Pretty Sketchy - The PLAIN Janes

Promo flyer for the DC/MINX book The PLAIN Janes, with a sketch of Jayne, a.k.a. BrainJayne, by artist Jim Rugg on the bottom and a self-portrait by author Cecil Castellucci on the top. Got this during one of their signings at New York Comic Con 2007.

Hail to the King.

Sultan of Subtlety he was not, but Jack Kirby was - and remains - most definitely the King of Comics, and he would've been 90 today.

The Dig List: 8/27/2007 - movies and back issues

Wordplay - If you had told me before this weekend that a movie about a crossword puzzle tournament would be one of the most enjoyable things I'd watch all year, I wouldn't have believed you, since I'd probably recall the unsociable weirdo Scrabble tourney players from Word Wars. But I don't know... maybe it was the likability of New York Times/NPR puzzle maestro Will Shortz, maybe it was the many celebrity cameo-interviews, maybe crossword folks are much less creepy and highstrung by nature, but whatever the case, it was a lot of fun to watch, and fraught with more legitimate dramatic tension than you'd expect from a movie in which people write letters in little boxes.

DiG! - The story of the various interband hijinx and rivalries between the Dandy Warhols and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, culled from 7(!) years of footage. Certainly compelling viewing, though I came away significantly more appreciative of the Dandys than Jonestown, which makes me think I kind of missed the point. I also think I may be swayed by the Evan Dando-esque charm of Courtney Taylor and the cuteness of Zia McCabe, though, so consider my views suspect from the get-go. But I will say that after viewing this, I'm pretty sure that the Dandy Warhols' excellent kiss-off song "We Used to be Friends" (best known now as the Veronica Mars theme) was aimed squarely at BJM leader Anton Newcombe.

Omega the Unknown #1 - It's easy to see why this book left such an impression on author Jonathan Lethem, because there's guaranteed to be a "What the hell did I just read?" moment every few pages. Weirdness abounds in this book at an almost breakneck pace, and don't bother looking for any answers, because you won't get them. Silent heroes, seemingly emotionless characters, unexpected robotics, some questionable attempts at hip slang in the Stan Lee tradition... there's a lot of "huh?!?" here, but if they purpose was to make people curious to read the next issue, hey, mission accomplished Steve Gerber and Mary Skrenes. I definitely want to see where this goes, even if the eventual ending is as unsatisfying as everyone says.

(And yeah, I know there's a trade of the entire series coming out soon, but considering Marvel wants to charge $30 for it - and even after the Amazon discount, it's still over $20 - I can't help but think I can put together a full run for less.)

Master of Kung Fu #s 33 & 36 - The great thing about MoKF is that, like the movies that inspired it, you can jump in at any part of a story, enjoy it, and not really worry about ever catching the rest if you don't feel like it, because you got what you wanted out of the bit you did see/read, and that, of course, is people getting kicked in the head. Both dollar bin finds based on the covers alone: I picked up #33 because Shang Chi was fighting a robot, and #36 because he's fighting ninjas. Sure enough, inside there were a robot and ninjas respectively, so I definitely got my two clams' worth. Probably more, actually, considering 33 had one of those great James Bond poster-like splash pages the book was famous for, and 36 also featured a plot line, um, let's say "borrowed" from The Circus of Dr. Lao. Entertaining stuff.

At times he was a silly king, but the king nevertheless.

(I swear to you I had most of this written well before listening to the latest Big Monkey Podcast. There just must be something in the air at the moment. Oh, well.)

So I'm reading a book right now called Give Our Regards to the Atomsmashers! : Writers on Comics, and it kicks off with a great essay by Jonathan Lethem about Jack Kirby's exit from and return to Marvel in the 70s, and how it kinda-sorta parallels stuff going on his own Brooklyn childhood at the time. In between the flashbacks and the occasional nod to Omega the Unknown, Lethem lays this truth on us: as genius as Kirby was, that 70s material? Not so good, really, even in the eyes of the King himself. And though it's not the sort of thing I think about a lot, I have to admit, Lethem and Kirby are right. Very few would ever seriously argue that Devil Dinosaur or the-just-barely-related-to-the-movie 2001 stand among the Greatest Comic Books Ever.

And yet, I love those books. Lethem loves those books. A good chunk of fandom online and off loves them, too. And there's that great story about some Kirby tribute book being put together after his death, and the character that artists all wanted to draw the most wasn't Captain America or Doctor Doom, but Devil Freakin' Dinosaur. So clearly, something about those comics speaks to us, despite any level of quality they may or may not possess.

And here's the thing, too: I don't think it's any sort of ironic sense of appreciation for most people. Not all of us flock to them like some folks do to Ed Wood movies or Shaggs records. While there is a certain amount of schadenfreude involved in reading about, say, the Black Panther's pursuit of King Solomon's frog, I don't think we're enjoying it specifically because it's bad. Rather, these stories possess a certain charm in spite of the badness. That outlandish, often downright goofy quality about these stories is a large part of their appeal. Some days I want Citizen Kane or Grand Illusion, sure, but other days, I just want to see Godzilla stomping on a building or Steve Martin singing a song about a buying a Thermos. It's all about the mood.

And of course, there's the art. Kirby's 70s output may lack the polish and structure of his 60s zenith - I've heard some folks call his later work a bit lazy - but much like his writing, I think he really let himself loose with this, and while it may not be as formally "good," it's very energetic. Wild gestures, wilder facial expressions, and just the most fantastical backdrops you could imagine, all of it literally dripping with that patented Kirby Krackle effect. Love it.

(Of course, please bear in mind that I'm already going to be predisposed to enjoying watching a dinosaur kick the living bejeezus out of other creatures no matter who is drawing it, but still.)

But as enjoyable as all this is, there's no denying that the product of the King's second Marvel run (and that of his DC run, for that matter) proves the innate superiority of the earlier Marvel work (and I include the Atlas monster stuff in this). Because as much as Stan Lee needed a Jack Kirby (and a Steve Ditko, and a John Romita, etc.) to provide him mad ideas to lift work with, Kirby needed a Stan Lee to turn those mad ideas into something a little easier to digest. I mean, the names alone prove this point. Most evil guy around? He's called Darkseid. That teleportation tunnel that makes a loud booming sound whenever it's used? Boom Tube. Chubby bald dude in a sash who sits around contemplating beatifically? He's Mr. Buda.

The King was many things, and none of them were subtle. But again, I'd be lying if I said that wasn't part of the appeal.

Can't Stop, Won't Stop (more pseudo-Atari fun)

Journey back with me to the Atari 2600 Label Maker!

See? Sooner or later, I always find a way to work in Juliana Hatfield.

I'm a sucker for the classics, and the Admiral's greatest moment is definitely a classic.

Again, it would take too long to explain.

Sometimes I take things too far. Ugh.

I'm probably going to hell for this one.

Not with a bang, not even a whimper. More like a dull thud followed by fart noises and nervous laughter.

So I finally saw "Survival," the final story of the original Doctor Who series the other night. Can we all just agree that not only was it a terrible send off for the show, but possibly one of the worst Who stories ever?

I don't think I've been ruined by the better-quality scripts and high(er) production values of the new series - I still enjoy the old show quite a bit, especially the Pertwee era, which I never cared much for as a kid - but this was pretty hard to take. I realize that budgets dwindled in the last few seasons, often leaving them with less money to pull off more effects (which is why you never saw the TARDIS interior that last year, among other things), but it just looked bad. Like a high school production of "Cats" running around in a quarry for a few hours. And for the kitlings, the carrion-eating housecat-looking things... would it have killed them to just use a real cat in the close-ups rather than that godawful puppet?

And that script. Endless prattle from secondary characters. Lots of the 7th Doctor muttering to himself, not to mention all that standing there and yelling at people to do and/or not do things, rather than actually doing anything himself. The Master sitting in a tent, standing by some ruins, maybe picking up the occasional rock, and generally acting un-Mastery. And of course, that conclusion, where the story doesn't so much end as just sort of stop. If all it took to end all this was having 7 shout a bit, I'm thinking he could have done that back in Episode 1 and saved us all a lot of bother.

And you know, it's really too bad, because there were some good ideas here and there. It was necessary to bring Ace home to Perivale to see how her character arc through the events of "Ghost Light" and "Curse of the Fenric" (not to mention all of her experiences since ending up on Iceworld back before we meet her in "Dragonfire") has changed her from bratty punk to a more mature woman. It was important to finally have the Master clash with 7 onscreen, since his absence was very noticeable through those previous 2 seasons (and the Rani was always a poor substitute). Lastly, for such a long-running, well-remembered show, it was important to give it a good send-off. That closing line of the Doctor's is great, but that's about it.

The original Doctor Who always had a lot of shortcomings you had to overlook and/or embrace in order to really enjoy it. At it's best, it was charming, and the good bits were more than enough to carry you through the rough patches. At it's worst, well... bad Who is incredibly tough to take. And "Survival" is very, very bad Who.

Silly, true, but I bet they'd both be more fun than E.T.

Hey, kids, it's the Atari 2600 Label Maker!

(Well, she is.)

(I have to admit I made myself laugh with this one.)

Sadly, I could play with this all day. But I'll limit myself to just one more for now.

Blame Mikester, by the way.

Yeah, I think it's safe to say I have a definite type.

So the new albums by Rilo Kiley and the New Pornographers come out today, which just may make this one of the best indie rock days of the 21st century thus far.

I can't actually afford either of these right now, but still, it's good news indeed, and I shall celebrate by posting some particularly foxy pictures of Jenny Lewis and Neko Case.

Jenny (and those other RK guys)

Neko, with nary a Pornographer (New or Old) in sight.

So, really, everyone wins.

The Lighter Side of Blogging (with a cameo by Owly!)

No pithy, Dave Berg-esque observational humor here, just a quick note to say that the blogging itself will be lighter the next few weeks due to a temporary, pre-fall semester schedule change that will let me live like a normal person for a change. I plan to enjoy it.

But since you've read this far, here's another installment of Pretty Sketchy for your trouble:

Owly and Wormy (and a few other friends), drawn for my son Liam by creator Andy Runton on the inside of the Owly: Flying Lessons trade paperback (Liam's official first comic book) at Wizard World Chicago 2006. Figured I should start the boy off right.

The Pop Cultural Lexicon of a Two-Year-Old

My two-year-old, to be exact.

Ehmo - This, obviously, is Elmo, the little monster who rules Sesame Street with an iron (but also red and furry) fist. There's this one episode where he's all excited about the letter J, and he goes around literally forcing everyone to stop whatever they're doing, making them do activities starting with J instead. It was unnervingly like that episode of The Twilight Zone where Billy Mumy keeps sending everyone to the cornfield when they've been bad. But, the boy loves that little red Svengali, so we endure. At least it's not Barney.

Gwofer - Grover, who is a Muppet I'm much more inclined to support, especially if it means I get to read The Monster at the End of This Book to him again, which is easily the best book that the Little Golden Books people ever published.

Beeg Biwrd
- Yup, it's Big Bird. The funny thing, though, is that Liam will occasionally confuse Big Bird with Bert, since they're both yellow.

- Cookie Monster. Sometimes followed by Liam's approximation of the "Um-um-um-um-um" sound Cookie makes when he goes on a binge. It's pretty cute.

- Children's musician Laurie Berkner. Liam loves him some Laurie, and as I may have mentioned here before, so do Erin and I. Her music is really fun, and I have to say, she's quite the cutie. Admittedly, that's a bigger draw for me than Erin, but whatever.

Show - As in Jack's Big Music Show, a really fun show about music (duh) airing on Noggin. Probably something I'd be watching even if I didn't have kids, so when he asks for this, it's hard to say no.

Danzanes - Children's musician (and former Del Fuego) Dan Zanes. Another performer whose songs and videos are - ver, very thankfully - fun for kids and adults alike. In Liamese, though, the good Mr. Zanes gets the Charlie Brown treatment... he is never called only by his first name. And more often than not, as you can probably guess from my spelling, it's pronounced as a single word.

Doggy - Actually, Doggy can be two things. In certain situations, it refers to the stuffed black lab toy he sleeps with at night, but in terms of entertainment, Doggy is Snoopy, meaning that Liam wants to watch a Charlie Brown DVD. Preferably Great Pumpkin, but Easter Beagle will often suffice, too. He hasn't warmed up to A Charlie Brown Christmas much yet, though; I think it's a little too slow for him at this point.

Soupman - I popped in a Superman cartoon DVD one day just to give myself a break from all the damn Elmo, and something about it clicked with the boy, and now he asks for the Man of Steel by name. Well, a similar name, at least. It makes the nerd in me proud. He digs the Fleischer cartoons, but I got the first disc of the Filmation cartoons from Netflix the other day, and he seems to like those alright, too, enough that I want to pick it up eventually. The 8 minute run times of all those episodes are just the right length for him, and I appreciate that they're less violent than the Fleischer shorts.

Monkey - Curious George. More specifically, the movie version of Curious George. Even more specifically, the Jack Johnson song "Upside Down" from the movie version of Curious George. If we're going anywhere in the car - whether it's just down the street to the mall or all the way to Maine - he generally requests this the second we strap him into the car seat. It's such a bouncy, upbeat tune, it's hard not to oblige, so the iPod is quickly fired up and away we go. It gets a little grating after about the fifth time through, but that hopeful little "Ogain?" from the back seat can melt even the coldest of hearts, and it's inevitably back to the beginning once more.

A Bit Of Neighborhood History

I found this set into the sidewalk around the corner from my house on a walk with Liam yesterday morning. Pretty nifty, I thought.

(You can find more info on the WPA at your local library. Or here, I suppose, if you're lazy.)

So long, Mike.

R.I.P. Mike Wieringo.

This just devastates me. It's always hard to lose someone whose work you admire, but to lose them so young, when they had so much more to contribute, it's really heartbreaking. Mike was someone I always hoped to meet at a con someday. Not just to get a sketch or get something signed, but to also shake the man's hand and thank him for helping to create some of the most fun comic books I've ever had the pleasure to read. My sincerest condolences to his family and friends.

TPS Rocks: Welcome to the Black Parade of Gallifrey

Okay, usually I don't like these fan-made music videos that you find all over YouTube, but this one, combining past and present Doctor Who clips to the tune of My Chemical Romance's "Welcome to the Black Parade?" Well, let's just say that this Calapine person's Vid Fu is very strong.

Even if you don't like old school Who, there's a lot to enjoy about this (and not just the Eccleston and Tennant bits). Yes, even for you, Erin.

(Via Andy)

Fear and Loathing on Saturday Morning

Thanks to Netflix, I had the chance to see the first disc of The New Adventures of Batman the other day. It wasn't especially great - not that I was expecting much out of a cartoon that I enjoyed when I was 3 back when it aired with Tarzan and the Super 7 - but it was fun in the cheesy 70s Filmation sort of way, what with the lesson at the end and producer Lou Scheimer doing every other voice to cut costs. And it was fun to hear Adam West and Burt Ward both back in the roles (I'm shocked Lou actually shelled out for them, in fact).

But... Bat-Mite. Friggin' Bat-Mite.

Now, I love me some comic book Bat-Mite. That little guy rules.

He should be in comics more often. I'd gladly give Grant Morrison five whole dollars if he could slip Bat-Mite into a significant role in his Batman run somewhere.

I mean this guy:

Take a look. Take a good, long look. I'm sure they meant well, thinking they'd bring back a well-loved Silver Age concept to make the kiddies smile, tone down the potential violence to keep parents happy, and have someone that needed to learn a lesson every episode in the true Filmation manner. But, honestly, the little yutz is just annoying as all hell. And, regrettably, I can't help but think he was the prototype for all of Filmation's irritating mystical sidekicks to come. Little BM (appropriate initials) here was, for all intents and purposes, the original Orko (though you could probably make a good argument for Aquaman's walrus or that blue kid who took over for Pieface in the Green Lantern cartoons).

And in the interest of fairness, The Meh List for 8/7/07.

Green Lantern Corps #14 - As I feared, it's almost completely unreadable if you're not following the entire Sinestro Corps story. And I'm not, because I don't want to support another crossover, nor buy the Hal Jordan GL book. Too bad, too, since I was really enjoying this title. But, alas, to the chopping block it goes.

Supergirl & the Legion of Super-Heroes #32 - The story Bedard is telling is certainly competent, but it's lacking that certain spark that the Waid run had. I think I have one more issue pre-ordered, and unless that completely blows me away, it, too, is being sent to the cornfield.

The Order #1 - Interesting concept - ordinary citizens get to be superheroes for one year - but it seems ever-so-slightly derivative of Strikeforce Morituri (which actually raises an interesting question... if the body can't support the powers for more than a year, do they just go away, or do they take the possessor with them?). And it's way too wrapped up in Civil War continuity for me to want to enjoy it on a regular basis. And, wait, the lead guy played Tony Stark and Iron Man on TV for years, even though in Marvel continuity, it's only been known that Stark really was Iron Man for a relatively short time? I'm confused. Still, I like the new role for Pepper Potts, and it wasn't a bad book, per se, so maybe I'll give it another shot in the trades.

The Dig List: The Short, Short Version for 8/7/07 (some spoilers)

All Star Superman #8 - Like the fist part of the Bizarro/Zibarro story, it lacked that certain oomph that the rest of the series has had, but still an enjoyable read.

All New Atom #13 - Okay, like revisiting the whole "Sword of the Atom" era of Ray Palmer's career wasn't inherently funny enough, the whole fake Ray thing made me laugh out loud. "Justice Leak!"

Shazam: Monster Society of Evil #4 - The subsequent three issues didn't quite live up to the hype nor the promise of that first issue, but still, Captain Marvel punching a robot so hard it causes a black hole to form? That's fun comics. Not the best thing since sliced bread, which I was hoping for, but still fun, and far superior to all that Trials of Shazam nonsense.

Brave and the Bold #5 - You could argue that Batman outwitted a team with thousand years' worth of powers and tech over him far too easily, but you'd be too busy to notice an incredibly fun story if you did. Batman with a flight ring, people! It's almost Haney-like in goofy brilliance.

Spirit 8 - Still just about perfect. That's about all I can say there.

Dark Horse Presents on MySpace - Digital comics lack that certain tactile something that printed ones have, but they're free, so I won't complain. Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon's Sugarshock, about a bizarre all-girl (and a robot) rock band, was the far and away winner for me, so good that I printed out a copy to keep. The others - another Umbrella Academy short by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba, The Comic Con Murder Case by Rick Geary, and some samurai thing by Ron Marz and Luke Ross - were decent, too, but it's Sugarshock I'll be going back for. Here's the link.

I'm actually glad Hank Aaron's being a dick about this.



You know, it's not even that Barry Bonds is, by all accounts, a giant raging rectum of a man. I could still bring myself to respect his accomplishment if that was the only problem.

But as many people have said, baseball needs to actually have a hard and fast rule about steroids in place in order for him to be an official rulebreaker. Until such a thing happens, he's in the clear. Or, rather, The Clear.

Pretty Sketchy - Captain Marvel by Pat Loika

The one, true Captain Marvel as depicted by Pat Loika from Dial R Studios. I got this at the New York Comic Con in February 2007. It was done entirely in marker, so it smells a bit funny, but it's an awesome piece!

The Dig List: 8/1/07

The Immortal Iron Fist: The Last Iron Fist Story HC - Typically, smart comics don't have a lot of kicking, and comics with a lot of kicking aren't very smart. Well, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, David Aja, et al pretty much go all Reese's Peanut Butter Cup on our asses and smoosh the smart and the kicking together, and the end result is pretty excellent indeed. The main story - Iron Fist has to fend off Hydra in both his superhero and civilian identities while learning more about his legacy - is good enough, but the flashback tales to earlier wielders of the Iron Fist give the proceedings a very Starman "Times Past" vibe that it wears well. Plus, as I said, kicking. In the end, good enough that I actually think it's worthy of Marvel's overused and oft-abused "premiere hardcover" treatment.

Mouse Guard: Fall 1152 HC - I erred on the side of caution and got this from the library, since comics with a lot of hype usually end up disappointing me in the end (your Blankets, your American Born Chinese, and so on). But this, I have to say, was pretty good. And I generally have a pretty low tolerance for fantasy stories, too, but it really kept my interest. The world of the guardsmice was pretty fascinating, as there's really no aspect of their tiny existence that isn't fraught with danger, so watching the plot to tear down and reorder their society unfold really upped the threat level in an exciting way for me. And it certainly didn't hurt that the David Petersen's illustrations were so gorgeous. I was happy that the animals weren't cartoony, and actually looked real... well, the mice themselves might be dextrous talking mice who walk upright, but still. No one looked like they were going to break into songs by Phil Collins, Sting, or even Randy Newman, which would have been very easy to do here, and I appreciate the level of realism achieved. Could have been a bit longer - you could easily read this in one sitting - but on the whole, it's worth your time.