Sunday, December 25, 2011

1998 Wizard Magazine Holiday Present Tags

Featuring Katchoo from Strangers in Paradise, Dawn, Monkeyman and O'Brien, Darkchylde, Danger Girl, Lady Death, The Coven, Shi and The Tenth. A very indy Christmas, so I figure the big two must have been Grinches after last year. It occurs to me that I wish Tony Daniel drew Batman in his old cartoony style. Might be more palatable.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Ésta Es Tu Vida" by Hombres G

Released: 1990
Album: Ésta Es Tu Vida
Single?: Yes.

The album was a critical success but a sales dud. Cool, dark, preachy video, though. Dig the cheesy early CGI!

Ellos lucharon por tu nombre
y ni siquiera saben cual es
jovenes que llegan desde algun lugar
pero todo sigue igual.
Ellos murieron en las playas
no todos pudieron cantar
ahora hay abuelos
que no hablan de la guerra
pero todo sigue igual.
Y yo no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad.
Hay algo aqui lleno de odio
hay algo que funciona mal
y entre tu y yo es posible
que tambien haya algo que cambiar.
Y yo no se porque
no somos todos hermanos
porque queremos aparentar tanta maldad.
Todos vemos la muerte
y sentimos el dolor
lo pasan todos los dias
por la television.
Tiene alguien algo que decir
queda alguien que aun crea en el amor.
Esta es tu vida, y asi sera
pero no puedes luchar mas
ahora mira a tu hijo a los ojos
porque te preguntara:
no se porque
no nos abrazamos
porque queremos aparentar tanta frialdad
Hey tu
ellos esperan una palabra de tus labios
Hey tu
ellos no quieren que les enseñes a matar
Hey tu
ya no hay batallas en las playas
ya no hay gente que se calla
aunque todavia se muere por la libertad

Saturday, December 17, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Silent All These Years" by Tori Amos

Written By: Tori Amos
Released: November, 1991 (U.K.)
Album: Title
Single?: #21 on UK Singles Chart, #65 on U.S. Billboard Hot 100

I want to say my introduction to Tori Amos came with the video to "Crucify," followed by her appearance on The Arsenio Hall Show in 1992 to perform "Silent." It's a beautiful song that has never lost its power, but I somehow managed to go nearly twenty years without seeing the official music video. As a result, I prefer the live version, so you'll have to scroll past the lyrics for the glossy take.

Excuse me but can I be you for a while
My dog won't bite if you sit real still
I got the anti-Christ in the kitchen yellin' at me again
Yeah I can hear that
Been saved again by the garbage truck
I got something to say you know
But nothing comes
Yes I know what you think of me
You never shut-up
Yeah I can hear that

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These Years

So you found a girl
Who thinks really deep thougts
What's so amazing about really deep thoughts
Boy you best praya that I bleed real soon
How's that thought for you
My scream got lost in a paper cup
You think there's a heaven
Where some screams have gone
I got 25 bucks and a cracker
Do you think it's enough
To get us there

Cause what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice
And it's been here
Silent All These...

Years go by
Will I still be waiting
For somebody else to understand
Years go by
If I'm stripped of my beauty
And the orange clouds
Raining in head
Years go by
Will I choke on my tears
Till finally there is nothing left
One more casualty
You know we're too easy Easy Easy

Well I love the way we communicate
Your eyes focus on my funny lip shape
Let's hear what you think of me now
But baby don't look up
The sky is falling
Your mother shows up in a nasty dress
It's your turn now to stand where I stand
Everybody lookin' at you here
Take hold of my hand
Yeah I can hear them

But what if I'm a mermaid
In these jeans of his
With her name still on it
Hey but I don't care
Cause sometimes
I said sometimes
I hear my voice [x3]

And it's been here
Silent All These Years
I've been here
Silent All These Years

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Walking Dead Volume 1: Days Gone By (2004)

I believe The Walking Dead is now my personal single longest unbroken run reading a title. I was interested when the first issue was solicited, but I was inclined to trade-wait most series by that point, and am glad I did. That first volume was less than ten bucks, and was released quickly enough that I got to preorder the first uncollected single issue that same month for a dollar. It was jarring jumping from the shocking finale of the trade to a follow-up issue by a new and extremely different artist. Rereading the trade, I was much more conscious of the individual issue/chapter breaks, and I don't think I would have related to the story the same way in monthly installments. The book works better as a twice yearly bolus infusion of zombie soap opera, and I suspect I might not have stuck through the grind of months.

Kirkman seems to need that twelve times a year schedule. In his first and only foreword to the trade paperbacks, he explains that this was intended to be the zombie story that never ends, as opposed to the grim finality of most movies. Kirkman dismisses Return of the Living Dead in favor of Dawn, which is something I could never do, despite Romero's film being perhaps my favorite ever. Still, I understand that Kirkman needs his epic to be deadly serious, always relate in human terms, and cleave to Romero's social commentary over O'Bannon's cheeky kicks. This is the beginning of the long journey of a group of characters experiencing hell on earth, and so far, Kirkman has remained true to his stated goals.

Kirkman said of the series' star, "You guys are going to see Rick change and mature to the point that when you look back on this book you won't even recognize him." He also spends a lot of time heaping praise on artist Tony Moore. These things are related. Moore couldn't produce on a monthly schedule, and after years prior as a creative team, their partnership ended with the last issue collected in this trade. The split was acrimonious, but Moore stayed on to produce covers into the second year. A bone of contention that I've always had with the book is that there are no cover reproductions in the trades, but I'm somewhat thankful now. The new artist so made this book his own that I literally do not recognize the Rick Grimes of these earlier issues as the guy I've followed for years since. Of course, Kirkman meant the changes that would occur within Rick, and that was true as well.

It's very interesting to look at Tony Moore's work in retrospect. He has a very crisp, energetic style. He's a natural storyteller who packs in just the right amount of detail to please the eye without stalling the flow of the story. The sequence where Rick and Glenn scavenge at a gun shop in Atlanta, and things take a bad turn, is one of the rare instances in all my years of with comics where I was so excited that I had to stop reading the text and let my eyes travel panel to panel to see the action resolve. Moore's work is wonderful, and yet, I think it was best that he left the book when he did. All of his characters have friendly, comic strip faces that make it difficult to take dramatic moments seriously. His zombies are delightfully grotesque, but in a Jack Davis at EC vein that render them less threatening and tragic than they should be. There's a key character death where the victim looks less in agony than about to groan "good grief" in their best Charles Schultz imitation. The dichotomy is problematic.

It was a great thing to have Tony Moore start the book. He set the artistic bar high and hooked readers that might have resisted his less flashy replacement. The gray tones Moore established set the visual look of the series in an essential way for a black & white comic intended for a broad audience. It lends weight and shadow that is the life blood of the reality and survivalist horror of the book. At the same time, there's an innocent quality to the art that reflects the naivete of the characters at this stage of the crisis. The final twist at the end of the trade shatters any illusions of normalcy, and is the perfect point to switch to a moodier, more "vérité" art style.

I don't believe that I've ever revisited any of the volumes of this series before, and after nearly a hundred issues and 1.5 seasons of a television adaptation, it's revelatory. I sometimes think of the AMC show as a "What If?" tangent universe where a few variations yield divergent results. I'm reminded how phony that notion is. The characterization on the show is so vastly different that many "adapted" characters are unrecognizable, and I feel their being informed by the characters as they developed severely damages their personal arcs. For instance, the Lori of the show is a cold bitch pretty much from her first episode, and in the comics she did become rather unsympathetic, but in the beginning it was easy to see her as a loving wife and mother. On the show, I often find my loyalties divided between Shane's amoral pragmatism and Rick's perilous altruism. It's no wonder the audience favorite has ended up being Daryl Dixon, the white male Michonne. It's clear why Rick became group leader from this first trade, as he's the most intelligent and the broadest thinker of the band. The comic book Shane is plainly deluded and emotionally unstable, so it's no wonder Rick was readily embraced. TV Rick jumped straight into territory where his reasoning is permanently in question, while comic Rick proved himself thoroughly before making understandable missteps in uncertain times.

Another thing I miss on the TV series is the time taken to properly introduce supporting characters and ensure that they are likeable and valuable. For instance, the show threw Glenn, Andrea, T-Dog and Merle at the viewers all at once. My girlfriend couldn't understand why Glenn is my favorite surviving character, because on TV he wasn't the person who guided Rick through Atlanta, and he wasn't the lone sneak thief that sustained the group. My Glenn didn't show up until the second season. The Dale of the show has been an increasingly irritating nuisance and busybody, where in the book he was the first person to warn Rick about problems within the group, and proved handy with an ax in saving Donna. My recollection was that Amy and Andrea developed as sisters across a couple of years worth of comics, so I was surprised to find the turn in their relationship was about as swift as on the show. However, they then progressed quietly in the background, whereas the show turned that into such an in-your-face development as to be a major turn-off. At least Carol and her family were vastly more engaging adapted than their dull comic origins.

All this is to say that The Walking Dead deserves its success, because the foundations of a multimedia property were sound from the beginning. Yes, the 28 Days Later... homage opening was dumb, and the influence of zombie fad flicks of as recent a vintage as Zack Snyder's Dawn of the Dead remake are apparent, but Kirkman and Moore build from their skeletons something with real meat to hang off them. It was excellent on first read, and holds up in part because what followed remains vital, begging reflection and comparative analysis. I feel it's one of the major works of the zombie genre and the comics medium, so I look forward to that third reading in 2019.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Love That Bob

"The Church of the SubGenius is a "parody religion" organization that satirizes religion, conspiracy theories, unidentified flying objects, and popular culture. Originally based in Dallas, Texas, the Church of the SubGenius gained prominence in the 1980s and 1990s and maintains an active presence on the Internet."-Wikipedia

Anybody else miss "Night Flight?"

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Stay" by Shakespears Sister

Written By: Siobhan Fahey, Marcella Detroit & Jean Guiot
Released: January 25, 1992
Album: Hormonally Yours
Single?: UK Singles Chart #1, U.S. Billboard Hot 100 #4, certified gold in both.

My brother recorded a copy of this video off MTV way back when, and I loved it immediately. I recorded various other Shakespears Sister songs off broadcast TV shows like Friday Night Videos, but of course none of those ever reached the heights of "Stay." The "band" was actually a generous name for Siobhan Fahey as a solo act. The forty-year-old veteran backup singer Marcella Detroit only performed on a few songs, but based on the success of this single, lawyered-up to try taking 50% of the act. Detroit got shitcanned, and Fahey ended up institutionalized with severe depression. As I recall, both singers were also pregnant at the time of the song's release. Talk about a drama factory. I ended up buying Hormonally Yours on CD about half a decade later, and there were a number of solid tracks on it, but also a fair amount of Europop crap. Anyway, here's the little seen extended version of the video, but turn up your volume to hear it.

if this world is wearing thin
and you're thinking of escape
i'll go anywhere with you
i'll do anything it takes [just wrap me up in chains]
but if you try to go alone
don't think i'll understand

stay with me, stay with me.

in the silence of your room
in the darkness of your schemes [ ... dreams]
there among the souvenirs [you must only think of me]
and the useless memories [there can be no in between]
when your pride is on the floor
i'll make you beg for more

stay with me, stay with me.

you'd better hope and pray
that you'll be safe [ that you make it safe]
in your own world [back to your own world]
you'd better hope and pray
that you're gonna awake [that you wake one day]
back in your own world [in your own world]
[cause when you sleep at night they don't hear your cries]
[in your own world]
[only time will tell if you can break the spell]
[back in your own world]

stay with me, stay with me.

As an added and more audible bonus, here's the song performed live on The Arsenio Hall Show. I have a more complete copy of this with the host's introduction, but it is otherwise inferior, so I won't bother uploading it...

Monday, December 5, 2011

A Frank Review of "Death Wish" (1974)

The Short Version? Vigilante Movies: The Beginning
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Charles Bronson, Cosmo Castorini
Should I See It? Yes

In an alternate universe, Sidney Lumet stuck with this picture instead of jumping ship to Serpico. It starred Jack Lemmon as the aging Paul Kersey, who gradually turns to vigilantism after the murder of his wife and the psychologically catastrophic rape of his daughter. It was a socially conscientious look at the impact of crime and outlaw justice. Henry Fonda played the police chief, and it was another film classic from perhaps the greatest decade of cinema.

In our reality, Death Wish is an above average exploitation flick by journeyman director Michael Winner starring that spectacular lump of meat, Charles "F'n" Bronson. While filmed in the gritty '70s style of contemporary greats, name dropping producer Dino De Laurentiis should dissuade viewers from any elevated regard for the picture. It's a Dirty Harry knock-off coincidentally swollen with cameos by stars in the waiting (including Olympia Dukakis and Christopher Guest, while debuting Denzel Washington and Jeff Goldblum.) Bronson is a lousy actor but an intimidating screen presence. The assortment of scenarios with muggers waiting to meet the business end of his revolver are exciting and retain the element of real danger to the protagonist, as opposed to the bulletproof tough guys of the 1980s. Vincent Gardenia plays the detective in charge of finding the vigilante, and he's actually intelligent in adept pursuit.

The movie is basically Paul Kersey's origin story, so it takes nearly forty-five minutes before the protagonist goes out on his first patrol. The information before this point is necessary to the development of an extreme response. Rather than setting up grand villains and such, the movie then begins the parallel stories of Kersey's new life and the police pursuit of him for it. The result is, ahem, all-killer no-filler, and leads to a logical conclusion that doesn't insult the audience's intelligence by involving the hoods responsible for Paul's woe (although there's meta-justice dealt out in "St. Ives". Already in his fifties, the movie finally made an action star out of Bronson, and remains engaging nearly forty years and countless imitators later.

  • Theatrical Trailer Also, don't underestimate subtitles. With bare bones releases, you appreciate the little things.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Brit, Vol.1: Old Soldier (2007)

I'm sure folks get sick of my reviews of Robert Kirkman books, because I always talk about how whatever it is isn't as good as The Walking Dead, even off volumes of The Walking Dead. Did I also bitch that every Frank Miller project wasn't The Dark Knight Returns or every Alan Moore project Watchmen? No, because Miller also gave us Born Again and Year One, while Alan Moore did Miracleman and Swamp Thing. I keep reading Kirkman books, and the drop-off isn't just steep from The Walking Dead, but too often from other random shit I pull off the shelf. I don't have to love every project, but can't I at least like one?

Well, I like Brit okay. Of Kirkman's various projects, it reminds me the most of The Irredeemable Ant-Man, an intentionally funny action comic with an amusingly skeevy lead. Brit qualifies for Social Security, but invulnerability keeps him on the government payroll, and there's always his side job as owner of a strip club. Kirkman owes a clear debt to Erik Larsen's combination of blue collar ethos and outrageous gross-out scenarios, but he just as clearly does the influence one better. The title does a nice job balancing domestic hassles, giant monsters, and the occasional melodrama. This trade collects three extra length specials, providing three complete stories for your entertainment dollar. The first book has rough early art by Tony Moore, the second a smoother look, but Cliff Rathburn's third installment plays the trump card. A satisfying and attractive package, so it's a shame the follow-up ongoing series was three years late and by a different writer...

Sunday, November 27, 2011

1991 Miller Lite "Then, Now, and Forever" Commercial

I'm finally going through a batch of VHS to DVD transfers I did years ago of material dating back to the early '90s. Since I was poor, video quality is usually lacking, and the YouTube library makes a lot of my stuff redundant. Still, as I go through it and check to see if there's cause to upload any of it, I figured I'd share here. This commercial spans decades of pop cultural fashion/music history through the then cutting edge morphing technology (now most the domain of Syfy original movies.)

Thursday, November 24, 2011

1980 S W Studios Masquerade Make-Up Kits ad


Having grown up on Mammy Two Shoes and Jolson references in animation, I shouldn't be too surprised that you could still advertise a "Black Face" make-up kit in 1980. What's interesting is that it appears to be an African-American boy lad wearing the make-up, and I tend to think the wonders of latex applications hadn't quite trickled down to the suburbs yet. Perhaps "Zulu Warrior" would have been more appealing to the racially insensitive youth of America, but I suppose a sigh of relief could be uttered for the absence of "Darkie Savage" or "Spearchucker." Never mind the "Indian," which was probably a trademark dodge for "Tonto" rather than a nod towards A.I.M. Just scope the KISS make-up, or rather "Black & White (Disco.)" Between "Black Face" and "Indian," "Kabuki" was clearly expecting too much. Ads like this remind me that whatever the faults of political correctness, I'll take it over grody crap like this.

Friday, November 18, 2011

A Frank Review of "Madmen of Mandoras" (1963)

The Short Version?They Saved Hitler's Brain!
What Is It? Thriller
Who Is In It? Hitler!
Should I See It? Maybe.

For an early '60s black and white public domain bomb, Madmen of Mandoras is decent. The plot is a total hash of disparate elements that only go together because of the assumptions of the genre, rather than a sense whoever wrote the screenplay ever read it again afterward. People keep getting kidnapped or shot in service to a gobbledygook conspiracy of super-villainous impracticality involving Nazis and Latin American strongholds. The important thing is stuff keeps happening, so at least it isn't completely boring. Everybody do a shot when somebody gets shot, and it'll do wonders. The main reason to watch of course is the same as it was when some UCLA students tacked on twenty minutes of new footage in 1968 to turn it into a "head" film: there's motherfucking Hitler's head in a motherfucking glass jar. Dated technique be damned, it looks really cool and wrong, plus, y'know they do things-- with the head. Not Barbara Crampton things, but still, wicked.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Death's Head Resolicitation (August, 1991)

Literally on the back of the torn out page of Advance Comics with the Mutant Genesis Ad was this solicit for what ended up being the first Death's Head II mini-series. I believe the same little sketch, presumably by Liam Sharpe, was in the original solicit. Because the image was so small and the lines so fragile, I decided to take the scan as is. The yellow highlight was for books I was interested in ordering, and the green for those that got purchased. I was so anal in those days, I read the goddamned thing cover to cover. I'd been a fan of Death's Head since he appeared in a comic strip on the back of Dragon's Claws, the first Marvel UK series I followed.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Frank Review of "Night Court: The Complete First Season" (2005)

The Short Version? Crazy city court with a zany staff.
What Is It? Sitcom with regular doses of human drama.
Who Is In It? The sorts you'd expect.
Should I See It? Yes.

Growing up, Night Court was one of my favorite sitcoms, and I followed it both in first run and syndication. I'm always wary of revisiting shows like this, especially after years distance without exposure, because they rarely live up to those misty watercolor memories of the way they were. While not exactly an exception, Night Court still holds up as an amusing, entertaining program with standout performances and strong episodes. Others, well, we'll take a look at that. This disc covers the show's debut 1984 season as a midseason replacement, and it's fun to see both how much was in place from the very beginning, and how many changes were made. Harry Anderson often says he was essentially playing himself as Judge Harry T. Stone, so the consistency over nine seasons isn't shocking. The only character written expressly for the actor cast was Selma Diamond, who does not deviate from the very start. Karen Austin is a treat as Lana Wagner, who was built up as Harry's primary support and love interest all season. I expect that would come as a shock to viewers who missed this half-season, since the character vanishes three-quarters of the way through. Richard Moll's take on Bull solidified very quickly, and the actor has understandably been most associated with the character ever since. Paula Kelly was terrific all season, so it was a shame that she received so little attention, especially give the two Bull episodes and an awful lot of time devoted to Lana. John Larroquette grew the most organically, reasonably prominent but not quite a featured player yet, with the seeds of the future "crème de scum" planted over a series of episodes only just beginning to hatch by the end of the season.

  1. "All You Need Is Love": This one was all about introducing viewers to the wacky, improper, youthful Judge Stone, with a fair amount of time bouncing off his first court clerk, Lana Wagner. Assistant D.A. Dan Fielding is uptight and pretentious, Bull is brusque, and Bailiff Selma Hacker is dry as a bone. The very basics of the supporting character are there, but only to play off Harry. Actress Gail Strickland breezes in for a single episode as P.D. Sheila Corinth, while Rita Taggart makes the first of several appearances as hooker with a heart of gold Carla B. Not bad for a start, even if things go a bit overboard in portraying Harry as a loose cannon.

  2. "Santa Goes Downtown": An after Christmas comedown, with wonderful character actor Jeff Corey as a mentally ill St. Nick. Michael J. Fox as a runaway is a nice surprise, but he overplays the disaffected youth angle to the point that you kind of want to brain him. Paula Kelly makes her debut as Public Defender Liz Williams, and helps play this one for heart more than laughs.

  3. "The Former Harry Stone": Terry Kiser joins the cast as muck-raking journalist Al Craven. I enjoyed the character, but the cases coming through the court didn't warrant press, and many of Craven's smarmy characteristics would later be adopted by Dan Fielding. '80s sexpot Judy Landers gives Dan his first opportunity to show signs of lechery. Seinfeld's dad Barney Martin has a cameo as a bum.

  4. "Welcome Back, Momma": The disgusting, manipulative, womanizing Dan Fielding we all know and love really starts to blossom here, amidst a parade of beauty pageant contestants charged with assault. For the second episode in a row, an element of Harry's past comes back to haunt him, bringing either the humanity the series was known for or the wet blanket over the humor the show was also known for. Bull's sweet naivete is developing. Martin Garner debuts as newsstand operator Bernie.

  5. "The Eye of the Beholder": The first Bull-centric episode, showing the big guy for the teddy bear he is. Character actors Al Ruscio and Stanley Brock turn up, for the first of several appearances in a variety of roles.

  6. "Death Threat": Character actor Phil Leeds offers the first of several appearances, this time memorably as "God." George Murdock is also great as Womack of Homicide. Jack Murdock (relation?) as a twitchy member of the bomb squad is a kick, contributing to an already strong episode. For once, even the shoeshine boy with a sob story (Gabriel Gonzalez) injects humor, instead of the usual soap opera.

  7. "Once in Love with Harry": Carla B.'s third episode is a spotlight that wrings drama out of her situation, leaving it up to John Larroquette's Dan Fielding to keep things from getting depressing. Howard Honig's cameo is a bit much. Bull is about as hairy as he gets. The sexual tension between Harry and Lana gets ratcheted up. Jason Bernard makes his first appearance as the adversarial Judge Robert T. Willard, though his run is limited.

  8. "Quadrangle of Love": What the title says. Harry, Dan and Bull competing for the same woman. Not as funny as it sounds, unfortunately. Too much Mel Torme, as well. Like, way.

  9. "Wonder Drugs": A Lana Wagner spotlight, even more so than usual. I liked this character, and it still surprises me that someone so important disappeared before the second season. I'm glad she got this showcase. Jack Riley is great as usual in a cameo. Lionel Mark Smith makes a good straight man.

  10. "Some Like It Hot": Mike Finneran debuts as maintenance man Art Fensterman, who would appear sporadically for the rest of the series. Combined with the first of repeat performer Yakov Smirnoff, this one was pretty painful sitcomedy. Larroquette and Kelly have some rich moments in handcuffs, at least. Still, a rotten episode to serve as Karen Austin's last, as she departed the series without notice, and only really had a cameo here.

  11. "Harry and the Rock Star": Pandering to a younger audience with Kristine DeBell. Fairly grating, but Alice Drummond is fun in a cameo. Paula Kelly was especially good this time, as well. The one good thing about the loss of Lana is that there's no repeat cattiness against another Harry love interest.

  12. "Bull's Baby": A strong episode, aside from a painfully out of place Murphy Cross as a substitute court clerk.

  13. "Hi Honey, I'm Home": Murphy Cross remains stiff in an expanded role, likely written for the Lana character. A good story to end the season with, enhanced by the always awesome Charles Napier in a guest appearance. Bernie and Selma have a sweet subplot, as well. Shame Paula Kelly didn't see much action in her last episode.


  • Commentary on All You Need Is Love by Creator/Executive Producer Reinhold Weege Discussing pre-production and the difficulty of getting all the necessary information about the show across in a pilot. Really though, this is a tight overview of the series, well worth a listen.
  • Night Court: Comedy's Swing Shift Eighteen minutes of a fantastic hour long documentary. What's here is swell, but they only got Reinhold Weege and Harry Anderson.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Luke Cage Noir (2010)

Once DC Comics set into a comfortable, family friendly rut in the 1950s, they had to start telling "Imaginary Stories" that allowed changes to occur with their characters, even though they were all done-in-ones with no impact on "reality." Marvel did something similar with "What If...?" except those were tales spun off a set point in continuity, typically a worst possible case scenario where heroes failed instead of triumphed. Meanwhile, DC started rebooting its official continuity every five years, so when they started doing "Elseworlds" one-shots, they were more like quaint throwbacks than daring flight of fancy. Marvel never really bought into reboots, but once they broke the cardinal rule of "nobody stays dead but Bucky and Uncle Ben," nothing seems to matter or feel irreversible in their universe anymore. They have whole sublines of "Elseworlds" type stuff, rather cheesy "imaginary stories" like "what if a given Marvel hero and their supporting cast operated out of a Depression era crime setting?" Some characters lend themselves to that sort of thing, and some characters are Deadpool.

Luke Cage was supposed to be a very hip cat when he was created in the 1970s, but his whole reheated Shaft shtick was heavily indebted to gumshoes from decades prior. Telling a legitimate 1930s noir story with the character, along the lines of the work of authors like Chester Himes or Walter Mosley, is actually pretty inspired. The solicited covers for the four issue mini-series were fucking gorgeous, and Shawn Martinborough drew the hell out of the interiors. The colors by Nick Filardi complemented well, and Dennis Calero offered a potent cover for the trade collection.

Things fall apart from there, though. The trade is in a dinky digest format, which at three-quarters standard dimensions is too big to fit in a pocket but too small to serve the art well. The pages are a slightly heavy but flat stock, so that regardless of the colors used, everything looks brown or gray. Ten buck for four issues sounds fair in a standard format trade with decent quality printing, so Marvel charges $14.99 and cuts every corner they can. It would have been deeply offensive if the story had lived up to the efforts of all the other creators.

Adam Glass and Mike Benson are probably best known (as much as they are) for writing Deadpool comics, and while the story is much better than that resume would indicate, competency doesn't warrant applause. Aside from featuring a lot of black people, the story is strictly post-Chinatown boilerplate. Luke Cage as presented here is a generic amateur dick without any personality or swagger. Willis Stryker and Billy Bob Rackham are so far removed from who they were in old Hero for Hire comics, it seems like the script came first and determining analogues happened on the assistant editor's office. The Spider-Man villain Tombstone, a perfect potential foil for Cage, gets his resemblance in this story from the colorist leaving him white rather than anything out of the script. There are two major "twists" in the story, one of which relies upon prior knowledge of the character. This negates the argument that the story was meant to stand on its own, but more importantly, the entire plot is built around teasing the twists and ladling out cliche in every other aspect of the story.

I read this book months ago, and kept putting off reviewing it. The story isn't outright bad, just pedestrian, failing to live up to the potential the concept suggests. It didn't have to be great, but it did need more than just being "there." The old "Elseworlds" were fun because they kept the basics of the characters with a simple but effective shift in perspective, while "Imaginary Stories" tended to be bizarre and "What Ifs" were often pure schadenfreude. This was simply a faceless screenplay for a late '70s b-movie with some Marvel trademarks grafted on.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Mutant Genesis Ad (August, 1991)

I've been digging through my boxes of loose crap lately, and figured it was time to revive Smelly Brown Paper (Scans of Yore) as a more regular feature. This piece seems especially appropriate, since my original is literally smelly, brown, and, um, yorey. Good thing there's digital contrasting to clean it up. This ad was torn out of an issue of Advance Comics after I realized that I didn't want to keep hauling ten years worth of two different retailer catalogs from place to place and recycled that shit. It was used to promote the launch of Chris Claremont, Jim Lee and Scott William's X-Men #1, as well as the new art team of Whilce Portacio and Art Thibert on Uncanny X-Men. For some reason, I clipped out the part of the ad with the X-Men credits, so I trimmed out the Uncanny ones from the scan. Claremont of course was drummed off both books, and I don't think that either of these line-ups ever came into being. I ran a check for this art online, and couldn't find it, but please drop a comment if you can direct me to better scans (re: any.)

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm: OblIVion" (1998)

The Short Version? Phantasm 4. See Phantasm 1-3.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? The Phantasm guys.
Should I See It? No.

Phantasm IV is the least effective film of the series for a variety of reasons. Newer characters from the previous installment Tim and Rocky are dumped without further reference. Mike is flung off on a solitary drive after the troubling revelations of the previous installment, and Reggie left to meander, unaffected by his recent experiences and without clear purpose to pursue. There are sequences revealing the origins of the Phantasm universe, but they are barely informative and not terribly imaginative. Character development feels stalled, and there are some turnabout that don't really ring true. Folks are really starting to wear their ages, especially Angus Scrimm, whose Tall Man is looking to need a tall walker from Walgreens. It's hard not to notice, because a good chunk of the running time is devoted to repurposing unused footage from the first movie. These undeleted scenes have more vitality than the new material, even if they are confusing with regard to the always shaky continuity of the series. Since the footage is tied to reflections of the characters in their current situations, the film feels less horrific than melancholic, wistful for better days and the financing to produce better films.

Speaking of which, the most likely culprit for IV's lackadaisical vibe is "Phantasm 1999 A.D.," a post-apocalyptic version of part 4 written by Pulp Fiction's Roger Avery. The script was well received by franchise founder Don Coscarelli, but the financing never materialized, so this was filmed as some sort of stopgap. The necessary spinning of wheels is obvious, and drains the life out of this picture as surely as the film itself left the series stranded in Death Valley, living up to the oblivion in the title. There are a few strained new uses for the phantasm balls, some scenes worth visiting, and a snail's progress in the characters' journeys. Still, this installment feels pointless, beyond perhaps setting up a reboot/continuation down the line with Mike replacing Scrimm as The Child Actor Who Aged Creepily.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Spawn: The Armageddon Collection Part 2 (2007)

This collection of Spawn #156-164 is an examination of how thoroughly a ball can be dropped. It opens with a child having brutally murdered their sibling, while Spawn begins his battle with the Hindu goddess Kali. Both of these situations carried over directly from the previous volume, and both reach temporary resolutions of a satisfying nature. The book returns to the mad warrior angel Zera as she slaughters the less faithful, as well as to the Man of Miracles, whose nature is further differentiated from Marvelman/Miracleman. Each of these characters are built up through sacrilege, so the religiously sensitive should damned well already know to keep their distance from a book about the Hellspawn. Unfortunately, both characters are also sold out to a large degree by the demands of the megaplot, which really kicks in two issues into the collection.

Fonzie, meet shark. In the annals of genre tropes, there are few more hoary than the big reveal seen here. "It was just a dream" is probably the worse, and guess what, it kind of comes into play by the end, as well. I can't lambast this development as thoroughly as it deserves to be without spoiling the book to a degree I'm not comfortable with. Suffice to say at one point, Jesus H. Christ makes a guest appearance, and even M.Night Shyamalan might be inclined to groan. The "Armageddon" in the title is taken literally, but in place of the affective foreboding of part 1, this edition descends into TBN Megiddo: The Omega Code 2 level bullshit.

There are a few attempts at "aw man, that's messed up," but they're wimpy compared to the earlier stuff. The really interesting revisions to Spawn's powers and nature(s) are written out. There's a lot of video game logic where characters who at one point destroyed Spawn turn pussy as he gains dubious level-ups. None of the curious, novel asides are present here, with one major through story of middling interest and a single cypher of a protagonist. Basically, everything that's ever been wrong with Spawn is in full effect here, from the overheated melodrama to the tone deaf characterization to the meandering pace to the lack of stakes or repercussions. How do you manage to make the Biblical day of judgment so tedious? How can such heavy theological themes be rendered as a retarded WWE smackdown, complete with homoerotic imagery?

The best part is the book's coda, which absolutely comes out of nowhere. Fourteen straight issues of a widescreen Warren Ellis take on Tales From The Crypt of Pat Robertson, and the wrap-up run head first into Lifetime: Television for Women's special presentation of Todd McFarlane's Spawn, starring Viola Davis as Wanda and Blair Underwood as Terry Fitzgerald. What could have been a defining moment for Al Simmons is delivered with all the subtlety of a falcon punch, which strikes with such force as to render any prior good will insta-borted. It's so bad, you'll wish Superboy-Prime would jab his way into the Toddverse.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Spawn: The Armageddon Collection Part 1 (2006)

I've spoken at length in the past about how Spawn should be the most popular African-American, multi-platform, superhuman badass in an action/horror milieu (with apologies to Blade, whose franchise was entirely dependent on Wesley Snipes, who is now over.) Instead, Spawn is an emo bitch who somehow managed to spin his wheels and shed his tears for 150 issues before making any really progress in the story department. To summarize those fifteen or so years, Spawn fought a whole lot of non-threatening demons who made for silly looking action figures that were supposedly articulate, but sculpted in such a way that you could only stand them just so without their falling over and breaking. Spawn built up a pretty solid supporting cast, but around his ex-wife rather than himself, so that Wanda acted as the anchor around the guy's neck. Lose the chick, which after 100 issues of mooning was a desperate need, and you lose Terry, Cyan, Grandma, the twins, etc. Spawn did kill his big bad Malebolgia, but that just opened the door for a bunch of weaker retreads.

At the start of this trade, one such Malebolgia Lite (who looked just like another deceased antagonist, Jason Wynn) called Mammon had wiped Spawn's memory, and he was predictably being a tittybaby about it. He picked a fight with an angel, got ripped to pieces, and then those pieces got stolen by demons. Spawn was sewn back together, absent his heart, so that he could be tortured by Mammon. Meanwhile, Spawn's heart became a little white kid named Christopher, who is sent on a quest by not-Marvelman/Miracleman, because Neil Gaiman sued that character into the Phantom Stranger. Fucking Billy Kincaid shows up, the child killer Alan Moore created that will not go away, despite just begging for another lawsuit to cause even more of the Spawn library to become radioactive. Some signs of the apocalypse and a greatest hits collection of lame super-villains later, the anniversary issue wraps.

After that busy, confusing, yet still somewhat plodding start, the run of incoming creative team David Hine and Billy Tan starts in earnest. The story of Christopher brings to the fore the EC Comics influence that has always been one of the redeeming qualities of the series, and establishes the potential for Spawn to become a one-man anthology series along the lines of (amusingly enough) Neil Gaiman's The Sandman. For about the first time ever, the cartoonish grisliness of the series is worked into legitimately horrifying imagery that disturbs the senses. The Spawn supporting cast, including Sam and Twitch, are used very effectively. Building in the background is an end of days epic that, while leaning heavily on the usual Judeo-Christian plagues, is smart enough to also delve into world myth, beginning with Kali.

There is more energy and story potential in the six issues collected here than large swaths of the previous 149. Phillip Tan is clearly not as polished an artist as McFarlane, Capullo or Medina, but he's able to shift gears from the usual over the top shtick to more varied storytelling modes. Functionally, this is much better than his later, more stylized work. Rather than the whining associated with Spawn as a character, David Hine elicits real pathos through the tragedies and existential dread of his characters. My only complaint is that once all the balls are in the air, this collection ends exactly when and where you would least want it to. On to part 2, then.

Friday, October 21, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm III: Lord of the Dead" (1994)

The Short Version? The Balls Are Back, as well as half the first film's cast after a skipped chapter.
What Is It? Horror Action Comedy.
Who Is In It? The Phantasm cast.
Should I See It? Yes.

A fun aspect of the Phantasm movies is that they are so plainly products of their time, begging for direct comparisons since they always involve flashbacks to previous episodes. Even more hilariously, we've got the character of Mike originated by A. Michael Baldwin, who was replaced by James LeGros for a sequel, but Baldwin resumes the role five minutes after LeGros' in-story exit but seventeen years since he first filmed it as a teenager. Suffice to say, not only is there no similarity whatsoever between Baldwin and LeGros, but Baldwin is barely even recognizable as himself nearly doubled in age. Similarly, Bill Thornbury returns as brother Jody after the same duration of absence, except Jody died in 1977, has been supernaturally revived after a fashion, and still manages to be a dumpy middle aged dude. Meanwhile, Reggie Bannister somehow keeps chugging along, just a bit grayer. Director/writer/creator Don Coscarelli sure chose his protagonist well.

As mentioned, this film once again tries to pick up right after the previous installment, despite a lapse of about six years and casting changes. A primary character from the first sequel gets thrown under the bus as a result, and I guess they must have also been ground under the wheels and gummed up in the trans-axle, by the look of things. Not unaware of the strain this puts on the narrative and suspension of disbelief, Coscarelli tries to distract from the problem by throwing a slew of plot tangents at the screen until he can see what sticks. Not to get deep into details, but besides the two original cast members returned to intermittently reprise their roles, Reggie is joined in Tall Man hunting by two entirely new soldiers of types generally frowned upon by the stereotypical horror fan. However, they're both very capable (sometimes to the point of being Mary Sues,) and interact well with Reggie in their pursuit of becoming America's Next 3rd Tier Franchise Players.

Coscarelli is clever in balancing the comfortingly familiar with entirely left field elements. There's his signature shot of a sleeping passenger coming to and being greeted by a new/returning cast member, sphere POVs, the crawl through ghost towns, trips past the forks, and creeping through the mausoleums. On the other hand, old characters are put through bizarre paces under radically altered circumstances, the new characters are unexpected and offer different dynamics, while the series' mythology is advanced without burdening it with full, entirely lucid explanations. A defining characteristic of this series is dream logic, so that last bit is important.

Despite a total of four original cast members, Lord of the Dead feels more like the successor to Phantasm II than the original. The action is shot in a similar fashion, the influence of Sam Raimi's brand of comedic action-gore is still keenly felt, and it seems like a lot of the developments with Mike were necessitated to explain why the status quo from II had to be altered to accommodate the return of A. Michael Baldwin. While not as strong as its predecessors, Phantasm III has its own quirky charms, and its inventive contributions to the series should not be discounted. While Angus Scrimm's Tall Man remains the iconic face of the franchise, the familial qualities of the cast and unpredictable turns remain at the heart of the series.

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Frank Review of "Dawn of the Dead: European Version" (1978)

  • Zombies: Dawn of the Dead
  • Zombi: L’alba dei Morti Viventi
  • Zombie: Le Crépuscule des Morts Vivants
  • Zombi: El Regreso de los Muertos Vivientes
  • Zombie: In De Greep van de Zombies
  • Zombie
  • Zombie: Rædslernes Morgen

The Short Version? Foreign Version of the Living Dead
What Is It? Action-Horror
Who Is In It? Vincent Parmelly, Angelo Fettucini, Marhalt and Becky Vickers
Should I See It? Maybe

Fair warning: this is not in the strictest sense a proper film review. George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is one of my favorite films, and this is a fanboy deconstruction of an aberrant version of that film.

When famed Italian director Dario Argento helped get the sequel to Night of the Living Dead made, he was due some concessions. One was the feature making extensive use of the music of Dario's rock band, Goblin. Another was that Argento would get final cut of the film in foreign markets. Now, director George A. Romero has created two films that could be debated as personal masterpieces, and both are significant to cinema as a whole. However, Romero has a rather spotty track record with regard to making good films, much less great ones. As in, there's the two great ones, with arguable competency on everything else. An intriguing premise would therefore be whether Argento could cut Romero's film better than Romero. The answer is no, and it isn't even close.

Another of my favorite films is Pulp Fiction. Imagine if Martin Scorsese had been given final cut of that picture, and decided it should run in chronological order with much of the Mia Wallace story cut out. Also, change the title sequence and drop most of the soundtrack in favor of more FM hits of the '70s. Pulp Fiction would still be a pretty good movie, but it would lose its mojo-- its special magic. It would smother your French fries in mayonnaise. That's what this is like.

Zombi drops seven minutes from the running time, trimming out virtually all of the humor and quirkiness out of the picture. Since most of the bloodletting occurs in the first act, the cut is so plot heavy that you're nearly an hour in before the characterization really kicks in. Even consequential stuff, like the lead characters planning their operations, hits the bricks. Goblin's score is relentless and often atonal, especially hair metal riffs the close the film over boring black credits. Argento doesn't seem to recognize the value of silence, and he has no use for any subtext or pretense. His cut is a straightforward action/horror popcorn flick with extreme gore, and it's unsettling for a die hard fan to watch. After watching three different versions of the film in a box set within 48 hours of buying it in 2004, I didn't mind the changes as much, because I enjoyed seeing the flick from different (and occasionally new) perspectives. In my first viewing of any version in something like two years, I found myself frustrated by the omissions and misguided alterations.

That's about all I have to offer anyone not already a fan of the movie. From here on out, it's strictly responsa amongst the devout. Turn away now if you are not so damned...

I don't really care for Argento's cut of the opening section. The actual credits are distractingly large. Opening with the score's best track not only leaves the movie nowhere to go but down musically; it also comes across as a silly "spooky sounds of Halloween" riff in this context. The dialogue is much more clear, but it vastly reduces the tension, and feels staged in comparison to Romero's Altmanesque cacophony. While likely shorter in length, the clarity and continuity of the exposition makes it seem like more of a drag.

I miss the cute scene transitions throughout Romero's movie, beginning with the switch from the TV studio to the police raid. The jazzy scoring muffles the sense of dread, playing more like a cornball action movie. I do like the chorus of moans laced in there, though. I also think Argento was smart to spend a bit more time with the unnamed African-American cop, instead of rushing his partner's suicide. Goblin's music nearly drowns out the priest's speech, both audibly and in effectiveness. I did enjoy it during the extended execution sequence of the basement zombies, though.

Argento chopped the hell out of the chopper base sequence. Peter's inclusion in the group was always rushed, but here the entire bunch seem thrown together and disconnected. I really missed this "getting to know each other" section, as well as the odd bits of comedy.

There's an interesting variation on the redneck country flyover in this edit. In Romero's version, the "'Cause I'm A Man" song baldly announces the outright satirical nature of his movie, which is both part of its charm and a turn-off for more serious-minded viewers. Argento still offers canned country music, but treats his subjects with more respect, and I do not miss the silly musical beat from the car explosion one bit. Argento takes better advantage at that "expensive" effect by lingering for production value.

Argento's cut of the abandoned airbase sequence makes improvements. The music is eerier, and the relatively rapid crosscutting tightens up what was one of the more exasperating Romero sections.

I could go on indefinitely. The point is, Argento renders a great film pretty good, throwing out genius with the flaws, and making a fun soundtrack grate on the nerves. It's novel for people like me who would watch as many different variations on a beloved flick as they could get their hands on, but I fear anyone introduced to the movie through this edit are getting sold short.

  • Commentary with stars David Emge, Ken Foree, Scott H. Reiniger and Gaylen Ross This is a swell bunch of coworkers discussing their time making the picture. By extension, a lot more time is spent discussing expanding waistlines and thinning hair than the deeper themes of the picture. Still, it's cool when a fan gripes about the loss of the cigarettes scene and Gaylen Ross chimes in to back them up. There's also some criticism of where the remake failed to live up to the ambitions of this feature.
  • Trailers Surprisingly gory. An Italian version and two German numbers.
  • TV Spots A pair from the U.K.
  • Poster & Still Galleries Lots of fun stuff to scan through for the hard core fan. The photos get repetitive, though.
  • Soundtracks The art of the albums. Goblin looks like the '70s prog band you'd expect.
  • Video Covers So, so many. DVD, VHS, laserdisc. Some of these boxes are ever so tacky. I've owned a few of these over the years.
  • Dario Argento Biography Good stuff, for a text piece.
  • Menu The gun store "tribal" music and a partial skull with moving red eyes. The commentary set-up button doesn't work, so hit your audio buttons a few times.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm II" (1988)

The Short Version? The Balls Are Back.
What Is It? Horror-comedy.
Who Is In It? The usuals, -2, +1.
Should I See It? Yes.

Okay, you've got a low budget movie filmed in 1977, released in '79, and you're planning a studio sequel for 1988 just as the horror boom begins to wane. Today, it would be a remake. If you got Don Coscarelli to do it, and they did, he opens five minutes later despite a studio-forced recasting of one of the leads featured in footage spliced right into the new one. Crazy motherfucker makes it work, so long as you don't look too closely.

The timeline eventually moves forward seven years, which helps gloss over James LeGros taking over as Mike. He's got that thing going on where he's kind of handsome, yet kind of ugly, and his many screen credits would lead you to think his line delivery would be better. Reggie Bannister's gotten a lot better at same in the intervening years, and he's great as the balding ex-ice cream man/monster hunter. It is very clear that Coscarelli had seen the Evil Dead pictures, including a brief shout to Sam Raimi by name, and the influence shows up repeatedly in this film. Few would call that a bad thing, and in fact many of the borrowed techniques are perfectly applied to the deadly spheres that are a trademark of the series. While this may have been one of the cheapest movies Universal Pictures ever released, what got spent is all on the screen. Quadruple-barreled sawed-off shotguns, much improved zombie dwarves, killer ball tricks, far higher quality full frontal nudity... it's a gonzo hillbilly delight.

Monday, October 10, 2011

A Frank Review of "50/50" (2011)

The Short Version? Got Cancer?
What Is It? Dramedy.
Who Is In It? The kid from 3rd Rock from the Sun, the dude from Knocked-Up, the chick from Up in the Air, Opie's daughter, and the mom from every Wes Anderson movie.
Should I See It? Yes.

Just to get it out of the way, this is a Lifetime movie for men. It's Pepsi Max. It's as simple as that. A protagonist that acts as a proxy for the audience is diagnosed with a potentially fatal disease and must deal with the emotional and material repercussions on his life. Since this is the version of that formula for guys, it also spends a lot of time figuring out how cancer will effect our lead's ability to get a nut, as well as the coping mechanisms preferred by men under such circumstances. Since this type of movie is rarely viewed from a perspective other than "the triumph of the spirit" or tearjerking pussified bullshit, it's actually affective and entertaining. Joseph Gordon-Levitt does a fantastic job of conveying his character's emotions as subtly as possible, maintaining a poker face and a tight lip. Men in life don't hug each other and weep together, nor do they offer overwrought monologues at pivotal moments. The movie is autobiographical, and the integrity of how men really deal with adversity is maintained throughout, making it something of a must see for women who'd like to better understand these things. For the record, my girlfriend cried through at least a full quarter of the running time.

The supporting cast is uniformly excellent. Seth Rogen essentially plays himself, a big-hearted lug who has difficulty expressing himself outside broage. Matt Frewer and Philip Baker Hall are completely real as fellow cancer patients with their own difficulties. Anjelica Huston is great as the overbearing mother who through her actions offers a peek at why the lead is as he is. Anna Kendrick and Bryce Dallas Howard are loveable even as their characters are the least developed and most transparently stock. As I said, this movie offers insight into the male psyche, but is as arch about the opposite sex as its y-deprived kindred. Well written, well directed, and a good soundtrack if you can forgive the use of "Yellow Ledbetter." See it with someone you love, probably bearing testicles.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

A Frank Review of "Phantasm" (1979)

The Short Version? Death is not the end, by a damned far sight.
What Is It? Horror.
Who Is In It? The guys who appear in Phantasm movies.
Should I See It? Yes.

There is a consistent hype machine to insure we never forget the likes of Jason, Freddy, or Michael Myers. Hell, even Chucky gets play. Who ever talks about the Tall Man, though? Like Hellraiser, there's a quiet little sequel to the weird Phantasm series every so many years that balances the cerebral, visceral and surreal in a way not meant for mass consumption. I'd be surprised if one didn't inspire the other, and part of Phantasm's particular charm is that it's a might too obtuse, rural and oddly naïve to capitalize on its iconography the way the later Pinhead did for Clive Barker.

Jody (Bill Thornbury) and Mike Pearson (A. Michael Baldwin) were already orphans trying to get by before a friend was murdered in the graveyard. Teenager Mike started noticing strange goings on in town, mostly revolving around a rather tall and creepy undertaker (Angus Scrimm.) Joined by their buddy Reggie Bannister, the brothers are drawn into the horrors of the mausoleum, including zombie Jawas and flying silver orbs. If that sounds peculiar, you don't know the half of it, which is why Phantasm remains a refreshing alternative franchise.

The acting is not spectacular, but it is sincere, giving the characters verisimilitude. The direction is solid, with some clever editing to revisit key moments without resorting to expository dialogue. While there are understandable reservations about Mike's initial cries of wolf, they aren't stretched out to the point of denial. Jody and Reggie accept that when things gets hairy, extreme actions might be necessary, and are taken. Point being, they're game, and that's always welcome in horror movies. There's a reason this is a cult classic, and you'll have to see it for yourself.

Monday, October 3, 2011

A Frank Review of "Retrospective: The Videos of Suzanne Vega" (2005)

The Short Version? One of my best loved singer-songwriters on DVD.
What Is It? Music Video Compilation
Who Is In It? Suzanne Vega
Should I See It? Sure hope you do!

  1. Marlene On the Wall: A solid, visually appealing video for 1985 by Leslie Liebman. As will prove uncommon later, this was the strongest possible single off Vega's eponymous debut. In the commentary track, Vega bitches about creative differences with her replacement director (after the first choice fell through) and her stylist. Yes, stylist.

  2. Left Of Center: This was a soundtrack cut, so I'm surprised there wasn't a version of this featuring scenes from Pretty in Pink. Instead they dolled Vega up like Molly Ringwald, and it actually works. In the commentary, Vega discusses contemporary fashions again, a pattern I hope breaks soon. I expected more poet, less vogue.

  3. Luka: One of Vega's biggest hits, and the one that made her name. Also, a sound video with good commentary.

  4. Solitude Standing: Not a favorite album to begin with, and a terrible choice for a single. "Gypsy" was the most obvious potential follow-up hit on the album. This video was directed by Jonathan Demme, and decent enough thought was put into what is essentially a band playing in a room with a few distractions. Vega questions some choices made by Demme that I think worked, and I'm starting to get a control freak vibe off of her.

  5. Book Of Dreams: Another song I'm not fond of, but I can easily see the logic of releasing it as a single. Those were the days of Wilson Phillips, after all. Very potent visuals from the same art designers used for album materials. Good commentary, too.

  6. Men In A War: I could never resolve the incongruity of lyrics and music with this song, plus the latter kind of has that generic poppy sound of the time. The dissonance continues into the video, which matches the music and completely discounts the subject. Amusingly, Vega explains that the aspect that kept getting swept under the rug was exactly why this was never actually released as a single.

  7. Tired Of Sleeping: This one was directed by Tarsem Singh, so of course it positively drips with pretension. According to Vega, Tarsem got his award-winning "Losing My Religion" gig on the strength of this video, and she dug it. For myself, I found that the word pictures Vega puts in your mind are so vibrant, and could have been so easily visualized, that I'm frustrated by Tarsem's flat art film bullshit. Instead of kids playing in pennies, there's just kids playing in slow-mo sepia tone. Instead of a quilted heart, here's an old man spilling milk on the floor. I will say that it looks fine with Vega's interesting commentary on instead.

  8. Tom's Diner: Vega has lots to say about this video, but skips the most interesting part-- that the English duo DNA had stolen her song, remixed it, and were selling it as a bootleg. Vega got ahold of a copy, and liked it so much that she tracked the guys down and secured it a legal release, resulting in a worldwide hit. I don't think anything more came out of DNA, but they're responsible for my smiling at the bank over hearing the only Vega song still in rotation on overhead speakers and stations across the nation. As for the Gareth Roberts video itself, given that it was quickly cobbled together using recycled Vega footage and somewhat random visuals, it's very energetic and surprisingly evocative of the lyrics.

  9. Blood Makes Noise: Vega's enthusiasm for this video is audible, and it's one of my favorites, as well. It's busy as fuck and oh so much a product of its time that you'd be forgiven for expecting C + C Music Factory to show up, but it sure enough grabs you by the eyeballs. Nico Beyer turns Vega into the intellectual's sexpot, and his propaganda poster come to life perfectly parallels the industrial tune.

  10. In Liverpool: This one was apparently very expensive, and it shows. Almost too literal an interpretation, but it's lovely and it serves one of my favorite songs, so I won't be complaining. Excellent work by director Howard Greenhalgh.

  11. 99.9F°: Nico Beyer again. Awesome again. This one oozes an aloof, taboo sensuality that keeps you watching its entire... length.

  12. When Heroes Go Down: This is something like the third video to feature one of Vega's significant others, but at least this time it was also the producer of her best two albums. Unfortunately, I never much liked the song, and the video is downright irritating. It's one of those "what were they thinking" affairs involving a colonoscope.

  13. Caramel: Lovely, lush song with a video to matchby Charles Wittenmeier. Vega has an atomic age allure to suit the 50s pastiche. She does kind of snub Janeane Garofalo while referencing a film tie-in, though.

  14. No Cheap Thrill: Another wonderful song with a perfect video that continues the retro aesthetic, although the flaring effect is oh so '90s. Props to director David Cameron. Madonna gets mentioned again, which I find an odd point of reference for a folkie.

  15. Book And A Cover: A really nice song hidden on a non-U.S. greatest hits compilation. Vega plays up the creepiness of a shot involving an airplane and the World Trade Center, but the whole thing is rather tame. All the upside-downness wear on the nerves.

  16. Last Year's Troubles: A cute song, but the terrible video was clearly shot for no budget. Nepotism may have played a part, but that aspect is largely critic-proofed thanks to a death in the family. Still, the whole thing looks run through a generic old-timey "film stock" filter that's probably bundled with the Nero suite. While they were in there, they could have just thrown together a slideshow of public domain Victorian photographs and ended up with a better result.

  • Caramel (Alternate Version): There are some great shots in here, but also a lot of placeholding material involving Vega signing to her cat in black and white.
  • Days of Open Hand: A promotional video for the album that runs a bit long at six minutes, but has some good interview material and live performance footage.
  • 99.9F°: Promo spot for the album release. A nice snippet of the video with a bit of TV commercial cheese thrown in.
  • Songs in Red and Gray Promo spot for the album, which is not only an appealing commercial, but offers a bit of representation here for the under-appreciated album.
  • Discography: Could be handy?
  • Rarities: This is neat. Cover art slideshow of singles and oddities.
  • Personal Playlist: A track selection menu to play the videos in any order you'd like. Random, no?
  • Menu: Noteworthy for being unusually well constructed, aside from the redundancy of the Special Features and Audio Options links that both go to the exact same sub-menu.

Monday, September 26, 2011

"Welcome To The Zone" by David Chelsea (1995)

The follow-up to David Chelsea In Love is goddamned near critic proof. It was one of the last books to come out of Kitchen Sink Press before it collapsed under its own weight, has gone ignored by publishers and critics for sixteen years, can be had for a shiny penny plus shipping on, and even its creator says "...I regard this one as a misfire on just about every level, right down to my choice of a square format..." This basically puts me in the position to either kick the shaggy dog with no legs, or point out that it has pretty eyes and a pleasant demeanor. I'll run contrary to my norm and choose the latter.

Don't get me wrong-- I didn't buy this book on purpose. It came in a heavily discount, sight unseen bundle I ordered in the late '90s, most of which has gone unread since I took it home. I uncovered it on my shelf months back, and finally read it in something like a dozen installments. That was a difficult thing to do, since there are no actual chapter breaks over its ninety-two pages, but I doubt anyone sober would be inclined to try to push through the thing in one sitting. The book is essentially a collection of interwoven semi-biographical slice of life pieces from the East Village bohemian scene of the late '80s. Of course, then the author substitutes giant slobbering hound dogs for window washing bums, an anthropomorphic duck for Donald Trump, flesh eating tentacle aliens for no reason in particular, and so forth. There are mutants and full frontals aplenty, robots, schemes, murder, celebrity cameos, and God help us all, no shortage of performance art. The book is willfully weird; coherent enough to be followed, but too surreal for it to be appreciated in its entirety. Regardless, the intricate tonal stippling makes it a visual feast worthy of the $9.95 cover price no one is likely to actually be asked to pay for decades to come. Give it a toss through if it crosses your path.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Garth Ennis Chronicles of Wormwood TPB (2007)

Like the comic book equivalent of a hipster, I was into Garth Ennis in his early days, but dropped him with disparaging remarks after a few years once he'd gone "mainstream." I made it through a couple of years worth of True Romance Preacher, which always felt like a Hellblazer spin-off before descending into some sort of sadistic situation comedy. Ennis struck me as a pandering legend in his own mind, not half as audacious as he was made out to be, and quite the indiscriminate work-for-hire whore besides. It's been a long time since I truly enjoyed anything associated with Ennis, but I have to say that I found this book an exception.

Chronicles of Wormwood seems to boil down everything Ennis tried to convey about his views on Christianity over five years in Preacher, without bungling the execution. Danny Wormwood is the Antichrist, which has its privileges and drawbacks. He's not really into it, and has even chosen Jesus Christ as his personal pal, which vexes father Lucifer and the Roman Catholic Church alike. Joined by Wormwood's sentient pet bunny, the trio decide on a road trip from heaven to hell, while others see an opportunity afoot. Given the monkey oversaturation of recent years, I must put forth that there is a sore lack of sarcastic bunnies that this series really drives home.

Artist Jacen Burrows has never seemed to even try to transition out of Avatar Press, and I don't think his style would work elsewhere, but he's perfect for the satirical bent of Avatar wares. His Satan is among the best I've seen, and he draws a fine jackrabbit. The book is rude, sometimes a bit too obvious, and I would be surprised if Ennis hadn't given Videodrome a spin at some point. Still, it's a fun story with likeable characters that's fucked-up when it needs to be while making its points well.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stormwatch: Force of Nature (1999)

The original Stormwatch series was begun in 1993 by schoolmates Jim Lee and Brandon Choi, joined by artist Scott Clark in his major debut. Those initial creators lasted maybe a year, and then the poor man's Alpha Flight got passed through a variety of hands for another two years. Stormwatch was one of nine books with a role in the 21 part "Fire From Heaven" crossover, Image Comics' closest attempt to recreate the widespread pointlessness of DC's Millennium. This seemed to be the title's breaking point, where they either had to get serious about producing something worth buying or else put the thing down. Alan Moore was leaving WildC.A.T.s around this time, taking a good deal of Wildstorm's cache with him. In the absence of another acclaimed British writer to take over that book, I suppose someone decided to at least give an up and coming limey carte blanche with that book's ugly sister.

After years of daring work on bottom rung Marvel titles, Ellis would finally began building his name in the industry with Stormwatch. Similarly, Tom Raney had several short stints on various Marvel and DC team books without any real impact, but would make a cult hit out of the title. For myself, I thought it was okay when it first came out, and I knew which customers it would appeal to, but it wasn't something I felt any compulsion to follow regularly. Reading the issues in full and in sequence, I find that the title's elevated reputation in some fan's eyes is, well, fuzzy rose-colored memories of the way it was.

The first issue under the new management saw a good deal of changes put into place and the introduction of new characters with some staying power like Jack Hawksmoor, Jenny Sparks, and Rose Tattoo. It was a decent set-up, with a throwaway villain battle besides. However, the next issue was a was a fairly bland, half-hearted police procedural with convenient deux ex machina tarted up in ultraviolence and anti-American banner waving. That last part doesn't bother me a bit, but isn't any more sophisticated than Red State nationalism.

A major problem I have with these stories is that they aren't stories, just premises. For instance, the third issue of the collection was played up using a timeframe jumping scheme that attempted to mask the information dumping needed to convey the premise. Without the device, one would be more likely to notice that beyond the exposition, the heroes simply battered one dimensional evil cops and jailed them, with no serious attempt at characterization or complication. The politics were hamfisted in the same way as a Judd Winick script, and most of the art that round was by a severely unripened Pete Woods.

The fourth issue town, involved a mutant producing dirty bomb and turning a small town into a variety of body horrors to make David Cronenberg proud. Most of the issue is just three characters wandering through the mess, with a mild twist toward the end. In several issues, Ellis displayed a nasty habit of dumping character flashbacks inappropriately into a narrative, instead of offering more organic character-centric narratives. This began to change in the fifth tale, whose first page announced Ellis' intention to write a Christine Trelane story. He surely did, but it seemed like he made that decision without actually coming up with a story. You pretty much immediately know the central antagonist is a creep, so the only mystery is where his deprivations would flow. A good artist could have sold that cinematically with mood, but the art by Michael Ryan was cartoonish amateur hour crap. It was also ill-considered, since Trelane has what was believed to be a unique and essential power to preserve the team, but she nearly gets herself killed on an unnecessary field mission without back-up.

The final tale was more of the same. Ellis must have decided that he was going to write a Fuji story, did lots of research about Japan, and then wrote a story about how his characters could spouted all that research that he had done almost verbatim like they were walking Wikipedia entries. Re-watched "Akira" as well, I'll assume. At least the book was attractive to look at again, with the return of Raney.

"Force of Nature" was the first collection of the Ellis material, and the book was still finding its legs. It's passable enough, but don't expect any material to help you win a fight amongst friends over best writers from the U.K.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

nurghophonic jukebox: "Como Si No Nos Hubieramos Amado" by Laura Pausini

Written By: Music-Daniel • Lyrics-Pausini, Cheope • Spanish adaptation- León Tristán
Released: 2004
Album: Escucha
Single?: #10 on Billboard's Hot Latin Songs/Tracks

Laura Pausini is a singer/songwriter whose global record sales are in the range of 50 million, but remains a virtual unknown in the English speaking world. Not so in Latin countries, as she simultaneously releases her albums in Italian and Spanish.

Yo ayer he entendido que
desde hoy sin ti comienzo otra vez
y tú...aire ausente
casi como si yo fuese transparente
alejándome de todo
escapar de mi tormento.

Pero me quedo aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder despegarme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

Yo sobreviviré
no me preguntes cómo no lo sé
el tiempo cura todo y va a ayudarme
a sentirme diferente...
a que pueda olvidarte
aunque es un poco pronto

Me quedo inmóvil aquí
sin decir nada...sin poder aburrirme de ti
y eliminar cada momento que nos trajo el viento y
poder vivir...
como si no nos hubiéramos amado

...como si nunca te hubiera amado
como si no hubiese estado así...
...y quisiera huir de aquí, quisiera escaparme.

Pero me quedo otra vez, sin decir nada, sin gritarte:
-¨ven, no te vayas¨
no me abandones sola en la nada, amor...

...después, después, después viviré
como si no nos hubiéramos amado.

...como si nunca te hubiera amado

English Translation:

I have understood yesterday that
since today without you I start again
and you... absent air
almost as if I was transparent
getting far from everything
to scape from my torment.

But I stay here
without saying anything...without being able to get away from you
and eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us and
be able to live...
as if we have never loved each other.

I will survive
don't ask me how, I don't know
time cures everything and it will help me feel
to be able to forget you
even though it's a little too soon

I stay still (not moving) here
without saying anything... without been able to get bored of you
and to eliminate each moment that the wind brought to us
and to be able to live....
as if we have never loved each other if I have never loved you
as if I have never been this way
...and I would want to get away from here, I would want to scape

but I stay again, without saying anything, without screaming at you:
-"come, don't leave"
don't abandon me in the nothing, alone, darling

....and then, then, then I would live
as if we have never loved each other.

as if I have never loved you

Friday, September 9, 2011

Comic Reader Résumé: February, 1982

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

February, 1982 was my second month of collecting new comics off the newsstand. I claimed to have bought an entirely new selection for this round, but I have vague recollections of having owned The Brave and the Bold #186, in which Batman teamed-up with Hawkman against the Fadeaway Man. I liked all but one of these characters, so it's possible I bought it new, but the memory is so vague that I can't be sure. I doubt the story by Dan Mishkin and Gary Cohn left much of an impression, although the lame villain couldn't have helped. The only thing that really sticks with me are flashes of Jim Aparo panels, which likely would have been enough to bring me back for more.

While I vividly remember a great many of these books from DC in-house ads and as purchases years later, my actual, factual, confirmed purchases of this month were fairly slight. I still have my copy of The New Teen Titans #19, which was likely never swiped from me by neighborhood kids because it only just barely rates as a comic book anymore. The pages are so brown they qualify as a separate ethnic group in the U.S. census, and scraps of torn pages lie sideways with the intact portions bound by polybag. This may have been my introduction to a team that has stuck with me much of my reading life, and almost certainly my introduction to Marv Wolfman and George Perez (outside spot cover illustrations from the latter.) It's a fantastic looking book, especially Perez's Hawkman, in part due to the artist clearly providing much tighter pencils to resist the wet blanket that is Romeo Tanghal finishes. The story, involving Hindu gods, weirded me out as a kid, especially their rather graphic destruction in the end.

My other new comic of the month, out the same week, was The Saga of Swamp Thing #1 by Martin Pasko and Tom Yeates. I can't honestly state what possessed me to do so. It had a swell cover, and Tom Yeates was a really appealing artist, but the story by Martin Pasko and the heavy atmosphere was way over my head. This would not be the last time Swamp Thing would do this to me, because my only sweet spot with the character was reprints of the early '70s Wein/Wrightson stories. I tried Alan Moore too early at first, then too late as an adult, when his innovations had become tropes. There was also a Phantom Stranger back-up by Bruce Jones and Dan Spiegle. I'd already been introduced to the Stranger through a Jim Aparo Brave and the Bold, but this creepy yarn was a whole other matter. While the story of a black minister fleecing his own people stuck with me, I never really warmed to Spiegel's art elsewhere.

One more maybe before I sign off on this month, Super Goof #69. I know I owned at least one issue of this series, and though I thought it had him battling the Beagle Boys, the character featured here strikes me as reasonable facsimile to facilitate confusion. Funny animals were rarely my bag.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Project Superpowers Chapter One (2008)

I was introduced to the Golden Age of Super-Heroes by a magazine article I read as a boy about how much more weird, daring and dark obscure characters like Daredevil, the Flame and their ilk were than the corporate branded types I was familiar with in the tail end of the Bronze Age. I wondered what became of that lot until I began frequenting comics shops in the early '90s, and turned up some of Bill Black's reprints at AC. Then Malibu tried to ride the coattails of their early publishing deal with Image by offering their own line of super-heroes based around a revival of old Centaur characters as The Protectors, which I followed for a time. I was put out by the great Jerry Bingham redesigns floating around in trade publications being interpreted by a rather green Thomas Derenick and lesser lights. Later still, I came to learn all of those characters and many more had lapsed into the public domain, available for use by anybody, although virtually nobody bothered. I thought that was both a shame and an opportunity, because they represented a ready made universe of characters with its own legitimate history that I would love to exploit my own self someday.

Unfortunately, both Nick Barrucci of Dynamic Forces and Erik Larson of Image decided at about the same time to steal my entirely unique idea for themselves! Sarcasm aside, I was very happy with the results. Larson oversaw The Next Issue Project, which added an issue to the numbering of several 1940s anthology titles by modern creators. The results were rather uneven, not only creatively, but in terms of an unreliable publication schedule that saw an issue released only once every few years (after long shipping delays on each.) As for Barrucci, well, we were all bowled over by the prospect of a painted Alex Ross project, especially after seeing his glorious first promotional piece. Then we learned he would once again be joined by co-plotter/scripter Jim Krueger, responsible for the interminable Earth X and painfully stupid Justice. At least JSA artist Stephen Sadowski would be on board, except only for part of a zero issue. Project Superpowers made sure to acquaint the reading public with Barrucci's now standard bait & switch method of operation. With the shamelessness that led to variant covers that simply processed the art on variant covers through basic image inversion filters, the final creative team was Krueger with unpolished unknown artist Carlos Paul. My plot to capitalize on those public domain characters remains safe, although not necessarily sound, with crap like this polluting the brand.

The main creative purpose of the project seems to be to serve as a ham-fisted criticism of the Bush Administration in its last year. The main commercial consideration would be to secure trademarks on a "minimal assembly required" super-hero line. It fails creatively because by 2008 everybody was already sick of Bush, and the conversation soon changed from the ethics of a war on terror to the economy. It fails commercially because beyond its immediately dated politics, the characters have no point of view or individual identities.

From its most basic premise, the use of Pandora's Box as a place where all super-heroes were stored from their Golden Age heyday until the present, the whole line is shot to hell. One modestly powered and clearly deluded super-hero managed to best every other one over the span of a few years. See, Marvel's heroes mostly retired after World War II, with Captain America and the Sub-Mariner mothballed individually by their major enemies in separate instances until their Silver Age revivals. The DC heroes were forced into inactivity by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, a real world bunch of bad guys, before being replaced by a whole new generation of more powerful super-heroes. The Dynamite characters however were all too stupid and weak to figure out one known kook amongst their number was taking them out one by one. Further, they sat around in limbo for sixty years before that same kook managed to release them with minimal difficulty. By comparison, the Justice Society of America were trapped in a repeating Ragnarok cycle from the late eighties to early nineties before teaming up with other heroes to secure their release. The Watchmen, a bunch of Charlton retreads, figured out the killer in their midst within days of a single murder, plus tell several complete stories in twelve issues. Right off the bat, all the Dynamite heroes are ineffectual pussies.

The second major problem, related to the first, is that the entire Superpowers line-up is Captain America. Every single one of them is a patriot who fought in the great war before disappearing for decades to reappear in a time unlike their own. They all have pre-war educations, unimpressive power sets, and silly costumes. Most importantly, they were the models from which scores of other heroes who have since evolved over time were derived. That makes them walking cliches, and all of a singular type. One method to overcome that sameness would be to embrace their retroactive natures to contrast their views on race, gender, nationalism, and so forth. Unfortunately, for the purposes of the story, they're all relatively mild-mannered Roosevelt democrats at odds with an oppressive government whose main crime seems to be some suppression of the media and war profiteering. As Big Brothers go, I'd take them over V For Vendetta's U.K. in a heartbeat.

The third major problem is an extension of the second, a lack of interesting characters in compelling circumstances. The fact is, hardly anyone has read about these characters in detail who isn't collecting social security, and because the creators felt the need to introduce dozens of them at once, there really isn't time to get to know anyone. Previous Ross/Krueger projects relied on familiar characters readers had an established relationship with, so that there was still emotional resonance amidst the painting of epics with broad strokes. The tribulations of Pyroman just don't touch me on an emotional level without some serious legwork. The only characters given real face time are still cyphers in service to a bland, unimaginative plot. Further, their enemies are reminiscent of the much panned "Burly Brawl" from the second Matrix movie. When the Superpowers aren't battling a host of identically dressed androids, they're fighting a literal army of Frankenstein Monsters. I can't get involved when I have no investment in either party after a couple of hundred pages of story that fails to reach any real resolution.

Many of my complaints have revolved around the project being too large and ambitious, but I have to stress the issue of incompetence among the responsible parties. I have yet to read a Jim Krueger script that involved me in his characters, or was not filled with gaping plotholes or circumstances in place of a story. The only arc in this first volume is the Fighting Yank finally realizing he was wrong in his actions, and trying to make amends. That arc is completed in the first preview story, but is constantly referenced and dragged out for the entire mini-series without much additional development. None of the other characters even have the start of an arc. They were in the '40s, now they're in the '00s, many of them have slightly altered abilities, and they're on the run from Big Government. That's all we get. The characters seem to be in the early stages of Alzheimer's, suffering from confusion, regressive behavior, and occasional temper tantrums, but still easily directed and kind enough to forget any initiated B- or C-plots until the next volume/spin-off mini-series.

The art by Carlos Paul is serviceable. The storytelling is okay and the layouts are usually clear, but it's all uninspired. I think it's reasonably tight pencils shot and digitally enhanced, but they still look vague and unfinished. Colors by Insight Studio and Debora Carita helps to firm things up, and are somehow evocative of Mark Texeira's painted art, despite the pencils being in no way similar. The art gets progressively looser and rushed, so the colorists have to be credited for the consistency of the volume, such as it is.

The story ends at an awkward point to act as a springboard for a slew of spin-off series, followed by forty-odd pages of preparatory design work. I'm sure Alex Ross had a lot of fun jazzing up these old characters visually, but after Kingdom Come and Earth X, even this area seems mired in tropes. The chest emblem as a light source, the hoods/cloaks, turning costume elements metallic, "borrowing" wholesale from other media-- it gets tiresome. Applying one artist's design aesthetic across an entire universe only emphasizes how insular, unimaginative and unnecessary it happens to be.

Project Superpowers is an exercise and an initiative, not a fully realized narrative. It takes dozens of super-heroes from separate companies and treats them all like team members of a low grade '70s Marvel super-team soaked in manufactured melodrama and "relevance."


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