Sunday, November 30, 2008

New Toy

Took advantage of the Black Friday sales to get a new TV. Now I've got one with a screen larger than a comic book. Broke it in last night by watching "Big Trouble in Little China." Good movie, although I'm reminded every time I see it that it's as much a screwball comedy as an action picture. The dialogue comes straight out of Howard Hawks pics of the 30's (except for the one time where Kurt Russell says "Fuck it").

When I first unpacked the TV and set it up, though, I paged through the digital onscreen guide to watch some test channels and noticed that there were four comic book superhero movies on simultaneously--"Superman: The Movie," "Elektra," "Batman Forever," and "Batman and Robin" (yes, two channels were playing Joel Schumacher's disintegration of the Warner Batman franchise simultaneously).

It's a measure of how superheroes have finally become integrated and accepted into the mainstream culture, not only that the movies were made, but that they draw enough of an audience to be scheduled even if they're awful.


Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State was a crazy-ass game this year. The battle of the non-existent defenses. Over 100 points total scoring, 61-41 in favor of Oklahoma. Now the BCS standings are a total roshambo, since Texas beat Oklahoma, but Texas Tech beat Texas and Oklahoma beat Tech. Leave it up to the computers to figure out who comes out on top among paper, scissors and rock.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Out of the Vault - The Searchers

Completely unrelated to the John Wayne movie of the same title, The Searchers was first published in 1995 by Caliber Comics. Written by Colin Clayton and Chris Dows and drawn by Art Wetherell, The Searchers brought together the real-life descendants of several fictional characters.

Yes, you read that right.

You see, in 1896, Charles Fort brought together several famous authors of science fiction and adventure novels--H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, H. Rider Haggard and Edgar Rice Burroughs--and opened a mysterious book in their presence. The book's magic gave each author vivid visions of the characters and events depicted in their novels.

Moments later, several proto-Men in Black took Fort and the book away. You can see them in the illustration at left, bearing patches reading "MIP." That doesn't stand for "Men In Plack," but for "Ministry of Incredible Phenomenon" (sic--this seems to be a Caliber thing--I just read another Caliber book published at roughly the same time, an awful X-Files rip-off titled Raven Chronicles, that features the exact same misuse of phenomenon/phenomena).

One hundred years later, the descendants of Phileas Fogg, Captain Nemo, Professor Moriarty, Professor Von Hardwigge (of Journey to the Center of the Earth), and Griffin the Invisible Man (all of whom were brought into existence by the book) team up for adventure.

The most basic outline of the premise calls to mind Alan Moore's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which brought together characters by the same authors depicted in this series. However, the execution couldn't be more different.

Virtually nothing happens in the first issue of The Searchers. We see the flashback to the historic meeting, then watch the various modern characters being summoned to their own meeting. But there's nothing very interesting about the characters as they're introduced. Kane Talgarth (Nemo's descendant) spends a page in a traffic jam, talking to his boss at a bank. Geneva Fogg spends a page in bed, refusing to answer her phone. John Hammett, Griffin's descendant, slaps around his coworkers at a mental institution, then reveals that his left wrist is invisible (wha?). That's as good as it gets in the first 30 pages.

In issue two, the mysterious man who summoned the various characters tells them they have to travel to the Arctic on a mysterious mission. What is it?

If I told you, you would not believe me. Best you see it with your own eyes.

Well, that's good enough for our heroes. Geneva Fogg busts out her amazing travel agent powers, whipping up a travel itinerary like that, then everyone travels to the Arctic just in time to be attacked by gunmen. Hammett the Partially Invisible Man grabs a couple of Uzi's from their attackers and single-handedly blows them all away (at least seven men, maybe as many as ten) without a scratch before attack helicopters appear overhead and blow him to smithereens. And incidentally, uncover the Nautilus buried under the ice.

At this point, we're 60 pages and almost six bucks in, and it feels as if the story has barely begun. Too many story threads out there, no interesting character conflicts, too many hanging threads (for instance, although Burroughs and Haggard were at the fateful meeting, none of their characters appears in the first two issues, or is even mentioned, aside from a brief mention of a cousin in Africa and a passing reference to Barsoom). There's a brief sequence that seems to be setting up a major villain in an Air Force pilot who beats up his wife, then steals a stealth bomber, but it comes out of left field and makes no sense on several levels, so that it was difficult to suspend disbelief and accept this guy as a legitimate menace.

I stopped buying after two issues, and Caliber stopped publishing after four, followed by a two-issue miniseries. Going back and rereading now, you know what? I don't miss it.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Thanksgiving Radio

Looks like Wednesdays for the foreseeable future will be Old Radio Wednesdays. Future weeks will feature more Fantastic Four, as well as possibly the very first appearance of Batman on the radio. But with Thanksgiving tomorrow, here's a special treat: an Very Special Thanksgiving Episode of Mel Blanc's radio show from 1946.

The scripted gags are a little weak, Blanc's character Zookie is a flimsy rehash of Porky Pig, and the schmaltz gets a little thick in places. But it's fun overall, and a good example of entertainment in a simpler time when thankfulness didn't have to be qualified.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Bolt and a New Die Hard

Saw "Bolt" yesterday. It's good. It's got your standard "you're special just because you're you" moral, but the gags are funny and the opening, which depicts Bolt's fictional TV show, is pretty damn awesome. I'd watch that show.

However, this is a pet peeve of mine. The central premise of the story is that Bolt doesn't know he's on a TV show, because they act out all the scenes and special effects in real time around him while keeping the cameras hidden. Which, as anyone who has actually worked on any type of film or TV show knows, is exactly not how you make any type of film except maybe Punk'd, but even then, they can't keep a straight face for more than a few minutes.

It doesn't bother me so much when movies get other things wrong. I don't expect civilians to get every aspect of military operations right, for instance. But making movies is their job, damn it. They should know better.

Oh well. There was also an awesome trailer that's got me really excited. It was "Paul Blart: Mall Cop," starring that guy from King of Queens. And it's basically "Die Hard" in a mall. Crooks take over a mall and hold the shoppers hostage, and it's up to mall cop Paul Blart to save the day. And yeah, it's not exactly cutting-edge to be making a parody of movie that's 20 years old, but it's one of my favorite movies, and the parody looks to be really funny.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Out of the Vault - Samuree

Yeah, it's been a while since I've delved into the vault, but now the scanner's warmed up, so let's start again. I had a hard time deciding which to do first among Plop and The Realm and Samuree, but Samuree eventually took top spot due to the squick factor that starts in the very first scene.

But let's back up for a second. I've said before that I was a DC reader in the early 70's. And one reason, besides the self-contained stories in most issues, was that DC had at least as many great artists working for them as Marvel did, guys like Nick Cardy and Jim Aparo and Murphy Anderson and Dick Giordano and most importantly, Neal Adams. Neal Adams was a legendary figure in 70's comics, known for drawing one of the most iconic Joker stories of all time, "The Joker's Five-Way Revenge," in Batman #251, and his work on Green Lantern/Green Arrow, as well as reviving the X-Men and illustrating the Avengers during the Kree-Skrull War over at Marvel.

But in the late 70's, Adams became disillusioned with the big 2 and started speaking out against work-for-hire and for creators' rights. And in the early 80's, he began producing his own creator-owned properties, first at Pacific Comics and then with his own publishing imprint, Continuity Comics.

Adams appears to have created and designed the properties for Continuity, then handed them off to other creators who emulated Adams's look as a house style. But as talented as Adams is with a pen, his character concepts were pretty sucky. During the 80's, Adams's prolific mind brought us such classics as Crazyman, ToyBoy, and Skateman.

Which brings us back to Samuree. Samuree was a generic hot female martial artist who had a brief run from 1987 to 1991 or thereabouts and then was revived in 1993 even more briefly before the great mid-90's market implosion killed her for good.

I bought the first three issues, because it was Adams, man, and even if the storytelling was crap, at least the books looked good. The first issue was typical of the series: gorgeous Adams cover, interior art by Mark Beachum with inks by Akin and Garvey and muddy colors by Liz Berube. Adams is credited with the story, and right off the bat, things feel icky.

The first page is a workout montage reminiscent of the opening of this episode of Miami Vice (featuring my high school classmate Suzy Amis), followed by this scene where a 16-year-old Samuree blatantly throws herself at an older man (as always, you can click the images for a larger version). The dialogue is not only crap ("Can you hear myself?"), but it manages to be suggestive without being the slightest bit erotic ("My body is...used" - Adams loves him some ellipses, BTW). It seems as if this guy is going to be a significant member of the supporting cast, but he barely appears in the first three issues.

Spotting a newspaper article about a hostage situation in New York, Samuree rushes to the Museum of Natural History, where she disables a few SWAT team members before running into the Revengers (Armor, Silver Streak, and Megalith) who are also trying to free the hostages. After several pages of fighting and discussion (during which we're told over and over that the slightest noise could cost all the hostages their lives), the four heroes band together and kick the terrorists' butts. However, before they can talk to any of the hostages, mysterious figures appear at a skylight, throwing smoke bombs and abducting three of the hostages--Silver Streak's father, a scientist hunted by Samuree, and Tom Savini.

Yes, that Tom Savini.

Subsequent issues don't get any better. Elliot Maggin (70's comics fixture who in his DC days not only rocked the pretentious middle initial but added the even more pretentious exclamation point--Elliot S! Maggin) took over the writing, but the dialogue stayed dumb and the characterizations wooden. The layouts tried too hard to be dynamic and were often confusing, the action sometimes hard to decipher under muddy overcoloring. The story moved in fits and starts, with backstory thrown in so randomly that it's not apparent whether the pages in issue #2 are printed in order or not.

On the plus side, I guess, Samuree did feature about 80% more cameltoe than your average comic. So there is that.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Fantastic Four on the Radio

So last week, I was listening to a ton of old Superman radio episodes from 1945, looking for the first radio appearance of Batman (which I may have found, but I'm not sure). I figured it would be a good tie-in to my recent post on "The Brave and the Bold."

But then I stumbled onto these Fantastic Four episodes from the mid-70's, and had to do this first. These make the Blue Beetle episode I posted a while back sound positively lavish. Cheap classic radio shows featured sound effects usually performed by a live prop man, with a single organ for music.

The Fantastic Four series featured a canned theme song and goofy scripts based closely on the original early issues of the comic, slightly updated in places (Jonny Storm admires a stereo with Dolby in one episode, for instance). Voice acting was mediocre, and is mainly noteworthy for a young Bill Murray sleepwalking his way through the role of the Human Torch. Sound effects are limited to a bunch of theremin farts.

So, in honor of my recent post about the first appearance of Doctor Doom, here is the radio version of that story. Let Stan Lee transport your imagination through Marvel magic and dull narration. Listen to the psychedelic wonder of the Fantastic Four's talking signal flare ("four..."). Thrill to the adventures of the Fantastic Three as they travel through time on an urgent mission. Quiver with delight as the Human Torch utters the immortal line, "This beverage really quenches my thirst," with complete conviction. Tremble with fear as Doctor Doom does a cross-promotional deal with H.P. Lovecraft by summoning monsters from Carcosa.

This, my friends, is the best of the early 60's crossed with the worst of the mid-70's, brought to you through the modern future miracle of the Internets. Click the widget to listen.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Another Food Hack

I love candy apples, the ones you get at the fair on a stick covered with a hard shell of cinnamon candy. But at the store, the only candy apple kits require you to prepare the coating in a pot on a stove to make a batch of like 10 apples. It's too much work, and too much of a hassle to store the apples after, plus often I only want a small taste, not a whole apple.

So here's my quick and easy candy apple hack.

Quarter and core an apple. Now cut an oblong trench in each apple section you feel like preparing (you can save the rest in the fridge for later; this is a scalable hack). In each trench, stand up a coin of cinnamon hard candy. I then heat the apple section in my toaster oven at about 350 until the candy starts to melt and run down the sides.

Let cool and eat.

Awesome taste, super easy to fix, complete portion control. The only kinks I'm still trying to work out are how to cut the trenches to allow maximum candy melt without losing it down the sides as waste, and how long to let it cool so I don't burn my mouth, but the candy doesn't reharden too much. But those are easy to tinker with.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Food Hacking

Since I've rejoined the bachelor life, I've started making a lot more of my own meals (partly for economic reasons, partly because I don't live as close to eating places now as I did before). Back when I first got engaged, I decided to learn how to cook, at least a little, and discovered I enjoyed it.

But what I do now, you couldn't really call cooking. I don't make things from scratch; I buy prepackaged ingredients, then "enhance" them. It's more like food hacking.

For instance, ramen. Back in college, I would buy a packet of ramen and fix it according to the instructions on the label. Bland and boring. But when I was in Korea, I noticed that they use ramen like the stone in stone soup. Cook the ramen, then add all kinds of things to it to make it more nutritious and more palatable.

So here's my current take on ramen, although I reserve the right to play with stuff with every new batch. I start with a basic package of ramen and sliced hot links or sausage or hot dogs (depending on how broke I am) for protein. But when I'm boiling the water, I add a splash of wine (usually dry sherry, though I've experimented with red as well) and a sprinkle of fresh rosemary (maybe a half-teaspoon or so). The ramen is so salty that this adds only the slightest undertone of flavor, but it makes the house smell wonderful. I boil the noodles and hot dogs, then stir in the flavor packet and take it to the bowl. Once it's in the bowl, I add shredded cheese and a splash of bitters (I could do this in the pot, but the cheese makes a sticky mess, and it's easier to only clean it out of one container).

I used to add egg, also, but I haven't bought eggs in a long time. I've got some frozen shrimp I could try, and I could add fresh vegetables, but that starts to sound too much like cooking. What I'm doing now is quick and convenient, but has more flavor and depth than simply eating what comes out of the pack. That's food hacking.

Any easy food hacks you'd like to share?

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Music Bleg

I'm trying to get into the groove of writing again. I want some music to write by, but the music I have isn't really suitable. I want something instrumental, like a movie soundtrack, but not necessarily orchestral. Something heroic, but with a fun edge. Maybe something like the soundtrack to "The Incredibles," but not that, because if it's too familiar, I'll just start picturing that instead of writing my own stuff.

Speaking of "The Incredibles," my absolute favorite musical moment in that movie (maybe even my favorite moment overall) is during the Hundred Mile Dash. Dash is tearing through the forest, trying to escape from the flying saucers, when he sees that he's headed right at a lake and closes his eyes. The crashing music goes almost completely silent, except for a little xylophone, as Dash opens his eyes and discovers he's running on the surface of the water. Then he gives this awesome little laugh and accelerates as the music swoops back in, changing from tense and frantic to jaunty and swinging, baby, which almost makes up for the fact that it's the freaking Perry Mason theme (well, not exactly, but close).

That's what I want, but not that, if you know what I mean.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Exploring Tomorrow

For Mary. She won the award, now she can hear the man himself.

For your enjoyment, an episode of Exploring Tomorrow, titled "Planet of Geniuses," hosted by John W. Campbell, Jr.

(ETA: Campbell makes an interesting host, but sometimes I think he's a little too inside baseball with his comments about the origins of words and the makings of tragedy and such. Also interesting that when he quotes Murphy's Law, he initially calls it Finagle's Law and specifies that it has to do with laboratory experiments. And whenever I listen to this, I always find find myself talking back to the show in one spot. When the marshall says "And I tell you the Empire can't afford what you call 'creativeness,'" I find myself saying "And I call 'creativity.'")

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Brave and The Bold

I mentioned a couple of days ago that I was a DC reader growing up. One of the books I enjoyed was The Brave and the Bold, a Batman team-up book. Both Marvel and DC had these, books that featured their most popular characters teamed up with a different guest star every issue. So besides the continuing adventures of the Fantastic Four, the Thing was constantly going off on adventures with other heroes in Marvel Two-In-One, while Marvel Team-Up featured mostly Spider-Man running into virtually every other character in the Marvel Universe. On the DC side, World's Finest teamed Batman and Superman in every issue with frequent guest-stars.

A team-up book like this demands a versatile artist and The Brave and the Bold had one of DC's best at the height of his talent: Jim Aparo. The book ended its run in 1983 with Batman forming a superhero team called The Outsiders, whose adventures began in their own book, appropriately titled Batman and the Outsiders.

Anyway, the reason I'm bringing this up now is that this Friday, Cartoon Network will debut a new Batman series titled, guess what? The Brave and the Bold. The first episode features a team-up with the Blue Beetle (if you haven't listened to the Blue Beetle radio show I posted a few days ago, listen to it here--it's a different Blue Beetle, but entertainingly wacky). Subsequent episodes are due to feature characters like Plastic Man, Aquaman, Adam Strange, Guy Gardner, Booster Gold and Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth. If you haven't figured it out from the guest stars, the show will not be entirely serious in tone.

I'm looking forward to it.

Alternate Versions

Okay, Marvel fans, you'll have to bear with me for a while, cause this one is freaking crazy. While flipping through websites looking for material on Iron Man's past, I made a really bizarre discovery. I'm sure someone else has pointed this out somewhere before, but I've never seen it, so I'm passing it on.

But first, a brief (perhaps not-so-brief) history lesson. In the late 50's and early 60's, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were working for Atlas Comics (soon to be Marvel) riding a fad of monster books. Stan Lee has mentioned how much fun he had doing those books, featuring creatures with names like Kraa and Goom and Monstrollo and (of course, you knew I had to say it) Fin Fang Foom. But, you say to yourself, how many of those books were they really doing? I mean, sure they did some monster books, but were they really that significant?

Roll over to Coverbrowser and look at the books of the time, like Tales to Astonish and Tales of Suspense and you realize, yeah, they were actually shoveling those out by the metric ton. And looking at those covers, I realized I was seeing the seeds of the Marvel Universe being planted.

Number one is the obvious stuff, like issues of Journey Into Mystery featuring a monster named Hulk a year before the debut of the Fantastic Four. Other hero and villain names were also presaged, like the Molten Man-Thing and Sandman and Vandoom, He Who Made a Creature! (presaging the FF villain Doctor Victor Von Doom in name if nothing else, about whom more later)

But more than that, you can see that when Marvel introduced its heroes, it made sure to hedge its bets by keeping one foot in the monster genre.

Fantastic Four was the first of the Marvel superhero books. The cover of the first issue was dominated by a standard giant Kirby monster, with the four heroes small in the frame surrounding him. The adventure inside featured the Mole Man attacking the surface world with his army of monsters. And not only did the Fantastic Four wear no standard superhero costumes, but they were all rather monstrous in their own ways (Mister Fantastic stretching into weird shapes, the Invisible Girl reminiscent of horror movie staple the Invisible Man, the Human Torch a mass of living flame, and of course, the Thing).

In issue two, the heroes battled the monstrous alien Skrulls, and fended off their invasion by scaring them away with Kirby monster comics (literally--they showed the Skrull leaders the comics panels and said they were photographs of actual monsters--the Skrulls fled, because aliens are stupid). I don't remember the villain in issue three, but issue four featured an attack on the surface world by the Sub-Mariner commanding an army of sea monsters. In the July issue, number 5, the Fantastic Four were introduced to their most fearsome foe of all, the nefarious Doctor Doom, a mad scientist who wore an iron mask to hide his disfigured face (click the pic for a larger version).

By that time, Marvel had introduced its second superhero, The Incredible Hulk, featuring a man who turns into (guess what?) a super-strong monster. And during this period, the other Marvel titles, like Tales to Astonish, Tales of Suspense and Journey into Mystery, were still featuring the standard collection of monster tales.

In Aug. 1962, Journey Into Mystery introduced Thor battling (what else?) the monstrous Stone Men from Saturn. Meanwhile, a character named Spider-Man appeared in Amazing Fantasy #15. For the first time, there were no monsters in a hero's debut story; then again, Amazing Fantasy was being canceled anyway, so they probably figured why bother? A month later, Ant-Man appeared in Tales to Astonish, battling both human foes and monsters over his first few adventures, to be joined soon by the Hulk, after his own book was canceled.

The last gasp of the Marvel monster fad was in Tales of Suspense in Feb. 1963. The next month, Iron Man debuted in its pages, with nary a monster in sight. And a couple of issues later, the Marvel logo began appearing on the company's covers. The superheroes had taken over; the Marvel Age had officially begun.

But here's the thing which caught my attention: while looking through all the covers of Tales of Suspense preceding Iron Man's introduction, I saw a very familiar face. Issue #31 of Tales of Suspense, cover-dated July 1962 (the same month that Doctor Doom made his debut in Fantastic Four #5), featured on its cover "The Monster in the Iron Mask." Look at this cover image and see if anything looks familiar.

Even the color scheme is the same. Either Kirby was obviously so proud of this design, he used it twice, or else he was so insanely busy he didn't have time to do another design and literally recycled it almost whole.

Either way, now you know the rest of the story.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Iron Man Nostalgia

So for my birthday, I used a Best Buy gift card to get myself the "Iron Man" special edition DVD. Just finished watching the extras last night. A few observations:

Robert Downey Jr. is really cut. You wouldn't expect it. He usually seems so frothy and insubstantial on-screen.

It's fascinating (to me, at least) to see how far the stories develop from their starting points. "Iron Man" doesn't deviate from its early versions as much as, say, "Monsters Inc.," but then it had established source material to draw from. But it's fascinating to see, for instance, a long scene depicting the actors' process in preparing for a crucial scene in which the big money line ended up on the cutting room floor, if indeed it wasn't dispensed with before it was shot. It's fascinating to see early Ironmonger designs being referred to as the Crimson Dynamo (indicating possibly a completely different story direction). It's interesting to hear Jeff Bridges talk about how the villain was originally supposed to have been the Mandarin (indicating another completely different story direction).

They put an amazing amount of design detail into that suit.

It's funny how fake and flimsy some of the practical suits look in the behind the scenes footage, yet how completely convincing the illusion is in the final film. Never underestimate the power of lighting and framing and clever editing (and digital post-processing and sound effects and the list goes on).

It's funny how many people lie about being "fans" of the original property in this behind-the-scenes stuff.

And just because I'm thinking of it, a descent into nostalgia: Iron Man #1 was the first comic book I ever bought (or that my parents bought for me). I remember the occasion. In early 1968, I was with my father in a Humpty Dumpty store in Oklahoma City (I think, though it may have been T.G.&Y.--whatever it was, both store and chain are extinct now--FWIW, Humpty Dumpty in Oklahoma City was also the birthplace of the shopping cart). We passed a spinner rack near the front of the store, and one of us suggested the idea of getting a comic book. Dad asked me which one I wanted, and I looked them over. I didn't know who any of the characters really were, but one caught my eye.

It featured a man in red and gold with a robotic face bursting out of some sort of metal prison on the cover, surrounded by smaller action vignettes. Even at that young age, I could tell the artwork was better than anything else on the rack. Dad looked at it and asked me if I really wanted it. Colan only averaged 4-6 panels a page, where most of the other books had 6-9. Dad expressed a concern that this comic would not give me a good panels-per-penny return (he didn't use that literal language, but it was something like "don't you want one with more pictures?").

Nope, I was set, and only Iron Man would do. As it turns out, it was not the best choice. Iron Man's adventures had been running for several years in Tales of Suspense, so even though this issue was numbered "1," it picked up in the middle of a storyline. Iron Man, weakened from a several issue battle against the Maggia crime syndicate including the villain Whiplash, has been captured by AIM, who analyze his armor and create a duplicate set. No wonder I'm so tired of the "hero has to fight his evil twin" trope; it was in the first comic I ever read. But the comic didn't leave a strong impact, because I didn't know anything about the hero or the villains. The story started in the middle and ended on a cliffhanger, so I got neither a beginning nor an ending.

Iron Man #1's main legacy for me was that it turned me into a DC reader, which is how I got educated in old-school comics. Because not only did DC feature more self-contained stories in its issues (which I liked, because I couldn't buy comics every month), but as a cost-cutting measure in the early 70's, they padded their books with reprints from their vast archives.

I never knowingly threw a comic away. Comics got dumped into a big cardboard box in my closet, to be pawed through and reread when the fancy took me. Years later, as I was preparing to graduate high school and leave for college, I decided to bag and box all my comics, turn them into a real collection. Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered Iron Man #1 toward the bottom of the box.

And then imagine my disappointment when I opened the comic and discovered what I had long forgotten. Kids today don't know how good they have it. In my day, they didn't have shelves and shelves of superhero toys, but I had apparently been excited enough by Iron Man to want some for myself. So I took some scissors and cut out some of the most exciting poses so I could stage my own fights (you might call them paper dolls--I call them '2-D Recyclable Action Figures"). Resourceful, I know, but also devastating for a guy who thought he'd disovered a hidden jackpot only to open it up and find shredded pages inside.

I still have it, though, bagged and boxed, shredded pages and all. It was my first, after all.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Frank Lovejoy

A palate cleanser to try to restore some equilibrium. Three classic radio shows starring Frank Lovejoy.

For the last few days, I've been listening to a melodramatic mystery show named Night Beat. Night Beat is an early 50's series about a Chicago reporter named Randy (sometimes "Lucky") Stone. Every episode starts pretty much the same way: Stone is wandering around late at night, wondering what he's going to write about, when he runs into a random stranger and gets pulled into a mystery. After he solves it, he gives a final monologue wrapping things up (a la Kolchak, the Night Stalker), then calls for a copyboy. The shows are pretty good, but try too hard to be sophisticated adult drama and often veer into melodrama instead. Here's a sample episode from 1950, titled "Mentallo, the Mental Marvel."

But what really captured my attention right away was the show's opening, in which the announcer says the star of the show is Frank Lovejoy. The name sounded familiar. I realized that he had starred in one of the shows I listened to when I was searching for good Halloween shows to post a couple of weeks ago. It was an episode of Escape titled "The Outer Limit." Escape was another high-budget show, like Suspense, that featured big-name stars and adapted short stories to radio, like "Leiningen vs. the Ants" and "The Man Who Would Be King." "The Outer Limit" is a hokey science-fiction story about a test pilot who encounters something uncanny during a high-altitude flight. The story is by-the-numbers, but at the end of the show, they emphasize that they worked with test pilots and aviation companies to confirm the details of real test flights.

So I started to wonder who Frank Lovejoy was. I didn't recognize his name, but the fact that he got top billing on Escape made me think he must have been some sort of celebrity of the day. I looked him up on Wikipedia and learned that he was a radio and movie actor. He'd appeared on Gang Busters in the 30's and starred in Night Beat in the 50's. And in between, he'd played The Blue Beetle.

I'd read the adventures of the modern Blue Beetle, Ted Kord, in the pages of Justice League in the 80's. But I was unfamiliar with the original Blue Beetle, aka Dan Garrett, rookie cop by day, avenging superhero by night, dressed in special chainmail that's "flexible as silk, but stronger than steel."

The only thing I knew about the original Blue Beetle was what I'd read in Jules Feiffer's introduction to The Great Comic Book Heroes.

His sign--the shadow of a great beetle projected into the evildoer's line of vision--struck terror into their hearts. He wore a Phantom-type uniform, with scales--rather unpleasant looking without being impressive. He was a great favorite for a far longer time than he deserved.

On radio, he battles spies and dope dealers and low-level thugs of all types, aided by kindly old pharmacist Dr. Franz. Franz is the Beetle's own personal Q, who invents all manner of super-potions and techno-weapons in his back room to help the Blue Beetle in his crusade. The production values are cheap--thin sound effects and a lone organ for music--and the stories are thrill-a-minute idiot plots (a plot that can only work if everyone in the story behaves like a idiot--criminals are always leaving behind the most obvious clues that lead the Beetle straight to their doors). Even the Beetle's catch phrases are awful: "The Blue Beetle has some nipping to do tonight!" Here's a typical episode, "Murder for Profit."

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Eater of the Dead

So I'm thinking I won't even read the comments to my last post, because A) I've slept since then, B) I would probably be tempted to rebut any comments in detail while escalating the rhetoric, which C) I've spent most of the day doing already in my head and D) life's too short.

And in the "life's too short" department, Michael Crichton has died. This makes me sad, because I've liked his work, although as I look over his ouevre, I'm not finding a whole lot that I'm enthusiastic about. His work ranged from abysmal (Congo) to flawed but inriguing (The Andromeda Strain) to pretty darn good (Jurassic Park). As a novelist, his work seemed to jump the shark between Disclosure and Airframe (which seemed to me largely the same book), but his movies were influential, both the ones he directed and the ones made from his work.

He also created ER, a longtime Thursday night TV staple which was for a while the most popular drama on television and is now in its final season. Ironic that he should die as the show is also departing, and sad that he couldn't see the final episode.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008



The reactionary morons have carried the day, and Obama has become the President-elect. They voted for him because he's black. They voted for him because he's young and good-looking and a smooth talker. They voted for him because he's not Bush.

They didn't vote for him because of his ethics (because from his breaking of his public financing promise to his support for ACORN to his campaign's dubious fundraising practices, his ethics are deeply in question). THey didn't vote for him because of his record of achievement, because he literally had no record (except getting elected to two offices where his opponents had to drop out). They sure as hell didn't vote for him for his policies, because they are a hodgepodge of horror (depending on which set of policies you think he adheres to, since they changed with each different audience he spoke to--see, ethics, questionable).

The only bright spots in this are that Obama has shown no initiative or drive in his political career to accomplish anything other than get elected, so maybe he'll continue to duck taking any firm stands for his four years in office. And it doesn't look like the Democrats will achieve a lock on a Senate supermajority, so there may be a limit to the damage they can do, although there are enough center-left Republicans that they'll probably have an almost blank check.

And then of course, there's the prospect of four years of the comedy stylings of Joe Biden's mouth.

FSM help us. I lived through the 70's once, and I hoped never to go through it again. But hey, at least the drugs will be cheap.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloweenus Interruptus

Well, after all the build-up, all the posted radio shows, production problems forced me to cancel my Halloween visit to the Secret Lab. Not that anyone missed it, I guess, but still. I'll make it up to you sometime.