Tuesday, June 30, 2009

2001 Stuff Volume 2, Number 19: Chicken Taunts

From the June 2001 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"Your doggy
is never
coming home!"

Sunday, June 28, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 7: A Soon-To-Be-Dirty Clown

From the July 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"Just how bad
do you want
this job?"

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Jemm, Son of Saturn #2 (October, 1984)

"Home, my son, is not a place. It is a feeling. It is a gathering of hearts that give comfort. It is heaven on earth." --from the teachings of Rahani

The snow fell heavy in Harlem that night, as derelicts sat around a drum fire to keep warm. Bertie was their coarse leader, and when Luther tried to take in some of the heat, Bertie pushed the boy to the ground. Bertie claimed "...there's only fire enough for four," and his fellows began to wonder if the boy had some money they could poach. Jemm slapped his large hand over Bertie's shoulder, then tossed the brute so far into the sky he would certainly never return intact. The derelicts drew weapons on Jemm, who screamed in his alien tongue and launched himself at the crowd. Jemm's body contorted and extended in an eerie manner as he stalked the men, but one turned over the drum, igniting Jemm's cape.

A fifth wino was Crazy Freddie, who had stolen a bottle of bourbon from Bertie just as Luther had arrived at the fire. Now, Freddie threw his coat over Jemm, smothering the flames and earning Luther's affectionate thanks.

Elsewhere, a beaten and bloodied Bouncer had made his way to his ma's apartment. "Bruno? Oh, God!" Ma tended to Bouncer, and on learning the injuries were from a job for Mr. Tull, explained, "you should be proud of your wounds, Bruno!" Bouncer explained what happened at the Mannkin apartment, and how it was perhaps only right he'd been hurt, since Mr. Tull only ever sent him to hurt others. When Bouncer said he wanted to quit and stop hurting people, Ma began to repeatedly slap and enjoin Bruno not to speak ill of Mr. Tull. As Bruno began to cry, he promised his mother to keep working and bringing home Mr. Tull's fine money.

Crazy Freddie noticed there wasn't a mark on Jemm. "The fire didn't burn him-- just sort of tried to smother him! Like his body reacts differently to fire than yours or mine would." Jemm went to fetch Gramps' broken body, and Freddie claimed to know just the right place in the sewer to lay the old man down. After the group descended, a Saturnian robot requested back up from outside the manhole. "Repeat: I am ready to meet Saturnian life-form in battle!"

Dade showed up at a senator's house in the middle of the night, with photographs of the U.F.O. and information on the massacre of "forty U.S. special troops and two NASA scientists..." The senator had a house guest present, who was declared a trustworthy patriot. Though the senator thought Dade delirious, the guest saw the value in exploring the unusual "opportunities" should Dade's account prove true. Dade was less generous toward the guest, but the senator demanded, "Hold your tongue, Dade! This gentleman pays more to Uncle Sam in taxes each year that you'll ever make in a lifetime! No one I have ever known has been a better adviser to me, nor a more staunch supporter of this country's government... than Mr. Claudius Tull!"

Crazy Freddie had stolen some hothouse flowers to lay on Gramps' chest, and Jemm allowed the old man's body to drift off into waist deep water. Jemm's thoughts turned reflective, to a ghostly pale figure in a hooded purple robe that sat in a garden with the young Jemm. This was the priest, tutor and friend Jemm knew as Rahani...

"But teacher, are not Red Saturnians fighting White Saturnians just outside the walls of this palace? And if we were outside rather than in, would we not be mortal enemies?"

"Aye. All of Saturn is one great battlefield, and the generals on either side are bigots who cannot see beyond the color of their brothers' flesh! But you are different. You must not hate either the Reds or the Whites."

"And if a white were to breach our walls and kill my father simply because he is Red, would I not then hate all Whites forever?"

"No! You must be above all that! You must swallow all hatred that wells up within you! For you were born to be different, young one! You carry the birthstone upon your forehead-- an omen not seen on Saturn in over twenty eons! It is the sign that you are the special one sent from the creator of all things to be a protector and savior of all Saturnians, White or Red! Remember this always. You must never turn hatred upon any form of life from your homeworld. For you are unique among all Saturnians. You are Jemm, Prince of Saturn!"

Jemm's revere was broken when he was attacked by the towering robot. Jemm briefly sank underwater, then emerged with a stunning intensity, ripping the robot's head off in one swift motion. "Unit RT-36Z58 reports mission failure... Request back-up force commence attack." So it went, as the very water formed into a pummeling fist against the Son of Saturn. Pipes pulled free from the sewer walls to entangle and choke Jemm. A disembodied voice spoke in a tongue only our hero could understand:

"Greetings, Prince of Saturn! My name is Kamah! I am a warrior of the Whites. A Koolar-- shape-taker! And I am ruled by her supreme commandership, Synn! Surprised? Did you really believe you were the last living Saturnian in the entire universe? How vain you are! But how like your father, and your father's father, and every member of every generation of the pompous, strutting Saturnian royal family! For eons, you ruled our planet with an iron hand... but now, every last relative in your pious gene pool has been exterminated-- except for you! And soon, even you shall die!"

Concrete dislodged from the walls to assail Jemm's body. "It is then that Jemm decides to ignore the pain, and he concentrates. From the sparkling jewel on his forehead, a yellow beam shoots upward, probing for Kamah's heart-- searching for a black concentration of pure hatred!" Jemm felt a sick feeling in his gut, and knew he'd located the agent. Jemm withdrew briefly, them released an energy blast that revealed Kamah's true form. The White girl landed in the water, floating upright but lifeless.

Jemm took comfort in Luther's embrace as he slumped wearily. At first he hoped this White, who threatened to kill him and his friends, was dead. Then he shed a tear over the continuing violence between the few surviving Saturnians, and his role in this play.

Bouncer awoke to the sight of Ma standing next to Claudius Tull, a man who pressed Bruno to remain prone with the butt of his cane. Tull wanted to know about the Red Man, as he slowly invaded Bouncer's personal space, forcing the side of Bruno's sweaty face into a pillow with his palm. "You're afraid I won't believe you-- that I'll think your story too fantastic-- and that I'll have Earl and Sid beat you for lying to me. But believe me, Bouncer... I've listened to a number of fantastic stories tonight, and I have every reason to believe they're true..."

Friday, June 26, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 11: A Ram Whore

From the November 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"If you want the wife to watch,
it'll cost extra."

Thursday, June 25, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 5: A Capricious Clown

From the May 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"I know just the place."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

2001 Stuff Volume 2, Number 16: Meet Rat Bear

From the March 2001 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Superman #15 (March, 1988)


Winged thieves commit skyrise burglaries in Metropolis. Superman gave chase, but strips of lead foil blocked his x-ray vision. Maggie Sawyer's daughter had run away from her home in Star City. Toby Raines, Sawyer's lesbian lover, consoled her.

Skyhook ran the aerial theft ring, transforming children into winged creatures, and his newest inductee was Jamie Sawyer. Maggie borrowed Jimmy Olsen's signal watch. After a tiff with Lois Lane, Superman answered the signal.

Flashback: Maggie's marriage to James Buchanan Sawyer ended in divorce with her declared an unfit mother. Because of her alternative lifestyle, she lost visitation rights.

Superman captured one of Skyhook's mutated kid thieves. The Man of Steel and Maggie Sawyer tracked Skyhook down, but the villain grabbed Jamie as a hostage. Maggie grabbed her daughter's leg as Skyhook took flight. Skyhook dropped the pair over the city. Confident Superman would save them, Maggie pumped Skyhook full of lead. Kal-El did his part, and joined Maggie in rounding up 22 more kids. Jamie was returned home to her father, with goo from the process still clinging to her arm.

"Wings" by John Byrne with Karl Kesel.

I totally missed the not-so-subtext when I read this as a rather dense 'tween. I just thought Maggie Sawyer worked too many hours around bad men wearing swim trunks and thick mustaches to properly oversee her daughter. I'm not 100% sure I knew women could be gay then. I was aware of gay men from the Blue Oyster Bar, and I was precociously familiar with sapphic sex from Penthouse, but I don't think "dyke" or even "flannel" were in my vocabulary yet. I know from too personal and reflectively tragic experience "mullet" wasn't.

Further Reading:
The Outing of Maggie Sawyer, Part I
Part II

Monday, June 22, 2009

"The Life And Death (And Life And Death) Of Adam Warlock" by Karen Walker

In the magazine Back Issue Volume 1, Number 34 (June 2009), Karen Walker offered a "Flashback" retrospective of Adam Warlock's adventures from his introduction as "Him" in a 1967 Fantastic Four two-parter through his second resurrection in a 1991 issue of Silver Surfer. Having cut my fanboy teeth on Jim Starlin, I was somewhat disappointed with the article. You see, Warlock's earliest appearances have been reprinted many times. Starlin even gave a concise but highly effective four page recap of everything preceding his own run in 1975's Strange Tales #178, itself reprinted in 1980 (Fantasy Masterpieces #8,) 1982 (Warlock Special Edition #1,) and 1992 (Warlock #1.) Point being, Walker's coverage of such an oft-reprinted and recapped series feels pretty redundant to any but the least familiar, and I had hoped she'd move past there to the little remembered (and seemingly regarded) Warlock stories of the past fifteen years or so. Perhaps a second edition is in order?

However, Walker did interview several principles behind the '70s revisions of the character, which I found quite entertaining. For instance, Roy Thomas was a fan of Jesus Christ Superstar, and wanted to do his own modern retelling of the Biblical story in a super-hero context. As Thomas intended to segregate a pre-existing character from within the Marvel Universe rather than work from scratch, he settled on a revamp of "Him." Thomas saw no deeper meaning in the new moniker "Warlock" than it sounded cool. "Adam" was another Biblical allusion, while Thomas and artist Gil Kane worked out a new costume and a lightning bolt symbol that emulated the original Captain Marvel. It was Kane who added Warlock's gem.

When the High Evolutionary saw his near exact recreation of Earth infected with evil by a failed genetic experiment gone awry, he intended to destroy his befouled Counter-Earth. However, the former "Him" had just entered into the deific scientist's sphere, and pleaded for the opportunity to redeem the planet's population from the taint of the Man Beast. Roy Thomas only wrote a couple of stories before turning the premise over to other writers, as he edited the short-lived series. Thomas also oversaw the wrap of his storyline in three Incredible Hulk issues, which involved Adam's betrayal by an emerald Judas, then his death and resurrection, which saved Counter-Earth from its sins.

Meanwhile, Captain Marvel was another failed revamp from Thomas and Kane, until newcomer Jim Starlin turned the title into a popular series. Starlin quit the book over a now-forgotten dispute, and didn't patch things up until after the title had been reassigned. Editor Roy Thomas asked what Starlin wanted to do instead, and the eventual king of cosmic decided on Adam Warlock, and started work almost immediately. Since Starlin had just written Captain Marvel as a warrior-turned-messianic savior, he decided to instead turn Warlock into a paranoid schizophrenic with a most peculiar multiple personality disorder-- his insane future self, returned to the present to become a god-figure to the crusading, genocidal Universal Church of Truth. As a further complication, Starlin converted the power gem into a sentient, soul-stealing vampiric entity Warlock couldn't entirely control. Finding the lightning bolt on Warlock's chest difficult to draw, Starlin dropped it in favor of a new cape with a fanged skull clasp.

Never a shy one, Starlin offered the story "1000 Clowns!" in Strange Tales #181 which openly mocked Marvel staffers Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Johnny Romita, and Stan Lee. Roy Thomas was also in the story, though in a positive light, but was uncomfortable with the whole affair (perhaps recalling his prior disparagement by Jack Kirby as a thinly-veiled character in the Mister Miracle series.)

Starlin wrapped his primary Warlock tale in 1976, and the series was canceled shortly thereafter. Starlin had begun work drawing a battle between Warlock and Drax the Destroyer that seems to remain unpublished. Starlin would eventually leave comics for a time to work in California with famed alternative animator Ralph Bakshi, and upon returning to New York was offered an Avengers annual by Archie Goodwin. Starlin took the opportunity to kill off Adam Warlock seemingly for good, and the story went over with Goodwin so well he asked to have it continued in a Marvel Two-In-One annual to tie up any loose strings.

The Warlock series was critically acclaimed and developed a growing cult following well into the '80s. When Marvel made murmurs about bringing Warlock back in the early '90s, Starlin decided that if it had to be done, he wished to do it himself. However, the article stopped short of the Infinity Gauntlet stories, so we'll leave it at that. As a side note, the article erroneously refers to an illustration as an unpublished cover, when it was in fact released in 1983 as the inside back cover to Warlock Special Edition #2. If you'd like to read the full series synopsis and interview material yourself, check out Back Issue #34

Sunday, June 21, 2009

OMAC in "Battle Cry" (November, 1980)

"3:54 A.M. St. Louis, Missouri. The IC&C (International Communication and Commerce) jet fighters came in under radar detection range." Before anything could be done, the jets fired on the city, causing widespread destruction. "5:59 A.M. Verner Bros., Inc. fighters came streaking to the rescue." Battles raging in the skies were followed by a 6 A.M. signal for IC&C ground forces to continue the assault, led by the One Man Army Corps. "The battle into the city is quick, fierce, and bloody. Already 563 IC&C soldiers and 973 Verner Bros. mercenaries have died."

Body counts continued to be tallied as IC&C fighters would hold ground until OMAC arrived on a given scene to insure victory. OMAC's abilities were impressive, as he survived while others fell, taking down military vehicles with whatever weapons or heavy debris were on hand. OMAC also served as an inspirational speaker. "All right, you killers, it's time to do or die!! Tear into them!" His lack of eloquence was made up by his delivery, one supposes.

By 4:34 P.M., IC&C had secured the city, losing 15,352 men to the Verner Brothers' 41,343. OMAC was dismayed by the casualties on both sides, their loves lost "So Wiley Quixote can give a favorable report to his board of directors, about new territories gained?" Things weren't going as OMAC had planned, and sighed to a sergeant while sitting atop a meters high pile of the dead, "...it's been one hell of a day."

This harrowing but brief back-up story from Warlord #39 was written and laid out by Jim Starlin, with tepid finished art by Romeo Tanghal.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 4: Finicky Frog

From the April 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
kind of

Friday, June 19, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 2, Number 18: Clown Wisdom

From the May 2001 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"Hey, kids-
and Daddy
don't really
love you."

Thursday, June 18, 2009

2001 Stuff Volume 2, Number 21: Clown Woes

From the August 2001 Stuff Magazine For Men.
"I had it all.
And I blew it."

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

"When Worlds Collided: Behind The Scenes of Crisis On Infinite Earths" by Michael Eury

Photo by Michael K. Pate. Click To Expand to Full View.

In the magazine Back Issue Volume 1, Number 34 (June 2009) Michael Eury conducted a "PRO2PRO" interview with Dick Giordano and Pat Bastienne regarding the pivotal 1985 DC Comics maxi-series. At the time, Bastienne was DC's editorial coordinator, while Giordano was vice president/ executive editor, plus he helped ink and shape aspects of the series.

Generally speaking, the trains ran on time during Crisis on Infinite Earths, with the quality and continuity of tie-ins left largely to the individual books' editors and creative teams. It was Bastienne who essentially fired the over-committed Giordano as primary inker on the book, flying out to Milwaukee to solicit Jerry Ordway as his replacement. Giordano pointed out that Roy Thomas was the editor who went the furthest beyond the call of duty in helping the project, especially seeing as the changes wrought by the Crisis retroactively destroyed Earth-Two and pretty much ruined both titles he was writing at the time, All-Star Squadron and Infinity, Inc.

In the interview, Giordano acknowledged his "hands off" editorial approach to the project, leaving most of the creative decisions to Marv Wolfman and George Pérez. Giordano worked with DC president Jenette Kahn and Paul Levitz to facilitate the project, negotiating with the company's editors and amongst one another for approvals on creative decisions. Giordano himself expressed no regrets about anything related to the experience, aside from the inability to truly restart the entire line from scratch, as was Wolfman's initial proposal. "I declined to even try as I firmly believed that we could not marshal the forces to do it justice." He restated once again his feeling that Supergirl to that point contributed nothing of value to the Superman mythos, and had no reservations about killing her off. Giordano was unconcerned about the lasting impact of the Crisis, feeling continuity was only important within a given story, and that nothing is ever etched in stone. Thanks to the success of the book, "DC became a major player in the direct market and placed us very near our major competitor in market share. We were finally being taken seriously!"

I grew up reading Dick Giordano's "Meanwhile..." columns in the 1980s, very much in tone and congeniality DC's answer to the good ol' "Stan's Soapbox" at Marvel. While Giordano is of course an excellent artist, and I've always found him to be amiable enough, there's also a certain cavalier air about him, and a memory near as suspect as Stan Lee's that troubles me. For instance, Giordano was responsible for terminating the entire long-tenured creative team of the Superman titles, going so far as to replace them with himself as John Byrne's inker on Action Comics, and yet he hasn't any recollection of the actual meeting whatsoever. There's another interview in the magazine with former Marvel editor-in-chief Jim Shooter, the much-maligned industry pariah who nonetheless was behind some of the greatest comics the medium has produced. A lengthy moratorium in DC/Marvel crossover books resulted from a war of words between Shooter and Giordano over the proposed 1983 special
Justice League of America / The Avengers, which itself fell apart as a result. Given the attitudes expressed here, I have to wonder if Shooter wasn't in the right on that matter, if only that one time. I also found the interview frustrating because Eury asked some well considered questions, which Giordano often dismissed or failed to sufficiently elaborate upon. If you'd like to see for yourself, check out Back Issue #34

Monday, June 15, 2009

2002 Stuff Volume 5, Number 2: Duck Ahoy!

From the February 2002 Stuff Magazine For Men.
Photography: Damien Donck.
"You can't just pretend nothing happened."

Sunday, June 14, 2009

DC Challenge #8 (June, 1986)

Previous issue writer Paul Kupperberg intended for the mysterious numeric sequence that had been floating around since the first issue to be an ancient protective magical formula, as when Alanna inscribed it on Rann to route the demons. Also, he would have wanted to see Deadman possess Woozy Winks and perform acrobatics to save his life.

  • Batman finally, after eight issues, said plain exactly what the heck had been going on. "Earth and the planet Rann are under attack by mystical forces... demons inhabiting long-dead human beings, and creatures risen out of ancient mythology. At the same time, Earth is being invaded by aliens from some cosmic organization called the Greater Galaxies... I found three 8-figure numbers scrawled on a wall at a power plant... I ran these numbers through my computer here in the Batcave... and got a result that seemed to spell a formula to bring about the end of the world. The numbers, decoded, are electro-magnetic vibrational frequencies... [if] put into operation... the resulting wave-front could crack the Earth like an eggshell." The Dark Knight Detective knew demons were involved, and headed in his Batplane for their nearest concentration point, Metropolis. In the distance, a warp hole opened. "I'm too late... the Batman has already departed. Pity. I might have been of some assistance."

  • Back in 1943 Nazi-occupied France, Deadman possessed the unconscious Blackhawk in mid-flight to save Woozy Winks, though his inexperience as a pilot was clear. The other Blackhawks continued to fire on the alien spaceship while themselves being shot out of the sky. Deadman as Blackhawk crash landed, only to be met by Rittmeister Von Hammer, formerly known as the Enemy Ace.

  • "...Fade in on the New York Waterfront, circa 1986..." where Plastic Man had just learned The Joker had been recruited by Greater Galaxies to help plan their invasion of Earth. Though this wasn't technically his version of Earth in the Multiverse, Plas nonetheless intended to stop the Clown Prince of Crime's global treachery, though he ultimately was sent napping by a rigged lapel flower.

    The turbaned alien Kaz then arrived, still promising Joker kingship of Earth, but demanding "Project X must not be allowed to reach completion. Bork and his renegades must be stopped, at any cost."

    Kaz further elaborated, to the relief of the book's entire readership:
    "Project X involves the disruption of physical reality... the merging of this reality-plane with that of the netherworld. Bork and his fellow renegades of the Black Council have discovered a weakening of the cosmic fabric here in this locus... on the world you call Earth. A similar, parallel weakening is taking place on the planet Rann, of the star-system Alpha Centauri.

    Bork has developed a device known as the Probability Disruptor, which feeds on red sun radiation, relayed to this world from a base on Earth's satellite, Luna. The Disruptor is destroying the protective barrier between realities at this locus. The result is an increase in the manifestation of demons on Earth... manifestations that occur normally at this locus, at periodic intervals related to phases of the moon. Bork's disruptor, however, has increased the number of manifestations a thousandfold.

    Project X is upsetting the natural cosmic balance... a balance we of Molanto have worked long and hard to maintain. To save reality, Molanto, in conjunction with the Greater Galaxies organization, have invaded Earth. We have done this for the simple reason of expedience. Bork must be found. Project X must be halted. The fastest, simplest way to accomplish this is through the conquest of Earth."

    Earth's super-heroes were likely to interfere, so Kaz engaged the Joker to assist in distracting them. "Capturing all the heroes who'd been born off world, like Superman and J'onn J'onzz, among others-- and threatening to execute them as traitors to the Greater Galaxies-- that was my lovely idea. See, it's what we call a red herring. Now all the other heroes will be wondering what the alien heroes have to do with the alien invaders. It'll drive 'em nuts, giving us time to strike! Which brings me, oddly enough, to my final plan... I need three million tons of rubber cement, Kaz..." The Joker wanted to gum up the works in Washington. D.C., but Kaz was done with this insanity, and had the Joker locked away.

    As it turned out, Plastic Man was playing possum, having deduced the purpose of the gag flower. Plas turned himself into a skateboard, and had almost escaped the ship to inform the other heroes of his findings, when he was shot from behind by a trooper's laser and fell into the bay...

  • The Batplane flew over Metropolis, which by this point looked, as Batman put it, "like something out of Fantasia's 'Night On Bald Mountain!' Demons everywhere... as if a doorway had opened between our world and Hell!" The pandemonium led to the destruction of the Batplane, but the Caped Crusader still managed to reach the Galaxy Broadcasting Building, now aware thanks to the infernal beings he had been inadvertently helping this "Kaz" person.

    The Dark Knight was met by Dr. Terrence Thirteen, Ghostbreaker and Floyd Perkins, the kid who started this all in the first issue. Perkins had told Dr. 13 about finding a floor in the building that shouldn't exist, and bumping into an undead Humphrey Bogart. Dr. 13 in turn told Batman about his and Superman's Pal Jimmy Olsen's running into the alien invasion, and through a space-warp into the Plane of Holes, where they met Darwin Jones and Bobo the Detective Chimp, among others. Dr. 13's memory was fuzzy after that, recalling that he had been returned to Earth by Albert Einstein, but decided to pick up the investigation again. Doctor 13 had brought a radiation detector with him, and when Batman had a look at the frequencies emitted from the GBS antennae, he recognized them from the earlier inscriptions! Dr. 13 had backtracked his detector's readings to their source, the moon...

  • Space Cabby and his passenger had made their way to Earth's moon with a message from Alanna and Sardath of Rann. The cab was struck by an energy blast, and skipped roughly across the lunar surface. Mongul then lifted the downed space cab over his head and demanded, "You will explain who sent you, human, and how you discovered the rebuilt relay station. Answer quickly... or you risk the wrath of Mongul, Master of Worlds!"

    The narrator noted that without air to carry sound, it's understandable Mongul wouldn't hear a Boom Tube opening behind him...

  • In 1943, Deadman/Blackhawk learned Enemy Ace had left Germany in 1933 after the Reichstag fire, and secretly resettled in Germany. Deadman possessed Enemy Ace to convince him all the alien lunacy was true, and the pair flew off together in Ace's World War I fighter against the space ship...

  • Back in modern Metropolis, the Outsiders had been called to the Galaxy Building by Batman, but they stopped short to address the demons running rampant throughout the city in Superman's absence.

  • Mongul on the moon shouted, "Lies, lies! You say you come from Rann with a message for Earth-- do you take Mongul for a fool?" From behind, Metron argued, "Only a fool would disbelieve an obvious truth, Mongul. Ergo, you are a fool." The merciless former monarch asked, "Who are you?" His reply came in two forms; physically being knocked over the side of a ledge, and verbally: "I am Lightray of the New Gods, Mongul. Hello... good-bye!" A third member of the New Genesian party, Orion, caught the falling space cab with the aid of his astro-harness. Metron noted that his calculations had led the heroes to this relay station, which functioned similarly to a boom tube and allowed New Gods passage through the disrupted Plane of Holes. The group had arrived too late, however, as Earth was doomed to be shaken apart by the already broadcast destruction frequency.

  • On Earth, Kaz cursed Bork as his base began to erupt in explosions, Batman predicted the end of the world, and a whole building began to fall on the Outsiders...

  • Left unmentioned: The fates of the rapidly dehydrating Aquaman and Zatanna.Mr. Mxyzptlk and his search for Superman. Adam Strange and Jimmy Olsen in the Nazi-conquered New York. The future involvement (if any) of Hawkwoman, Captain Marvel, Rip Hunter, Time Master, Dr. Kemeny, the Silent Knight, Green Arrow, Uncle Sam, Perry White, Robin the Boy Wonder, Captain Comet, Anti-Matter Man and Dr. Fate.

  • "If This Is Love, Why Do My Teeth Hurt" was by Gerry Conway, Rick Hoberg, Dick Giordano and Arnie Starr. This was the tidiest, most descriptive issue to date, and even managed to work its gonzo title into the narrative (lovers kissing as the world begins to vibrate violently.)

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Comic Reader Number 159 (August, 1978)

OUR COVERS: Manhunter From Mars by Al Milgrom, back again and probably slated to appear in DETECTIVE, and two new additions to ADVENTURE, Power Girl and The Huntress by Rick Taylor. ©1978 DC Comics Inc.


What happened on June 22, 1978 may possibly be the most significant events of the year. This is undoubtedly the most complicated story we've ever had to report, and the ramifications from it will be felt for the foreseeable future if not beyond. It started ten years ago when Warner Brothers took over Kinney National Service, which owned DC Comics.

The corporate heads of Warner Communications had stayed pretty much out of the picture as far as creative decisions go, the significant actions being the instatements of Carmine Infantino and Jenette Kahn as publishers and the budget and price increase okays over the years. Recently, however, the people upstairs began to take long looks at the downward trend sales have taken since they inherited their branch of the comics industry and a decision was made to attempt to halt the plummet by some drastic means. The first of these we mentioned last issue, which involves massive overhaul of the distribution process. Basically, this involves getting a much greater percentage of the copies that are printed displayed on the nation's newsstands, working more closely with local distributors and wholesalers. We will only be able to see the results of this step since few of us are wholesalers. The second step they have taken will hit much more closely to home and we will all feel its impact.

DC has eliminated their shortlived 50¢, 40 page line, after only three months' trial. Obviously, the reason has nothing to do with sales. The people at Warner feel that the new system of distribution should be given a chance with DCs looking like the rest of the industry's books, since there will be some risk of alienating wholesalers without the more expensive books. So, beginning in September (books cover dated December), all DCs that are not dollar books will be 32 pages with 17 pages of story again, but now for 40¢. And that's not all.

All non-dollar-sized bi-monthly books have either been cancelled or upgraded to monthly status. Hereafter, only monthly titles will be published in the regular size.

The article went on to list the cancellation points of seventeen then-ongoing comics, in what would later be dubbed the "DC Implosion." For example, "FIRESTORM with #5... STEEL with #5," and so on. An additional five issues of other titles previously announced were not to be published, as well as two reprint books. "...THE DESERTER, the dollar-sized STRANGE ADVENTURES, SWAMP THING and THE VIXEN have been indefinitely postponed... DC published an office-only comic book entitled CANCELLED COMICS CAVALCADE which features 35 completed comic books we'll never see." A variety of supporting features were left looking for a home, "though the new characters that have yet to be introduced (NEVERWHERE, the VIXEN back-up to feature Matt Treadway, etc.) may not. Some of the writers have inquired about buying back their characters, and DC is not entirely adverse to the idea."

DC's Mike Gold feels that the delay of the SUPERMAN film had nothing whatsoever to do with the decision. His opinion is that the decision came as a result of fifteen years of declining comic sales, possibly spurred on by the low winter sales (figures seriously out of wack because of the blizzard), and the new size would not have been saved even if a phenomenal sales push had been garnered from the film.

In other news, TCR mocked the production of the Star Trek movie, so long delayed it was pushing the five year anniversary of its 1975 announcement. They were also puzzled by 20th Century Fox's attempt to sue "BATTLE STAR: GALACTICA" out of existence based on the premise it owned all variations on the space opera. Even George Lucas himself wanted no part in that foolishness. A slew of vampire pictures were in the works, including Love At First Bite, Nosferatu, the Broadway version of Dracula with Frank Langella, and Interview With The Vampire. One of these proved rather tardy. Never to come was The Illustrated George Carlin, intended to be an 18-minute animated version of one of the great's comedy routines. Roy Thomas wrote in to note he had been paid nicely for his story treatment on the Conan feature film, and summarily disregarded in favor of Oliver Stone as screenwriter.

THE COMIC READER was published monthly by and © Street Enterprises. It was begun as a fanzine in 1971 by Paul Kupperberg and Paul Levitz, both later of DC Comics. It ended in 1983, a couple years after dutifully reporting on the debut of the magazine that would succeed it, Fantagraphics' Amazing Heroes

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Frank Review of "Henry & June" (1990)

The Short Version? 1930s Writers in Lust.
What Is It? Erotic Drama.
Who Is In It? Maria de Medeiros, Fred Ward, Uma Thurman & Kevin Spacey.
Should I See It? Yes.

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There are a lot of movies about writers, but very few about writing, and they almost invariably alienate their audience. On her eponymous 1996 album, Sheryl Crow had a wonderful song on the subject called "The Book," about a woman responding to having found her relationship with a writer plundered for material. "...I didn't know, by giving my hand, that I would be written down, sliced around, passed down, among strangers hands." The ironic part being that in response, she writes a song about her victimization hurling recriminations that will be distributed internationally on CD.

Quite simply, there is a distant, voyeuristic, predatory quality to any artist, but most especially writers, who have the space and attention to detail that allows them to most thoroughly violate a confidence and vivisect a spirit. That's why most writers in movies are simply characters in a writing with a glamorous occupation, and films that accurately portray their true nature, like Henry & June, are usually ignored or vilified.

In 1930, Anaïs Nin was a French housewife with literary aspirations, shopping fruitlessly an examination of the work of D. H. Lawrence. She was supported by her banker husband Hugo, a steadfast fellow too bland and well hung to comfort her adventurous spirit and slight frame. She instead found herself drawn to Henry Miller, an unpublished and rather coarse American struggling with his first major manuscript. These are kindred spirits: opportunistic, parasitic, self-important daydreamers compelled to enshrine their preoccupation with sexuality-- extra value placed on deviancy. I may sound judgmental, as they were also explorers facing an uphill climb in expressing their perceived worlds, or as Nin once wrote, "Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one's courage." My point is that it's easy to criticize these people and this work from an objective stance, but despite (or perhaps because of) its autobiographical source, you have to appreciate how wholly subjective the presentation is meant to be. This is not, God help us, one of those dry, literal, expository bioflicks Hollywood loves to churn out, but a film that drifts between diary entries, melodrama, sensual fantasy, and metatextual examination.

Henry & June was the first film to receive an NC-17 rating from the MPAA, a largely forgotten designation meant to separate mature but explicitly adult film works from X-rated pornography. Some might approach this film as art house spank material or couples-friendly soft core, and those individuals will likely leave it frustrated. While gorgeously shot and in no way averse to sexual situations, the movie is constantly preoccupied with sexuality on an intellectual level. Even when the activity, whether in action or dialogue, involves couples, there's still a masturbatory quality to every interaction. Both Henry and June are far to deep inside their own heads for there to be any true intimacy between them, with the exception of recognizing in each other the same narcissistic drive. Little wonder Nin spent most of her life with Hugo, but was truly defined by a brief affair and lifelong friendship with Miller. Both would serve as pioneers of a sexual revolution not to come for another thirty years.

The film pivots on Maria de Medeiros' revelatory turn as Nin. Her beauty and presence are sublime, making me wish she'd made more films in my sphere, her most well known English language appearance being a supporting role in Pulp Fiction. The actress is in the unenviable position of taking a promiscuous, secretive, passively abusive figure and insuring she remains identifiable and even "innocent" throughout, and meets the challenge seemingly effortlessly.

Fred Ward is delightful if sometimes too cartoonish as Miller, selling lines as fantastic as "I wanna fuck ya, an' teach ya things. Humiliate ya a little."
A pre-fame Kevin Spacey embodies the flaky, unaccomplished, paranoid, envious bohemian. His every scene is worth at least a smirk, as he chews the scenery. Richard E. Grant serves the movie's role for him as clueless wet blanket Hugo, but he's the most pointed caricature. This is especially true when you take into account the real Hugo, Hugh Parker Guiler, became a surrealist engraver and experimental filmmaker in midlife until his death.

Uma Thurman performs heavy lifting of her own, including the thickest Brooklyn accent on Earth. Thurman plays June Miller, a lifelong muse to both Anaïs and Henry, and makes the interesting choice of making her overblown and facile in her feminine mystique. I've read reviews that questioned how such an obvious figure could be inspirational, but I think they miss the point. Thurman as June is like a fictional construct brought to life, and I think in context the writers are fascinated by this woman who so clearly wants to be personified by their writings, who is so defined, and yet neither is able to satisfy June's self-image in prose.

Director Philip Kaufman co-wrote the screenplay with his wife Rose, and not having read the source material, I can't speak to their fidelity to Nin's writing. I can say that the film is intelligent, beautiful, and an absolute must for sensualists and those interested in writing of any kind. At two and a quarter hours, it's probably much too long to hold the interest of a general audience, but a wise investment for fellow seekers.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A Frank Review of "Rogue Male" (1976)

The Short Version? If you can't kill Hitler, kill time.
What Is It? Thriller.
Who Is In It? Peter O'Toole.
Should I See It? Maybe.

Aristocrat and game hunter Sir Robert Thorndyke appears to be on a sporting stalk when he takes aim at Adolph Hitler. He is caught by ze Nazis and tortured. This was done in hopes of yielding a confession that he was acting on orders from British Foreign Office Intelligence. The year is 1939, when appeasement was the name of the game, so such a confession would have political capitol. Thorndyke toughs it out, and his "accidental" death is engineered, but also unsuccessful. The rest of the movie is spent with Thorndyke on the run, finding allies where he can.

Rogue Male is based on the 1939 novel of the same name by Geoffrey Household, which also spawned the previous film adaptation Man Hunt and heavily influenced the creation of David Morrell's "John Rambo" character. As one would expect, there's plenty of cat and mouse games to be played, but this adaptation is troubled from the onset. If the hunter intended to assassinate Hitler, he failed, and the more immediate villains Thorndyke comes into conflict with afterward are progressively less compelling. The movie is frontloaded with its premise, leaving the lion's share of the film feeling like an epilogue, or worse, an afterthought. Fritz Lang's Man Hunt dealt with this problem by offering a love interest and a constant pursuer, not to mention an exceptional supporting cast. Here, Thorndyke remains a defeated man throughout, despite the repeated accomplishment of maintaining his composure and very life, but to no clear end. His attachments rarely last past a single scene, leaving the entire film to rest on Peter O'Toole's shoulders.

Here lies the argument to see this picture: Peter O'Toole has called Sir Robert Thorndyke one of his favorite roles, and he displays more range here than in just about any other production he partook of. It's a showy performance, and O'Toole clearly relishes the opportunity to strut. If you can overlook the plodding pace, awkward directorial flourishes, low rent BBC-TV production values, anachronistic hair and lack of real tension, Peter O'Toole makes the film worth the bother.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

A Frank Review of "Léolo" (1992)

The Short Version? Boy meets Mad World.
What Is It? Dramedy.
Who Is In It? French-Canadians.
Should I See It? Yes.

You know those bittersweet Neil Simon coming of age plays that cast a nostalgic look at a simpler time? Ones like Brighton Beach Memoirs, where you see what it was like for a Jewish kid to grow up with a crazy aunt or how the protagonist discovered his sexuality? Well, it's undeniable that making a reference and then describing another thing as being like that "...on acid" is a total cliché, but y'know, some cliché exists because it is simply true.

Léo Lauzon is a twelve year old boy who lives in a Montreal tenement with his insane family. I don't mean that in a wacky, dysfunctional way. These people cycle in and out of psych wards routinely, and are so divorced from reality that Léo refuses to claim them as kin. In fact, he believes he was the offspring of a cum smeared tomato becoming lodged in his mother's vagina during a traffic accident. Léo no longer wishes to go by his family name, demanding that everyone refer to him as Léolo. Most of the picture is derived from Léolo's private journal entries, which have been discovered by a benevolent reader, as he surveys the bizarre, surrealistic, and magical world the boy inhabits.

Léolo is a peculiar film from writer-director Jean-Claude Lauzon, from which some have read autobiographical inspiration. We'll never know for sure, as Lauzon was killed while piloting a plane with his girlfriend, leaving only two eccentric films as his legacy. Léolo is a very easy film to watch, despite its subtitles, as you're drawn in by the quirky comedy and naked revelations about this boy's life. It's much more difficult to leave behind, as you reflect on the grim realities Léolo denies, and the consequences of his fantastic flights. It is definitely the type of movie you watch once from the perspective you're manipulated into by the filmmaker, and a second time from the outlook you're left with in the end. Time Magazine named it one of the 100 best pictures of all time, and it's currently at 100% at Rotten Tomatoes. For myself, I felt a little betrayed by the rushed conclusion, and I find in retrospect I respect the film more than enjoy it. Still, it's a very worthwhile experience that has touched many viewers deeply, and well worth the time to investigate for yourself.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Jemm, Son of Saturn #1 (September, 1984)

"Remember, my prince, that in the tiniest of seedlings rests the promise of renewed life-- and hope! Nothing is more precious than this! It is the reason why even the most vile men remain not untouched at the vision of a child!"
--from the teachings of Rahani

In a Harlem slum back alley, Luther Mannkin pretended to be a space ranger battling an octo-beast with his plastic laser pistol. The boy dropped his "weapon" and turned tail at the sight of a slender 6'6" half-naked red-skinned alien with a glowing yellow gem on his beetle-brow. "GRAMPAAAAA!" Inhumanly long fingers encircled the crying child in flight, then drew him in to face the alien. "Awe! It fills Luther's mind, silencing him. And then, from the weird pulsating jewel embedded in this creature's forehead... comes something bright and hot-- something that cuts through Luther's very soul."

Meanwhile, Luther's older brother Lincoln was assaulted on his way home from work by a knife-wielding mobster named Reginald. "...My boss, Mr. Claudius Tull, he financed your fancy dude education. He provided you with Grade A smack to sell for a profit! And you ain't paid the man back in over three weeks!" Reginald expected to collect by the following night, "...or the next time you fall, you won't never get up no more!"

Lincoln Mannkin wandered the streets, contemplating his troubles, until returning home at half past midnight. He was greeted by his worried grandfather, who hoped it was the missing Luther who was returning. Gramps wanted Lincoln to help find his little brother, but Lincoln swatted the blind old man's hand away. "You ain't never paid no attention to me before. It's always been Luther this an' Luther that... an' don't notice me never!" Gramps did care, but Lincoln was more interested in phoning his buddy Vin. "You ain't gonna call that scum, are ya? You ain't gonna bring that Vin back into this house!" He sure was, more concerned about saving his skin than his kin.

Lincoln left the apartment to conspire, leaving Gramps to his thoughts. "I've failed, ain't I, Lincoln? Even though I tried and tried. 'Course, bein' blind all my life, you never did look on me as a whole man-- someone you could turn to-- confide in. How could you? I can't provide for you. Lord help me, I can't even see the agitation in your face when you come home worried and scared. So here I sit in the dark-- knowin' only the voices of my two grandsons. One voice is full of hate, the other's been gone too long. Where are you, Luther? Where's my dear sweet youngest in this hellpit of a neighborhood?"

Back in the alley, the heat of the alien's beam subsided, leaving Luther and the being linked through the sharing of "their deepest, innermost emotions." Luther realized how frightened and alone the alien was on this planet far from his own. Luther pressed the alien to come back to his apartment with him, but the alien resisted. It made a gesture to allow itself a moment alone in the darkest recesses of the alley, then emerged wearing a cape...

"New Jersey. Only hours ago, U.S. Government seismographs in three states were awakened by an unusual disturbance here-- the impact of a plummeting craft from the stars!" NASA scientists Phil Wheatly and Deidre Johnson were sent inside to investigate with C.I.A. operative Charles Brigham Dade. Charles was on edge the whole time, fearing something bad might happen to his fiancée there. Deidre looked over a partially decipherable piece of writing she'd found that indicated a flight pattern from Saturn, while Dade studied a holographic portrait of a proud Saturnian family of three. Outside, the craft's entrance was guarded by a pair of troopers, until Willie and Sid were killed by a couple of towering monochromatic Saturnians. Deidre ran to the entrance to check out the scene, and was murdered by an energy blast. Wheatly and Dade were knocked unconscious, a metallic Saturnian noting, "Scan of ship interior reveals only human life-forms. Mission incomplete."

Gramps didn't quite believe Luther's excuse about getting lost, and was curious about the name of the mute foreigner who was supposed to have led the boy home. After taking in a bit of "Me Tarzan, you Jane" between Gramps and Luther, the alien gestured toward himself and said, "JEMM!" Gramps smiled, "Jim! Well, that's not so hard! Glad to have ya, Jim. Luther'll spread you a blanket on the floor. And tomorrow, we'll give you a proper introduction to Luther's brother!"

Dade awoke to find the corpse of "DEEEEEEIIDRE!" With both blood and tears flowing, Dade swore, "You never got to see your aliens, did you, hon? Don't worry. I'll find them. I'll find every last one of them.

The next evening, Luther hid Jemm before his brother returned home, intending on surprising him. Gramps could smell Vin with Lincoln, "just as clear as I can smell a roach." Lincoln lifted his hand to the old man again, and told him to keep his mouth shut until he and Vin could "greet" anyone Claudius Tull planned to send after him. In the bedroom, Luther figured he and "Jim" should lay low until Lincoln cooled off.

Hours later, Reginald showed, and Vin pushed a gun into his face. Regg didn't exactly wither at the sight, instead calling his own back-up, the towering honky called Bouncer. In seconds, the Mannkins' front door was off its hinges, Vin thrown against a wall, and Lincoln about to make a lethal plunge. Luther cried, "Don't you hurt my brother!" Jemm flew into Bouncer. "Regg! The red man! He hurt me, Regg! Bouncer don't like to be... hurt!" Bouncer threw bureau at red man. Lincoln "split while the splittin's good." Bouncer planned "never to be hurt... no more!" Mice and men, as a trapped Jemm was still able to lay Bouncer out with a beam from his gem. Reginald had seen enough, and exited with Luther in tow.

Gramps could hear "Jim's" labored breathing from the exertion of his energy blast; Reginald's heavy footsteps running upstairs; a threat from Bouncer; and Luther's screams. So could Jemm, who tossed the bureau and Bouncer through a wall to the street below, calling "LOOOOO-THEEER!" Jem flew through the hole he'd made up to the roof, where Regg held Luther at knifepoint. Either through a plunge of the blade or off the roof, Reginald would kill Luther if Jemm didn't back off. Gramps caught Regg from behind with his cane. "Ain't no way you're gonna hurt that child!" However, all three parties went over the ledge, Jemm only having the ability to rescue the boy.

"All is suddenly quiet on the street where Luther Mannkin lives. But within Jemm's head pounds the rhythm of worried blood pushing rapidly at his temples. Slowly, a red hand caresses tender brown skin. A feeling of deep helplessness wells within a mighty chest." Luther came out of his haze, only to pound at Jemm's chest, horrified the alien had let Gramps die. "There is sadness then. And hurt. And fear within an alien heart that the one friend he has on this strange world is a friend no more. But at the sight of Jemm, something stirs within little Luther Mannkin. He realizes that true heroes are never perfect. That sometimes, choices must be made. And when it came to choosing between saving Gramps and saving his only friend, Jemm chose his friend. Can Luther really blame him for that?"

Nearby, the Saturnian robots watched the sad duo begin to brave a world neither truly knew. "Unit RT-36Z58 reports sighting of Saturnian life-forms. Request preattack back-up units."

Beginning a new chapter in the epic story of the DC universe, brought to you by Greg Potter, Gene Colan and Klaus Janson.

Friday, June 5, 2009

1966 Tower Comics "Thundering Thrills!" Subscription Ad

Thundering Thrills!

America's Greatest Adventure Heroes
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For crashing excitement and slam bang thrills at a mile-a-minute pace.... Rush to your favorite news-stand and buy this action filled issue of T.H.U.N.D.E.R. AGENTS

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Thursday, June 4, 2009

1971 Marvel Comics Marvelmania Super Poster Offer

Fantastic Four! Black Knight! Thor! Galactus and the Silver Surfer!
All 4 for only $1.50, plus fifty cents postage! Three feet tall and full color! Bonus free Marvelmania membership!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

1986 DC Comics Blue Devil/Firestorm Crossover Ad

TWO FUN-LOVING GUYS ... In Their Own Deadly Case! It all starts here in Firestorm #46... picks up in Blue Devil #23... and concludes in Firestorm #47! Concocted by Gerry Conway & Joe Brozowski, Mishkin, Cohn, & Kupperberg! Get in on the action... NOW!

Wow, that's a hell of a lot of ellipses for one house ad, huh? One of these books was canceled a year later, and the other underwent a sweeping creative revision, so were either of these guys helping the other? I can't recall if I ever owned all the Nuclear Man parts, but I definitely enjoyed the Blue Devil issue (and likely the concluding chapter as well.) I followed that series as a kid through 25¢ copies resold at flea markets (none of which still exist, by the way.)

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

1986 Eclipse Comics "The Shape Of Things To Come" Two Page Ad


What a wonderful ad! Silhouettes! Ingenious!

Monday, June 1, 2009

A Frank Review of "The Brothers Bloom" (2009)

The Short Version? Romantic con men vs. ennui
What Is It? Caper Comedy.
Who Is In It? Rachel Weisz, Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo
Should I See It? Yes.

I would have let writer/director Rian Johnson's debut, Brick, sail right past me, had it not been for a few well-placed glowing reviews. I adored the neo-noir, and it's a film that still leaves me feeling tipsy whenever I bask in its cool blue glow. However, this left Johnson's sophomore effort, The Brothers Bloom, with the weight of expectation upon it. Luckily, within minutes it became clear that this film was so completely different from Brick in almost every way that comparison was futile. Aside from the intelligence of the script, you would be forgiven for assuming there was no common creative ancestry, and even there Brick's sometimes impenetrable slang was replaced by very clear and considered dialogue here. Bloom actually feels more like early, zany Coen Brothers as processed through the more twee sensibilities of Wes Anderson. By the end of the first reel, I was ready to proclaim Johnson's brilliance. Sadly, that feeling evaporated in the third reel, but the journey was well worth taking.

As orphan boys, Stephen and Bloom learned how to run elaborate confidence games designed to benefit all concerned. Now in their thirties, Stephen relishes crafting cons with the intricacy of Russian novels, while Bloom has lost any sense of his own personal identity and wants out. To serve both of their demands, Stephen directs Bloom to one last mark, eccentric heiress Penelope Stamp, who doggedly refuses to follow either of the brothers' expectations.

Now that's the text. The subtext involves the ways in which humans motivate themselves, and even more pointedly, how writers choose to direct their characters and plots. Johnson tips this hand early, and illuminating the illusion behind motion pictures is always a dangerous game to play. I found myself distracted by following both texts on first viewing, taking in the artistry of the screenplay while recognizing its flashiness had betrayed the actual narration. Johnson began a dialogue about the movie in progress that had taken me out of it as a passive audience member, so that I never connected to any of his characters as more than symbols.

Setting that aside for now, Brothers opens with the delightful prologue, then barrels headfirst into the kind of classic capers everyone loves. The humor in the early going is clever, especially the earliest interactions between Bloom and Penelope. Every now and again a character would dash off some profundity or revealing bit, but the movie was at its best when it kept things light, quirky and playful. Unfortunately, the con just isn't as intricate as it needs to be to validate the brothers as world class, and there are too many arbitrary "indie" elements that without the benefit of goodwill would be considered plot holes. In the second reel, the angst and indecision of Bloom seems to translate into that of the screenwriter, agonizing over his inability to compete with the films that inspired him. The tone of the movie breaks down, becoming erratic and uncommitted to any specific direction. The movie seemed to work when it veered toward comforting familiarity, but its ambitions wouldn't allow it to simply serve as a crowdpleaser. Its grasp outstripped its reach, and just as I thought things were wrapping up in a predictable manner, it continued down an ill-considered and poorly realized path toward its final overdue resolution. By the end, I felt like I would rather revisit the similar but more satisfying Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.

All of this is through no fault of the cast, and as has become a theme in this post-WGA strike year of cinema, actors are doing most of the heavy lifting lately. Rachel Weisz is presented the very difficult task of playing Penelope as both space case and sage, along with flexing her comedic muscles after years of dramas, and she comes through like a champ. Adrien Brody didn't have to work nearly as hard as Bloom, dealing in his typical gloom, but capable nonetheless. Complementing Mark Ruffalo as Stephen is trickier, as on the one hand his vibrant presence shines through many scenes. On the other, it gives him such an air of benevolence that it removes any doubt about trusting his judgment in manipulating everyone around him. Johnson named Stephen after a James Joyce character, but especially through Ruffalo's representation, a more truthful moniker would have been Gary Stu.

Lending support is Rinko Kikuchi as Bang Bang, the brothers' typically mum partner and demolitions expert, as well as a consistent source of funny bits. Robbie Coltrane and Maximilian Schell play fellow grifters of more questionable alignment, and are each too broad in the task for my taste. A source soundtrack album is very necessary, as there are some fantastic musical selections here I'd love to own. Finally, the visited cities of the globetrotting crooks must be spoken of, as the sights here are glorious.

The Brothers Bloom is at the very least an entertaining failure. Brick aside, the first half of Brothers builds its own good will that allows it to coast through some rough patches in the second half. Things don't really go awry until the story seem to come to a head, only to limp on and lead into the "twist" ending, which really pisses on common sense and probability. Worse, it fairly rub your nose in that nasty pile of subtext I mentioned earlier. With any luck, there'll be an alternate version on the DVD I can pretend was the actual ending, as I did when Oliver Platt wouldn't go away in The Ice Harvest, or how part of me is still waiting for the first Matrix sequel.


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