And now for something completely different; or, "Oooh, you crazy!"

It's just a Joe Besser kind of day.

Trusty Plinko Stick: bringing you pictures of the comedic second bananas of yesteryear for no discernible reason since September 2004.

What fun!

That's the cover to Marvel's December release, Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man #3. Yessiree, this is a cover that lives up to a title, alright. Boy howdy, nothin' but friendliness as far as the eye can see, is there? As far as the "cover content to title appropriateness" ratio goes, FNSM #3 comes in second only to this memorable cover to Archie's Pals & Gals from the late 60s:

Does anybody even read these titles?

Liam was baptized yesterday, so according to Erin's grandmother, he won't be going to Hell; so he's got that going for him, which is nice. God is apparently rewarding him other ways, too (as if a pass on Original Sin wasn't enough), since he was able to support the weight of his big ol' noggin with his neck for a sustained period during his tummytime session this morning. Previously, he'd support his whole upper body with his arms for a few moments before ending up flat on his face, so this was a pretty cool thing to see happen. Of course, given my work schedule, this may have been going on for like a week now and I just haven't been around to see it, but it's new to me, so therefore it's the first time.

Yeah, babyblogging is probably boring for those without babies, but at least I'm not one of those incessant catbloggers.

So this is a big week here at Trusty Plinko Stick World Headquarters. As mentioned above, Liam avoided the gaping maw of Hell (again, according to Grandma Degnan) by having a diminutive Episcopalian minister splash about a half gallon of water on his head, which in the grand scheme of things, is probably the only important event to occur. But on top of that, this upcoming weekend marks an event that has come to be known in our house as The Festival of Geekmas, though it is probably better known to the world at large as Wizard World Boston. Sure, it lacks the indie cred of SPX or APE, the media chutzpah of Comicon, or the smaller, "mom & pop shop" vibe of a show like the recent Baltimore con, but A.) I'm the rare fan who goes to comic shows for the chance to buy a whole lot of stuff I can't find elsewhere at bargain prices rather than for any social aspects; and B.) there's a real lack of this sort of thing in New England, so we take what we can get. Besides, I did have fun at WW Philly last year, so I have hopes for a similarly enjoyable day this time around.

And last, according to the calendar, this Friday, September 30th, is my one year bloggaversary. I'm a bit in awe of this, really. I'm generally the sort of person who will start a project with the greatest of intentions, and then get gradually more bored with it as time goes on, eventually giving up altogether, so I'm pretty proud of myself that I've kept it going this long. Yay me. Anyway, I hope to find the time for several updates this week to mark the occasion (or, you know, at least one), so watch for that.

Some bloggy business before I end this rather rambly missive:

- My wife Erin went and started herself a blog, Sic Transit Gloria (named after her favorite song by the band Brand New). It details the life of, in her words, "a new mommy, just trying to get by," and as you'd expect from a description like that, there are lots more pictures of Liam posted there. And if you're anything like either of us, you're pretty much convinced he's the cutest baby in the entire world (and he is - not that we're biased or anything), so more Liam is always a good thing. Check it out. I'm sure she'd appreciate it.

- I've been taking my first steps into exploring the vast podcast universe, and so far, the best comics-related cast I've found is Lene Taylor's "I Read Comics" (link brings you to the show-related blog). Taylor is intelligent, well-informed and on the whole, very professional, and the show is very well-produced, sounding a bit like what I'd imagine an NPR show about comics would sound like. These factors combine to make it as good a listen in form as it is in content. It's a half-hour well spent.

- Also check out Sophie Yanow's Gumpop if you get the chance. Part comics, part indie rock, part college life, and a lot of fun. Plus, I dig the logo.

And lo, there was a beginning: The 50 Book Challenge!

I’m a bookworm from way back, but given the various responsibilities of family and work (not to mention the odd schedules required by said responsibilities), I very rarely find the time to really sit down and read anymore. It also doesn’t help that I have the attention span of a gnat and get bored very easily – if a book doesn’t hook me within the first 25 to 50 pages, I have no problem whatsoever kicking it to the curb. I miss my reading time, and I want to see if I can beat my attention span problem but good, so I’ve decided to attempt to commit myself to The 50 Book Challenge.

I guess this thing originally made the bloggyverse rounds back in early 2004. But for one thing, I wasn’t hanging around the bloggyverse in early 2004, and for another, it still manages to pop up now and again (I first found out about it recently on the blog of one of my MySpace friends, who has kept it going well past the magic number of 50), so I figure there’s no time like the present to jump on the bandwagon. Anyway, as the name implies, the general idea is to try and get through 50 books (or more) in one year’s time. Given the above-mentioned obstacles to overcome, it will be a difficult undertaking indeed, but I think I’m up to it.

Here are the rules I’m setting for myself on this quest, based loosely on those listed at the above-linked pages:

1. No genre domination. I’m trying to keep the list as diverse as possible.
2. Nothing under 100 pages. Novellas count, short stories do not (unless it’s an entire collection of short stories, ‘natch).
3. No planning. I’m not going to plan out my list in advance. I’ll take it as it comes.
4. Re-reads count, though not if it’s something I can quickly skim through in a day or so in order to articificially pump up my count.
5. Graphic novels (i.e. collections of previously published works and/or OGNs) count, so long as they don’t violate rules 1 & 2 (Comics cover a wide variety of genres, in order to expose myself to as much as possible thoughout this experiment, I’m considering them to be a single genre. Sue me).
6. Kid lit counts, too, again provided it meets the previous criteria. This may be a great chance to finally read the sequels to "A Wrinkle in Time" or the rest of the Chronicles of Narnia (I've only read "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.").

So with all that jive talkin’ out of the way, let’s kick things off with…

#1. “Take the Cannoli: Stories from the New World” by Sarah Vowell – An early collection of essays from Vowell (her second book, I believe), offering her unique slant on various aspects of the American cultural landscape, covering subjects as diverse as her father’s scale model Civil War cannon, learning to drive, the Frank Sinatra death watch, her obsession with “The Godfather” and a temporary Goth transformation. Many of the essays were adapted from segments for NPR’s “This American Life,” and her easy, conversational style makes it easy to imagine “hearing” them in your head as you read. Vowell is quickly becoming one of my very favorite writers, and I would gladly trade careers with her should she ever want to experience life as an underpaid library assistant (she can keep the McSweeney’s gig, though… I just don’t understand the Dave Eggers cult of personality, and don’t enjoy his writing at all).

#2 “Shopgirl” by Steve Martin (in progress, though I’ll probably be done by bedtime tonight) – Steve Martin has two qualities as a writer that set him apart from most of the rest of the field. First, his prose is so spare, efficient, even economical; not one word is wasted, and nothing is ever overanalyzed. Second is his insight into his characters, and more importantly, his ability to communicate that insight through the page. The thoughts, dreams, fears and motivations of his cast are very well defined, and within a few pages you have a very thorough understanding of even the most secondary characters. I’ve read very few books that allow me as much access to the protagonists’ very lives as “Shopgirl” has, and I’m very impressed by that. I’m curious to see how well this translates to the big screen, though, as I don’t know how well the characters’ interiority, which is so vital to the success of the book, will survive the transition (also, though I can see Martin himself as Ray, Clare Danes just doesn’t fit my vision of Mirabelle).

And so we’re off! Let's see if I can actually complete this.

This is the only DC solicitation for the month of December that matters.

THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT TP - Written by Will Eisner. Art and cover by Eisner. DC Comics is proud to present its first-ever collection celebrating the greatest stories by comics mastermind Will Eisner starring one of the most indelible characters ever created: The Spirit! THE BEST OF THE SPIRIT reprints 22 Spirit sections from 1940-1950, featuring famous first appearances, classic confrontations, human interest tales, and all those magnificent splash pages! Eisner's blue-suit-clad, fedora-wearing crimefighter starred in hundreds of newspaper adventure stories that thrilled readers with Eisner's groundbreaking style. Eisner was a master of utilizing the comics format to its greatest strengths, and his Spirit stories are some of his finest examples! This volume also features an introduction by New York Times best-selling novelist Neil Gaiman (THE SANDMAN). On sale December 14 o 192 pg, FC, $14.99 US "

Anything else is, at best, secondary, even if it was written by Grant Morrison. And if Grant is even half the stand-up guy he comes across as in the interviews I've read, I'm inclined to think he'd agree.

Seriously, that much classic Spirit, in color no less, for three-tenths the price of an Archive volume?* If that's not one of the best deals in comics, I don't know what is.

*Feel free to correct my math on that, by the way; my degree is in English, so I'm not so handy with the numbers.

So it goes.

I’ve been watching The Daily Show a lot lately because, well, it’s pretty much the only news source I feel I can trust any more*. Whether that’s a sad commentary on myself, the state of American journalism, or a combination of the two, I’m not sure, but there you go. Anyway, I was really excited to hear that Kurt Vonnegut was scheduled to be a guest Tuesday night as a part of the show’s week-long “Evolution, Schmevolution” series.

I’ve been a big fan of Vonnegut’s work ever since I discovered “Slaughterhouse Five” when I was at the University of Maine (later than most, I know, but I somehow managed to miss several of the so-called modern classics in high school; I never even read “The Catcher in the Rye” until I was 23). His particular brand of disheartened humanism really appealed to me. Ever since that moment in my teens when the cynicism engines in my brain kicked into gear (and it happens to us all, unless you’re Pollyanna or you take really excellent anti-depressants), I’ve always been both amazed by the astounding potential of humanity – our capacity to expand the boundaries of understanding, the ability to create timeless works of art, and so forth – and dumbfounded at the incredible amount of disappointing, preventable, downright stupid shit we do as a species (you know, almost everything else). Vonnegut was probably the first author, and maybe even one of the very first people period, who every spoke to that feeling in me. He gave a lecture once at UMaine while I was going there, and in person that connection was cemented to an even greater degree (among other things, he stated that night that “human beings were put on this earth for no other reason than to fart around;” as I’m sure Erin can attest, I often take that philosophy a little too seriously). He was getting on in years by that point, but the energy and Trickster mentality that made him such an important voice in American literature, and indeed in the whole American dialogue, were still very present.

Which is what made Tuesday’s edition of The Daily Show so very difficult to watch. Jon Stewart introduces Vonnegut, heaping on the praise but stopping just shy of declaring the man his own personal deity, and then out comes… this hobbling, vaguely confused looking old man. And for a split second there, I honestly almost cried a little.

The interview itself didn’t really improve matters much, as Vonnegut began by rambling his way through a seeming non-sequitur that did, eventually, meander it’s way back to the topic of the evolution/intelligent design debate.** And it never really got any better after that. Stewart quickly seemed to give up the idea of staying on topic, switching gears to talk about politics and even Vonnegut himself, but that didn’t work so well either. The interview came to a quick end before Kurt could discuss his list of “liberal crap” he didn’t want to hear in the media anymore. It was the one thing I never would have expected – I tuned in for my own personal literary icon and what I got was Grandpa Simpson.

(If you're curious, you can read the list here.)

Saddest of all, though, was the look in the man’s eyes. They still had that same fire as I had seen in countless pictures through the years and in person for that one hour about a decade ago – the Trickster was still present in spirit, but the body wasn’t an adequate enough vessel anymore. I got the feeling that we probably won’t have good ol’ Uncle Kurt with us for much longer, which in itself is a sad and humbling thought, as I think it’s much harder to watch our heroes fade away than to lose them unexpectedly. Maybe it’s best to appreciate the time we have left in whatever form we can get it, which may have been a factor in what prompted Stewart to have him as a guest in the first place (besides having a new essay collection to promote, anyway).

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe the man just had an off night. I certainly hope that’s the case. I mean, any of us should be so lucky to remain that lucid at the same age, but the urge to compare now and then, and the inevitable disappointment that follows, is just too inevitable to resist.

What a drag it is getting old, huh?

But I think the time has come to dip back into my Vonnegut stash (after I finish Sarah Vowell’s “Take the Cannoli,” anyway, which, BTW, is just as excellent as the rest of her work), and see if I can’t reconnect with the man’s legacy. With any luck, it may even make the reality a little easier to swallow.

*And there is enough actual news-related content on any given episode that I feel it does qualify as an actual news source, as opposed to The Onion, which is flat-out satire. Both are funny as hell, though, and well worth your time.

**Don't even get me started.

If I had a clever title for this post, it would totally go here.

Not much to say for myself, as what little free time I have left after childcare, family time and work has been sucked up by uploading stuff onto my new iPod (a true thing of beauty; I named it Douglas) so let’s see what’s out there.

Chris at Crisis/Boring Change talks about The Replacements with comics writer Will Pfeifer, and their conversation really makes me wish I had been into the band when they were still a going concern. Stupid being born too late! Anyway, Pfeifer also gives his own personal ‘Mats “Greatest Hits” list, so that’s still more iPod uploading I have to look forward to. This is my blessing, this is my curse. Who am I? I’m an iPod addict. (Honestly, though, Pfeifer's list is dead on... the only addition I'd make would be their cover of the "Cruella De Vil" song from 101 Dalmations.)

Joe Rice at Listen to Us, We're Right fawns over a 2 page Frank Quitely splash spread from the upcoming All-Star Superman. I’ve never been a big Quitely fan (Why does everyone he draws have those weirdly pursed lips? It’s like Planet of the Kissing Bandits or something.), but I have to admit that it’s a pretty impressive sight to behold (and beaucoupkevin posts an image link on the comments page of the thread that looks even cooler still.

Mike Sterling has been cursing the darkness, because he’s out of candles, since 1969 (among a myriad of other actions), but the man does have the occasional good idea. The other day he wondered out loud (well, in electronic print on a screen, actually) about the chances for a Tales of the Beanworld revival. It’s a long shot, to be sure, but I think it could be done if the first four trade paperbacks were brought back into print along with a new volume to finish reprinting the original series and the stories that ran in, um, whatever anthology series they ran in. I could check, but I’m too lazy to do so. Mike names it. Admittedly, I may be trying to delude myself slightly here because I would personally love to see the Beans come back, but I always figured that a collected Life & Times of Scrooge McDuck, affordable reprints of Little Lulu and the return of The Maze Agency were long shots, too, and those all came to pass, so anything is possible.

Ooh, speaking of which, the new Maze Agency series and trade paperback from IDW are both in the current Previews. Go pre-order them right now. It’s the best mystery series in comics, and it makes me happy, and if it goes away again because it wasn’t popular enough, I’ll come to your houses and tear up all your Grant Morrison comics. And then I’ll go after your Kochalka comics. Don’t think I won’t!

Finally, the coolest thing I’ve seen on TV these past few weeks (besides all the sex and violence on Rome): there was an ad on TBS for some Steven Seagal movie or other they were showing (Sucking Chest Wound, maybe, or Really Painful Paper Cut? They all flow together after awhile… anyway, it wasn’t the lone watchable Seagal film, Under Siege), and the movie review quote they used to market it was something to the effect of “Seagal is funnier by accident than most comedians are on purpose.” How great is that? It’s like the programmers at TBS popping up on the screen and saying “Look, this movie sucks, but we paid for it for some reason, so we feel obligated to show it. If nothing else, it’s good for a few laughs. We’ll show some Seinfeld right after. Maybe even some Family Guy. Promise.” And here I thought "honesty in television" was a contradiction in terms.

Quick insomniac reviews

I can't sleep, and the only things on TV are TNT's 1,000,000,000th showing of The Shawshank Redemption and the Jerry Lewis telethon (which wouldn't be so bad, but the act on stage last time I checked was Norm Crosby - I'll pass, thanks; also, Jerry looks mostly dead now, which is a little creepy and very sad), so let's take a look at this month's Discount Comic Book Service shipment, shall we?

Defenders 2 - So far, I'm really enjoying this, maybe even more than I did I Still Can't Believe It's The Justice League at the same point. Maybe that's just the sheen of the new, though. Either way, Giffen, DeMatteis and Maguire really are the perfect creative team for the Defenders - the concept lends itself very well to the humor and snarkiness contained here-in, but at the same time, the action doesn't suffer from be being mixed in with the jokes. It's a tough balance to maintain, but they do it well. I still think I like the Kurt Busiek/Erik Larsen version from a few years ago a little better, but it's still too early to count this one out.

Legion of Super-Heroes 9 - Wizard's book of the month. Take from that whatever you will. A lot of people have been dissatisfied with this book, if the online talk is to be believed, but I still dig it. Of course, I'm still a pretty recent convert to LSH, so I don't have years of pre-conceived notions to compare everything to, either. I will say that it's really weird to read this new series alongside some of the Silver Age stories in the Archive volumes, though; a lot of fun, but weird. Anyway, the fallout from last issue's unpleasantness begins here; the team tries to pull together despite the fact that no one really trusts anybody else, and not surprisingly, they kind of fail. I'm very curious to see how this story is resolved, so in my book, that's some decent writing there. Good job, Mark Waid - have a cookie. Best of all, the greatest letter column in comics today returns to take on the LSH continuity issue. Funny stuff. This is my favorite book on the stands right now, and the only monthly from Marvel or DC I still bother with at the moment.

Rex Libris 1 - In terms of "amount of readable text per price of comic" ratio, this is probably the best value on the stands right now. Sweet Jebus, this book is text heavy (and such tiny print!), but that's to be expected from a comic about a 2000 year old, gun toting, hard boiled librarian who works for the Egyptian god Thoth and spends half the issue fighting a Samurai demon. Fun concept, and anything that increases the number of cool fictional librarians is a-okay in my book, but this did drag for me in places - the sheer hugeness of some of the word balloons and the voluminous text contained there-in grind things to a halt a couple of times. It's the "tell, don't show" approach amped up several notches, like Bendis on an exceptionally talky day, even for him. As such, I wanted to like this more than I did, and I can't guarantee I'll be around for issue 2.

Stupid Comics 3 - I generally like Jim Mahfood's work, and there's a lot to like here, the "Might as Well" and "It Was a Good Day, Part 2" strips that close out the book in particular. Both are classic, fun Mahfood (and the latter makes good use of the Harvey Kurtzman "ever-changing shirt slogan" gag, which I always enjoy). There's also quite a bit of political ranting here, though, and that didn't work so well for me. I agree with Jim that our country is in need of more than a little fixing, but he reiterates the theme so much and with so little variation that it quickly becomes tiring. Rather than sit around complaining about things, why not do something positive in the hopes of affecting some measure of change? I mean, you can only point out that the Emperor has no clothes for so long... eventually, it might not be a bad idea to maybe get him some pants. And if you understand where I'm going with that metaphor, please feel free to explain it to me. I think the insomnia is beginning to go away.

Wha... Huh? and What Were They Thinking? - I lump these together because they have the same problem - on the whole, neither is as funny as the creators seem to think they are. Wha... Huh?, the long delayed What If humor issue tribute, does have some funny gags (like the internet pieces, What If Black Panther Were White? and What If Stan Lee Wrote Ultimate Spider-Man?), but most of it just kind of falls apart due to a whole bunch of "I Guess You Had To Be There" humor and some bizarre editing (Where's the beer Iron Man is obviously supposed to be holding? What happened to the entire last panel of the "What If Hulk Were Bitten By The Radioactive Spider?" story?). What Were They Thinking?, the "remixed" Wally Wood war comic, is simply uneven. The two middle stories about some incredibly stupid commandos were decent, but the end pieces were just bizarre, and kind of uncomfortably homophobic, I thought. Artwork by Wood is always a treat, though, so it has that going for it, anyway. If you need remixed comics in your diet, stick with Last Kiss or Tim O'Neil.

Back to the levity.


Admiral Ackbar always cheers me up. And if you cut him into little pieces and deep fried him, I bet this Mon Calamari military genius would make a tasty appetizer, too.

And don't forget...


File under "No shit, Sherlock."

Bush says relief efforts are "not acceptable."

But you know, it is semi-reassuring to see that, eventually, some information does penetrate the layers of that man's skull.

Sorry if that sounds excessively snarky, but there's a lot about the Katrina situation that really makes my blood boil. Like how people were huddled en masse into the Superdome, and then essentially abandoned for days.

Like how people were told to get the hell out of Dodge because there was a freakin' Category 5 hurricane bearing down on them, and some absolutely refused to leave (I realize that some people absolutely couldn't, due to health or finances, but people so stubborn as to ignore all reason, I don't get that.).

Like how there are people who actually have the gall to fire gunshots at rescue helicopters. Um, since a lot of those are U.S. military choppers, couldn't that be considered an act of treason? Enjoy your death penalty if you get caught, fuckers.

Like how reporters take frame after frame of footage of people suffering, but don't seem to be doing a whole lot to help them. You guys don't look like you missed too many meals or showers, so put the camera down and get these people some food and water already (yes, I know, they say that's dangerous due to the looters and thieves and malcontents and what not, but shouldn't somebody ought to try?).

Like how anyplace in the United States of America in the year 2005 can suddenly resemble Somalia in under 5 days.

Like how when I filled up my gas tank this morning, I complained about having to pay $3.17 a gallon, even though my family is safe, I have a roof over my head and food on the table.

When I stop and think about all of this, I alternate between wanting to cry and wanting to just punch something. Especially when it comes to that last thing. What in the bloody hell do I have to fucking complain about? What gives me the right? I should be on my knees thanking God or Fate or Time or whom-/whatever for the good fortune I have been blessed with. Sometimes I kind of make me sick.

This post went places I didn't necessarily intend it to, but that's probably for the best.

No comments on this post, please, whether you agree with anything I said or not. I just needed to get this out there. Thanks for humoring me.