chronicling the start of a relationship between two men as though they were in a Silver Age romance title where all the girl's lines have been given to Apollo. Midnighter's lines seem to come from a stalker/rapist. You should maybe make sure your next writer is more GLAAD friendly, because Paul Cornell seems like he's writing an evangelistic brochure about pederasty that will end with these characters burning in hell for all eternity.

Why did the traitor decide on that specific moment to try escaping and blowing everything up? Everyone was wired and battle ready. Couldn't he have waited until folks were comfortable and asleep? Weren't two of the most powerful members planning to leave entirely before his actions? You know, the betrayal was telegraphed almost from the beginning. Couldn't you have made things more surprising than creating an arch-enemy specifically for Midnighter, and more importantly, did we really need to devote large chunks of the first five issues to three characters that exit this issue?

Finally, readers have seen that specific ending countless times, meaning it made for a less than compelling cliffhanger. Despite it spinning off into three separate titles, do you honestly believe readers are too stupid to realize that two of those titles are completely tangential, or that anything that happens next issue will really relate to the first four in this "story arc?"

Mr. McCallum, in light of the creative and personnel changes to come, please try to make Stormwatch less crappy before the end of the first year. The bloom is coming off the New 52 rose, and telling everyone this is an important book is bound to lose mileage if what you show remains so run of the mill.

Stormwatch #6 (DC, 2012, $2.99)
Talk about ending with a whimper. This arc started with Stormwatch battling the whole entire moon, and ends with them arguing with their alien autopilot so that it will fix itself in a manner least credible. Midnighter continues to make my skin crawl. There's a world of difference between including homosexual heroes and writing them in a manner that doesn't come across as homophobic or plain ignorant of how human beings talk to one another. So many subplots were botched that a list of my grievances would run as long as the script itself. It was neat how thoroughly Martian Manhunter was retconned out of JLA history after being confirmed in the first issue, and by neat I mean "fuck you all a lot." It was also something how all the forward momentum of an already limp plot petered out halfway through the issue, so that readers were treated to whole pages of random army guys at computers talking over coffee. It's such a treat to see Jack Hawksmoor look at grid coordinates for another full page. Yeah, you super heroes sit at that conference table like you really mean it. This title is pioneering in its exploration of how not to write a team book. Maybe next issue Jack can make out with Jenny while Engineer bitches some more and some random threat shows up to be sidelined anti-climatically? Ooo, spoiler?

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Men of Tomorrow: Geeks, Gangsters, and the Birth of the Comic Book by Gerard Jones (2004)

Comic books are the enduring passion of my life. I love and am knowledgeable about other stuff, but it's always come back to comics since I was a little kid. I can't read enough of them, or about them. There's been a fairly steady supply of comic book books since Jules Feiffer's The Great Comic Book Heroes in the 1960s. Up through the '80s, these books tended to focus on the Golden Age of Comics, from before World War II until the Wertham crusade killed EC and company in the 1950s. A couple of fans named Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones took it upon themselves to write a book that chronicled the Silver Age, emphasizing basic history and story critiques. In the 90s, Jones authored a heavily revised version of their book, The Comic Book Heroes: The First History of Modern Comic Books - From the Silver Age to the Present. It remains my favorite of the genre, as hindsight allowed Jones to speak about comic history from the 1950s-90s not as a fan, but as a veteran of the industry with inside information and the critical eye that comes from choosing an early retirement from the game.

With Men of Tomorrow, Gerard Jones seems to want to fill in the gap in his exploration of industry history by offering his take on the Golden Age. It's a vastly different book from Heroes, though. Jones' focus is far more narrow, his primary subjects being Superman creators Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, and Superman owners Harry Donenfeld and Jack Liebowitz. Two of these guys were among the first generation raised within geek culture. The other two grew up on the mean streets, and discovered very different but ultimately extremely complimentary ways to hustle their way uptown. Siegel was a mama's boy with anger issues whose small victories were forever overshadowed by his loss of Superman. Shuster had bigger problems, like slowly going blind. Donenfeld was an attention whore who mingled with mobsters and found his first great success with girlie magazines and spicy pulp fiction. Liebowitz watched his father struggle for the cause of socialism, and decided he preferred a sort of compassionate capitalism. A fair amount of drama can be found in these men and their associations.

There is no shortage of supporting players, as well. Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, the Gaines family, Mort Weisinger, Jack Cole, Charles Biro, Hugo Gernsback, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and many more have their parts to play. In fact, there are arguably too many players. Chronology jumps all over the place from chapter to chapter, and a number of paragraphs will be devoted to what amounts to a brief cameo appearance from some luminary of science fiction, crime, and so on. It isn't a definitive history of a given era, spanning something like a hundred years in time, and it isn't a biography in the generally accepted sense. The book is shambolic, tracing the origins of comics from the Yellow Kid through the pulps, then dipping into various peoples lives from the 20s through the 60s, before picking a few favorites to linger with for the rest of their lives. I suppose you could call it homeopathic, seeking the zeitgeist by touching on as many influencing factors as possible. The result is entertaining and enlightening, but also somewhat frustrating and unsatisfying. There is so much disorganized material and editorializing, so many conspicuous absences and lapses in focus, the text simultaneously dry and gossipy.

Men of Tomorrow is a tricky book to recommend. The gangsters show up, but a crime buff wouldn't be sustained by their limited presence. A lot of time is spent on the pulps, but it isn't a remotely comprehensive look. Comic fans are likely to want to hear more about the characters, or at least a broader cross-section of the more famous creators. Whole books have been devoted to Siegel and Shuster already. I'm fairly certain no one else has offered as thorough an examination of Donenfeld, Jack Liebowitz and maybe Weisinger, but how large is the audience for that? I'm glad I finally read the book, although I took it in pieces over a span of five weeks. As someone with a lifelong passion for comics, it served my interests well, but its path is so varied and niche that I'm not sure I know anybody else who would really be game.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday Is Of The Anus For All I Care #134

The Activity #1
Jurassic Strike Force 5 #0
The Strain #1

The Activity #1 (Image, 2011, $3.50)
Have you ever had somebody walk toward you, and on sight, inexplicably, you had the immediate gut reaction that you would not like this person? Then said person got within talking distance, and from the first lines out of their mouth, your first impression was assured? That's how I felt about this comic. It's about spy shit, which is at its best when it's fantastic bullshit involving lasers on the moon and hot exotic chicks who throw themselves at middle-aged British guys. Then there's the more "realistic" spy shit, involving comparatively mundane stuff like stealing prototype lasers and average chicks throwing themselves at short closeted gay Americans, usually as part of a team effort. This is like the latter, and not the feature film latter with Matt Damon, but the television version starring Gil Bellows and special guest star Andre Braugher as the Chief.

The story starts in Mexico City, which is to say it spends five pages offering dialogue in Spanish. I'm not one of those "speak English in America, comprende" types, and the action falls heavily enough on the cliché side that I could guess at the dialogue. It's just the galling hubris of alienating monolinguistic readers for $0.70 of the book's length while depicting the first couple of minutes of a basic cable espionage show that, crunching numbers, would cost fractions of a cent. There's a lot of wasteful crap like that, including a splash page of the team from the waist down walking across tile, silent/sparsely dialogued pages, a page devoted to carrying a coffin, another to the take-off and landing of an airplane. The "characters" have whatever codenames were left between Hasbro's G.I. Joe line and the collected works of Rob Liefeld: Bookstore, Speakeasy, Switchfoot, etc. Yeah, that last one sang "Dare You to Move." The "characters" are easy to differentiate, because there's a black one, a brunette girl veteran, a blond girl rookie, and strawberry blond Caucasian male and a brunette Caucasian male. Assigning the code names to the flesh tones/hair colors is too much for me to remember, though.

There are a few pages of dense dialogue, which is at times intentionally obtuse, like Howard Chaykin's might have been in freshman English class. It's not swanky or hip or anything, though. Just spy shit. Nathan Edmondson of Who Is Jake Ellis? wrote it, so go ahead and tell me who Jake is, because I'm not going to go find out for myself. Mitch Gerads handles all the art, including the coloring. It reminds me a little of Tony Harris, which means it's solid enough, and certainly too good for The Activity, which sounds less like a euphemism for spy shit than the wankery that is this effort.

Jurassic Strike Force 5 #0 (Silver Dragon, 2011, $0.99)
One of the few things I give less of a fuck about than comics geared specifically for the children of mediocre adults are dinosaurs, and this is both those things in one. In eight pages of preview, we learn that dinosaurs ate other dinosaurs, that a big space rock killed even the eatingest dinosaurs, and that aliens saved a few for later use. There's also a silhouette of an evil alien overlord with lots of pointy stuff on his armor sitting on a throne with a goddamned scepter, just in case you were concerned that Power Rangers fans might be left out in the cold. The next eleven pages are biographical body shots of the cast of anthropomorphic dinosaurs with body armor and lightsabers that will presumably show up at some point after the eight worthless pages previewed here. The girl dinosaur has nice big ol' titties, so your kids can have the same warped sexual issues you do, ya fucking creep. Finally, there's eight edutainmental pages from Discovery Channel's Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Predators, which is also about dinosaurs eating other dinosaurs, but more so.

The Strain #1 (Dark Horse, 2011, $1.00)
As much as I'd like to make a constipation joke, especially with the prolapsed tissue falling out of these vampires' mouths, this novel adaptation is pretty solid. I'm sure credit goes to David Lapham, who just keeps impressing me, but the art by Mike Huddleston is also pretty great. The plot is from a book by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan, which in this installment reads like Dracula by way of Fulci's Zombi, not to mention a bunch of other stuff I can't mention because it's not as readily apparent and I don't care all that much to give it the necessary thought to recall. This book is good enough to have earned my dollar, but I'm not prepared to commit to three years and approximately $126 more for what looks like leftover mythology from Blade II versus The Crazies. Maybe a $9.95 trade would help?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

A Frank Review of "Night Court: The Complete Second Season" (2009)

After a four year gap, the 1984-1985 second season of Night Court finally arrived on DVD. I suppose the price was paid in special features, more specifically their complete absence. You get subtitles and the ability to chapter skip past the opening credits. Maybe you want French subtitles?

  1. "The Nun": Charles Robinson debuts as Mac... Robinson? Dinah Manoff of Soap and Empty Nest fame guest stars, who does her best in a role written to be exasperating. As a saving grace, Dan finally becomes a full-on horndog with the help of guest counselor Sharon Barr. Earl Boen (the psychologist from the Terminator series) cameos.

  2. "Daddy for the Defense": The first appearance of Markie Post as Christine Sullivan. The producers wanted to make her a permanent addition, but she couldn't get out of her The Fall Guy contract until the third season. Eugene Roche guested as her father. As a combo, they're comedy poison, and her mullet doesn't help. A physical comedy b-plot with Selma doesn't help.

  3. "Billie and the Cat": Ellen Foley debuts as Public Defender Billie Young, and is immediately nails on chalkboard with her awful accent and painful overacting. This will plague the rest of the season. John Scott Clough thankfully only lasts one episode as her assistant. Character actors Don Calfa (The Return of the Living Dead) and Joel Brooks are fun in a plot involving commercial cat-napping. Dan's good in this one, as well.

  4. "Pick a Number": Character actor Sydney Lassick of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest asks Harry to assign his winning lottery ticket to someone worthy. This of course summons Terry Kiser as sleazy journalist Al Craven. Jennifer Richards appears twice this season in two different roles, this time playing a bimbo too dumb for even Dan. Cute episode overall. William Utay cameos.

  5. "The Computer Kid": An amusing episode about a jerky child prodigy. Blackie Dammett, character actor and father of Anthony Kiedis, plays the first of Dan's derelict servants. Fred Applegate cameos.

  6. "Bull Gets a Kid": Pamela Adlon, child actress and voice of Bobby Hill, plays Bull's "little brother." The episode is heavy on Bull and Dan with a side of Mac, which is rarely a bad thing.

  7. "Harry on Trial": The second and final appearance of Jason Bernard as Judge Robert T. Willard. If the show was going to have an adversarial presence, he was a great choice. Vincent Schiavelli guests as an investigator looking into Harry's fitness as judge. Carla B. makes a final appearance, playing off "Once in Love with Harry." Ray Walston is awesome as always as the overseeing judge. Definitely a highlight of the season.

  8. "Harry and the Madam": Stella Stevens appears, but her story is kind of a drag. Al Craven makes his final appearance, but at least Terry Kiser gets to visit Christine over at The Fall Guy before settling into Weekend at Bernie's. Mac has ghoulish fun at Bull's expense, and Dan's in slimeball mode. Solid enough, if heavier on the drama than warranted.

  9. "Inside Harry Stone": This episode marks John Astin's first appearance, in a variation on his later character from season four on. It's a nice enough show thanks largely to his presence, and Titos Vandis also cameos.

  10. "The Blizzard": Fantastic episode, with caustic character actor Jack Riley forcing Dan to confront his homophobia. Dennis Burkley is also fun as a man contemplating cannibalism in the face of court being snowed in by a blizzard.

  11. "Take My Wife, Please": Denice Kumagai debuts as Quon Le Duc, who's always a pleasure. Seinfeld's Michael Richards makes an early appearance.

  12. "The Birthday Visitor": Nebbish Oliver Clark plays a new thief who ends up taking Harry and Billie at her apartment. What could have been a sexy turn is killed by the lack of chemistry between the lead character, forced to pick up where Lana Wagner left off. It's still a solid episode, and certainly a change of pace. Stack Pierce is a blast as a surly waiter. That guy deserved a better career.

  13. "Dan's Parents": Old school character actors John McIntire and Jeanette Nolan are cute as the titular couple. It a fine episode without an excess of drama, the sort one expects when John Larroquette stars.

  14. "Nuts About Harry": Deborah Harmon subs for Foley as P.D., and a gaggle of mental patient guest stars includes Raye Birk and James Cromwell. Charles Bouvier makes the first of a serious of appearances of different (yet the same) characters. It's busy and kind of annoying, but not terrible.

  15. "An Old Flame": Jack Gilford, probably best known for the Cocoon movies, is swell as an ex of Selma's. Phil Leeds is back, this time as Arnold Koppelson, a considerate and efficient judge who outshines Harry as a replacement on the bench. A really nice episode.

  16. "The Gypsy": I tend to prefer stories where Bull is wise but simple, as opposed to an outright simpleton. Since this story pivots on his being dumb enough to fall for a gypsy curse, not to mention it being a friggin' gypsy curse story as late as 1985, this is not a favorite episode. It's a shame, because despite the intensely grating gypsy played by Erica Yohn and a wasted cameo by character actor Bruce (father of Bruno) Kirby, this episode marks a turning point for Dan that carries through the season.

  17. "Battling Bailiff": A memorable episode based on the popular wrestling angle and cameos by period staples like Lou Ferrigno. A number of good bits and a lot of ground covered for one episode.

  18. "Billie's Valentine": Much better than an episode with Ellen Foley's character name checked in the title has a right to be. It does advance the bogus Harry/Billie romance, unfortunately. Geoffrey Scott is good as the third point in the triangle, but more because of his soap opera chops than his comedic ones. Martin Garner returns as Bernie after a long absence, so that's nice. Character actors Patrick Cranshaw and Eve Smith are delightful in their single scene.

  19. "Married Alive": Mimi Kennedy is good as the socially retarded object of Dan's opportunism, while John Larroquette is great in another major character developing spotlight. Stanley Brock's cameo is alright, but another is sadly wasted for Elisha Cook Jr.

  20. "Mac and Quon Le: Together Again": It's hard to believe Denice Kumagai was only in seventeen episodes over the course of the series, which only averages out to about two per season. She's great with Charles Robinson, and brought out the best in his character. I liked Billie Young in bitch mode better than her norm, as it better suits Ellen Foley's painful overacting. Her nail marks on Harry's door were still there in the last episode of the season. I also wonder if Bull's moments of lucid wisdom were an influence on Kevin's Smith Silent Bob breakdowns.

  21. "World War III": Fucking hell, it's another awful Yakov Smirnoff episode, somehow even worse than the first. Leonard Stone and Gordon Jump have a nice side story as arms negotiators, but the rest is pretty terrible.

  22. "Walk, Don't Wheel": One of the series' many patronizing lesson episodes, this one being cripples deserve romance too, or some shit like that. It might have helped if the wheelchair enabled party wasn't dead weight in the acting department. The bits that halfway work, like the freeze dried enchiladas and the nuclear family, play on past their point of expiration. Despite appearing in an entire season, Public Defender Billie Young doesn't have her own IMDb character page, and Ellen Foley is kind enough to remind us why in a final over the top performance.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Comic Reader Résumé: Fall-Winter, 1982

ré·su·mé [rez-oo-mey, rez-oo-mey]
1. a summing up; summary.
2. a brief written account of personal, educational, and professional qualifications and experience, as that prepared by an applicant for a job.

In 1982, a standard size comic new off the rack cost sixty cents. Meanwhile, I could buy loose back issues at the local flea market for a quarter or less each. Even in my youth, I appreciated value for the dollar. This helps to explain why I took much of the rest of 1982 off as a newsstand collector. In September, it took Masters of the Universe #1 to get me to pay full cover again, and it pretty much immediately put me off. I'd been buying the toys, so I was surprised when Skeletor appeared to die from catching He-Man's sword in the chest after a Superman team-up in DC Comics Presents. When this #1 seemed to open with an epilogue, and declared Skeletor totally alive, I felt cheated. Alfredo Alcala did a fine job livening up George Tuska's pencils, but to a kid there was something oddly icky about Alcala. I couldn't articulate it then, but he had a 70s Eurocentric vibe that, when applied to half naked barbarians, made me feel squicky. I guess you could call it an early bout of homophobia, although I should point out that I came to love Alcala later on horror titles. Anyway, the book felt misaligned with the mini-comics packaged with the figures, and came across as a Conan wannabe even from my far less critical formative perspective. The story by Paul Kupperberg did not hold my attention, and in fact Kupperberg would disappoint me so often in my youth that it was a revelation when I connected the dots years later. "The blotting Kleenex-- the eyelash curlers, the exfoliating stone-- a single father... of course dad was a transvestite!" I skipped October and November.

Now December was a banner month, though. When I saw that blood trailing down Black Cat's arm in Peter Parker, The Spectacular Spider-Man #76, I had to have it. I'd read one other Black Cat comic, but I had that bonding through familiarity that only children and the mentally disabled can produce with such ferocity. Unlike the Skeletor tease, Felicia really was stabbed, smooshed, and slashed all to hell by the arms of Doctor Octopus and the forces of the Owl (yes, the Owl had forces back then.) Also, this all happened while she was in bondage wearing a skintight outfit with deep cleavage. In another contrast with He-Man, this was probably my first pass at sadomasochistic pulp exploitation, which I was perfectly alright with. There was even some great melodrama as Peter tries to pass a college final in a daze while thinking about his girlfriend in critical condition. Whatever his faults as a plagiarist, Bill Mantlo could write circles around Kupperburg's functionality. Jim Mooney was also an inspired embellisher over the often stiff Al Milgrom, giving him fluidity, softening the edges, adding romance, and yes, sex appeal. Milgrom was great with conveying emotions, though. I haven't read the story in decades, but I remember it so vividly that I don't really need to.

Then there's DC Comics Presents #55, which I don't remember so well. I'm not really sure why I bought this one. I liked Superman, and he appeared to be crushed to death in a two page spread, but it was a fake-out. I think I'd seen Parasite in a coloring book, or just thought he looked cool. I would have a nostalgia for Air Wave from then on, but of the "oh, hey... Air Wave... huh" variety. Horrible costume, dorky powers, thin connection to Hal Jordan... blech. I think there was a villainous train conductor riding a mini flying choo-choo in this, and I know the original Air Wave wore roller skates that let him ride on top of telephone/power lines. That's something, of some sort. I never really warmed to Bob Rozakis (or much of DC's writing pool at the time,) and Alex Saviuk was sort of my personal Paul Kupperburg of art.

Finally, there was another awesome The Brave and the Bold, #196. That title was a perfect gateway drug, with a generation's Batman writer & artist using him to introduce all manner of DC irregulars to new readers. So of course DC canceled it four issues later for a garbage X-Men knock-off, the loathsome Outsiders. My affection for this take on Ragman outlived that for Black Cat, probably because there still aren't many humanist slumland five & dime super-heroes running around. Turning him into a wimpy Spectre with a minority angle to trot out on Hanukkah was less than inspired. As with the Spider-Man, what sticks with me are images like Vietnam vet Rory Regan standing at a sink, unable to wash the blood off his hands, or his father's drunken group of friends being slowly electrocuted. The identity switches were novel, and Jim Aparo drew the Caped Crusader with an unparalleled grace. Bob Haney scripts were always a gas, but this one resonated in a way specific to a guy probably aware that his writing days were almost done, giving his all on the way out the door. That is a striking cover as well on a childhood favorite.


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