Merry Christmas!


Off for Christmas! Back in a week or two. Whatever holiday you celebrate, enjoy it!

TRAITOR!!!

Johnny Damon, you are now dead to me. I don't want to talk to you no more, you empty headed animal food trough wiper. I fart in your general direction. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries.

(Monty Python references aside, look, I understand how it must be hard to resist when they basically drive a dump truck full of money up to your door, but if you're gonna leave Boston for New York, couldn't you at least have gone to the Mets? I can respect the Mets. I even kinda like the Mets! But the Yankees? Dead, I say. Dead!)

Shazam!

Joe Rice said this recently over on Listen to Us, We’re Right:

I goddam love Captain Marvel. The real one, not some alien who died of cancer or some bland Jheri-Curl nobody. Billy Batson. The kid who can turn into the world's mightiest mortal. His great golden age stuff still holds up, unlike a lot of the big superheroes. The entire Marvel Family is awesome (in theory). Great design, great idea, great adventures, just all around great. Unfortunately, they've been mishandled worse than pretty much any other characters since DC got them. The Maggin/O'Neil stories were good, but it didn't last long. Not even Jerry Ordway, with obvious love, could really make them pop in today's world. I have to think that they can work. I tell my students about them and they go wild. Captain Marvel can work, especially if you don't worry about the grown ups who want him to participate in Infinite Crisis or whatever. Give him to the kids. It's sure fire, I guarantee it.

I’m inclined to agree with the good Mr. Rice (who, in spreading the word of the one, true Marvel Family to a new generation of children, is truly doing the Lord’s work). I loves me some authentic Captain Marvel, and it bugs me that the character and his associated brood have been so often misused since DC acquired them back in the 70s. It’s a topic I’ve given a lot of thought to over the years – probably too much, in fact, but I don’t let silly things like that hold me back – and a little while back, I came to a conclusion, which is this: most creators are trying to write Captain Marvel stories using the basic superhero formula. This is why so many of them fail - because Captain Marvel isn’t a superhero concept.

It’s an adolescent fantasy tale. It makes use of superhero trappings, sure, but at its core, I think the Big Red Cheese has a bit more in common with Harry Potter than Superman.

Hear me out. Billy Batson is orphaned at a young age, cast out by his only remaining relative in Dickensian fashion, and forced to make his way in life as a child living in an adult’s world. A mysterious ancient wizard shows him that he is destined for greater things and grants him the power needed to make it possible. Life turns around instantly. With the power of Captain Marvel at his disposal, he is able to right not only the injustices committed against him, but against all good, innocent people everywhere (because he’s a hero, and that’s What You Do). But his life as Billy Batson vastly improves, too… he gets a job as a radio reporter, makes a reputation for himself, moves out of the gutter, and establishes a real life with a job, money, friends, and even a bit of family (surrogate and real – more on this in a bit).

All this is pretty well established by just the end of the first story (they didn’t waste much time in the Golden Age, did they?). Just a few pages into the saga, and the groundwork has already been laid for what is essentially the quintessential boys’ fantasy tale: the hidden destiny (the old “there must be more to life than this” chestnut), the amazing powers to help you achieve it, the ability to make your way in an adult’s world but still be a kid, and not a parent in sight. What little kid’s imaginary life isn’t chock-full of this stuff?

And it gets even more fantastic. He meets three kids who have the same name, and miraculously enough, they somehow wind up with the same powers he has. Another homeless newsboy becomes his best friend, and yup, he gets powers, too. Long-lost twin sister? Yup, her, too (honestly, Shazam should’ve just opened up a store and sold the powers rather than just handing ‘em out to every brat who happened along). And with that, Billy is no longer alone in the world… he has friends who understand the uniqueness of his world (because as cool as an Amazing Hidden Destiny is, it gets a bit lonely if you’re the only one, and deep down, we all want to belong to something), as well as a de facto family… a concept they all enjoy so much they officially adopt the name Marvel Family.

(And incidentally, here’s how you know this is really a boys’ fantasy – sister Mary is a lot of fun, and definitely cool enough to play with the guys, but she still lives away from Billy with her adoptive mother. So she can always go back to her own home when and if she starts to get annoying. Because you know how girls are.)

Every day brings a new adventure for our young hero, whether it as Billy, Captain Marvel, or as is often the case, both. His circle grows to include a talking tiger, the world’s most beautiful woman (who also happens to be the Queen of planet Venus), and a W.C. Fields-esque charlatan with a heart of gold. He matches wits and might with the likes of (among others) the world’s wickedest scientist (and his family), a black-clad evil doppelganger, an other-dimensional barbarian king, a giant atomic robot, the living personifications of the seven deadly sins, and bespectacled alien inchworm who manages to kill over 400,000 people (off-panel, of course… it’s classier that way).

Still think this is typical superhero fodder? I say it’s anything but. What we really have here is the ultimate fantasy of every pre-adolescent boy to have ever walked the earth, cross-pollinated with the most vivid fever dream in human history. Also, keep in mind that the good Captain first appeared in 1940, two years after Superman debuted and began to take the world by storm. Superman and the many long-underwear types who followed in his footsteps were big business, so of course Fawcett was going to cast Captain Marvel in that image… they wanted the book to sell! But if the pop cultural landscape of the day were a bit different, this character could very well ended up as a knight, a wizard, an Arabian prince, an Eastern mystic, or just about anything else, for that matter. Billy Batson was created as the ultimate childhood fantasy. Captain Marvel was merely the vehicle to bring that fantasy to the awaiting audience.

Otto Binder and the other Marvel Family scribes of the Golden Age understood that. Denny O’Neil and Elliot S! Maggin, who wrote many of the initial revival stories in 70s, seemed to understand that, too. I’d even say the Roy Thomas got it, based on the Captain’s appearances in All-Star Squadron in the 80s. Everyone else? They were too busy trying to turn Captain Marvel into Superman. But, as I said, Cap isn’t Superman. He’s Harry Potter. He’s King Arthur. And if you consider the whole “boy reporter living and acting as an adult” thing, he’s even Tintin. I’m hoping that, someday, another writer understands this, too.

(Now, of course, the next question is, “Is the mistreatment of Captain Marvel et al. a case of mass misunderstanding, or an intentional action by DC as part of an ongoing plan to get revenge for when Cap outsold Superman on a regular basis all those decades ago?” But that’s a rumination for another day.)

I'm not surly, I'm only drawn that way.

You know what? @#!& the 50 Book Challenge.

It's draining all the fun out of reading and making it into some sort of chore. Kind of like school, really. I liked it better when taking the time out of my day to read a book felt like I was stealing time away from something else around the home or workplace that needed doing... the nerd's equivalent of the illicit thrill of Getting Away With Something. I want that back, and am willing o be satisfied with the fact that if I had continued at the pace I was on, I would've made the 50 book mark easily. And I may still - I just won't be keeping track.

I am no arbitrary challenge's bitch!
Blogging has been kind of light lately - content-wise if not always amount-of-post-wise. I chalk this up to a couple of different factors.

For one, the holiday season is here, and I've been busy getting everything ready for Christmas. Lots of decorating, some last bits of shopping (stocking stuffers at this point), and, of course, some television to be watched. This is where I'm lagging behind the most. I haven't even watched Charlie Brown yet! It's a travesty, I know.

(Incidentally, do any of you who own the DVD of A Charlie Brown Christmas find yourself missing the "CBS Special Presentation" stinger - the one with the dramatic music and spinning words - as much as I do? Chuck's Christmas woes just ain't the same without it.)

Second, I find that my job is really starting to get me down. The job itself is okay, mind you - they could pay me more, sure, but you know, it's alright - but the hours, they are pretty much "teh suck," as they say on the inter-ma-net. Sundays from noon to 8 and Monday through Thursday nights until 11. Bleh. It was bad enough when it was just Erin and I, but now that Liam is here, I mind it even more. You'd think working nights would mean getting to see my kid all day long, but it rarely works out that way. Erin leaves for work super early, Liam tends to be an early riser, and I, as I stated, work late, get home later, and get to bed even later still (and I'm not one of those people who can crawl straight into bed either, unfortunately). So, since I need to sleep, Liam spends the days with his reliable, free childcare provider, his Grandpa Steve. It's a great arrangement for all involved, to be sure, but by the time I get up and do the things that need doing in the mornings, I don't get a lot of time to spend with Liam before I go to work.

It's not like I don't get to see him at all. I keep him at home Monday mornings, and all day Friday and Saturday (my weekend). On the other days, I make sure to go over to be with him for as much time as possible. And on the days Steve can't take him first thing (or at all), I'll definitely get up, though I can't do those as often as I'd like, as childcare on 4 to 5 hours sleep is really difficult 2 or more days in a row.

So yeah, it could be worse. But the fact is, I miss seeing my kid. I miss seeing my wife. And as strange as it sounds, working normal daytime hours would actually make it so I could see them more.

So if there aren't many posts around here, or the ones that are here seem kind of light, it's not because I'm lazy. It's because a lot of days, I find it kind of hard to care.



Speaking of things that I'm finding it hard to care about, DC posted the solicits for March 2006, revealing their plans for the post-Infinite Crisis "One Year Later" thing.

For the most part? Meh. Seriously and spectacularly meh.

It reminds me of the whole post-Zero Hour thing: it's a bunch of specially-designed "jumping on points for new readers" full of allegedly shocking changes-for-the-sake-of-changes. New teammates! New costumes! New identities! Who got knocked up? Who is being replaced until their next big movie or tv show comes out? Who is Batman now? Why is the new Robin uniform patterned after the version shown on a cartoon cancelled five years ago? Give us your hard-earned cash to find out!

Just like Zero Hour. And you know, I bought into it back then. I was young, I was impressionable, I didn't have a girlfriend to spend the money what little money I made on instead. But now, I'm older, I'm wiser, I'm cynical, and I have a wife and child to spend what little make on instead. As a man once said, "Fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me... (longish pause) you can't get fooled again."

I'd be lying if I said that there wasn't anything interesting coming out of this. Supergirl and the Legion of Super-Heroes sounds fun, but I buy Legion anyway, so that's a no-brainer. Walter Simonson and Howard Chaykin on Hawkgirl earns a look on the creative talents' respective careers alone. And the Kurt Busiek/Jackson Guice swords & sorcery take on Aquaman sounds intriguing (sorry Scipio).

But the rest of One Year Later? Well, it all seems like a case of - to quote another man (a Brit this time) - "second verse, same as the first."

A Marvel Universe Christmas, True Believers!


Saw this out on the inter-ma-net somewhere and had to grab it for my very own. It made me all kinds of happy.

My only problem is that Spidey is cast as Shermy (if I remember my A Charlie Brown Christmas dance moves correctly) when, obviously, he's the Charlie Brown of the Marvel Universe.

A brief thought after reading Legion of Super-Heroes #12

I finally get why I love this book: it's Wild in the Streets.

With super-powers.

In outer space.

In the future.

As if the Legion wasn't high-concept enough before, now Mark Waid throws the greatest cult teen rebellion movie ever into the mix. Brilliant. Waid am genius.

14 or fight!

No wonder they're in last place.

So I saw an ad tonight for some new UPN sitcom called Cuts. I think it's about some inner-city guy who gets a job at ritzy, upper-crust hair salon, but that's not important right now.

The tagline for the show was "he's gone from street... to chic!" At least, I think that's what it was supposed to be. You see, the key words from the line appeared on the screen in appropriately representative fonts. And the first word, shown in a spray-painty, urban, kind of worn down font, was definitely "street." But the second word, the one in the predictably ritzy, gold-and-diamondy kind of font? Well, it wasn't "chic."

It was "sheik." As in "the leader of an Arab village or family." (via) As opposed to "the quality or state of being stylish." (via)*

And yes, they do sound the same (sheik can also be pronounced to sound like "shake," but that's not important now). Homonyms are tricky like that. But if you're in charge of promoting a network show - even if the network is UPN - shouldn't you really check to make sure you're using the right word?

Because "going from street to chic" and "going from street to sheik" are two entirely different shows altogether.

* And yes, I saw that an alternate definition for sheik was "a man who is much concerned with his dress and appearance," but considering some of the synonyms suggested include "dandy" and "fop," I don't think they meant that version, either.

Book the Tenth - the Short Short Version

#10. The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby - Seeing as I decided to undertake this project in order to get myself to read more often, this book seemed wholly appropriate. It reprints Hornby's columns from The Believer magazine (the monthly, slightly less annoyingly "hipper than thou" offshoot of McSweeney's), and each selection follows a simple formula: Hornby buys a bunch of books over the course of a month, actually reads a few of them (though never as many as he would like), and writes about what he read. I'd go into more detail, except there isn't any. It's just a writer writing about other writers. If you like this sort of thing, than this is definitely the sort of thing you'd like. I do, so I did. It makes a great companion piece to Hornby's collection of pop music essays, Songbook, which I also recommend wholeheartedly.

And with that, I'm 1/5th of the way through the 50 Book Challenge. I kind of rule!

A bit of everything

TV!

* From the "About Damn Time" Department: Doctor Who on DVD in America! Woot! On Valentine's Day, no less, so Erin, you should have no problem finding a gift for me this year. I read that the original plan was to only release the discs in Canada and delay the release here in the States until it actually aired officially here, but it looks like the BBC finally realized that wasn't going to happen, as most American television networks suck (and I still don't understand why this couldn't air on, and this is just a for instance here, maybe friggin' BBC America, of all places, hmm?).

* Evan Dorkin's Welcome to Eltingville pilot is being re-aired on Cartoon Network's Adult Swim in the Sunday/Monday overnight hours at 1:30 am and 5:30 am. It's a really funny show, and if you never saw it the first time around, it's a good chance to see what CN passed over for a series in favor of utter dogshit other programs like Squidbillies.

* In trying to find children's programming that is as palatable to Erin and I as it is to Liam, I think we may have all found a winner in the Noggin series Jack's Big Music Show. It's a show about 2 puppet kids of indeterminate species and their dog, and all the misadventures they stumble upon as they try to make music in their clubhouse. The show was created by Muppet performer David Rudman (who is the current performer for Cookie Monster, according to IMDB), and the show definitely has a sensibility and sense of humor that will seem familiar to anyone who has watched anything Muppet-related over the years. And thankfully, the music is good, too, whether performed by the regular cast or the guest performers (each show contains two video segments, one of which usually features Laurie Berkner, who is as talented as she is cute... and she's very cute). None of that Raffi crap for this show, thank goodness. Liam's whole face lights up and he starts bopping around the second the music starts, and he's not even six months old yet, so if you have kids anywhere from infant to early-school-age, they may very well like it, too. Just don't be surprised if you end up watching it with them.

And if you don't have any children, this could very well become your guilty pleasure show. Your secret will be safe with me.



Comics!

* At long last, I managed to finish Essential Tomb of Dracula Vol. 1. It took a while, but I think it was all worth it in the end. If you're a really hardcore vampire fan and revere the sort of tragi-goth-romantic Anne Rice sort of vampire stories, this series probably isn't for you; it's far more Hammer than Bram Stoker. But if you're willing to accept the fuzzy, movie-esque logic of the book and the occasional continuity gaffes in the plot, it's really a lot of fun. The story starts on shaky ground as the book is passed from author to author in the initial issues (including Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin and Gardner Fox), but really finds it's footing and becomes genuinely intriguing once Marv Wolfman takes over. Wolfman realized that Dracula gets title billing, and should therefore be the book's focus, instead of woefully incompetent vampire hunters Frank Drake and Rachel Van Helsing. In Wolfman's hand, the count transforms from a Lugosi-Lite cliche into a truly frightening, complex, and surprisingly sympathetic protagonist, but never loses sight that he is definitely the villain at all times.

And the artwork by Gene Colan... wow. I was never a big Colan fan growing up; I thought that his work always looked rather muddy and washed out. But in black and white, the crispness and detail of the man's pencil-work really gets a chance to shine. In fact, I'd say that this is the one series reprinted in Marvel's Essential line that actually looks better in black and white than it did in color. Now that I've seen his work at it's unfettered best, this man has quickly become one of my favorite comics artists ever. His ability to convey both the beautiful and the horrific - sometimes in the same panel, no less - is nothing short of astounding. It turns out that for all these years, it was Gene Colan's colorist I held the grudge against. Who knew?

In short, a really great book, and a surprising departure from typical Marvel comics fare, as much now as at the time the series was originally published.

* On the opposite end of the spectrum is the indie superhero book, Hero Corps: The Rookie from Baby Shark Productions. I picked this up at Wizard World Boston, where the creators practically shoved it down my throat. I usually hate the hard sell approach, but their pitch - guy trains his whole life to join superhero police force, gets the call up to the big leagues and find out he hates it - won me over. Well, I should've listened to my initial instincts and passed. The idea is sound, and different enough from other "capes as cops" books like Top 10 to stand out, I suppose, but the execution is off. Unlikable, cliched characters (the rookie, the hard-ass captain, the reckless partner, the one with "daddy issues," etc.) plod through the motions for no other reason than to move the plot along, and since is the first of a series, there isn't even that much plot to move along in the first place; as a result, it feels like there's a lot of "treading water" here. The art isn't great either, though whether that's more the fault of the artist (who has some problems with depicting the characters consistently throughout) or the reproduction (which is often fuzzy and occasionally outright awful), I haven't completely decided. I'd avoid this, if I were you.



Movies (in brief)!

* Mr. & Mrs. Smith - A pleasant enough diversion if you like watching pretty people blow stuff up, and legitimately laugh-out-loud funny in a few parts. There are a few plot points that are unsatisfactorily left unexplored, though, and it doesn't so much come to an end as it just sort of stops, but it's worth a rental. If you need to compare it to some of Doug Liman's other films, it's sort of the exact midpoint between Go and The Bourne Identity.

* Bride and Prejduice - Jane Austen meets Bollywood musical; if you're inclined toward that sort of thing, you'll probably like this a lot. If not, well, it's cute enough in it's own fashion, and there are much worse ways to spend 2 hours than looking at Aishwarya Rai (Roger Ebert has repeatedly claimed she is the most beautiful actress on Earth; look long enough at her eyes, and you'd be hard-pressed to argue with the man). Plus, you get to see some unexpected appearances by Sayid from Lost and, surprisingly, Rory Gilmore, of all people.



The 50 Book Challenge!

#9 Dean and Me: A Love Story by Jerry Lewis and some other guy I can't remember now - I've always been kind of fascinated by Jerry Lewis, who I view as the ultimate example of what happens when enormous talent and enormous ego collide. No one is more convinced of Jerry Lewis's importance to film and comedy than Jerry Lewis, but if you look at the histories of both with an objective eye, you kinda have to admit that he's right (on a related note: Hey! Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences! Howzabout a lifetime achievement Oscar for Jer while he's still alive to accept it?). So when I heard that he wrote a book about his partnership with Dean Martin, I figured it'd be a pretty interesting read.

If you're expecting Lewis to trash his late comedic partner and reveal the seedy underbelly of 1950s Hollywood, you'll most likely be disappointed. As the title says, this is very much a love story; as Jerry states in no uncertain terms time and again that he loved Dean like the big brother he never had. And while their career together as one of show business's most successful duo act is certainly covered in great detail (and if you have any doubts as to the importance of Martin and Lewis, don't worry, Jerry will remind you just how big they were many, many times), it's their relationship that takes center stage, and Jerry writes about it all, the good times and bad, with a surprising honesty. When you're the one telling the story, the urge to paint yourself in the best possible light can be overwhelming, but I have to give Jerry a lot of credit here for being willing to call himself out on his own mistakes. If he acted out of anger, jealousy or ego, or even if he was just being an asshole for the sake of being an asshole, he owns up to it here. You have to figure that hindsight is, as they say, 20/20, and that maybe he's trying to settle his accounts here on Earth before he checks out for good, but still, you have to admire the man's honesty in this regard.

On the whole, it's an interesting book that provides a lot of unique insights about both men as individuals and as a team. I'd love to read this story portrayed from Dean Martin's perspective, but there's only one way to get that now (seeing as the man's been dead for 10 years and all), and I'm not really in that big a hurry to find out.