Thursday, April 30, 2009

I'll Buy That For A Dollar?: Jonny Quest #10

Jonny Quest #10 (Comico)
March 1987
Willaim Messner-Loebs (W)/Marc Hempel & Mark Wheatley (A)

My high school Shakespeare class totally ruined this issue of Jonny Quest for me.

It's like this. I've seen a lot of Shakespeare performed, and I've "acted" in a little bit of Shakespeare and most importantly I've read a ton of Shakespeare's plays in an academic setting, but I've never really dug Shakespeare like some folks do. But I took this class in high school in Shakespeare. I don't know why but it had something to do with having a semester spot open after Debate or wanting to get out of Psychology or something. Really it was a good excuse to act like this.

But I did read a lot of the plays in that class and remembered a few things about some. Mostly I remember that in a world of Shakespeare plays I found to be a real drag, the histories were the draggiest. And one of those draggy histories was "Richard III," of which I also remember the fact that the play begins with the titular character – a fugly hunchback of an evil king – explaining how because he is in fact fugly and a hunchback, he's decided to be super evil. And I remember that clearly because we also talked about how even with plays history(ies) gets written by the winners. And Richard lost big time. So Shakespeare's portrayal of Richard isn't accurate at all. He wrote what the powers wanted him to. Sure, there's a lot more to it, and some of you probably know way more about the War of the Roses than me (one half a semester of English 301 at college ain't much), but the end lesson I picked up is the same: Shakespeare Wrote For Money.

So Jonny Quest #10, right? I buy it for a buck because I'd herd the Comico version was a hoot and because Dave Stevens did some covers (not this one...bummer). And right there on page one, boy adventurer Jonny Quest is seeing "Richard III" performed in England. And oooooooooo...Jonny hates that mean old king! What a rotten fink he must have been, etc etc, And then the whole Quest gang goes backstage to talk to the actor portraying Richard, who also just happens to be a hard on his luck scientist who moonlights as a Shakespearean actor and who also really needs Dr. Quest's advice on his new "time viewing machine" which must be a moneymaking hit or he'll lose his massive English estate which he knows he really owns but whose deed bequeathing it to his family went missing hundreds of years ago. Following me still? So back at the estate, the science actor shows Jonny and Hadji how his machine's TV screen can look back in time...even to the era of Richard III. The ZAP! The machine blows up in their faces! Everyone is OK, but the next morning Jonny and Hadji mysteriously wake up in 1485.

I'm sure you see where this is going. While in the past, Jonny befriends Richard and sees he's not a bad dude. Plus, he helps the Kind hide the deed to the manor that our boy the stage scientist lives in. Plus, Hadji hypnotizes a horse. Then they all flash back to the modern day where Jonny both uncovers the deed in the Tower of London and teaches everyone a valuable lesson about that dick of a liar Bill Shakespeare. I know it all sounds a little uselessly complicated, but in the hands of Messner-Loebs the script moves along and gives all the information with some kicking and punching and intrigue too, and Hempel and Wheatley do a really solid job on the art. Their storytelling chops were very strong even this early in their careers, plus their linework held some sharp, distinctive character where most licensed cartoon titles look stiff and on model. From a basic craft standpoint, there are some guys who really know how to put a solid comic book together, and it shows.

In that, judging the comics qualities really comes down to how the story works in a broader sense. Is it fun? Is it exciting? Does it pull together its weird, disparate comic book adventurey elements into something resembling a worthwhile 15 minutes of reading? On all of these, I've got to say, "No" for two reasons. First of all, regardless of my 17-year-old's remembrance of "Richard III's" historical inaccuracies, those opening pages with Jonny's intense dislike of Richard's character just scream "there's a lesson coming" in a heavy-handed and anti-climactic way. I honestly don't know if Comico produced this direct market-only series with kids in mind or if they just kept the book kid friendly to appeal to the growing nostalgists who comprised it's real audience, but the didactic elements of the plot cry "written for little kids" in the way that people say it as an insult. I'd like to think that even as an eleven-year-old I'd have seen the "Richard's really all right" twist coming, but even if that's giving little me too much credit, I know I wouldn't have been shocked or excited by the outcome.

And the second reason the issue fails for me is because it's an ill fit for Jonny Quest. Watching the original episodes of the Hanna Barbera series on reruns as a kid, the killer hook to "Jonny Quest" was its gonzo pulp adventure tone. From the big brass theme song and spider robot footage that drove its addictive opening to the story lines involving escape from mad scientists' laboratories and shotgun shootouts. It was a kid's version of "Dr. No" and a precursor to "Indiana Jones." The time travel and English kings don't seem to match the milieu the character was created for. This is Peabody and Sherman territory, and it feels more like a fantasy bent despite its being written off by pseudo-science. Jonny Quest #10 would never have made it as an episode of the show, and here that is a very, very bad thing.

So Jonny Quest #10? Worth a dollar? Nah, not really. Maybe if I saw an issue with a sweet Stevens cover, I'd pick up another, but otherwise I'm continuing to flip.

Also, the important lesson of this post: if you're reading something to do with Richard the Third, don't read "Richard III" or Jonny Quest #10. Read The Winter of Our Discontent by John Steinbeck. That book made me cry, you guys.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

X-Men Animated: Night of the Sentinels pt. 1

So something amazing happened at my day job today as we officially began streaming the 1990's X-Men animated series--which, you may recall, is one of my favorite things ever--for free on Around lunchtime, my comrade Ryan Penagos threw our mutually beloved cartoon on his computer and we took a trip down memory lane to 1992 with the debut episode, "Night of the Sentinels part one." To the best of my ability, most Wednesdays I'm gonna try and present myself and Ryan's expert commentary on these animated milestones in bodacious bullet point fashion. Onward!

-Right from the start, it's awesome how freakin' 90's this show is, with Jubilee hanging out in a mall arcade playing what I'm sure is Street Fighter II.

-Ryan hates Gambit, so every time he shows up, it is fantastic! And could there have possibly been a better line to introduce the Ragin' Cajun to the world than "I prefer solitaire"?

-It freaked out my officemates that I knew pretty much every line of the episode spot-on. John Cerilli called me a nerd and worse more than once.

-I loved the Sentinels on this show because they were so spectacularly ineffective. There was no better way to quickly intro each of the X-Men and show their powers off than giving them building-sized cannon fodder with hilarious robot voices to tear apart.

-Storm somehow generates her costume out of thin air by creating a little lightning shower over her head. She never does it again and it is never explained.

-Cyclops' "Energy blasts, huh? Here's one from a pro!" line was the sound that indicated for me my buddy Jordan had signed on AIM in college. I had sounds from either the X-Men cartoon or movie for pretty much all my friends. Jordan had the same (I was Iceman saying, "Sorry, pal, you're skating on thin ice!"). It was great for a month or so and then incredibly annoying.

-Jean Grey's ponytail does not come out as long as she's in costume for the next five years.

-The stream of awesome cameos that this series rocked begins with the viewscreens in Xavier's control room. Cannonball! Domino! X-Force rules!

-I forgot how annoying Morph's laugh is.

-Wolverine seriously gets an awesome intro. He is completely absent from the first part of the show and then leaps out of the darkness of the Danger Room to pop the claws and then stand over Gambit with his first line as we go to commercial. What kid would not think this guy was the shit?

-...then right after the break he gets taken out by Jubilee. Ah well.

-A few minutes later, Wolverine blows Cyclops off for the first time--it would not be the last. Wolverine treating Cyclops like a chump on this show would be a great drinking game.

-Ryan hates Rogue's voice. I love it.

-Few things are more awesomely emblematic (sp?) of this show than Storm reciting absurd poetry while she uses her powers. We were waiting for it the whole episode and then marked out when she did her "Let the mists rise!" bit near the end.

Next week: the exciting conclusion to the X-Men's first animated adventure!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Wolverine of My Youth

This Friday, "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" hits the big screen. You should most definitely buy multiple tickets because it will be awesome and/or because I have a wedding to help pay for this fall, up to you. You should also be sure to hit up for the best coverage of the movie you'll find anywhere ever, yo.

Now with that out of the do I feel about the character of Wolverine?

Well, growing up, I wasn't too passionate about Wolverine one way or the other. As I've said numerous times, I was (and remain) a huge X-Men fan, and he was (and continues) to be a large and looming presence on that team, so obviously he's always been front and center of my comic book reading experience, but for most of that time, I had no particularly passionate feelings about him one way or the other.

To be sure he was a character viscerally appealing to a young person with a charismatic personality, a standout look and friggin' knives coming out of his hand. However, even as a kid I could tell he was the guy the marketing was centered around, and I've always been somebody who gravitates to underdogs and oddballs. In most cases, I prefer the third most popular character to the most popular one, and Wolverine is no bronze medalist as far as the masses are concerned.

On the other hand, I didn't have the harsh aversion to the guy I've seen in people as I've grown up in this industry. It didn't bother me that he was pushed so heavily into the spotlight both because unlike some other characters who got overexposed and then some in the 90's he did have quite a bit of depth owing to decades of world building by Chris Claremont and others, but also because I didn't find him difficult to ignore.

In the last decade, I've become much more of a Wolverine fan than ever before. Part of that is because Hugh Jackman really is one of the best of the best when it comes to the folks who bring super heroes to life on film; his Wolvie is seriously just the ultimate rad ass (that's a bad ass who is also incredibly rad). I've also come to discover and dig the more off-the-beaten path Logan solo stories Marvel has put out over the years. From that first Claremont/Frank Miller mini in Japan, to Barry Windsor-Smith's Weapon X, to the more recent stuff by guys like Jason Aaron and Stuart Moore as well as the assorted one-shots by up-and-coming writers. While Wolverine definitely has an entertaining role to play among the X-Men or Avengers, I've really come to see his value as a Man With No Name kinda archetype character who you can drop into various genre stories with the added benefit of his signature flourishes.

But the Wolverine story I remember most from when I was a kid was batshit crazy.

The year was 1992. I was 10 years old and sampling new comics like I had a golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory. One of the books I figured was a no-brainer given my affection for all things X was Wolverine's solo book. I expected some routine slashing, the usual catchphrases, and perhaps a few of those "beers" I had heard so much about to be consumed.

What I got was...something else.

My first issue was Wolverine #62. Larry Hama was the writer, Mark Texeira provided the art. The plot centered on Wolverine's dead girlfriend Silver Fox showing up with a big gun and threatening him and Sabretooth until they agree to follow her outside to her Hydra ship where Carol Hines of the Weapon X project is waiting to give them answers about their convoluted shared history. Before she can do that, some old dude named Mastodon melts into a skeleton and Jubilee freaks out. Then some teenage parapalegic computer genius helps them hack some coordinates and they fly off to a secret island where a guy named Psi-Borg is waiting with Maverick as his bodyguard. Peppered amongst all this is plenty of talk about memory implants, genetic alterations, and other stuff I didn't fully understand, plus Texeira's gonzo art, which was gorgeous and unlike anything I had seen to that point.

That was the first issue.

After that was two more issues of that story that included Psi-Borg turning into some sort of giant plant monster and tormenting Wolverine and company with a maze of false memories that manifested as a giant thorn bush. By the end of the arc, it seemed like at least half the characters were dead, but it was honestly tough to tell.

Following that, something in a motel in Canada triggered a previously buried memory in Wolverine's brain, sending him off to Russia in pursuit of somebody called Epsilon Red. Along the way, he hallucinates a bus full of people telling him he's "the best he is at what he does," ends up in the desert where he needs to eat vultures in order to provide protein for his healing factor, and "fights" a Russian cosmonaut super soldier in a battle that may or may not have taken place only in his head because there was a telepath whose mother got killed by Sabretooth involved (and I believe the story was left open-ended but recently learned it was resolved a couple years later in the Maverick ongoing). While all this is going on, Wolvie is also flashing back to a mission he participated in back when JFK was president and the two scenarios are getting totally jumbled.

All the while, Texeira is putting Sam Kieth to shame with some of the trippiest, most surreal art you'll ever see and Hama is matching him move for move.

It was great stuff and it blew my 10-year-old mind. When Tex left the book and Wolverine was fighting straightforward battles with Sauron and the Sentinels a few issues later, it just couldn't really measure up.

So for years whenever I thought of Wolverine, I thought of crazy psychic thorn monsters, eating vultures, and Russian cosmonauts with Greek letter names.

They need to make a movie of that!

Monday, April 27, 2009

New London Nostalgia

I did not put a lot of thought into where I wanted to go to college.

By the time junior year of high school rolled around and most of my friends and classmates were obsessed with what was going to happen post-graduation for good or for ill, I chose to throw myself into other things. I had wrestling, I had theater, I had the newspaper--I had plenty of excuses to give my parents as to why I didn't want to talk about college at that moment in time.

Truth is, I honestly did have a short term view of life (I still do in many ways) and thought the stuff on my plate then and there was what mattered, but there was definitely also an aspect of me that was scared to admit change was coming. For all the bitching I did (and do) about growing up in what I considered a sheltered suburb where I didn't quite fit in, the same things that bugged me about Newton also made it very safe and tough to think about leaving.

So yeah, my college search was one of minimal effort. I didn't apply anywhere for early decision, which was unheard of at Newton South. Of the places I did apply, I picked them pretty randomly and then only visited a handful. I visited Syracuse and it was too far away. I visited Boston University and it was too much in the middle of a city. I visited Connecticut College...and it felt like a good enough fit. Honestly, I liked it enough that I figured it would do and get my parents off my back (and good lord were they saintly for putting up with what a tool I was about college). Given the requirements for the school and how few students they accepted, the safe money was that I wouldn't get in anyhow and would just end up at UMass, which suited me fine.

Naturally I got in. And I was thrilled!

If I had it all to do over again, would I do anything differently? Tough to say. On the one hand, I'm exactly where I want to be professionally at this point in my life and have been since I left college, so I guess my choice of school worked out fine. On the other, I don't feel like I got much out of going to Conn from an educational standpoint and feel like I could have gotten the jobs I've held so far regardless of where I went to school, so it didn't really add much to my life as far as that goes and it wasn't cheap.

Conn is a liberal arts school with a lot of great programs, but none that really did much for me. They had a great theater department, but I was done with theater on a serious level by sophomore year. And in regards to the English, my major, to put it nicely, the folks in that department drove me nuts. It was a program dominated by stuff like women's literature and poetry, none of which I had any interest in. I wanted to study journalism and there weren't even any journalism classes, let alone a major. In fairness, this is something I should have figured out myself before I ever set foot on the campus as a student, or at the least by the middle of freshman year; from a purely academic standpoint, I should never have gone to Conn or should have transferred early on. I had a few cool professors, but for the most part I found the English department to be stuffy and discouraging.

However, I stuck it out because while I couldn't give a shit about my classes, Conn was great for me in so many other senses. First and foremost, I made an incredible group of friends who I did some of the most creative work of my life up to that point with outside of classes, and of course I also met the love of my life, my fiancee, Megan. Additionally, I got to run a school newspaper that was at a crossroads in terms of direction and also about to go under financially due to lack of support from the school; righting that ship (or doing my best) taught me more practical lessons than any class.

So while I may not remember a single course I took or professor I had at Connecitcut College, I got a lot out of going there. Was it worth what I paid to go there? Well I think so, but I'm sure other may disagree...

One thing I did appreciate while at Conn though and actually appreciate even more now looking back is that New London, Connecticut is a pretty neat little area. As students, my friends and I gave our college's location plenty of shit for all the rundown businesses and ghetto neighborhoods me and my buddy Taylor would encounter working for Domino's, but it had a lot of character. I'm actually fortunate to still travel there pretty frequently, since Megan's parents live a couple towns over in Mystic, and as Megan was dropping me at the New London train station this past weekend to head back to NYC, I got a bit nostalgic not even so much for college (as my good friend TJ "Hey! Everybody! I've got a blog!" Dietsch says he gets every spring), but for the quirky little town I called home for four years. Here are a few spots around New London that have a special place in my heart of hearts...

Connecticut College
Yeah, I know, I just prattled on about this place for a couple paragraphs, but what I didn't talk about was the campus itself, which was and remains absolutely gorgeous. Whatever other complaints I may have about Conn, I'll never bitch about it not being a beautiful spot to make your residence. Very few Conn students live off campus, even during their senior year, and the reason why is that it's an aesthetically pleasing, well-maintained place that provides just about everything you could need within walking distance and easy access to the other stuff if you've got a car. There's no shortage of incredible greens where you can toss a frisbee or throw a barbeque (and the student body was on the whole generally pretty good-looking, so you really felt like you were living the college life you saw on TV--I'm not sure if they screened for looks when admitting, but there could be a lawsuit there for somebody), there's a state of the art health center (that I never used save for getting drunk and playing intramural volleyball) and countless perfect spots both indoors and outdoors where you can get lost (and get left the hell alone) if you want to spend a quiet afternoon reading, writing or whatever. Seriously, if you already have the skills to make it in a profession that just requires a diploma and don't give a shit where you get it from, you could do a lot worse than four years of chilling at Conn (nice dorm rooms on the whole as well).

Hygienic Art Gallery
My freshman year, I signed up for the newspaper (part because, like I said, journalism, but part because the A&E editor was totally flirting with any freshman guy she saw at the activity fair in hopes of bolstering the paper's staff, a fact she later confirmed for me when I was a year or so in), and very early on got assigned to write about a local art gallery. I hitched a cab downtown into New London and scoped out a neat little building called the Hygienic, within which I got to see some truly unique and incredible works of art. The Hygienic used to be a diner before becoming an art gallery, and one of the groovy eccentricities of the gallery was that they kept the stools and the bar as well as other little touches out front. In addition to putting on exhibitions at the gallery, the artists of Hygienic were also responsible in part for painting various walls around New London with giant murals (with stuff like giant whales and whatnot). I didn't actually go to the Hygienic more than three or four times during the entirety of my stint at Conn, but it's a perfect example of the type of offbeat culture hubs you could find in New London. Also, I fondly remember my mother (an artist herself of no small skill who frustratingly has nothing online at the moment I can link to) visiting me and me taking her down to the Hygienic to show off "my" gallery, a proud moment for me.

Harkness Beach/Rocky Neck Beach
For whatever reason, it wasn't until junior/senior year that my friends and I fully came to appreciate that we had several awesome beaches within a short commute of where we went to school. I'm not talking about "Baywatch" beaches where people were running around playing volleyball and doing CPR, but rather state park type dealies where you could have a nice picnic or sit on the rocks and watch the ocean. We did a lot of the former at Harkness Beach, which was nestled nicely far away from the highway, but close enough to some small convenience stores that we could stock up on burgers, hot dogs and beers. It was also a great place to takes pictures, like this guy did and like I did. On the flipside, Rocky Neck was a place we used to hit up early on as a group (there was a kooky haunted mansion that we liked to tool around), but my senior year, it was a favorite spot of mine to drive to in between classes with a bundle of comics and climb the rocks until I got nice a comfortable (I distinctly remember reading Millennium there for some reason).

Sarge's Comics
No question, if it weren't for this place, I wouldn't be doing what I'm doing today. Walking around New London on one of our first days at Conn, me and my new buddies discovered the biggest, best comic book store any of us had ever seen and immediately bonded over a shared and dormant love of the X-Men and their ilk; it was seriously a defining moment for me both personally and professionally. Sarge's formed an immediate bond between me and some of the guys who would come to be among my closest friends and also reintroduced me to the hobby that would become my livelihood. The sheer size and volume wasn't what made Sarge's special (though it was damn impressive; they had everything), again, it was the personality. The folks who worked there were characters (I did an assignment for an English class where I interviewed a couple of them once; one was a real-life RPG dude like in Role Models and another girl had lived out in L.A. during part of her life dating a guy who produced porn comics and hanging out with the likes of Ron Jeremy and Jenna Jameson). The customers were characters. The owner's cat roamed free around the store and you often had to move her off the longboxes to get at the back issues you wanted. There was always some weird anime playing in a TV off in the corner. It had that small town feel that made you feel at home while also acting as your gateway to the fantastic. It was the first time in my life I truly learned to love Wednesdays.

Crystal Mall, Captain's Pizza, The El N Gee...I could go on. New London is definitely a "don't know what you got til it's gone" type place for me. I'd never want to live there, but it's a nice place to visit (and it was a nice place to be for a time).

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Ben's Top Ten Super Heroes of the 90's pt. 2

Picking up from where we left off...

5. The Flash (Wally West)
I actually was not that big a Flash fan in the 90's, or at least not what you'd call an active Flash fan, I guess. What I mean by that is that I was in between the phase where I was too young to really understand stuff like character and just loved the Flash because of his costume and powers and the phase where I totally fell in love with Wally West. The irony is that the stories that made Wally such a favorite of mine took place largely in the 90's during Mark Waid's run on his book, I just wasn't reading them at the time. I recall owning exactly one issues of The Flash as a kid: issue #105, which I picked up mostly for the Ron Lim art and in which Wally fought the Mirror Master. I believe I checked out the "Terminal Velocity" arc, but just via flipping through the store's copies, not actually buying. Most of my exposure to Wally was in Justice League International and later Justice League America, where he never got much spotlight (having his own book and all), but did enough to keep my Flash fandom alive. Honestly, he probably doesn't even belong this far up the list in regards to how I felt during the 90's, but my nostalgia for the idea of the Flash was strong enough back then I still probably would have listed him in my top five, so there you go.

4. Guy Gardner
I'm guessing this is the one most of my friends might be a bit surprised by, particularly having him this high, but while I don't really wear my Guy Gardner fandom on my sleeve anymore, I was a huge devotee back in the 90's. He definitely took the whole bad boy/prick thing I dug beyond the next level as a member of the Justice League, but that wasn't really why I liked him. Truthfully, I missed out on the initial Keith Giffen/J.M. DeMatteis JLI stuff, so I didn't get to see Guy's comic relief glory days; by the time I was reading Dan Jurgens' JLA, I thought he was just kind of annoying and obnoxious, and given my leanings as a fan, that was saying something. It wasn't until Beau Smith's run on his solo book, during which it became Guy Gardner: Warrior, that I really got hooked. I know Beau's work on Warrior is held in high regard by many of my peers, particularly TJ "Please Plug My Blog" Dietsch, and I can't disagree. Beau took Guy stone cold serious and focused a lot on him being a man who realizes how much potential he has squandered in his life and becomes bent on making up for it by proving everybody wrong about him. In many ways, it's the spiritual predecessor to Joe Kelly's Deadpool. The idea of a hero who wasn't all that heroic but wanted to do better was a unique one for me to encounter at the time, particularly in the squeaky clean DC Universe, so it captivated me. I also appreciated the unorthodox but really cool (in the right hands) design of the Warrior look and the fact that his day job was bar owner was so unique and cool. I still like Guy today and think he fits nicely into the Green Lantern mythos, but he was a killer solo act.

3. Cannonball
As with a lot of these top five entries, I've said in part why I like Sam Guthrie before, but it bears expansion. Cannonball was the complete opposite of just about every other one of my favorite characters back in the day, as he was a true blue hero, a total gentleman, and an incredible team player. I dug that he was all of those things despite being in a book like X-Force, which was entirely populated by loose (pardon) cannon characters who had long greasy hair and loved to stab/shoot things. That he commanded the respect of those guys was extremely rad to me. If I made a team out of all the dickhead characters from the 90's who I liked, I'd probably make Cannonball the leader, because he's the only one I could imagine taking their shit and still managing to earn their respect. If guys like Live Wire and Iceman were extensions of the wry, sarcastic parts of my personality, Cannonball was my inner chivalry, and another aspect of my heroic aspirations. Also, being the X-Men nut I was, I dug how accomplished Sam was in fictional terms; as was brought up during several issues, he had studied under Professor X, Magneto and Cable and taken the best they all had to offer in creating his own style. You always got the sense that someday Cannonball was going to be the best X-Man ever. Unfortunately, when he did get the call up to the main team following the Age of Apocalypse, he got played as an over-his-head rookie as opposed to the prodigy he should have been. This backslide in Cannonball's character arc probably helped ease me out of comics (and coincidentally, not long after I got back in, Chris Claremont wrote a great one-off issue of X-Treme X-Men building him back up).

2. Superboy
At age 11, I thought Superboy was the coolest dude ever. Every cliched "kids will dig it!" trick they pulled in creating the young version of Superman, I fell for it. The earring, the leather jacket, the John Lennon sunglasses, the ridiculous haircut, the costume with eight million belts (it had belts on the thighs!)--loved it all! "Death of Superman" was the first time I had ever gotten into Superman, and when this wiseass kid showed up as one of his four would-be replacements, I was completely captivated. I guess there was some deeper character stuff to Superboy (his lack of a childhood was right there when Karl Kesel created it and Geoff Johns would give him an astounding amount of depth a decade later), but I didn't care about any of that. Superboy was just fun! He flirted with every girl in sight! He had awesome powers that he made sure to constantly name (tactile telekinesis)! And when it seemed like he couldn't get any better, they moved him to friggin' Hawaii! Outstanding!! He was also one of the first heroes I encountered who did stuff like merchandize himself (I didn't know Booster Gold from Tracy Gold), which was a neat add-on. Obviously this list shows how big into wish fulfillment I was as a fan back in the day--i.e. projecting myself into the lives of my favorite characters--and there was no cooler wish fulfillment character than Superboy. He was a hero, everybody loved him (especially the ladies) and he never had to grow up. Looking back, I can recognize how shallow my reasons for liking Superboy were (I would obviously come to appreciate his layers much more as they added them much later), but hey, I was a teenager and I was having a good time--yay for comics!

1. Nova
You really need to ask?

So did I surprise anybody? And who were your favorites?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Linko! III

There was actually a lot of weird stuff that came across my browser this week. Could I be noticing these things more because I'm planning on posting them? Who cares!?!?

* This week, I had to look up an old issue of All-Star Comics for a freelance gig, causing me to stumble upon these rather nice galleries of covers from the whole run. I know most comic fans know about the first appearance of the JSA and that one cover where the Injustice Gang cuts up America, but damn...there are some crazy gems in there worth looking at. The above is my favorite, but I also really miss the days when a cover would feature metaphorical representations of the conflict within featuring tiny versions of the heroes climbing over a giant villain (days which I never lived through, of course). The later revival issues with the Wally Wood art are nice too.

* EDIT!: Adding this in as TJ reminded me, and I totally meant to point it out. This week thanks to my pestering both "Big" Jim Gibbons over at Enemy of Peanuts and Teej himself over at United Monkey watched and reviewed the film adaptation of "Josie & The Pussycats." I don't care what anyone else says, I smile ear to ear whenever I see that flick, and anyone who thinks the product placement is crass is totally missing the point.

* Food for thought link #1: Top Shelf's Leigh Walton ruminates on the creative link between web comicers and Lil Wayne.

* Food for thought link #2: My buddy Adam K Olson gets written up in in The NY Daily News talking 'bout how to teach yourself tech programs. I've been trying to up my Photoshop skills of late, so I dug it.

* Pop culture link #1: Did you know the Rentals have new music online? I read about their massive new initiative here first, but could only get the player to work by going to their homepage.

* Pop culture link #2: Probably everyone has already seen this map of the Island from "Lost," but it was new to me.

* Funny link #1: If Your IM Buddy List Was Honest

* Funny link #2: I don't care what anyone says about that issue of Detective he put out last week, I think Neil Gaiman's still got it in spades.

* Mighty Crusaders Link #1: Yeah, I know DC is calling them the "Red Circle" characters, but I can't get down with that name just yet. Anyway, the always titillating Alex Segura has been blowing my mind this week with preview images of the DC revival of Archie's old superhero line over at The Source. Aside from my personal favorite of The Web pictured above, there's also Jesus Saiz's interpretation of The Shield and Saiz and J.G. Jones' takes on Inferno and The Hangman. Make with the clicky, as they say.

* Mighty Crusaders Link #2: I swear I'm still going to get to my own dumb love letter to the Archie heroes in my long-awaited (by Ben) "Questionable Taste" series of posts, but in the meantime, check out this series of posts by blogger Siskoid on the characters. Scroll to the bottom and work your way up for a solid rundown of the original characters and their rad '90s !mpact revamps.

* Mighty Crusaders Link #3: Seriously, you guys...if there's one thing in this week's Linko! you have to click on, it's this Newsarama interview with J.G. Jones about his work redesigning the Archie characters. It may be the funniest Goddamn thing I've read in a year. I don't want to bag on Matt Brady because obviously he works a lot harder and is way more successful than me, and I am just as guilty of this as anyone who writes these kinds of superhero news stories online, but a pretty rote question list provided Jones (who I can say from experience is a pretty funny ass guy) to turn the whole ordeal into a parody of an interview. It gets pretty brutal by the time Brady says "I noticed that you didn't do any design for The Shield," but it is SO worth your time to click through. NOW.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Henceforth on Tuesdays I will drink whiskey and crank call bowling alleys

OK, so the above image pretty much has nothing to do with this post, but once I saw it I couldn't resist.

While I'm loath to constantly be posting links to my other site here at the CKT (although you people really should subscribe over there...hint hint), I had to point out that this week I completed what is to be my final regular "Tuesday Q&A" column for (and by extension, Ben). To celebrate, I gathered random pull quotes from nearly 11 months of interviews and put them in one place, so please go waste some time at the Four Color Forum. There are chats with Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Jeff Parker, Matt Fraction, Howard Chaykin and a host of other really radical people I'm sure you like if you read this blog.

Also, I get really gay for Ben at the bottom of the post, so get psyched for that too.

Ben's Top Ten Super Heroes of the 90's pt. 1

They say you can tell a lot about a person from the stuff they liked as a kid, don't they? If they don't I just did, and I'm sticking by it. Since I'm a comic book fan/professional/commentator, it stands to reason you'd be interested in who my favorite characters were when I was growing up, right?

Don't answer that.

Since I grew up in the 90's (well I guess technically I grew up in the 80's, but I grew up in comics in the 90's, if that makes sense), possibly the weirdest and wildest comic book decade of them all, and I was primarily a super hero reader, I read a pretty wide range of stuff and enjoyed a fairly eclectic crew of characters. I've narrowed my favorite down to a top ten and you may be surprised by who they are...or you may not be. Let's find out!

10. Live Wire
You'll see the start of a pattern here real quick as my favorite characters tended to be the brash loudmouth male heroes who also had a romantic streak. I was a bit of a sarcastic punk as a kid (fortunately I've grown up into a suave, sophisticate gentleman), so there was an appeal to these guys who acted a bit like me but were considered heroes and (of course) got the girl. Live Wire fit the bill and I got huge into the two Legion books after they rebooted with Zero Hour, so I took to him. He also had electricity powers, which, aside from super speed, may be my favorite (clearly I dig the lightning bolt motif).

9. Iron Man
I had been a fan of the design of Iron Man from a visual standpoint since I was too young to really read as I noted here. The 90's were a pretty wretched time creatively speaking for Iron Man, but I was buying pretty much everything Marvel put out anyways, and I still dug the armor (and I kinda liked the "Crash and Burn" storyline from around issue #300 where a bunch of random guest stars like Deathlok and Venom thought Stark Enterprises had gone corrupt). Even though the stories weren't the best, I liked the trappings of a rich guy who was tortured by the demons of success and fought to be a better man than he seemed to be; I always preferred Tony Stark to Bruce Wayne as my fictional billionaire of choice.

8. Namorita
Yeah, I was a pre-teenage boy and I thought a two-dimensional stacked blond in a green bikini was hot--sue me. Namorita was totally the comic book crush du jour of my childhood and her flirty relationship with Nova was just another reason I thought he was awesome. However, I also liked Nita because she was a strong female character and not just another tabula rasa who filled the chick quotient on the team. She led the New Warriors for a period and was actually pretty terrible at it, but that just intrigued me further, as it was her headstrong nature that made her fail and I liked that Fabian Nicieza didn't feel the need to idealize her.

7. Iceman
The X-Men were my primo comic drug of choice growing up and I liked pretty much all of them in some quirky way (except for Archangel; never took to him for whatever reason), but I needed to have a favorite, and Iceman was it. Age was a big factor, as I always pictured the X-Men as being at the youngest in their late 20's (amazing how old that seemed to me at the time), but figured Bobby Drake was somewhere in the neighborhood of 22, so I felt like he was more relatable. Another part, again, was the visual; Iceman had a very unique, very sleek look and I was a kid very into aesthetics. Also, great powers (that to this day have never been fully explored). Of course the wit and attitude helped, as always, but probably the biggest reason I went with Iceman over Wolverine or Gambit was simply because he was nobody else's favorite; I always liked feeling like I had some sort of propietary ownership of my favorite characters.

6. Robin
Tim Drake definitely did not fit my typical wiseass mold, but it was like you always have that one friend who is nothing like the rest of your group, and that's why he fascinates you. In fact, I can't think of many characters who were less like my idealized version of myself, but ironically more like my real self than Robin. All the things that were thought of way back in the Golden Age when the original Robin was created to attract younger readers definitely worked in hooking me, from the fact that he got to live out that most childlike of fantasies of getting the slickest dude in the world as a mentor to the bright contrast he brought to the dark world of Batman's Gotham City. However, I also liked that Tim got his edge more from being intelligent and resourceful than natural athletic skills. There was a great Zero Hour crossover issue where Tim meets a time-displaced Dick Grayson and is frustrated by how naturally he seemed to succeed at everything only to realize having to work at everything ultimately made him perhaps a better Robin; I dug that.

Next time: The guys you expect!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Paragraph Movie Reviews: Vicky Cristina Barcelona

If you don't have plans to see this movie, you can check the spoilers here and then come back...

A so-so movie buoyed by a couple of very good performances in my opinion. Even though all the talk I've heard has been about the ladies, Javier Bardem is the center of the film, since everything centers around a bunch of shifting relationships with him as the constant. On his own, he does good stuff, projecting a mystery and charisma but also a vulnerability. He has varying degrees of chemistry with the three female leads, who are also varying degrees of good, which naturally makes for a bit of an inconsistent final product. Penelope Cruz is brilliant, showing intensity with every word and gesture, oozing passion and confidence, and most impressively playing crazy in a way that seems absolutely real; and her and Bardem seem made to play off one another. Scarlet Johansson is good in her scenes with Bardem and is striking as always, but a bit cardboard. Rebecca Hall is just pretty grating and doesn't play off anybody all that well. Stir that all together, mix in some trademark bold Woody Allen camera choices (I presume, having never seen another Woody Allen movie) and narration I personally found grating, and you come out with a movie I didn't mind seeing, but could have done fine without.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

A Semi-Rant About the Secret Identity

I've been thinking a lot about secret identities lately for some reason. I know I'm not the only one, because double lives have been the subject of a lot of thought-provoking works of fiction, both in and out of comics (but mostly in).

During the Golden Age and particularly in the Silver Age, the secret identity was more of a gimmick or storytelling tool than something that drove real drama. It was a way to keep the heroes out of (presumably) dull committed relationships (the classic Superman-Lois Lane-Clark Kent love triangle model) and also provide goofy gags as mysterious absences needed to be explained in "hilarious" fashion. Rather than facilitate any interesting conflict, it seems like the early secret identities sidestepped that as heroes never needed to face the consequences of their actions.

This all changed with the advent of the Fantastic Four and then Spider-Man. With the FF, you had to the best of my knowledge the first high profile super heroes whose identities were public (and please correct me in the comments if I'm wrong on that score). Spider-Man took the Clark Kent idea to the next level with Peter Parker, who was every bit the wallflower, and a guy the average comic reader was supposed to be able to relate to better than a larger-than-life dude in tights. Clark Kent was mild-mannered and all, so he was relatable to a degree, but he was also an alien and a grown man; Peter Parker was close to the median age of readers and, spider powers aside, a normal dude.

I wasn't exactly raised on Spider-Man comics, but I've always recognized the historical significane of the character as far as being a trendsetter, and his secret identity was no exception there. Peter Parker didn't smile and wink at the end of a story because he had fooled Betty Brant into thinking he wasn't Spider-Man, he agonized because he had an alter ego where he was powerful, bold and charismatic--and he couldn't tell anybody about it. He had to pretend to keep being a dweeb when he knew there was a special person inside.

That's why secret identities are so powerful in comics (and elsewhere): We've all got something inside us we want the world to know about, but for whatever reason, we don't get to share it. I think in a most cases people imagine themselves as somebody else, be it somebody more famous, stronger, smarter, or whatever; in our dreams, these are the secret identities we can't reveal to the world. Folks who like to escape in the world of fiction are especially indicative of these feelings, so it's no wonder these double lives so fascinate and captivate us.

Like I said, I didn't read much Spider-Man as a kid, and by the time I did, Peter Parker was married with a wife with whom he could confide how special he really was. Infact, in a lot of the comics I grew up reading, the secret identity was de-emphasized to a large degree because a lot of the characters who traditionally kept secret lives had married or at least were in committed relationships where their significant others knew what they did (Superman had married Lois Lane, after all). A lot of other characters like Wally West had gone the public identity route. And then there were the X-Men who never really seemed to need secret IDs.

It was actually the third Robin, Tim Drake, who I read the best secret identity stories about. Chuck Dixon did some really interesting stuff with Tim being unable to have a healthy relationship with either his girlfriend or his father because of the secrets he was keeping. It created great drama that was only enhanced by the fact that Batman just didn't seem to get it. It's often said with Batman that he is the true identity and Bruce Wayne is the mask, so it was (and still is) interesting to see the smartest guy in the DC Universe unable to puzzle out something like why a teenage kid would want to tell the hot chick he's dating that he doesn't get all those black eyes from getting his ass kicked, he's actually out fighting crime every night.

I guess I've always found the secret identities that suck to be more interesting than the ones that are actually pretty sweet (not to keep harping on poor Superman, but outside of the brilliant movies by Richard Donner, I never bought that Clark Kent's schlubby existence was that bad). I'm not saying I've had a terrible life by any means, but I could certainly relate to wanting girls to know how secretly cool I was and feeling sometimes like I was trapped by an insecurity I knew I could release if only I had a snug pair of red and green tights.

Uh, belay that last part.

It also made the super heroes who were able to share their identities with other seem that much cooler. Superboy got to be Superboy 24/7 and his life rocked. Nova had to keep his secret from the general public, but his family knew, he had rad friends with similar issues in the New Warriors, and he had a hot super hero girlfriend in Namorita. Years later when Geoff Johns puts the genie of Wally West's life as the Flash back in the bottle, his connection to Linda only seemed that much more impressive because she shared his burden.

Given that those were the characters I really dug growing up, I never really took much stock in the secret identity. I didn't think it was a big deal. Sure there were those great Robin stories that I mentioned, but in the 90's they were more th exception than the rule.

Ironically enough, it was the Spider-Man movies that taught me the value of the secret identity in dramatic storytelling. I got to see in digestible two-hour drops all those classic, tragic Spidey stories where he went through so much agony by shouldering the pain of his struggles alone. When he told Mary Jane the truth at the end of the second flick, I got it. All the crap he went through sweetened the payoff. Of course it also eliminated all that great tension, but you always have to find that next story...

Ultimately, I think there's room for characters with secret identities, with public identities, with identities only their loved ones know, and for the X-Men too. It's all part of that beautiful tapestry that is comics. On some level, I like being able to relate to the struggles of Spider-Man and Robin as they have to let romance fall by the wayside to do their duty. I also want to escape with Superboy and Nova into a world where being rad is a way of life and all your friends come along for the ride. It's all good.

I'm not sure how much I really said in the course of writing a lot, but like I said, I've been thinking a lot about secret identities lately for some reason, so there you go.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Stage Stories: I Cut My Finger Off


Saturday, I went and saw the musical Hair on Broadway. I toyed with doing a review, but ultimately decided against it. I think something like that, where it's more a psychadelic series of songs and other musical performances held loosely together by plot isn't the kind of thing I want to pass judgment on or dissect. Suffice to say I enjoyed it immensely and will make the following quick statements on it:

1. The energy of the cast was incredible and, more impressively, seemed 100% legitimate. Obviously actors can fake enthusiasm (as can TJ), but these dudes and ladies seemed truly amped to be performing. It was nice to see, but also made me curious if they have some sort of wonder drug (or, y'know, normal drug) to stay so up for multiple shows a day.

2. While I dug the show as pure entertainment, reading up on it and what a social impact it had back when it first came out at the height of Vietnam, I can't help but feel like I missed or didn't synch up with any deeper messages about war, etc. All I really came away with was that it was crazy to be 19 in 1967 (much like it was apparently crazy to be 19--or there about--in 1987; 2001 felt pretty standard to me aside from the stuff that made it crazy to be any age).

2a. A large part of feeling like I missed something was not understanding why the main character, Claude, was conflicted between going to war and burning his draft card. Given the larger message of the show, it seemed to me like he'd obviously be 100% anti-war. However, talking to my mom, who saw the show during its original run, she explained to me how in those days with World War II still fresher in people's minds as a war everybody wanted to fight in and Vietnam really being the first time young people expressed anti-war sentiments, it was easier to put yourself in Claude's shoes. These days, as young people, we're used to having the choice to not serve and don't get that inner conflict as much. Makes sense to me.

3. I was quite taken aback with and impressed with the level of physical comfort the cast members had with one another. There was a lot of making out and groping amongst not only whoever was delivering lines, but everybody in the background as well, and partners were switched pretty readily, leading me to assume most of that was improv and thus every single person had to be comfortable with being extremely physical with any other member of the cast at any given time and not ruin the moment, which they didn't; it was something.

And that's pretty much all I have to say about Hair, other than that you should check it out if you have the opportunity. What I would like to discuss further is my own checkered past in the theater.

Indeed beginning in high school and on into college, I fancied myself an actor of some degree. In fact, I was initially a dual major in Theater and English at Connecticut College until during my sophomore year, my wise theater professor told me, "Ben, it's hard enough to make it in acting or writing with a full degree in either; if you have half a degree in both, you're going to have trouble," and I opted to ditch my Hollywood/Broadway dreams; I think it worked out for the best.

There are a lot of former/current actor types in the comic book industry, which isn't all that surprising given that we're a group enamored with larger-than-life stories who also in many cases crave attention and spotlight (well I do at least). Why, on this very blog, you've got a trained Shakespearean thespian in one Rickey Purdin, who also almost went the theater major route and was actually an instructor at summer camps that focused on acting for a time. I believe Kiel also has a history in the performance arts and I know my fiancee, Megan, an actress herself, has long enjoyed his work on Saturday Night Live and in various films under his pseudonym of "Bill Hader." Also, one of my very favorite fun facts about Marvel: Spider-Man editor Steve Wacker was an extra in The American President (unless he has been lying to me for years, which...wouldn't surprise me).

So whenever I see a great show on or off Broadway, I gotta admit there's a little twinge of jealousy and regret over the career I never got to have. Hey, I'm thrilled with what I do now, but I'm a natural spotlight-craver and the times I spent on stage were some of the best I ever had. There's also frustration as the health problems I described the other day forced me to drop out of my final college show prematurely and pretty much derailed any shot at me ever pursuing acting as even a hobby in the future.

However, why focus on the negative when there's plenty of positive to share, right? For instance, there's the time I got part of my finger chopped off by a real sword...

At my high school there was definitely a pretty apparent clique system when it came to after school activities, at least for your first two-three years. For the two relevant examples, "jocks" did not generally interact with "theater kids" and vice versa. Being a member of the wrestling team who also did plays during the off-season, I was a bit of anomaly, and kinda loved it. As we hit junior/senior year, those cliques began to break down as we all realized we wouldn't be together much longer and quite a few of my "jock" friends gave acting a try, leading to some of the most fun I had in high school.

Before that all went down, however, some of my theater-inclined friends convinced me during my junior year that I should try out for the annual Shakespeare production, which that year was going to be Richard III. The Shakespeare show was a big deal because it was a co-production between my school--Newton South--and our crosstown counterpart Newton North. It ran two weekends as opposed to the usual one and generally had a huge cast. It happened to fall just after wrestling season ended, so I was game, if a bit nervous since I hadn't done nearly as much acting as the hardcores who got the plum gigs in these shows and didn't want to humiliate myself against kids from another school.

Nonetheless, I pumped myself up Ultimate Warrior-style and headed into the audition. The director was some muckity muck who all my friends were gaga over, but I didn't know the dude from Adam. He had me fill out some typical audition forms where I listed conflicts, special skills, etc. Under "special skills" I always mentioned that I wrestled, less because I thought it was of any practical use, more because I wanted to write something there. Well this director's ears perked up when he saw that I wrestled.

"You wrestle?"


"That's great! We need guys like you to be soldiers for the fight scenes!"

"Uh, cool...can I audition for an actual speaking part?"

"What? Oh...yeah, I guess so."

I then went ahead to do the monologue I had spent days memorizing while he completely ignored me and read over the next guy's info sheet. When I was done, he looked up after a pause and said, "Oh, nice yeah, we'll definitely need you as a soldier."

Anybody who has ever met me can attest that there is actually very little about me that screams "Badass jock," so to be treated thusly was, like, a bit flattering, but mostly just annoying and frustrating. I guess I was glad I got to be in the show, but more than a little annoyed that I was being made the equivalent of a stunt guy without a chance to prove myself. Ironically, one of the captains of North's wrestling team got to be one of the leads, but he was also really good (and maybe didn't put down "wrestling" under special skills).

Regardless, I got over it pretty quickly and really enjoyed working on the show as it felt like I was part of something bigger and more special than I was used to and I got to meet some really cool folks (many of whom initially treated me the same way as the director, before realizing I am a huge pussy and couldn't kick anybody's ass, at which point they welcomed me with open arms). My lame non-speaking role kinda sucked and any hopes of getting a dope costume disappeared once I learned we were doing a "modern interpretation" of the show, and thus I got to wear a white t-shirt and cargo pants (apparently soldiers in this director's world enlisted in the Old Navy--hi-yoo!), but I dug the camraderie chiefly anyhow.

Also, they gave me an axe.

Y'see, the same visionary director who thought it would be cool to dress his military like refugees from an Abercrombie & Fitch catalogue also felt he needed the true authenticity in his fight scenes that could only come from putting actual real weapons in the hands of high school students. We were for real given full-on metal swords and, in my case, a fucking battle axe, to use in the climactic 20-second battle tableaus that we were all essentially in the play for. There were, I believe, three of us on the side of Richmond (we were the good guys) who got paired off with the three folks playing for the evil Team Richard. A cool-as-shit fight coordinator was brought in to choreograph with us a trio of quick battles that would serve as the immediate prelude to the end of the show.

It was actually pretty dope.

I got matched up with I believe the only girl in the soldiers group, presumably because I am a tiny man and me even holding my own against another man is inconceivable in the context of a show where fucking ghosts play a role in the penultimate scene. As a Richmond guy, I got a little wooden shield, while my partner got a big ol' sharp-edged metal shield (this will be important in a moment). We staged a decent little fracas where she tried to hit me broadside with her sword and I kept deflecting it with my shield, then knocked her shield out of her hands with a couple mighty swings of my axe, casuing her to flee and putting another one on the scoreboard for the good guys. We practiced time and again and I was pretty proud in thinking ours was the best fight of the bunch.

Opening weekend came and our battle was a real crowd-pleaser. This was helped by the fact that pretty much every student taking third year English had to attend the play and write a mandatory essay on this four-hour epic, and since I was pretty much the only person in the show any of my rowdy jock buddies knew, me getting my axe on was their first excuse to cheer all night.

The next weekend, we switched over to North territory...and things went horribly wrong.

In the final peformance, everything was going like it always went. I did notice that my sparring partner seemed a bit jumpy, but chalked it up to her being sad to see the show come to an end (I certainly was). I asked if she was cool as we prepared to bring that mother home, and she assured me she was, so it was go time.

We ran out on stage and I got my little wooden shield up just in time, because I swear to God she almost took my head off. I caught the swing, but was struck both by the fact that clearly this girl's nerves had gotten the better of her as she was waaaay off-cue, and also that this girl was fucking strong! I didn't have much time to mull over these discoveries, as swing number two came and went, leaving my right arm with a pleasant numbness. My inner wrestler must have kicked in, because when she laid in with that final sword-shot, I didn't just block, I took my shield and swung it back so hard that I knocked the damn thing right out of her hand and across the stage!

(NOTE: That last part may not have actually happened)

I was running on adrenaline, the crowd was roaring and this girl was freaking out. Trying to get the situation under control, I brought my axe down with slightly less force than usual, because I didn't want anybody to get hurt, and that was that.

Why was that that when I was supposed to do two axe-shots? Because the girl freaked out and brought her shield up way too early with extreme velocity, in the process slicing open my hand and cutting off the end of my thumb.

The audience, thinking this was all part of the show, erupted. We got the fuck offstage.

That was not the end, however, as, of course, after three and a half hours of not being in the show at all, I was in every scene from here on out. I frantically wrapped my hand in my white t-shirt, which turned red pretty damn quick. Some girls I knew came over to say I'd done a nice job and immediately recoiled from the gusher I had going.

But the show must go on.

I shambled back onstage (my dad later told me everybody around them was impressed by the "realistic-looking blood" smeared on my shirt) and helped carry (SPOILER ALERT) Richard's corpse off to be buried hopefully without bleeding all over the poor guy in the process. I then went back out to stand dutifully while Richmond delivered the final monologue, holding my hand behind my back, then took my curtain call--I did not hold hands with the person next to me.

Ultimately, the wound was not as bad as I thought it was in the heat of the moment (big ass cut, but really just the slightest tip of finger loss), but the fight coordinator could not apologize enough if he bandaged me up, noting "This seriously never happens."

The next year, I opted not to do Shakespeare, choosing instead to star in a show I had helped to write. I was told the director actually asked for me by name and was disappointed I didn't audition. Presumably he wanted to get my whole hand sliced off that year.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Improbable But True: "Wanted" Movie Reunites Father & Daughter

Above: Actually Impossible

In Mark Millar and J.G. Jones' comic Wanted and its subsequent film adaptation, lead character Wesley Gibson confirms his status as “most insignificant asshole of the 21st century” by Googling himself and drawing up no results. Now, as someone who spends an inordinate amount of time googling himself, I can tell you that the scene is 100% impossible as any two words not made up entirely of gibberish will draw some result on the search engine. But the detail is really funny in context and works well for Wesley's story, so when I first saw it I was just like, "OK. Ha ha. Suspension of disbelief. Let's move on."

Now, jaded interwebs writer that I am, I often take for granted the fact that plenty of Americans aren't trapped in this six-letter prison I call a search engine, but thankfully local news teams across this great land of ours are always on hand to remind me that computers, comics and movies are in fact magic.

Case in point: apparently Seattle, Washington resident Dirk Pratt rented "Wanted" a few weeks back, and after seeing the dashing James McAvoy look himself up, Pratt decided to do the same. Lo and behold, rather than finding out that his name drew no results, Pratt found his daughter, who he had thought dead for 27 years.


You guys have really got to click through that link and watch the video. It's great when they start cutting between the tearful airport reunion of father and child and stock footage of Angelina Jolie blowing the shit out of a Duane Reade.

"I demand to know who's your daddy!"

I know when you write blog posts about things like this, you're supposed to tie up all the threads to make some grand point about new media or something, but really I just thought it was kind of insane.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wizard Features That Never Were: James Marsters Up Close

First, a tangent: I have never been fond of doing phone interviews.

Ok, scratch that; I actually generally enjoy doing phone interviews once they get underway, but I get incredibly nervous for them. The primary reason for this is that I have (actual clinical diagnosed) anxiety disorder. I got diagnosed my freshman year of college after 18 or so years of not getting why I paced nervously before wrestling matches or freaked out on long car rides. I manage pretty well these days and most people I haven't told about my condition never suspect I have it (well there goes that). However, if you watch me carefully (and I don't encourage you to do so...weirdo...) or know me well, you can still catch little things.

My particular disorder is tied to my stomach and my digestive system. Put simply, my stomach gets upset a lot, and whenever I'm put in a position where I feel as though I may not have ready access to a bathroom, I start feeling like I have to go. Hence the fear of being cooped up in the car, the reason I need to sit near a bathroom on the train even when I don't need to go, and why I rarely enter an elevator on a full stomach.

Getting back to the point, it can also make phone interviews very nerve-wracking. The reason being, if I'm in the middle of an important call, I don't want to have to excuse myself to use the bathroom. If I'm speaking with a comic creator I barely know, I really don't want to. And if I'm speaking with a celebrity who only has a 15-minute window to talk, I really really don't want to.

However, despite all this, I have done--and enjoyed--many many interviews with comic types, actors and actresses, professional wrestlers, and other cool people. Some day I'll do a more navel-gazing entry about said cool people, but the inspirational message here is that hurdles can be overcome. Hey, I may not be working the red carpet at the Oscars or winning Nobel prizes, but I do pretty well for myself, and I do it despite sweating every time I need to take a taxi.

If you survived that pre-amble, let's get to the point.

One phone interview I did lobby hard for while at Wizard was an opportunity to speak with James Marsters back in 2005. I've been a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan for years and without a doubt Marsters' Spike was a huge reason why. His ability to play a total badass yet turn on a dime to do self-deprecating humor or an impassioned love story was uncanny. I've seen very few actors truly mine all they can out of a character the weigh James Marsters did with Spike.

Anyhow, James was getting set to join the cast of Smallville as Brainiac, and being one of the few staffers who actually watched the show on a regular basis (Kiel was/is another), I had become more or less the default correspondent for when we did articles relating to it or conducted interviews with the folks involved (and say what you will about the show, which can often be pretty ridiculous, but it's good fun and the people involved worked their asses off and are good folks; during a legitimate nightmare phone interview where I was incredibly sick and even more paranoid than usual, Tom Welling was absurdly nice to me and pretty darn understanding considering I introduced myself with "If my voice trails off, it's because I had to puke").

As is generally the case with celeb interviews, James called me at a predetermined time as opposed to me calling him (another thing I hate about phoners: lack of control) and we got to chat for a good half hour, longer I believe than we were supposed to (it's always a good sign when you're interviewing an actor and their agent must intervene to remind them they have places to be). We ran through all my bullet point questions and he gave some good answers on what was coming up on the show, the standard Buffy stuff ("Five more years and I'm too old to play Spike, so if we're gonna do something with him, it better be before then"), etc. It was a nice moment of self-satisfaction for me when I got him to chuckle with "What surprises people most about you when they meet you: that you're not blond, not British, or not 25?"

(I believe the answer was "I haven't been 25 for a looooong time, dude," said in his full-on California surfer dude voice, then followed by "...but I always seemed to fool them" in the Spike accent, which I tried not to squeal like a 16-year old girl over).

He also talked about some stage work he was doing and I think even that he was gonna be in the last Star Wars movie but wasn't for some reason. I do remember my one embarassing moment (there's always at least one) was that I was telling him what a huge fan I was (first rule of interviewing celebrities: if you're a fan, you tell them after you're done with the bulk of the interview, that way they take you seriously on the front end and leave with a good impression) and mentioned that I even watched an episode of The Mountain he had appeared on and ended up getting kinda hooked on the show (I was living in a motel room with no friends at the time, having started working at Wizard only a few weeks earlier). At first, it seemed like he couldn't remember the gig I was referring to, so I tried to play it off as, "Oh yeah, it was a terrible show, you wouldn't remember," but then he did remember, and being a pro, seemed a bit offended that I was ridiculing a show where he now recalled he knew the people who worked on it. He also mentioned he had gotten to work with a "great young actor," and a bit humiliated at this point, I rolled my eyes on the other end of the line; that "great young actor" turned out to be Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley, whom I would definitely call myself a fan of these days.

Fortunately, the call didn't quite end on that note, and he was super cool and very grateful thanking me for taking the time and me promising to send him the interview once it saw print.

Which it never did.

I think we ended up pulling a few quotes and using them as a tiny sidebar in the Hollywood section, but the James Marsters Up Close kept sliding off the schedule, being among the lower priority features, from issue to issue to Mega Movie Special to issue until only like two things he said were still of any relevance.

So I ended up having a great chat with an actor I really dig who turned out to be as great a guy as I could have hoped for, and if I'm ever fortunate enough to speak with him again, I'll have to introduce myself as the douche who couldn't push his interview into an issue of Wizard.

I hate phone interviews.

Friday, April 17, 2009

TJ Dietsch On...Actors

TJ Dietsch is a scholar and a gentleman. He has not one but two blogs, and yet his opinions can still not be confined...

"[Actors] are assholes. 'Hey, look at me, I can act like someone else.' I do that shit every day. Give me a million dollars and a statue of a naked guy."

Ten minutes later...

"What I really wanted to say was that most [actors] are blank slates who lack personality so they have to act like they have one."

After being asked if these thoughts could be posted...

"Yeah, as long as it doesn't make Megan want to kick my ass. More."

This has been TJ Dietsch.

Linko! II

It's that time again, gang! That lovely time at the end of the week when instead of diligently finishing up your Friday workload, you screw around on the interwebs to kill time. It's Linko! As usual, I'm culling a lot of what I share from random crap sent to me via my Twitter page, although I've got a few other sources of fun coming your way this week. Let's do it!

- Every once in a while, we all need a reminder of how awesome Robert Goodin's Covered blog really is. The above cover of Venom #1 by Breakfast Crew creator Jon Vermilyea is one such reminder. Although, for my money, Goodin's own cover of an old Uncle Scrooge piece that currently tops the site is pretty damn amazing too. Check it out!

- And speaking of radical covers, BOOM! assistant editor/former awesome comics blogger/radical dude I hung out with in San Francisco once Ian Brill has been posting links to some stunning covers of upcoming BOOM! books like the above piece by Bill Sienkiewciz for the first issue of the publisher's Do Android's Dream of Electric Sheep? (AKA the better title for the book "Blade Runner" was based on) adaptation. He's also posted links to new work by David Petersen and Jeff Panosian. Feel free to drool.

- How's about you go look at what Brian Warmoth has to say about the new Harry Potter trailer only to have some hardcore Potter fans descend upon the comments thread?

- Via a Comics Should Be Good entry that mentioned my name (Google Alert! Kiel Is Self-Obsessed!), I discovered a new blog called Monomythic that looks at different representations of classic heroic fiction tropes. Could be fun.

- Have we discussed Tumblr yet? If you're not hip, Tumblr is a blogging platform best used to post random images and other quick, snippy bits. I pretty much dig it, and you can find my own Tumblr blog at But the cool thing about he platform is that you can follow other people's random posts and find cool images like the above "What if Pacman were real?" image or cool sites like Sean T.'s Bowie Loves Beyoncé, Brett White's action figure strip Tales To Diminish, tons of sites that mock hipsters or my favorite blog of all time: Boner Party

- Finally, if you're feeling bored AND creative this weekend, I highly recommend this handy dandy how-to guide that shows folks how to pull off mock comic book coloring effects in Photoshop with just a little effort. I'm going to play with it myself and maybe I'll post the results here later.

Enjoy the weekend, gang!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Ben's Indy Odyssey: Eightball #23: The Death Ray

Rickey lent me this several months ago at the end of a party when he was very drunk and it was very late and it has been sitting by my bed ever since; as a result, I had the kinda neat experience of going into the reading experience not remembering for the life of me why I wanted to borrow this or why he wanted me to read it. When I saw it was by Daniel Clowes, a dude whose stuff I've never read but heard plenty about, I got extra excited that I decided to clean a bit of my room for no particular reason today.

At the start, "The Death Ray" seemed to fit in perfectly with the whole "coming of age" theme I've already covered this week in other posts, which both struck me as serendipitous and also a bit daunting seeing as how said theme is starting to wear on me after several days of thinking about it intensely. But the first part of "Death Ray" struck a nice balance between slice of life and edging on strange, in the process both holding my attention and making me feel the right kind of uneasy. I found the main characters relatable enough that when more or less out of nowhere (especially for a guy who didn't know what he was reading) the sci fi/psuedo-super hero elements kick in, it's a shock to the system that threw me but that I also cared about. In not that many pages, Clowes had got me invested in these kids, so no matter how bizarro the next act was, I was in for a pound.

That said, I definitely drifted a bit as the book went, and I suspect a lot of that is personal taste/mood/whatever. Everything is pretty well-constructed, but I did feel like the pacing of the book's first half was near-perfect in its diligence while about midway through things starting spiraling a bit too quickly for me to reconcile. This is where lack of mental preparation hurt me a bit, as reading it all in one sitting and not having the slightest concept of what I was getting into led to me getting uneasy when my car veered off the rails maybe earlier than I was ready for it too. I feel weird saying the story would have been better served if it was either gonzo from the get-go or more deliberate in the homestretch because this is one of those times where my gut tells me that my personal reading is not necessarily reflective of the way things "should have been done."

Part of my faith that I didn't get all I was supposed to out of this initial reading and would dig more into the evolution of the story if I tried again comes from how much I dug so many of the flourishes Clowes uses. In even my meager indy reading experiences I've encountered plenty of experimental framing techniques that, in my opinion, fall flat on their face, but Clowes is genius in chopping his story up into sub-sections that are distinct both in terms of content and design and not losing you in the process. I love his clean drawing process, the way he makes simplicity looks pretty and even small things like how he uses borders and panel layout to mix things up.

I enjoyed "The Death Ray," but I think I respect it as a work more. This is definitely one of those cases where as a "reviewer" (I gotta put that in quotes because I certainly don't take myself too seriously in that regard) I recognize my own failings as far as letting my mood dictate my reading. I've been in a bt of a funk this week, so it's hard to fully appreciate a story that has a lot of downer elements in it, regardless of how brilliantly portrayed they are. I do think it speaks to the strength of the work, however, that even funky Ben didn't put this down and say "another day," because I wanted to see what happened next. There really is some smart stuff said in the course of this narrative about human nature, growing up and power that I haven't fully absorbed yet but look forward to processing in the days to come.

Don't take my word for it, buy this book for yourself