Friday, April 25, 2008

Lost Blows Up

I know, I know. I promised myself that April was going to be a big month for this blog. I was going to post new stuff almost every day. But it hasn't worked out very well this week.

I'm almost through the DVD's of Lost Season 3, but I'll wait till I'm done with them to write more about that. Last night, Lost returned to hiatus with a ferocious episode that seems to be setting up a mad rush to the season finale. Characters die! Characters we thought were dead improbably survive! Expectations are thwarted! Expectations are met!

And watching last night's episode, it occurred to me how much of Lost is an exercise is cute structural tricks. The opening flash-forward sets up a mystery that we know we'll probably see answered by the season finale. The first scenes at the beach set up another mystery that will probably be answered soon. ABC's promos have told us that at least one character will die in this episode, so when Sawyer gets caught out in the open with snipers shooting at him, we think, "Oh no, not Sawyer!"

But he dodges a hail of bullets trying to save Claire, only to have her house blow up before he can get to it, and we think, "Oh no, not Claire!" but we're also thinking, "So this is why she didn't escape with Aaron," so mystery solved. But turns out she's okay, and the real death, when it comes, is a shock.

Meanwhile, the flash-forwards answer a mystery from a previous episode: why did Sayid agree to work with Ben?

Meanwhile, previous episodes have told us about the Oceanic Six, the six crash survivors who made it back to civilization--Jack, Kate, Aaron, Hurley, Sayid, and Sun. But those six are still separated. So when we get a scene late in the episode which sets up their reunion, we think, "Okay, finally, they're all getting together." But it's not to be. By the end of the ep, they're still separated, and one's heading in the wrong direction.

But the thing that makes Lost work for me (and it doesn't work for lots of people I know) is the way the writers are able to work really good character moments in among the tricks. The scene which teases at getting the Oceanic Six together segues into a really nice confrontation between Locke, Sawyer and Hurley that works because of the layers of character development that have occurred over the past three-and-a-half seasons.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Out of the Vault - The One

This week's Out of the Vault was a hard one to write for some reason. I made the scans, knew the kinds of things I wanted to say, and yet, it just never seemed to want to come together the right way.

It's hard to remember the way things were in the mid-80's. If you believed the media, there was widespread paranoia about nuclear holocaust. Ronnie Ray-Gun was in the White House, and he was craaaaazy, man. He had this silly idea about putting satellite-mounted weapons in orbit to shoot down the Russkie's nukes, and this, along with his general belligerence toward the Evil Empire, was going to push us into global thermonuclear war. We were doomed.

You saw this in movies like 1983's "War Games" with Matthew Broderick and the TV movie, "The Day After," also from 1983. Songs like Nena's "99 Luftballons" also conjured up the specter of nuclear holocaust. Even comics got in on the act.

Everybody remembers Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen, both of which play off of nuclear paranoia are generally regarded as ushering in the grim-n'gritty comics of the 90's. But before either of those comics came Rick Veitch's The One.

Veitch, along with Steve Bissette, was one of the first graduates of the Kubert school. Veitch and Bissette collaborated on several stories for Marvel's Epic Illustrated before Bissette moved on to draw Swamp Thing for DC. Veitch would take over the character when Bissette moved on, but first he made this six-issue adult-oriented take on nukes and superheroes for Marvel's Epic Comics imprint.

In issue 1, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. launch nuclear strikes at each other. Before the missiles can strike, however, they are stopped by a mysterious flying figure known as The One. A large proportion of the world's population is unaware of this, however, since they were catatonic at the time. In the aftermath of the failed nuclear strike, both the Americans and the Russians release super-powered soldiers as the next generation of the arms race. The superhumans come into conflict, ultimately destroying the world. However, before the world can end, the good souls of the world complete the next phase of our evolution. Turns out The One was an oversoul created by the merging of humanity's collective soul. While the evil humans struggle to survive on the blasted, barren earth (merging into giant snakelike piles of wretched creatures struggling to reach the top of the pile as in the illustration at right), The One flies off to explore the universe.

It's an odd duck, this story. Unlike the classic stories soon to come from Miller and Moore, The One is quite clearly a product of its time, straddling a delicate line between drama and satire. This was during that strange period on the mid-80's when you could literally play rape for laughs. In addition, Veitch was one of those guys who seemed to think you should relate to unpleasant nihilistic characters as if they were just like you.

This was also early in Marvel's Epic line-up, when they were still trying to establish proper boundaries. This is a story about the death of hte entire world, after all, featuring widespread destruction, graphic dismemberment, drug use, rape, incest. Yet the only nudity I can remember is one partially revealed nipple, and the entire book uses the rather silly euphemism "shuck," as in, "I'll kill you, mothershucker!" It's hard to take it seriously as adult drama when you read dialogue like that.

And yet, in a lot of ways, The One was ahead of its time. It anticipated the deconstruction of the superhero that would continue apace into the 90's. What's more, Veitch pushed his super action over the top in ways that would look very familiar to later fans of Japanese manga and anime, say, Dragonball Z. For instance, look at the scenes below, first of Cell in Dragonball powering up his chi and causing devastation without lifting a finger. Then look at the sequence from The One, in which the Soviet super destroys a building merely by flexing his muscles really hard.

Another even more startling example: This scene, in which millions of souls merge into The One before leaving Earth...

reminded me rather forcefully of this scene from "End of Evangelion" when all the souls on Earth merge into Rei Ayanami (starting about 5 minutes in).

Veitch later took over not only the pencilling duties on Swamp Thing, but the writing as well, and later returned to satirical over-the-top super action with Maximortal and Brat Pack.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Lost Season 3

So I'm finally working my way through the Lost Season 3 DVD's, and I've got to say, so far, the season hangs together much better without the long gaps in between episodes (if you don't know or have blocked out the memory, they tried an experiment with Lost last season--responding to complaints about reruns, they aired the first 5 or 6 episodes at the start of the fall season, then put the show on a mini-hiatus, returning in February or so to air the rest of the episodes).

It's still a pain to have them separated into multiple groups, which means we don't even find out whether Locke's alive or dead, for instance, until episode 3. But being able to watch the episodes back-to-back really keeps that annoyance to a minimum and makes it easier to notice the good things going on. There was a lot of stuff going on under the surface in those early episodes when the Lostaways were being manipulated by the Others. Elizabeth Mitchell as Juliet turns in an incredible performance every episode. There always seem to be about three layers of thought and deception and self-control going into every twitch of her face.

She scares me.

I love this show.

After I get through Lost, I'm going to start going through 30 Rock on Hulu.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Movie Quote Madness

So I'm visiting the Livejournal of my writing group friend Sargon the Terrible and he has a challenge going where he lists a bunch of movie quotes and you have to name the movie. And one of the quotes he has is this:

“She is curvaceous. Not as pleasingly fat as I prefer them, but at night a cottonseed is the same as a bell.”

And the quote sounds really similar to a line from "The Golden Voyage of Sinbad," except I've always heard the line as " night, a stone is as good as a pearl," which has the advantage of making, you know, sense, since in the dark, a smooth stone and a pearl feel just the same. So I tell him he has the line wrong, and he adamantly insists it's cottonseed/bell, which, what the hell does that even mean?

But I don't have the movie on video, so I can't prove it. But I do have the novelization written from the screenplay, so I bust it out and look up the line, and in the book, the guy says, "...but at night..." and then leaves it hanging.

So apparently the actor, Gregoire Aslan, ad-libbed it and he has taken the secret to hte grave with him.

Oh well...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

The Huge Hunter

Just finished reading a short novel from the 19th Century: The Huge Hunter, or The Steam Man of the Prairies, by Edward S. Ellis. I first heard of the book from Jess Nevins at a convention panel a couple of years ago. Nevins is the author of te Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana, an exhaustively researched book full of fascinating stuff. According to Wikipedia, The Huge Hunter was the first U.S. science-fiction dime novel, and the first known example of an Edisonade, a story based around a brilliant young inventor and his inventions. The illustration at right is from another Edisonade, a Frank Reade Jr. adventure featuring an electric man, inspired by The Huge Hunter.

In The Huge Hunter, the genius inventor is Johnny Brainerd, a hunchbacked dwarf who builds a steam-powered walking robot that he drives like a train. He hooks up with some prospectors in the American West, and they use the steam man to pull a wagon and scare off Indians while they try to get rich from a lucky gold strike. The writing is stiff, and the plotting is less-than-ideal. For instance, at one point, a man appears who is the nemesis of one of the prospectors. He shows up for about two pages, and then he's gone, never to be heard from again, which is too bad, because his presence could have brought some real dramatic tension to the book. As it is, there's no real drama in the entire story.

Which is not to say it's plodding or boring. It's fast-paced, and there is a lot of action. But as far as action that requires commitment and sacrifice and involves true jeopardy and moral choices, there's none of that. The boy builds a machine, the prospectors fight through a series of adventures, and they live happily ever after. A fun, fast read, but not an absorbing one, or one could say, a dime novel, not a real one. But I'd like to read more like it.

In fact, this book directly inspired the Frank Reade series, in which Reade first builds his own steam man, and later builds an electric man.

If you're interested in more information, start here and here. You might also be interested in reading about the real-life inspiration for the steam man, here.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Out of the Vault - Tales From the Tomb

When I delved into the vault last week, I pulled out three boxes of comics and one box of magazines. And in the magazine box was a rather unusual treasure from 1970-Tales From the Tomb.

Most comics fans are familiar with Seduction of the Innocent, the book by psychiatrist Dr. Frederic Wertham that accused comics of causing juvenile delinquency, and the Congressional hearings that followed. The hearings basically had two outcomes. First, like the movie studios before them, the comics publishers agreed to set up a private governing body to guarantee the decency of comics content (the Comics Code Authority, whose seal ran on the cover of every book from Marvel, DC, and other newsstand comics publishers).

And second, EC Comics pretty much went out of business. What was regarded by some fans as the best comics publisher of the 50's shut down their entire line of titles with the exception of Mad, which they then reformatted into a magazine so that they could skirt the CCA.

Mad's move to the newsstand paved the way for others to do likewise, like Warren Publications, who published Creepy, Eerie and Vampirella, and Marvel Comics, who experimented with more adult content in B&W magazines in the 70's and 80's.

And then there was Eerie Publications.

I didn't actually buy this one. My stepbrother didn't buy many comics, but he did buy a lot of magazine-sized ones, mostly Petersen stuff like Hot Rod CARtoons and the occasional horror mag like this one.

The cover above sums up Eerie's approach. Look at how pretty much all the text on the cover drips. Let's take a closer look at the illustration (you can click on the picture for a larger view). Note the lurid colors (I've brightened all the scans a bit to account for the overall dinginess of the magazine). Notice how the drooling monster is an odd amalgam of Dracula and the classic Universal Frankenstein Monster (flat head and stitches running up his forehead where his brain should be). Note how he's ripping the clothes off this lovely blonde for no discernible reason. And this is just plain weird: not only is she bleeding from the fang wounds in her neck, but she is also bleeding from the spiders' feet. Those are some freakin' scary spiders!

When I opened up the magazine to look inside, I got a huge surprise. The editor was a guy named Carl Burgos. For those who don't know, Carl Burgos was the guy who created the Human Torch for Timely Comics back in the 30's. Marvel Comics #1, which was once (and may still be) the most valuable single issue on the face of the planet, featured the Torch on the cover. The man was a legend. I was disappointed, though, that there weren't any other art or writing credits in the magazine. I'm sure I would have recognized some of the names.

When you get into the stories, however, you're in for a mixed bag. Though there is lots of lurid stuff, there's nothing to match the cover. And in some cases, like this opening splash panel for "Food For Ghouls," this little bit of titillation with the buxom girl in stockings is as spicy as it gets. The story itself is a pretty standard EC rip-off about a chef who abuses his family while lavishing money and gifts on his mistress and suffers a pretty gruesome final revenge from his wife. The first panel teases you into 5 pages of build-up for a gory three-panel payoff. But at least it had a payoff, which is more than can be said of some other stories in the magazine. Several of them are tame enough to fit comfortably inside a Code book like DC's House of Mystery.

But there are stranger things in the magazine, like this story of Kolah the Jungle Girl. The muddy grays are typical, but what is a jungle girl story doing in a horror magazine, apart from the grotesquerie of the teeth showing through the torn cheeks of both women? It sort of looks as if the wounds may have been added after the fact just to give this bit of jungle cheesecake some horror cred. And why is the lettering in just this story in that cheap typeset font?

Turns out, one way Eerie maximized profits was by repackaging old stories from pre-Code comics. The muddy grays are a result of translating color comics to black-and-white. The variations in lettering and the odd juxtapositions of subject matter give away their origins in different publications.

Of course, no story about Eerie Publications is complete without their trademark: the popped eyeball. I remembered this from some of the other Eerie mags my stepbrother had bought, but I had to look long and hard through this particular issue to find one. In fact, on my first runthrough, I couldn't find any. I knew they had to be pretty common though, not just because of my memories, but because of the remembrances on this page, where Dick Ayers, former Marvel artist who also drew stories for Eerie Pubs, said,

When Carl and Myron asked me to do the "eye-poppers" I said no-way and Myron told me to go see the movie just out -- "The Wild Bunch." I did and went along with Myron and Carl. When I draw at my table I give whatever my best so's I can enjoy what I do... and it looks like I had fun popping those eyes.

So I looked again, and sure enough, I found one. Actually, I may have found two: the bottom corpse on the left clearly has an eye popped out of its socket, but in the panel on the right, it also looks as if the girl has clawed an eyeball out of her attacker's face. Two panels later, though, the character's face appears with two healthy eyes, so I'm not sure what this panel is actually supposed to depict. It may be another case where the art was edited to add a little extra gore.

If you're interested in learning more, visit the link above from which I drew the Dick Ayers quote. Lots of examples of the Eerie style there. And for more information on the publisher, Myron Fass, see this profile of the "Demon God of Pulp." I think I have several of the magazines depicted on that page, including the Space Wars Heroes, maybe the Space Trek, and a couple of the UFO ones.

Friday, April 11, 2008

My Lunch With Wooley

Had lunch with my friend John Wooley the other day. We talked about several subjects, but mainly the "1000 True Fans" concept (explanation here, rebuttal here). The concept in a nutshell is that in the online world, one does not need to be a superstar to make a living. One just needs 1000 true fans, people who like your work so much that they'll buy pretty much whatever you put out.

And while Scalzi's points are valid, I think that the concept is still pretty good. Because while Scalzi's point about true fans versus casual fans is certainly true, the inverse is also true: true fans introduce others to your work, and out of those, some might become at least casual fans and buy your stuff, too. In other words, you can't limit the worth of a true fan to what he spends out of his own pocket. Which is why things like Warners setting lawyers on the people making Buffy fansites was such a monumentally stupid decision.

I doubt Jonathan Coulton has people spending $100 a year on him, yet he has still managed to generate an online following of true fans, and that has translated into a living. Between his own online sales of his music, people booking him for shows, TV series licensing his songs, and commissions for original work (like the song he was commissioned to write for Portal), he's making a living doing what he loves, and that's what we all want, I think.

So I'm thinking about ways to do the same thing. I'll let you know if I figure anything out.

Oh yeah, we also discussed tomorrow's Out of the Vault. I thought I might intrigue Wooley with something he didn't know, but turns out he knew more about it than I did. Figures.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Idol Gives a Little Back

So last night was the big Idol Gives Back special, and I don't really have much to say about Idol in general, because I figure everyone else is babbling on about it plenty, but last night's performance of "Barracuda" by Ann and Nancy Wilson, with Fergie (?WTF?), was awesome. The Heart girls can still rock just as hard as they did thirty years ago, and Fergie amazed me that she could mostly keep up. I've never thought of Fergie as an actual singer, but she kicked ass on that number last night. And she wore dark pants so you couldn't tell whether she was peeing her pants from the coolness of singing with Heart.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

CBS Throws Their Hat in the Ring

After watching a bit more Hulu, I've now found out that has the ENTIRE RUN (all three seasons) of the original Star Trek. The video looks decent at full-screen; it doesn't seem to pixelate the way Hulu's does, but it does strobe (not sure if this is an artifact of the video compression or the streaming).

And these are not the "enhanced" versions of the episodes that are currently running in syndication. These are the original versions with the original effects, which shouldn't make much difference in most episodes for most people and may actually be preferred by some hard-core fans.

They also have the first two seasons of the original Twilight Zone, and the first seasons of Hawaii Five-O, MacGuyver and Melrose Place (although I couldn't get anything other than Star Trek to actually play).

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Out of the Vault - Nova

I had figured to make Out of the Vault a weekly thing, but since I've just started and I'm anxious to get going, I figured I'd throw in a bonus this week.

Sometimes, a hero comes along in which everything just clicks. Everything seems new and exciting, and the creators manage to put a new spin on just about everything in the book, so that by the time you finish one issue, you're dying to read the next.

Most other times, there's something like The Man Called Nova.

Nova debuted in 1976, and you can't fault the talent involved for trying. Marv Wolfman was the writer, and the first issue featured the art team of John Buscema and Joe Sinnott. Buscema was the number one talent at Marvel. His style was what Marvel considered their "house" style after Kirby left to do the Fourth World books at DC. And Buscema's work never looked better than with Sinnott's inks. So issue one looked beautiful.

The alarm bells were already ringing after that first issue, though.

Here's the basic set-up: Richard Ryder is a normal, put-upon high school kid who is basically selected at random by a dying alien warrior to receive his power. The alien, who holds the rank of Nove Prime Centurion, has come to Earth chasing this other alien who killed his planet. The Centurion can not survive long enough to take his revenge, so he gives the power to Rider instead. Once the initial menace is dispatched, Rider has to learn how to use his powers for the good of mankind. The concept, as described by Wolfman in the first issue, was to make a throwback to the first books Marvel had produced, books that were just plain fun. It succeeded only halfway.

The basic problem with Nova was that there was nothing at all special about him. His powers weren't special; he could fly, and he was really tough and strong. Pretty vanilla. What's more, everything else about him seemed rehashed and recycled. A kid with an alliterative name dealing with bullies in high school--he was a less distinctive Peter Parker. A dying alien comes to Earth, the last of his race, and passes his power on to a human--he was Green Lantern without the cool-ass ring. And besides, not only was the "last of his race" alien thing done by Superman way back when, but it had just been used by Marvel the previous year for (you read it yesterday) Omega the Unknown.

Not only that, but the story in the first issue depended on coincidence combined with stuff that just didn't make sense. Rider is apparently selected completely at random to receive the Nova power, which isn't at all satisfying. Even worse, in that initial battle, Nova fights an alien named Zorr. The battle, as illustrated by John Buscema on the left, is basic exciting Marvel action, but it ends when Zorr mysteriously disintegrates, apparently killed as the orbiting alien's dying act. But keep in mind that not only had Zorr supposedly destroyed an entire planet full of Nova's people (who presumably had comparable powers), but the alien centurion passed on his powers to Rider explicitly because he lacked the strength to defeat Zorr himself. The whole thing had the stink of a deus coming out of a machina, if you know what I mean.

So Zorr, who was being set up as some kind of cosmic threat, a poor man's Galactus if you will, ended up being a stooge who only existed as an excuse to get Rider into the costume. Once he disintegrated, he was completely forgotten.

I kept reading after that first issue, though. Like Omega, there was just enough promise in that first issue to keep me coming back, hoping to see it fulfilled. I was mostly pretty disappointed, though.

The first disappointment: Big John Buscema was replaced with his brother Sal in the second issue. This was a standard Marvel bait-and-switch: put a hot artist on the first issue or two to get kids reading, then switch for a less popular artist once kids have gotten to know the character.

Sal Buscema wasn't a bad artist. When he was really clicking, he did some memorable things. The problem with Sal was, he was fast. And Marvel, especially in the mid-70's when they were putting out a ton of books, really needed artists who were fast. There was a time when it seemed like Sal was drawing half the Marvel line.

But the way he achieved that speed was to settle into a rhythm of stock poses and stock faces. For instance, here: two panels from issue 10 showing the standard S. Buscema "guy flying toward reader after getting hit" pose. The villain doing the hitting here is The Sphinx, Nova's Doctor Doom. One thing Nova did do was establish a Rogue's Gallery for Nova right off the bat, and though they were derivative (The Condor was a Vulture knock-off, and Diamondhead pictured here ripped off Hammerhead), at least they were exclusive.

After the first 15 issues, Sal Buscema was replaced by Carmine Infantino, best known for his work on Batman and Flash at DC. By this point in his career, Infantino's art had degenerated into its own collection of tics and tricks and weird angular poses. When I was a kid, one of the first comics I ever read was an Infantino Batman featuring a character called Blockbuster, who was sort of a non-green Hulk with hippie sandals. The panel in Nova where the Hulk punches Nova looks just like a panel in my memory of Blockbuster hitting Batman: the same backward lean, the same flapping pant leg, the same daintily turned leading foot.

The Man Called Nova ended after 25 issues due to low sales, a combination of derivative writing and villains, mediocre art, and a shift in audience expectations. Midway through Nova's first run, "Star Wars" had hit the theaters and changed everyone's perceptions of what space adventure could be. And though Nova tried to respond by sending him into space to take part in a war involving the survivors of the original Nova's world, it was too little, too late.

He's been revived a few times since, but I never read those stories, so I can't comment. For me, it doesn't matter how many times they try to put lipstick on that particular pig, it's still going to be basically complicating something that never quite worked in the first place.

Which sucks, cause his flying looked really cool.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Out of the Vault - Omega

For the first edition of Out of the Vault, I figured I'd talk about an odd Marvel title from the 70's: Omega the Unknown. Omega ran for 10 issues, starting in early 1975 (Wikipedia is wrong about this) and running until mid-1977. It was written by Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes and drawn by Jim Mooney (Gerber died in February of this year, and Mooney died this week, on March 30).

Omega was about the relationship between a 12-year-old boy named James-Michael Starling and a mysterious alien with no name (the Daily Bugle dubbed him Omega due to the symbol on his headband, apparently). It only ran for 10 issues, but it made an impact on several readers of my generation, apparently. For instance, Jonathan Lethem, author of Fortress of Solitude, mentions Omega in several essays, and even included him on a list of the "Top Five Depressed Superheroes."

The series started with a bang, as Omega battled killer robots on his home planet. The robots enslaved the population, but Omega managed to break free, steal a spaceship, and escape the planet. It was a slam-bang opening, and I, for one, kept reading through 10 issues of second-rate supervillains and all manner of depressing crap, waiting for the series to fulfill the promise of this first page.

I mean, look at this (click on the picture for a larger version). This is the very first page of the first issue and shows Mooney at his best. The form is solid, the blacks defining the shape in space to perfection, and though the anatomy is good, the pose is exaggerated beyond all belief. I mean, look at his back foot. It's practically over his head. Dynamic action, solid basic drawing, polished inks: that's what Mooney brought to this book when he was at his best.

Unfortunately, Mooney's style fell a little short of everything the book required. His characters, with their delicate features and often stilted poses, looked more at home in a romance comic than in a gritty story about the mean streets of Hell's Kitchen in New York City. Not that Mooney didn't produce some excellent moments; his action scenes were pretty good, and he used a lot of blacks and shadows to create a foreboding mood. But there was just something sunny about his work, some holdover from the days when he was illustrating the adventures of Supergirl for DC, that he just couldn't get rid of and made scenes like this confrontation between James-Michael and a streetwalker ring false.

I'm not sure what it is, whether the delicate eyes or the Samantha Stevens hair, or just the clean inks that make the backgrounds look so sterile, even when he draws a street full of trash, but Mooney just never managed to make the pictures really fit with the mood of the script in these scenes.

But of course, that was part of the problem with the series as a whole. It was half a gritty tale of life on the street, and half a superhero story, and the two halves never really merged into a coherent whole. Omega as a hero never went out and battled crime as a conventional crimefighter; he literally seemed to stumble from one fist into another throughout the entire series. He never had a signature villain, never had a grand adventure. If Mooney never managed to juggle all the elements in the book just right, neither did Gerber.

And Marvel had no idea what to do with the book after a while. How do you put a compelling cover on an issue about a mentally disturbed handyman who beats an old lady to death with his wrench? Romita tried, God bless him, but this cover just completely misrepresents the story inside. I mean, "The Power of the Wrench?" Please.

In the final issue, cover dated October 1977, the book finally starts picking up momentum and looking like it's going somewhere. Omega and an old man he's befriended go to Vegas so Omega can earn enough money to get James-Michael out of Hell's Kitchen. Meanwhile, James-Michael runs away from Hell's Kitchen with a classmate to his old home in the mountains, where he discovers robot duplicates of his dead parents (who were also revealed to be robots when they died in a car crash in the first issue). At the same time, James-Michael's guardians, Amber and Ruth, are going crazy with fear for James-Michael while trying to deal with the menace of the Foolkiller, a nutso ex-cellmate of Ruth's boyfriend.

At the end of the issue, Omega is gunned down by cops in the street, with the promise that the story will be wrapped up soon in an issue of The Defenders (which I'm guessing Gerber was writing at the time). About a year later, Marvel announced that the story would actually be wrapped up in Captain America. Another year after that, in 1979, the story was finally wrapped up by a different writer, Steven Grant, in The Defenders after all.

The story was a big disappointment, in which both Omega and James-Michael were also revealed to be robots. Omega never shows up in the story at all, because the cops really killed him dead, apparently, and James-Michael goes crazy and self-destructs. A fitting end, I guess, given the downer tone of the series, but it left a bad taste in my mouth, nevertheless. Then again, this was America during the malaise of the Carter administration. Maybe if they'd waited until the Reagan administration, things might have turned out better, but by then, who would have cared?

Friday, April 04, 2008

The Vault

I mentioned that I might be pulling things from the vault. I meant that literally.

My dad, you see, may not have been the coolest dad ever. He couldn't fly jets or juggle fire. But he bought a jewelry store in Eufaula, Oklahoma, in a building which used to be the local bank. Which means there is a literal walk-in vault in the store.

And when I went off to join the Army, rather than put my comics in a commercial storage space somewhere, I put them in his vault. Plenty of room, after all. And it was just so cool to be able to tell people, "My comics are locked in a vault."

Now, though, I've decided to pull some of them out. And I'll be sharing with you what I've found. Starting tomorrow, a long trip down memory lane in four colors.

Hope you enjoy it.

Thursday, April 03, 2008


So I get halfway through watching Firefly on, and I find this link that basically says "don't watch Firefly on Hulu," because of the Writer's Guild strike, you see. But since hte strike has been resolved, and since even before it was resolved, I didn't like people telling me what I should or shouldn't do based on their politics, I went ahead and watched the rest.

I've never been a Browncoat, I've got to say. I enjoyed Firefly when we aired it on Fox, and I really liked Serenity, but I'd never been a big enough fan of Westerns to really appreciate the melding of SF and Westerns that Firefly was.

But watching the series again, I was really struck by how good it was. How the crew really seemed like a family, so that I could feel sentimental about people who are, when you come right down to it, awfully unsentimental. When I got to the end, I immediately went over to Hulu's feature film section to see if "Serenity" was there, but alas, no. So I may end up buying the DVD of that soon to watch it again, although I'm not sure I can take seeing what happens to Wash again.

One thing that surprised me: I thought there had been at least one other episode where River showed off her talents in a big way (other than the one where she shoots the three guys with her eyes closed). There's a hint of it in the final episode, but I thought there had been more than that. Memory playing tricks, I guess.

Oh, and speaking of mixing entertainment and politics, try reading this, and you'll see what I mean. A radical feminist (self-described as such, lest you think I'm name-calling) rips Firefly for the woman-hating bile it really is.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008


I decided to try out Hulu, given all the fanfare of its debut, and I was pleasantly surprised to find Firefly among the television series it includes. The entire series, mind you (not difficult, since only one season was produced).

So I ended up watching the entire run of Firefly over the weekend, along with random episodes of The Tick (the live-action series starring Patrick Warburton), Night Gallery, and It Takes a Thief. In order to provide these copyrighted properties without charging subscription or download fees, Hulu shows commercials during the breaks (about 2 minutes total per show). It works out okay, because in any given break, you're not having to wait more than 30 seconds to get back to the show. Also, since the shows were designed to break for commercials, they don't really break the experience.

The problem is that there is a very limited number of advertisers, so you'll be seeing the same commercials over and over again. The other problem is that they do the same thing during feature films, which were not designed to break for commercials. This means that they break the films at odd random places, sometimes in the middle of a scene, which does sort of ruin the experience.

So I'd recommend Hulu for TV series watching, not so much for feature films. They have a fairly long list of series available now, including old shows that don't see syndication, like I Spy and the aforementioned It Takes a Thief. However, since it's still early days, they only have the first seasons of those classic shows available, so if there's a particular episode you're dying to see, it might not be available yet.

I'll get back to Firefly tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

A Month of Surprises

As part of the blog relaunch celebration, I'm going to be doing a One-Month Experiment. What is this, you ask? I'm going to try (try being the operative word here) to post every day for 30 days. There are a few things that I have not gotten to work on the new template yet, so you'll be seeing some gradual tweaking happen over the next couple of weeks as I figure things out.

I'm also going to be experimenting with new content, including more writing discussion and some retro comics stuff. I would like this blog to work in synergy with the Digger-verse stories, so I'm going to be talking quite a bit about the sources of my inspiration, the comics of the 60's, 70's and 80's. I may even be digging into the vaults to scan some illustrations and examples. I may or may not bust out the World's Cheapest Microphone again, too. Those are fun to put together, but they apparently are only fun for me, so I may not waste the time during the One-Month Experiment.

If you have any subjects you'd like to see me take up, drop me a comment. I need 30 topics, after all. Yours could be one of them.