Building a Mystery (Show)

As I'm pretty sure I mentioned somewhere in the long-distant past, I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown when I was a kid.  Starlee Kine has found a way to do that as an adult and I have to admit I'm jealous.

Kine has a new podcast called Mystery Show, which I suppose you could say is a bit like Serial but less life-and-death serious and more whimsically mundane (in that good way).  Basically, someone approaches her with a mystery they've encountered in life and she seeks out the solution via good, old-fashioned, shoe-leather investigation and this-could-easily-be-your-quirky-friend charm.  And as is the way of life, no one mystery is ever just one mystery, and each investigation leads to more questions to be answered and numerous rabbit holes to explore (as when a simple informational call to a Ticketmaster rep leads to a deep conversation about how we all deserve love and compassion).

Kine, like Serial's Sarah Koenig, is a This American Life alumna so that vibe and propensity for finding gripping narrative in everyday things is all over this show, but this is definitely more Donald J. Sobol than James Patterson, more Scooby Doo than CSI... though admittedly she's not likely to stumble across anything that involves unmasking an embittered amusement park owner (but it would be outstanding if she did).  I think we all have that one unanswered question in our lives that bugs us... not a thing that ruins us, but just something that frustratingly, tantalizingly makes us wonder "Yeah, what was up with that?"

Maybe if we're really lucky, Starlee will help us figure that out.  In the meantime, I'm happy to listen to her reconnect someone with their long-lost belt buckle or find out what happened to this one video store.  Just because it's mundane doesn't mean it also can't be endlessly fascinating.

Sarek and Amanda; or, What's so funny 'bout Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations?

I think that the enduring appeal of Star Trek, particularly the original series, is the unbridled and completely unironic just-post-Kennedy-era optimism (just before the rest of the 60s would beat it down), and the way it embraces and embodies a philosophy the series would eventually attribute to the Vulcans: Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC).  IDIC is about celebrating what makes us different rather than shunning and eventually destroying it, and seeing all that we can achieve if we just get over ourselves, get our shit together, and get to work.  It's a nice thought, a beautiful sentiment, one that helps get me through troubled times.

One of my favorite expressions of this philosophy in the entire series is the relationship of Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda.  We only ever get a few brief glimpses of it, and the explanation of what brings these two together is never really touched upon (at least not officially... I'm sure it comes up in the spin-off media at some point, and we get a brief discussion of it in the first of the Abrams Trek movies), but what we do see is remarkable.  Vastly different in terms of point of view, disposition, philosophy, and yes, biology, but when you see them together there's no question they belonged together.  The way they looked at each other, spoke with each other, and especially touched - that way where they wouldn't hold hands but instead touched their index and middle fingers together - it's all there in the performances of Mark Lenard and Miss Jane Wyatt (as she was sometimes wonderfully billed).

Kevin Church and Ming Doyle made a fantastic comic called "The Truth" for the Trek fanzine To Boldly Zine (which can be read in its entirety here) in which they theorize how it is that these two remarkable characters came together.  It's sweet, it's true to the original performances, the characters themselves, and the world they inhabit; best of all, it shows that tightly controlling (or, alright, suppressing) emotions is a lot different than not having them at all, which is a mistake I think a lot of writers make with Vulcans.  So read it, enjoy it, absorb it, understand the amazing people who helped make Spock the fascinating character he was, and make it part of your Trek head canon along with the Diane Duane Romulan novels, Marvel's Early Voyages series, and some of the better issues of the first DC Comics run (you know, for instance).

(Click pages to Enterprise-size 'em):

Thanks to Kevin for permission to run these.  Be sure to check out his great original series Tumblr site, They Boldly Went.

Better Read Than Dead - Giving Divergence a Chance

Quick reactions to some comics I've read lately.  Haven't done one of these in a long, long time and figured it was time to get back in the saddle.  Here we go.

For the record, this ad? Does not describe this book accurately AT ALL. And that's good.
Starfire #1 - Wasn't planning on picking this up, but the involvement of Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner (and especially Conner's eye-catching cover) earned it a look.  The only version of Starfire I've ever been a fan of was the one from the Teen Titans cartoon, and there's a lot of her here... happy, loving, upbeat, empathic, and naive, but at the same time she retains a lot of the freedom and openness to new experiences (emotional and physical) that the original comics version did.  And thankfully, there's none of the emotionless creepy-dude-fantasy sexbot version that we saw at the start of the New 52.  There's an interesting cast of supporting characters in the making here (Sheriff Stella seems particularly cool and well-rounded), Key West is a unique setting for a superhero book, and if we can't get Conner as the regular penciler than Emanuela Lupacchino shows she'll more than suffice in the role.
Verdict: An extremely pleasant surprise.  Buy the hell out of this, folks.

Constantine the Hellblazer #1 - I've never read many comics with John Constantine in them besides maybe his Books of Magic guest appearances because I've never been a big horror guy, but Ming Doyle is a creator whose work I find interesting (and it has been fun to watch her star rise these past few years) so I gave this a shot and though still not entirely my cuppa I did enjoy it.  I liked how it the story mixed the horror / Vertigo tropes with a good scam story (which I know is Constantine's whole deal but, hey, it's new to me) and it was fun to watch events build toward the pay-off.  Riley Rossmo's art was perfectly suited, equally fun and dark in an expressive manner that called to mind Jack Davis, Tom Fowler, and Sonny Liew.  But what I appreciated most was that it told a satisfying one-and-done story that also managed to set the wheels in motion for a larger story, which is exactly what I want out of a first issue.
Verdict: Probably won't follow monthly but I'm likely to check back in when it's collected.
Not the cover for #1 but a pretty accurate representation of the book just the same.

Bizarro #1 - Jimmy Olsen takes Bizarro on a road trip to get him out of Metropolis.  Antics ensue.  You already know whether or not this is for you based on that description.  As for myself, it's basically that someone reached into my brain and pulled out what is pretty much my perfect comic book.
Verdict:  Why isn't this every comic book?

Omega Men #1 - I think I liked it?  I dunno, it was disjointed, which I suspect is kind of the point.  We're thrown into things in medias res, there's a lot of talk about a hostage or a bomb or both, a lot of people get killed real good, and there's a lot of mostly-untranslated alien language flying around which I think is supposed to add to the confusion but honestly reminded me of the long stretches of the Star Wars Holiday Special where Chewie's family goes about their business speaking nothing but Wookiee grunts.  But there's a definitely "prestige TV" feeling to this, which is the sort of thing you expect from an Image sci-fi book but not DC, and there's a definite allegory for the more unpleasant aspects of the US military & intelligence cultures from a writer (Tom King) who used to work in those worlds, so that's interesting.  Still sussing out my feelings about this, but...
Verdict: Curious to see how it plays out but will wait for the trade, where I feel it will read much better.

RIP Sir Christopher Lee and The American Dream, Dusty Rhodes

Count Dracula
Count Dooku
Saruman the White
Francisco Scaramanga, the Man with the Golden Gun
Frankenstein's monster
Dr. Fu Manchu
Sherlock Holmes
Mycroft Holmes, for that matter.

Any one of these would be career-defining roles for an actor. Sir Christopher Lee played 'em all, and so many more, in productions large and small, memorable and sometimes less so, over the course of a career that stretched about 70 years.

I first encountered him in the 1978 Disney movie Return from Witch Mountain, in which Lee and Bette Davis play a greedy pair intent on exploiting the powers of psionic twins Tony and Tia Malone.  He was a huge, looming, suitably evil presence - easy enough since he stood 6 foot 5 but had a bearing that made him seem 13 foot 180 - which was pretty much a constant throughout his career.  He was always interesting, but never more so than when he was playing the villain, and for my money, he may very well have been the best screen villain ever.  He'll be missed.

I was always more of a WWF/WWE fan growing up, so I never saw Dusty in action until he made the jump to WWF in the late 80s.  And though he rocked some questionable ring gear (his polka dot "common man" phase), he was instantly compelling and always entertaining.  Dusty had a long career both in the ring and behind the scenes, and "smart" circles is probably as famous (infamous?) as a booker (i.e., the guy who controls the storylines), his most famous contribution being the ending which bears his name, the "Dusty Finish," in which the face (good guy wrestler) appears to win a big match but then the decision is overturned due to some technicality like interference or referee shenanigans or something (if you've watched Raw for the past few years, you've seen this happen nearly every single week).

But to my mind, Dusty was never better than when he was on the mike.  I could attempt to describe a typical Dusty promo, but it's easier to let the man speak in his own words, and these are probably his most famous.  Dusty was always promoted as being the son of a plumber, a common man, a guy who, like the audience, knew hard times.  Ric Flair (arguably Dusty's greatest in-ring rival), on the other hand, well, Dusty had some thoughts on Ric Flair...

Dusty Rhodes was a true legend, an inspiration to fans and fellow wrestlers alike, and let's be honest, the man had one of the most fun-to-imitate voices of all time.

Farewell Dusty... vaya con dios to tha 'Mericun Dreem, if you weel.

Fund this Kickstarter: Cash & Carrie

 As I type this, the Kickstarter for Cash & Carrie has a bit less than 2 days to go, and it has more than doubled its initial $3,600 goal, so it probably doesn't need me to stump for it, but on the off chance that I can sway someone who might be interested and hasn't supported it yet, I figured it was worth a shot.

Cash & Carrie is a kids detective comic from the minds of Shawn Pryor (creator), Giulie Speziani (writer), and Penny Candy Studios (art).

Here's the elevator pitch, taken from the Kickstarter page:

Cash & Carrie is a comic book about two middle school detectives.  Dallas Cash is an investigator and tenacious techie who believes in the supernatural, and Inez Carrie is an investigator as well as the captain of the wrestling team who bases her crime solving skills in realism.  Together, they are best friends who attempt to solve mysteries for schools all around the world.

Inspirations for this all-ages comic book include Disney's animated series Fillmore, Scooby Doo, and the X-Files.

In their debut comic book, the strange disappearance of a school mascot, Misty the Goat, has left a small town without answers. Luckily junior high school friends, Dallas Cash and Inez Carrie, are on the case! With the help of a few friends and some intriguing clues, they narrow down the list of possible suspects... or did Misty magically vanish into thin air? If there's a mystery to be solved, look no further than Cash and Carrie!

As a lifelong fan of kid/teen detective fiction (and someone who had serious Encyclopedia Brown aspirations when I was younger), this hits me right in the sweet spot, and it's the sort of thing I can probably convince my son to read, too (even if it doesn't involve Minecraft or Plants Vs. Zombies), and that's always a good thing.

And, in the interest of full disclosure, I know Shawn Pryor and I can vouch for his enthusiasm, his passion for good comics for all audiences, and the fact that he's probably the only person besides myself who has ever expressed positive feelings toward oddball G.I. Joe team member Hardball.  Even if I wasn't already won over by the concept itself, his hustle would get me to want to read this.

And since the project is already funded, I'll be able to.  And you can, too, since now they're deep into stretch goal territory, which so far means a lot of fun extras and a ridiculous amount (as in, at last count, about 800 pages' worth) of DRM-free digital comics for anyone who pledges over the $10 mark.  And because it's Kickstarter, there are a variety of funding levels and incentive packages available (I opted for the Justin Castaneda variant cover because it's a Hardy Boys homage).

So if this seems like the sort of thing you or someone you know would enjoy, consider helping to fund Cash & Carrie and let's see if we can't kick things up to the $8,000 or even $9,000 stretch goal levels.  The AV Club and Panels liked it, and maybe you will, too.

And now a demonstration of the investigative skills that made Barry Allen the top CSI in Central City...

From The Flash #106, story by John Broome, art by Carmine Infantino & Joe Giella
This has been a demonstration of the investigative skills that made Barry Allen the top CSI in Central City.  We now return you to your local programming, already in progress.

Thoughts on a comics event I barely read (Or, Convergence: Shazam is the best thing ever and why Superman is increasingly less super)

I didn't read much of it besides a few of the tie-ins (more on that in a sec), but the news out of DC's Convergence event was that their traditional pre-Crisis on Infinite Earths multiverse was back and that every possible variation of continuity was potentially back on the table.  Bloggyverse pal Siskoid is quick to point out how much that probably is not the case, though, and those of us hoping for a return of a pre-Flashpoint, non-angsty, secret identity-possessing Superman (you know... for instance) are probably S.O.L.  Especially since the end of Convergence rather pointedly dispatches with the pre-Flashpoint Superman (along with Parallax and original COIE martyrs Supergirl & Flash).

This kind of further corroborates my theory that DC is increasingly changing Superman so that they wind up with a character that the public recognizes as the Man of Steel but is different enough from the original that they don't have to share revenue with the Siegel or Shuster heirs anymore.

But that's neither here nor there.  Though I'm convinced that's totally the case.

"Are you ready?" All due respect to Yang and JR, Jr., but I'm allowed to say no, right?

But I digress.  Aaaaaaaanyway...

If DC can access any of the former continuities they have presented to us through the years, and indeed served up in the midst of Convergence itself, then it is my greatest hope right now that they return to the world of Earth S (or Earth 5, if you prefer the Morrisonian Multiversity nomenclature) and serve us up some proper Marvel Family stories, as depicted in both the Multiversity one-shot Thunderworld Adventures (by Grant Morrison, Cameron Stewart, and Nathan Fairbairn) and (especially!), the Convergence: Shazam two-isssue tie-in series by Jeff Parker, Evan "Doc" Shaner, and Jordie Bellaire.  Thunderworld was the highlight of Multiversity for me, and Convergence: Shazam was not only the best of the tie-ins that I read (though Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, and Superboy & the Legion of Super-Heroes were all good, too), but easily the best Shazam comics DC has made since acquiring the characters back in 1972.

Since at least the 80s, DC have either tried to modernize Captain Marvel & his compatriots or shunt them off into the kids' book ghetto.  Both approaches have their successes and failures (Ordway's The Power of Shazam and the Art/Franco/Norton issues of Billy Batson & the Magic of Shazam especially), but all of the products of these efforts overcompensate in one direction or the other: either they must be serious or they must be whimsical, and rarely will they ever attempt to achieve a balance between the two.  But if you go back and read enough of the old Marvel Family stories, you see that balance is exactly where they lived, why they worked, and was the secret to an appeal that endures to this day.  Yes there were magic words, talking animals, crackpot inventions, and the like, but there were also monsters, spies, saboteurs, and the ever-present threat of global armageddon. Yes, one of the Captain's most infamous adversaries was a bespectacled talking worm, but don't forget that it was a bespectacled worm who went to the electric chair for the murder of 186,744 people.  I mean, jeez.

Thunderworld and (especially!) Convergence: Shazam find that balance and maintain it throughout their (for my money) too short runs, capturing the fun and, yeah, whimsy that a world with magical super powered heroes and talking bipedal tigers is going to have (because of course it will, what are ya, dead inside?), but at the same time conveying that these children(!) are in real danger every time they call down the lightning and that the fate of their fictional world is very much at stake.

Oh, hey, look, it's the inside of my brain.

I acknowledge that this is a tricky balance to achieve, much less maintain, but it has been the policy of DC - especially in recent years - that it's too hard to even try so why bother and here's an angsty Captain Marvel Shazam because that's what we know (I'm being unfair because I actually did kind of like Geoff Johns's initial Shazam story, but I'm still not wrong).  But here are two different books to come out in the last year to prove wrong that line of thinking.  Yes, Morrison, Stewart & Fairbairn and (especially!) Parker, Shaner & Bellaire are top flight creative teams that are still better on their worst days than many folks may be on their best, but still, it can be done.

And I want it to be keep being done.  Continually.  And (especially!) by the team of Parker, Shaner & Bellaire, who had already proven themselves as an excellent comics-making unit on Dynamite's Flash Gordon and I will now follow to any project they work on until pretty much the end of time.  But, ideally, that would be more Shazam comics, for which I would gladly shell out pretty much any amount DC wants to charge me.  $9.99 a month?  Sure.  Be silent and accept my funds, or whatever it is the interwebs kids say.

I know what I want out of my superhero comics now, and it's more of that.
Find a way to work in Kamala Khan and this would probably be the only funny book I'd need.