Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Trouble With Aquaman

Pin-Up from Justice League Quarterly #17 by Chris Batista & Joe Rubenstein.

Both at the Aquaman Shrine and Newsarama I read the following about DC big dog Dan DiDio...

"Asked about Aquaman, DiDio asked the fan back who is Aquaman now, to which the fan answered, 'I'm not sure right now.'

DiDio took a poll of the audience to see which Aquaman was the crowd's favorite, which showed the audience to be split among the different versions. DiDio said that it's something they're trying to figure out--which Aquaman should be the Aquaman to bring back.

DiDio said that while the Jim Aparo version is most recognizable, the 'harpoon hand' version is also well recognized in the media. All in all, DiDio said, they're taking their time to bring Aquaman back."

So basically, one of the biggest decision makers at DC Comics doesn't even know who Aquaman is, much less what to do with him. It's actually a pretty common problem with the character, seeing as despite being one of the most recognizable super-heroes in the world, he's a constant bottom feeder in sales and the butt of many jokes. I like to think I could help, and offer the following advise...

Adventure Comics Weekly, written by me, and guaranteed better than "Countdown" (even if I had to draw it by myself.) Oh wait, that's an utter fantasy. Let me start again.

  • Aquaman is not Batman. There are, to my knowledge, no such things as seabats. Yes, he did have an Aquacave at one time. Yes, he also had a kid sidekick. Yes, Aquaman's son was tragically murdered. This was all true, thirty years ago. Aquaman has been a brooding bore for nearly as long as I've been alive, and I just keep getting older. Let it go.
  • There are people who know and like Aquaman with the harpoon hand. Some toys were made of that incarnation, and it figured into his appearances on "Justice League." However, those people represent a fraction of the public who know the classic Aquaman, so catering to the minority only alienates the majority. Also, that incarnation is associated with one of the worst video games ever, and in fact the cable channel G4 awards equally wretched fare a "Golden Mullet" in Aquaman's dishonor. This is what is commonly known as "negative association."
  • To 95% of the people who have ever heard of Aquaman, he's the guy in orange and green who talks to fishies and rides giant seahorses. No amount of tough guy swagger, hair, or pointy objects will ever negate this fact. Also, his name is "Aquaman," which will never sound "edgy." Work with the character you've got, or else you're only undermining his strengths.
  • People expect Aquaman to smile. He's blonde and handsome. Girls and certain guys should want him, while the rest of us should want to be him. The people I know who want to mope or grimace constantly, develop unfortunate grooming choices, and are attracted to impractical prosthetesis are neither my dear friends nor my heroes. They are the people I avoid as much as possible.
  • It's okay for Aquaman to be funny. He doesn't have to be a joke, but his powers and surroundings are quirky, and it's okay to acknowledge that.
  • Puns are not funny, especially fish puns with an aquatic character. Neither is referring to fat people as either "slim" or "hefty." It's obvious and irritating.
  • Don't be ashamed of having adventures in or near water. "Pirates of the Carribean" and "The Little Mermaid" have earned billions off it. The ocean is a cool, scary, mysterious, fun place to be.
  • If there's an attention-getting event or a major new super-team, maybe allow Aquaman a prominent role in there somewhere. He's famous, you know. Might be a mutually-beneficial arrangement.
  • There does not have to be an ongoing series titled "Aquaman," especially by editorial decree. That leads to books by great names in comics talent, like Gary Cohn, Dan Mishkin, Paris Cullins, Neal Pozner, Robert Loren Fleming, Marty Egelund, Kirk Jarvinen, Yvel Guichet, and so on. Worse, it leads to "bold new directions" by actual names defaming themselves and the character, like Keith Giffen, Peter David, Erik Larsen, and Rick Veitch. The British have this wonderful notion of television where they stage a brief "season" whenever they have the talent and a story they feel is worth telling. This is preferrable to shoveling as much crap as possible to hit the magic 100 episodes for syndication.
  • Regardless of how well the revisionist "Trials of Shazam" sells in the direct market (re: not very,) Jeff Smith's concurrent mini-series that remained true to the Captain Marvel character and his audience will sell longer and stronger in wider circulation. If creators like Mark Waid and Mike Wieringo approach you with the idea of a nice little one-shot with the first classic take on Aquaman in eons, you damned well ought to say, "yes.
  • When you're constantly trying to reinvent a character, you're telling fandom you don't have confidence in your own property. When you tell a roomfull of people you don't know what to do with Aquaman, or even who that character is, you devalue him in reader's eyes, and poor sales become a self-fulfilling prophesy. Under those circumstances, you have to wait for someone with a vision and understanding of the character to come along and make the property work. It seems based on track record and the guy's own interest Geoff Johns is that person. Next time the question comes up, answer "When Geoff's ready, he'll take care of Aquaman, and you will all be thrilled with the result." If Geoff is never ready, make a mental note of who the next best option is on the list, and insert their name until something comes to fruition.
  • A.B.C. Dan: Always Be Closing. If you can't make the sale now, make sure that door remains open for later. Otherwise, Joe Quesada is just going to sell them more Marvel. The man who answers "I dunno" does not get the Glengarry leads.

Monday, February 25, 2008


Yesterday I visited the Station Museum of Contemporary Art for the first time. They are currently hosting an exhibit of the works of the Russian artist collective AES+F. If you live anywhere near Houston, admission is free. This show will run through Friday, and it bears the ...nurgh... seal of approval. If not, maybe it'll make its way to your town eventually.

"Defile" features photographs of unknown persons from morgues digitally attired in fashionable dress to give the illusion of a runway show. The photos are near life size and scanned onto a backlit opaque screen, giving the appearance of floating on air in a luminous casket. I found it more beautiful than grotesque, but do have some issues with the violation of these John and Jane Does, just as I have to question the morality of a show like Bodyworlds while staring at it intently.

Next came "Suspects," Fourteen headshots of girls aged 11-14 in similar poses and dress under the exact same lighting. Seven of these girls were sentenced to prison on various murder charges described on a nearby wall. Seven of the girls are, to the best of anyone's knowledge, innocent of such crimes. The display presents you with the option of trying to deduce which are which with no additional information provided.

Finally, "Last Riot" is a short film combining underage models in various states of undress acting out sadistic wargames with Japanese swords and baseball bats against the backdrop of a crude video game. The feature is projected on three screens to create a panoramic view accompanied by a punishing operatic score.

Each of the displays come with extensive commentary on the artists' intent. Perhaps due to culture differences, I felt two of the three landed off-mark, but was only disappointed with "Last Riot." I found the film to be overly vague in some respects, entirely too on the nose in others, and gratingly repetative. However, a big thumbs up on the photographic efforts, and well worth the trip.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Vixen's Origin (1985)

A fine character gets a very solid origin. I'm just glad that she's getting used regularly since her "Justice League Unlimited" appearances. Gina Torres was perfectly cast and helped by affection for Mari grow...

Saturday, February 23, 2008

A Frank Review of "The Brother From Another Planet" and "Hey, Mom!"

In "The Brother From Another Planet," Joe Morton plays an alien slave on the run from his masters in Harlem circa 1984. Though a mute, the three-toed extraterrestrial has a variety of superpowers he uses to make a living, evade capture, and effect social change. John Sayles' film is whimsical and clever, a real low-key pleasure. Morton is great as always, enabled by a strong supporting cast.

On the same $1.00 DVD was Brian DePalma's early comedy, the 1969 oddity "Hey, Mom!" Alternately known as "Blue Manhatten" and "Son of Greetings," the film serves as a sequal to the x-rated "Greetings." Robert DeNiro plays a returning Vietnam vet who embarks on a career as a Peeping Tom pornographer before joining an extremist Black Power organization. DeNiro's great, but the move meanders with lengthy tangents and unrelenting quirkiness of the sort one might expect from an ambitious student film. I'd have to check to see if the overlapping dialogue predated Altman.

Friday, February 22, 2008

African-American Super-Heroes Commission by Paul Ryan

Back when I was running my comic shop, I had a customer I chatted with weekly named Damon Owens. Now, with the abomination Marvel had become in the 90's, both creatively and in their adversarial relationship with the direct market, I had been converted to a hardcore DC fan. Damon was a Marvel guy, so we would often have lively and well thought out debates. I would often try to convert Damon to my way of thinking, but he had a strong Marvel bias. He once explained that his aversion to DC had a lot to do with their historic lack of interest in minority characters and readers. As I've mentioned previously, there was a lot of truth to the argument that he hadn't avoided DC so much as they had him. This sent my mind back to my childhood and the buying habits of myself and friends. Titles with racial diversity were always tops with us, whether it be "G.I. Joe," "X-Men," or "Power Man and Iron Fist." If you'd asked me in those days about African-American heroes in the DCU, I'd have mentioned Cyborg and maybe Black Lightning, as I'd seen ads for his title in some of the Batman books I bought. The 80's were little better, and attempts to turn the tide in the 90's and 00's have often come across as inorganic, heavy-handed, or simply too little too late. Let's face it, was Milestone Media a legitimate interest of DC Comics, or just an opportunity to issue more junk bonds to the speculator market?

Anyhow, Damon started using the internet to contact artists about commissions. He initially was very into Marvel vs. DC pieces where the Marvel characters always won, even in self-admitted ridiculous cases like Quicksilver vs. Flash. However, he also loved collections of black heroes, whether from a variety of companies or spotlighting a line. Damon always had very specific ideas about what he wanted out of the finished pieces, which I think turned off some of the people he approached. As I recall, this piece by Paul Ryan, who liked the concept enough to work with Damon on the cost and complex arrangement. I recently went looking for this piece on the net, and saw Damon has gone buck wild in the 5-6 years since we parted company, ordering something like 60 commissions, which he's offered up for exhibition. For some reason though, I could not find this early piece. I think that was a shame, but no longer, as you can see it above. Swell, innit?

*On the first posting of this blog, I had a brain fart and misidentified the artist as Mark Bright. Appologies for the error. I really should have caught that...

Thursday, February 21, 2008

"Celebrating" Black History Month

It may seem I've been a bit flippant in my recent posts. Some thoughts...

  • What exactly is "Black History?" It sounds like the comprehensive 10 CD retrospective of a death metal band. When I think of "Black History Month," I think of "Black Letter Day." This is what's know as "negative association."
  • If it's a history of black people, why is it that only African Americans are ever discussed?
  • Of all the black Americans throughout our nation's history, only one black American has rated a holiday of his own.
  • I've never gotten off work from Black History Month or Martin Luther King Jr. day. If a holiday came and nobody observed, would you still respect it?
  • I guess no other single person of color is as great as the asshole who thought he was in India when he "discovered" this country.
  • I think that I shall never see, a black American as honored as a tree. Happy Arbor Day!

So no, I find it hard to treat the lumping of an entire people into one big black month of vague and obligatory "honor" with much more than contempt. Over at my other blog, I recently rescanned and reposted a semi-synopsis of an issue of Superman written by Jeph Loen and drawn by a fill-in artist. It was probably an inventory piece to plug into the schedule whenever hot artist Ed McGuinness fell behind schedule. In it, a black man in a nondescript black jumpsuit with derivative super-powers called into question Superman's lack of attention to the ghetto. He was an angry black man, so they dubbed him "Muhammad X." This really drove home how little concern the creators had for the character, as opposed to the opportunity to have Superman perform a fan wank by addressing DC Comics long history of omission and indifference with regard to people of color. Part of the joke about yesterday's "Black Vulcan" post was that he himself was just a thinly veiled rip-off of DC only major black hero, "Black Lightning," who's creator had a participation deal, so they suits fucked him out of getting on "Auperfriends."

As for Muhammad X, in the end, Superman's token black therapist made him feel better about himself and his corporate masters. DC Comics, a company that until recent years treated most of their black characters as undesirable substitutes for white heroes or just plain undesirable. But that's all changed now, with John Stewart capitalizing on his national recognition with his own title, as has Vixen, and of course Steel. Oh wait-- no, they haven't.

In the Muhammad X issue, Natasha Irons reference a number of presumably non-white super-heroes she admires: "Rush and Silence. Stoneyard. Underground" She even equates Muhammad X's fame with Batman's. Never heard of him before or sense. Same goes for the rest. Until that type of thing changes, pathetic consolation prizes like "Black History Month" can damned well take the criticism.

Monday, February 18, 2008

A Frank Review of D.E.B.S. and MINDHUNTERS

Some important to know about me, as an indivual, and in case you hadn't picked up on it, is that I am a contrarian. If you present to me a movie hailed as a masterpiece, I will set my eyeteeth upon its arteries. If you present to me a movie cold or with heavy reservations, I will endeavor to either keep an open mind or actively pursue its virtues. This should help to understand why I might give both of these overly hated flicks a free pass, and I'm here to explain why.

D.E.B.S. I bought on VHS at a dollar store some time back, likely before I had a Netflix account. I knew little about he movie, but I figured for a buck it should at least pay for itself in prurient value. I was mistaken, as every actress in this movie needs to be put on the Morgan Spurlock McDonald's diet so that their thighbones no longer protrude through their dresses. I have to assume they're all wearing wigs and false teeth. That criticism aside, the film isn't about hot chicks in schoolgirl outfits. It is instead a sort of modern riff on Dino's Matt Helm movies mashed-up with "...But I'm A Cheerleader," as it might have been handled by Amy Heckerling. The movie isn't especially funny, but it is amusing, sweet nature, and gay friendly. In fact, the film was expanded from a ten minute short by lesbian filmmaker Angela Robinson, who makes the most of a two million dollar budget, little of which likely went into the charmingly cheap CGI. None of the characters rise above cyphers, but it seems to me part of the point of the movie is playing the lesbian relationship as innocuously as possible, without any social agenda beyond popcorn entertainment. Even without that angle, the movie is unrelentingly cute and the best kind of lightweight. My only real complaint was that star Sara Foster doesn't quite have the same charisma and presence of Hayden Christianson.

I could find neither the trailer nor original short at YouTube, but here's the first ten minutes, and you can see the rest free as well...

Mindhunters is the 7,432nd play on the old "Ten Little Indians" saw, but is made to look like only the 849th Seven/Lambs knock-off. It sat on a shelf from 2002-2004, then was shown everywhere before coming back to the U.S. another year later. This should explain why its box office was about double D.E.B.S. production budget. The trailer sells you a film starring Christian Slater, Val Kilmer, and LL Cool J. Less than a safe bet to begin with, the flick then delivers a vehicle for Kathryn Morris and Johnny Lee Miller, sporting the worst Southern accent since-- well, limeys always tend to do lousy Southern accents. You need Aussies to pull that sort of thing off. Anyhow, the team of elite candidates for the position of FBI profilers are only slightly less moronic than your usual horror movie bait, but twice as arrogant. I tell you this not to dissuade you from a viewing, but to prepare you for a movie that rebounds off the wall of shame back into the land of flashy, gory, and unintentionally campy goodness. Besides, Slater plays another character named "J.D.," so I think I was compelled by a higher law than man's to view it and find pleasure within. Preferrably for free, as my checking this out at the library really helped push the flick into the green. Now if only they stocked "Roadhouse 2..."

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A Frank Review of "Stand By Me"

If memory serves, I first saw "Stand By Me" when I was staying in Albuquerque, New Mexico with family friends. I was especially fond of Trina, who was just a smidge older than me, and quite crushingly thought of me as her "cousin." This was the first and one of the few times I've allowed myself to be turned into a "girlfriend," which in man-lingo translates as "sexless bitch," but I wasn't really hip to that then. My time in Albuquerque made me conscious of my atrociously thick Texan accent, and was a preview of the peer abuse I'd be subjected to once we made the move to Vegas. I didn't know it then, but I was a hick, a nerd, and poor white trash all rolled into one. Is it any wonder then that I responded so strongly on introduction to the misfits in Rob Reiner's film?

That initial viewing made me long for the simpler times of the mid-century, when people were decent and friends were true. Never mind that the movie itself was filled with neglectful and abusive parents, cruel teens, callous adults... come to think of it, pretty near everyone in the movie is kind of a dick. But hey, our P.O.V. character Gordie had a great crew, which I never did. The closest I came was in 5th grade before the move, and found close friends in Benito and Niaze, meaning I actually had two buds at the same time. Up until I accidentally found myself in a crew in my early twenties (with two still hanging tough today,) I was all about partners over posses. I almost always had one good friend that I spent time with, and there were plenty of them, just never more than the one at a time.

So anyway, long story short, I bought "Stand By Me" on DVD, because it was one of my favorite movies twenty years ago. It might have been wise to remember that very little of what I liked twenty years ago has held up, this film included. The whole thing seems so trite now, with hammy acting, though still better than the norm for child stars. Jerry O'Connell wasn't near as fat as I remembered him. While I know Daniel Stern's narration for "The Wonder Years" (along with the basic premise of the show) was swiped from this movie, it seems so much stronger, perhaps because Stern still sounds like an arrested adolescent. Richard Dreyfuss has always been a nasal-voiced middle-aged weasel to me, even when he was in his twenties. At no point do I believe this guy was Gordie, or else I'd hate the kid, instead of just being bored with Wheaton's mousy performance. By the way, Wheaton now looks like he hangs out at playgrounds for kicks, and I doubt Corey Feldman leaves the house without a compact and mascara these days.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Nightwing: Love and War

Plus Side: Marv Wolfman made me a fan of Dick Grayson from a young age, specifically with 1983's The New Teen Titans Annual #2, alongside George Perez. I'd never cared much about Robin up to that point, but then I read the scene where the mob boss' bimbo says, "Gee. I thought he was a boy, but he's a man." She knew it, I knew it, and we both dug it. "The Murder Machine" was one of those great stories where lots of stuff is happening to characters that don't really matter, but you're made to care in short order regardless.

Once Nightwing appeared, he became one of my favorites. I was never going to have a build like Batman, but Nightwing's form seemed an attainable ideal, which I strive for to this day. Obviously he was much more of a ladies man, which is another goal I've failed at miserably. He was a brilliant strategist and wonderful with team dynamics, at least until “Titans Hunt.” Character, writer, and book all seemed to lose their way around that point, actually. After years of monopolizing Nightwing, Wolfman had him stripped away for use in the Batman family titles, and eventually his own series. By my reckoning though, not only did Chuck Dixon treat Dick as unquestionably inferior to the Dark Knight, but in many ways an underachiever outshone by even Tim Drake. I couldn't bear to follow the series for longer than spurts because of this realization. Devin Grayson had a better handle and more regard for the character, but she was saddled with an artist I really can't stand, and she took Nightwing to places that could unfortunately be described as Daredevil Lite. I barely touched her run until Phil Hester came aboard, but by then it was too late to really turn the ship around. Bruce Jones? Passed.

So, after better than a decade, Wolfman came back to Nightwing, and I enjoyed his story better than any other starring the character in at least that many years. I tend to hate when street-level heroes battle flying cyborgs and such, but Wolfman sold the story well enough that I didn't mind a bit. The compelling script, or perhaps just working more to his element, improved Dan Jurgen's game as well. I always preferred his Batman work to the lengthy Superman run, despite Jurgens having is career defined by the Man of Steel. He was done a disservice with three very different inkers on Nightwing though, with one especially overpowering the pencils to detrimental effect. Jamal Igle and Paco Diaz contribute attractive art to the second story arc, as well. I’m very glad I took the chance on “Love and War,” as it was thoroughly enjoyable for this longtime fan.

Minus Side: That said, why won’t Wolfman allow Nightwing to step up into the Big Leagues, where he belongs? Robin was the first kid sidekick in comic book history, and easily one of the most recognizable heroes in the world. Dick Grayson was the first “child star” to grow up and assume a new, adult identity for himself, becoming a fan favorite character in the process. Wolfman was largely responsible for that evolution, yet has hobbled the character ever since. It was pretty much his decision not to allow Nightwing his own series in the 80’s, allowing him only guest appearances, short runs under his pen in Action Comics and Titans spin-off books, and of course his co-starring within the Titans main title. Nightwing was rightly taken from Wolfman just as the Titans book reached its creative nadir, and eventually sold the character out as an also-ran amongst the Batman family. All those years since the estrangement of character and revitalizing creator, with two intriguing stories lovingly drawn, and where does their reunion ultimately lead? Nightwing is still punching people in the dick, a move I found amusing in his later “Teen Wonder” days, but seems a bit too dirty today. His new foes, while interesting, aren’t particularly impressive. Even still, Nighrwing fails to actually beat any of them. In fact, Dick Grayson fails at almost every undertaking in this trade:

  • Fails to safeguard his new henchman.
  • Fails to save Raptor.
  • Is beaten and buried alive by mysterious iTunes assassin, and never faces him again in the trade.
  • Fails to stop the second Raptor, who is conveniently killed by his own suit prior to Dick doing the same.
  • Fails to uncover the masterminds behind the string of murders, who are dealt with by a superior Dick never discovers.
  • Fails to hook-up with any of the new supporting cast members, despite trying.
  • Attempts to lead and protect a new super-team, only to fail them to the tune of multiple deaths and a horrific impairment.
  • Fails to save Raptor’s family from grisly murder.
  • Fails to capture Bride and Groom.

    It’s a credit to the creative team that I enjoyed the book regardless of its hero being an impotent loser, but I’d really prefer to see the character redeemed before Dan Didio reconsiders sacrificing him to another crossover event.

    Also, while all the artists were good, they were also very different, which massively alters the tone of the trade over its course. While both the story arcs are probably more violent than necessary, Dan Jurgens is clearly still drawing a super-hero book, where Jamal Igle crosses over into Tales From The Crypt. Again, I like gore as much as the next guy, if not more, but things might be getting out of hand once people’s intestines start making appearances. Wolfman does love his horror, and he’s good at it, but hopefully someday he’ll figure out that this degree doesn’t really suit Titans characters well.

    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?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A Frank Review of Low Budget Exploitation

42nd Street Forever Vol. 1 (2005) & 2 (2006):
What Is It? Two hours of trailers for grindhouse fare from the 50's-80's. Quite a mixed bag, but you just know these coming attractions are better than most of the films they promote, and the cream does rise.
Should I See It? Yeah.

RANDOM TRAILER for "Kiss the Girls and Make Them Die:"

The Beast Within (1982):
The Short Version? Werepubescence
What Is It? Horror
Who Is In It? Ronny Cox
Should I See It? No.

So okay, a woman gets raped by a werewolf-a-ma-bob, and the resultant son gets hair on more than his palms late into puberty. If that sounds like the kind of move that requires liberal use of the fast-forward button to you, then your hearing is just fine. There's a few ridiculous kills and some general sickness, but its rather dull and terribly silly otherwise.

TRAILER for "The Beast Within":

The Candy Snatchers (1973):
The Short Version? Ransom, sans Mel Gibson and any redeeming qualities.
What Is It? Dramedy.
Who Is In It? Nobody.
Should I See It? Maybe.

Three hoods kidnap a schoolgirl and bury her alive in anticipation of a ransom that isn't exactly forthcoming. Works best when it shoots for the blackest of comedy, but falters whenever things get especially sordid. That's explored further in interviews with the starlets of the film, one a defender, and one still haunted by the work.

NSFW NUDITY-- TRAILER for "The Candy Snatchers:"

Trailer Trash (2007, 2-Disc Series):
The Short Version? Cheap Trailers
What Is It? Horror/Comedy.
Who Is In It? Misty Mundae. A.J. Khan.
Should I See It? Maybe.

This is a lengthy collection (advertised at over 5 hours) of trailers for various extra low budget productions of the direct-to-video "quality." The first disc focuses on splatter, and is an utter waste of time, as the level of schlock is about equal to what high schoolers would come up with if given a weekend with a camcorder. I "enjoyed" the second disc much more, as it leaned more toward the sexploitation end of the spectrum. The erotic spoofs failed to live up to either term, although I've seen some of the Misty Mundae/Darien Caine/AJ Khan stuff at full length, and they're not all bad. Better were the horror hybrids, and most of the Joe Sarno/vintage 60's Euro-sleaze material was swell.

RANDOM TRAILER ("Shock-O-Rama," slightly NSFW):

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

What the... nurgh...?

My name is not Rob Kelly. I have to tell myself this every now and then, whenever I start thinking about how bitchin' a daily Vanth Dreadstar or Marshal Law blog would be. I already have one blog I spend way too much time on, fixating on the Martian Manhunter. I do not have enough hours in my day for a slew of these damned things.

My name is also not Frank Lee Delano, but that one I'll go by regardless. I used to be a message board addict, but went cold turkey many years back with few regrets. However, I'm an opinionated son of a bitch, so I eventually started a MySpace blog. My more geekcentric stuff just didn't fly over there though, so I tried to get it out of my system commenting on other people's blogs. That was more frustrating than anything, as some bloggers just aren't very sociable/responsive/resolute, and I was forced to stick with whatever they happened to talk about. You know-- audiophile blogs stick with music, cinephiles film, and so on.

So one day, I'd dropped what I thought was an amusing comment regarding the replacement Captain America on Valerie D'Orazio Occasional Superheroine blog, to the usual lack of any acknowledgement whatsoever, and said to myself "fuck this noise." So I went back, cut & paste, and stuck it on an additional blog. I wasn't going to update it with any regularity, nor pimp it in any way. I'd just stick anything I decided I wanted to save for posterity here. Well, then Michael Netzer found and commented on the sucker. Plus, y'know, I'm never at a loss for something to talk about. Maybe one more, intended to cover everything under the sun, would be alright. At least so long as I stuck with strictly one post per day, just as I've done at the Idol-Head of Diabolu.

So far, I've managed to not even do that, which for me is a good thing. However, I finally finished, ish, that big ass and highly meticulous banner. Good luck naming everyone, if you're so inclined. It is hardly all inclusive, as the list of people I'd like to have added started growing as soon as I posted the sucker here. No! Nerd! Ugh! Argh! You're not touching it anymore, damn it!

So this will be an amorphous blog. I will likely post once daily. It will be random, though the sampling available to date should give you an idea of where I'll generally head. To avoid trying to come up with something achingly pretentious, I've titled the blog after an onomatopoeia I'm prone to use, especially when driving, hence the cheesy picture. I hope the nurgh does your body good, and that'll you'll bounce by again...

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sword of the Atom insert (1984)

While I was working on a J'Onn J'Onzz project for the Idol-Head, I noticed a four-page cover stock insert for the "Sword of the Atom" special in Justice League of America #228 (July 1984.) The issue kept floating around my house, and I kept meaning to ask Damien at his Atom: The Tiny Titan blog if he had access to scans of the rather keen advertisement. It took a few weeks, but I finally did.

His response?

"I'm going to have to go ahead... and say... that if I had to guess... and I will... that I...

don't have it.

Which is only further evidence leading to my own accusation of being a crackpot behind the world's biggest sham of an Atom blog."

Well, I rather like his blog, sham or no, and I hope these scans are helpful. I think the ad is very eye-catching, and am surprised DC didn't use the trick more often. Gil Kane's work on "Sword" was exceptional, and the mini-series sold well.

Oh, and while I'm thinking about it: Damien, do you have that great one-page ad for "The Shadow War of Hawkman" were Katar is wearing the spiked straps? Certified badass!

Sunday, February 10, 2008

NURGH! Greatest Songs Of Our Time!!!! #2: Wave Of Mutilation (U.K. Surf) by the Pixies (1989)

I was first exposed to a brief segment of the song in 1990's "Pump Up The Volume," a once favored film now relegated to guilty pleasure. I picked-up the soundtrack very used at what looked to be a dust bowl flea market many years later. Not long after, this specific version of the Pixies b-side nuzzled against my bosom, where it shall rest forevermore. Over the years, the song has given me a good deal of peace in mind. One day, I'd love to write Aquaman, just so I can repurpose the title. When I die, I have stated repeatedly to my friends this is the single must-play track for my memorial.

Cease to resist
Giving my goodbye
Drive my car into the ocean
You'll think I'm dead
but I sail away
On a wave of mutilation
a wave

I've kissed mermaids, rode the El NiƱo
Walked the sand with the crustaceans
Could find my way to Mariana
On a wave of mutilation,
wave of mutilation
wave of mutilation

wave of mutilation

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Rambo: A Frank Review

I vaguely remember seeing "First Blood" on basic television as a kid in the early 80's-- mostly some cat & mouse games in the forest and the big emotional breakdown in the finale. I vaguely remember seeing "First Blood Part II" on cable in the mid-80's. The hot Asian girl getting killed bummed me out. The exploding arrows and his stupid speech to the Russians made a sort of impression. I favored Chuck Norris in the 'Namsploitation arena and Ah-nold in the greased up badass category back then. I vaguely remember seeing "Rambo III" at the movie theater-- mostly because it was the first time I recall seeing "red mist" in a film.

I will never forget 2008's "Rambo." Of the tens of thousands of movies I've seen, it ranks among the most ecstatically violent of them all. I'd say 80% or more of this film is devoted to scenes of absolute carnage and mayhem of the highest order. "Rambo" makes up for every crappy grindhouse film that failed to live up to its promise. An equal opportunity offender, male and female, young and old, all must feed the bone machine. While there is rape and sexual humiliation, rest assured, it is in no way titillating. This film is all about the horrors of war, by which I mean action porn with only the slightest measure of socially redeeming motivation to absolve the pure massacre onscreen. There are some breasts, but again take comfort that their appearances are brief and no point drooping from the sixty-something chest of Sly. This film has no time for even the comparative tenderness of non-consensual sodomy when it could be liquefying the human form with a mechanized onslaught. The only penetration on Rambo’s mind is an arrow through the face, preferably leading to a body then hitting a landmine. Rambo is the patron saint of Overkill, hallowed by his grunt. In fact, "Rambo" has got to be about the manliest movie I've ever seen, and truly deserves a place beside THE GREAT FILMS alongside CITIZEN KANE, SUNSET BOULEVARD, and JACKASS NUMBER TWO. An absolute must see, while still in theatrical release, for anyone who has ever borne or longed for testicles.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Superman II: Richards Donner vs. Lester

Back when Richard Donner started directing "Superman: The Motion Picture," it was conceived as titanic 3 hour epic. Over the course of production, it became increasingly clear they were looking at closer to five hours, and it was decided to break the film in two-- while the producers were still only paying everyone for one. Donner took exception to the Salkinds shady business practices, and was fired after the completion of the first film. Richard Lester, who was still owed money from the Salkinds for his work on their Three Musketeers films, agreed to finish the second half to collect all his monies owed. However, since he had to contribute a majority percentage of the finished film to be credited as it's director, scenes already in the can had to be reshot or reconceived as a technicality. A quarter century later, editors and Warner Brothers decided to put together a cut of "Superman II" that would utilize as much of Donner's footage and preserve as much of his vision as possible. That said, fans have also had a quarter century to endear themselves to the original theatrical release. Being unemployed and out of school, I had the free time to overanalyze both versions. These are my thoughts...

Pre-Title Sequence:
Lester- Inspiring music plays as we soar through space, then approach a familiar dome on the planet Krypton. Inside, the silent brute Non breaks the neck of a masked guard. General Zod and Ursa then approach as set of crystals marked with the Superman shield which had been under supervision. Zod then shatters a red crystal of unknown significance, triggering a trap that snares the three heinous criminals. They are swiftly judged by an unknown, enseen actor and exiled from Krypton.

Donner- Subdued, slightly ominous music plays over a slow pan across the crystalline surface of Krypton, before settling on the dome. Within, Marlon Brando plays the scientist/judge Jor-El, who sentences the aforementioned criminals to the Phantom Zone. This is essentially the same scene as in the first movie, but employing alternate angles.

The explosion of Krypton sends the Phantom Zone portal/square off-course, where it is caught in the wake of a spaceship rocketing from the doomed planet. The criminals slowly, torturously make their way toward baby Kal-El's new home, Earth. His rocket lands in a Kansas field, employing more unused footage and angles from the first film. An overlong recap of Superman's first encounter with Lex luthor is shown, leading to the Man of Steel's sending a nuclear missile into space. The explosion of said missile creates a sort of vacuum effect, attracting and unleashing the Phantom Zone criminals from the Phantom Zone. Zod howls the word "FREE" as the trio fly toward the moon and Earth!

Victor- Donner, without breaking a sweat. Seeing some Kryptonian crime is kind of cool, but not when the criminals are chumped so quickly. Lester's opening felt like the director was cuing his actors for a commercial break over the entire duration, making for breathless and decidedly unnaturalistic line delivery. Lester's chief justice's voice sounds like a squeek compared to Donner's. Besides, in the Donner cut we now we get Brando and the released bad guys in just the first few minutes. Plus, in this version the nuke-created "black hole" warps and seperates the Phantom tile into three pieces, which then explode into shards. Cool effect.

Title Sequence:
Lester- A lit green crystal bursts into white/blue flying text. Blocky, cheesy red & yellow shield. Scenes from the first film run throughout, highlighting appearances by Kal-El's mother while neglecting images of Marlon Brando to avoid paying the actor another fee. Again, less-than-invisible hands guiding the story.

Donner- Faster, cleaner variation on the clear "hyperspeed" text of the first film. Decent red-on-red shield, sandwiched by roman numerals clashing into a "II," the the words "Superman II" flying away from the screen.

Victor: Donner by a nose. I appreciated the recap in Lester's version, but the text and sound effects on the recut, coupled with the tighter edit, kept the energy up.

Lester- Terrorists threaten all of Paris with a hydrogen bomb. Lois Lane finds it on an elevator in the Eiffel Tower. Margot Kidder again plays the girl in the horror movie who goes down into the basement alone and unarmed. Superman saves her and sends the rigged elevator into outer space. The bomb detonates, sending shockwaves that fling Superman back toward Earth and free the Phantom Zone criminals. This is done when the tile becomes a painfully obvious cel-animated cube (complete with matte lines,) explodes into a light cube.Oblivious to Superman, the Zone criminals fly silently toward the moon.

Donner- Immediately after Lex Luthor's arrest hits the papers, Lois Lane again notes the resemblance between Clark Kent and Superman, going so far as to draw glasses and a suit over a picture of the Man of Steel. She decides to force Clark to confess to his dual life by jumping out the window of the Daily Planet. Clark uses his powers to insure Lois survives without his apparent intervention.

Victor: Donner by miles. The protracted Paris sequence has long been a bane to viewers, and Lester's freeing of the criminals pales before the previously seen Donner liberation.

Lex Luthor Behind Bars:
Lester- Clark Kent breaks a taxi cab without offering any compensation. Lois squeezes oranges (for her health) while smoking at the Daily Planet and making sure Clark knows they're "just friends." Cut to Luthor, who's been imprisoned with his lackey Otis for some time, and is currently on laundry duty. He's also created a device to locate Superman's secret lair.

Donner- Cut to Luthor, who's been in jail for a day or so, but plays out the same as above.

Victor: Lester, who adds a tedious skit between Clark and Lois that exists only to pay off later dialogue, but cuts Donner's extended prison comedy sequence involving urine stains and Otis. Under Donner's timeframe, Lex should still be in jail awaiting trial, not inventing gadgets from a prison cell.

Lunar sequence:
Donner- Reveals the incompetence of NASA by having them hire Cliff from "Cheers."

Lester- Reveals the incompetence of NASA through their disregarding the loss of communication with a mission crew while John Ratzenburger argues about comets.

Victor: Donner.

Donner- More "fun" with Ned Beatty and Valerie Perrine, complete with the Otis theme.

Lester- Smartly trims the above sequence to its essentials, as well as going with a better bit with Ms. Techmacher two scenes later.

Victor: Lester. Donner should have kept up his earlier pace with an equally ridiculous but far shorter alternate avenue of escape that ended up in the deleted scenes.

Richard Donner takes an early lead by learning from the mistakes of his first film. While the original took forever to get started and was tonally inconsistant, Donner's cut of II starts early, moves quickly, and uses the tonal shifts to highlight the menace of the Phantom Zone criminals. Also, while his weakness at humor with Gene Hackman cost him points here, Otis ceases to be a liability at this point. Lester gets points for filling in plotholes Donner missed, and even his faint humor bids outshine Donner's.
Donner: 4
Lester: 2

Donner- Loses ground by spending too much time with Lex and Ms. Teschmacher playing cute in the Fortress of Solitude, but at least Otis is still in prison. Worse, he seems to use this as an opportunity to dump his inventory of Marlon Brando footage, ridiculing Jor-El and overexplaining the film's plainly clear plot and characters. Less of Brando & Hackman is clearly more.

Lester- An extended scene with Clark and Lois in a tacky honeymoon suite works reasonably well to set up Clark's awkwardness in romantic pursuit, and is amusing. The sequence in Superman's lair is much tighter, Lex comes off as much smarter, the effects are better, and jokes are reworked so that character isn't sacrificed. Kal-El's mother is given something to do this time, which is particularly commendable. Superman is as much Moses as Christ-figure, after all, and women rated major roles in both stories. Also, Susanne York's delivery projects the threat of the Zone criminals far more effectively than Brando.

Victor: Lester, who owns this portion so completely I can't stop counting the way. For instance, he transitions Lex out of the Fortress better, and explains how he can track the criminals progress. Oh, and isn't jumping into Niagara after Superman in sited there more plausible than jumping out of a random Metropolitan office building? The scene is more interesting, Reeve has more to do, etc. etc. His only fault is in drowning a cute bit during the Niagara sequence in a tepid approximation of John William's score.

Lester- Retains a sequence where the dull-witted Non fails to access his heat vision power, proving not all Kryptonians are equal. Later, Clark falls into a fireplace at the honeymoon suite, revealing both his secret identity and the fact that he really can be a super-clutz. A third option offers a Freudian slip, which eases the transition to the Fortress of Love.

Donner- Loathe to employ any Lester footage if at all possible, we are instead treated to multiple interlaced screen tests with Reeve and Kidder, and get to watch Clark's hair intermittently mushroom to a staccato rhythm. Speaking of rhythm, Lois Lane's seems a bit off when again confronting Clark about being Superman, although her new method is the best yet. However, the trip back to "his place" seems to come nearly out of nowhere. Strange that he, of all people, would give the romantic angle short shrift. Also, his bid to make Non more grim than buffoonish simply causes his scenes to seem more choppy, and the character berift of personality.

Victor: Lester, who's story is now unfolding at a more gradual, necessary pace.

Fortress of Macktitude/Middle America:
Donner- Chops the criminals' confrontations with the law and townsfolk to pieces, robbing viewers of character development, stunts, and some nice bits of humor. Meanwhile, Lois gives it up faster than Paris Hilton on "X."

Lester- Perhaps has a bit too much fun at the expense of the American South, but the steady escalation of the criminals' violence well mirrors Superman's desperation for affection and approval from Lois. An original sequence has Superman discussing the origins of himself and the Fortress of Solitude before flying to a remote jungle for flowers to add a "woman's touch" to his home away from home.

Victor: Lester

Donner stumbles, perhaps too set on excluding Lester material, to the extent of leaving his film disjointed and unsatisfying. At the halfway point, Lois is just off to put on something more comfortable in the Lester cut, while Donner has already proven that Lois is no Woman of Kleenex in the sack. The next quarter will showcase ever greater disparities between the two versions.
Donner: 4
Lester: 5

The Battle of Houston:
Donner- Since both scenes opened identically, and I was picking up my viewing of the films at this point after weeks (months?) break, I thought it would be fun the synchronize them. Bit of a wasted effort, as the scenes diverge a minute and a quarter in. Non fells an army jeep with a blast of heat vision, though this is partially realized by a cheap cutaway that would have made Corman proud. The miltary tries to catch Zod from behind with flame throwers, but he redirects the flames with super breath to ignite a nearby building. The battle continues, with communications between the troops fairly clear.

Lester-Non sends the army jeep out of control with two energy blasts, sending it up a ramp and flying through a home before crashing into parked cars, nearly crushing the silhouetted driver. Zod redirects flames in a tubular, poorly rendered arc into the building. Slightly longer sequences with the military, but with mostly unintelligable communications and some bad effects that needed to be trimmed.

Victor: I'm going to have to declare this a tie. Donner would have taken it for cleaning up some messy bits, but his excising the jeep crash costs the scene an important action beat and fluidity. Also, Lester's lingering on the helicopter explosion and some audio fidgeting to tone down Terence Stamp's hamming as Zod deserves acknowledgement. Speaking of which, and I initially thought this was a Donner-to-Lester transition but am now unsure, Stamp seems to play Zod two entirely different ways throughout the movie. At times, Zod is almost zen in his calm amidst chaos, with a mostly normal, unstressed voice. Other times, Stamp's vocals are badly affected for depth and presence, as he often shouts lines as though in a schizophrenic episode.

The Sacrifice:
Donner- Donner briefly, silently returns to Superman and Lois in bed, snuggling in post-coital intimacy. An army general's line is dubbed differently than in the theatrical cut, with a higher pitch and less of a Southern drawl. The Phantom Zone criminals topple the Washington Monument-- really slowly, as though it were a very cheap model on a wire. Superman confronts the spectral image of his father Jor-El, while Lois silently looks on in only Superman's shirt and a pair of socks. Kal-El wishes to remove his powers so he can stop serving humanity and devote himself to Lois. Jor-El is appalled, stating, "Is this how you repay their gratitude? By abandoning the weak, the defenseless, the needy for the sake of your selfish pursuits?" Kal-El remains cocky and indignant, until his father offers to pelt him with the harnessed rays of a red sun. Jor-El explains in detail the price of his loss of powers, to himself and humanity, and begs his son to reconsider. Lois fearfully covers her eyes as Kal-El is irradiated, his memory crystals explode, and Marlon Brando's giant freakin' head continues to sit in judgement.

Lester- Plays catch-up with Donner, as Superman and Lois date and retire, unaware of the turmoil back home. While the dialogue remains exactly the same (aside for an exceptional line,) Lester allows for silences and pauses that enhance the uncertainty and romance between the couple. Where Donner rushed the couple into bed and left them there for some time, Lester keeps the star of the film present throughout. As Lois briefly exits the scene, Superman uses a crystal to commune with his deceased mother. Lara makes it clear that in order to "be" with a mortal, Kal-El must sacrifice his powers and live as Man sans Super. While she frets over and questions his decision, Lara grants her son the means to his end while Lois silently looks on in a white robe. Lane herself is conflicted, as she begins to run toward Superman, but stops herself before he enters a chamber that strips him of his abilities. Red Kryptonite radiation causes Superman to recycle unused footage from the first movie, expose his inner workings like Hollow Man, then split off into two beings. The one who likes spandex vanishes like a ghost as access to the Fortress' memory cystal go up in flames, while famed magician David Copperfield exits the crystal.
Lois: "You did all that for me? I don't know what to say."
Clark: "Just say you love me."
Clark guides Lois to his silver-sheeted bedchamber to prove that he's all man.
Meanwhile, the Phantom Zone criminals use their heat vision to alter Mount Rushmore to reflect their visages. Cut to Clark and Lois lying in bed. Cut to the Zone Criminals as they continue on their journey to Washington, D.C.

Victor: Lester, based more on overall impact than on the scenes themselves. Brando is wonderful as Jor-El, but Reeve comes off as more a petulant child. Forsaking his virtual godhood to truly, fully love a human woman is the understandable act of a feeling being in Lester's film. Blowing off his responsibilities to sex up Lois on the steady in the Donner film is an unfathomable choice, especially since his sequence establishes that Superman can copulate at will anyway without fear of breaking some poor woman to pieces. To some extent you could assume that Superman is being punished by his father with the loss of powers, but Jor-El seems to be perfectly fine with Kal having his cake and eating it too-- so long as he keeps being a super-hero. Kal-El doesn't seem able to reconcile enjoying the fruits of both man and superman, so he pointedly demands to be let out of the super part. This choice makes no sense, and no amount of Brando gravitas can cover for this gaping plothole. Also, warts and all, Lester's depowering sequence is pretty boss, where Donner just shoots red light everywhere and pronounces the turkey done.

Kneel Before Zod
Donner- Uses mostly the same footage of the White House offensive as the theatrical cut, but resequenced for no particular reason. Three character bits are restored to improved effect: Non struck in the back by a rocket, Zod joyously gunning down White House security with an appropriated M-16, and Ursa taunting staff & troops. A joke from Lex Luthor is restored. Clark makes the arduous trek back to the Fortress of Solitude, clawing his way up it's steppes, a sort of penance for his hubris. Ragged, bruised and weary, he kicks at the blackened remains of the memory crystals. Clark calls out to his father, admitting his mistake and whining in self-pity before baying "fah-thuh!" A final green crystal glows in response, as Jor-El returns once more to sacrifice his "life" to restore his child. Clark goes into a painful seizure, a light flashes, and the son lies prone. At the Daily Planet, Perry White questions Superman's courage to mild protest, until the Phantom Zone criminals arrive. Non crushes Jimmy Olsen's camera. Zod questions if Jimmy is the Son of Jor-El, who replies that Zod must be the son of something else entirely. Luthor takes a dig at Non. Superman appears outside their office window, and makes a limp comment.

Lester- Instead of an establishing shot of Lois and Clark driving through deep snow, they're on a forest road, and they stammer more as they speak. In the diner scene, Lester runs the portions with Clark after his brutal beating from the truck driver through a filter to mask the amount of blood on his face. Clark returns to a cold, dead fortress bathed in pale green light. The gentility of the earlier scene with Lara is echoed here, as her calm but crestfallen son admits defeat to his parents in the empty chamber. With less comical angst and better enunciation, Clark cries "father," but only finds a whole crystal in response. Lester misguidedly adds the Otis theme to Luthors entrance at the White House. Lester applies a clever transition to the Daily Planet, where Lois vehemently defends Superman, despite her obvious doubts. Luthor takes another dig at the criminals under his breath. Superman appears outside their office window, and makes a bold statement.

Victor: Lester, by virtue of mood, subtlety, and not having to follow up on any Superdickery(.com.)

Lester expands his lead through character-driven storytelling, but how will he fare in the action-packed final act?
Donner: 4
Lester: 7

The Battle of Metropolis
Donner- Zod flings Superman into the torch of the Statue of Liberty, sparking an explosion. Ursa appeals to Superman's chivalry in a bid to distract him from Non, which fails, as the mute is knocked clear through the spire of the Empire State Building. Jimmy and Luthor exchange words. Donner relies on reaction shots from Bugle employees, as well as tighter editing. An insert of a close-up of the Superman shield is added, as the Man of Steel bends back a piece of metal to free himself from the bus.

Lester- Non chases after Superman, knocking him into a metal window frame. Lois pushes a co-worker who notes that Non is "just as strong as Superman." Superman boots Non in the head. Ursa distracts Superman, who's seized from behind by Non. Ursa plans to whack the Man of Steel with a flagpole, but he ducks as Non is batted into a tower. Ursa gets extra lines. Lester lingers on the destruction and response from emergency services.

Victor: Donner is so money here. Nearly all of these sequences were Donner's in the first place, and where they diverge Dick goes big where Lester peters out. I mean come on-- the Statue of Liberty? You're going to replace defacing a national monument with a dented window pane?

The Final Confrontation
Donner- While a bit anti-climactic, the lack of a fight scene at the Fortress helps trim a potentially bloated running time, and Lex Luthor doesn't vanish for ten minutes climbing down a ledge.

Lester- Usually, an additional action set piece in a super-hero movie would be a good thing. However, giant cellophane S-shields and everyone suddenly having brand new powers? Not so much. Why spend the entire movie showing off heat vision when you can shoot a ray out of your figertip? Why try to distract Superman when you can just turn invisible and project holograms? Why fly to Washington when you can instantaneously teleport? Why borrow from the "Planet of the Apes" score when you've got John Williams in your rolodex? And if you're going to edit around old footage of Gene Hackman, try to be more skillfull about it than Ed Wood? Once again though, Lester trumps Donner's depowering sequence.

Victor: Donner

The Bitter End
Donner- Realizing the ongoing threat posed by the existence of the Fortress of Solitude and it's known location, Superman destroys it with his heat vision. Despite their love for one another, Lois and Clark know their relationship can't continue, so Superman flies out of her life. Since the movie's final resolution as written had been used to close the first film, a new ending needed to be written for the second. As Donner was off the project before the issue was addressed, this edition's editors decided to craft new footage, plus repurpose original and unused material from the first film to complete this version. To protect his secrets and correct damage done by the Phantom Zone criminals, Superman flies around the earth fast enough to turn back time, rendering the entire movie redundant and reestablishing Zod, Ursa, and Non as trapped in the interdimensional tile. Everything returns to the previous status quo for Lois and Clark, the latter of which beats up a truck driver for something he never did in the new timeline. Also, the diner owner gripes about the expense of repairs he should never have had to make.

Lester-Melodrama and a superkiss, but at least the criminals are still dead and the truck driver got what he had coming.

Victor: Lester, because no one likes to spend two hours watching a story that unwrites itself. Also, Superman's motivations remain more pure and selfless, plus he finds time to console the president.

While the theatrical release credited to Richard Lester remains the best version of this story, it remains just as clear that Richard Donner's efforts were essential to the film's sucess. Just as important, Richard Lester went on to direct Richard Pryor in "Superman III," and couldn't share the blame with anyone.
Donner: 6
Lester: 8


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