Friday, August 31, 2007

Friday Night Fights!: Meet the New Champ!

Ultimate Fighting Champion, Hollywood star, and new protector of Rann, Champ Hazard, coldcocks Adam Strange in Countdown to Adventure 1.

Story by Adam Beechen, art by Eddy Barrows and Julio Ferreira.

"Champ Hazard" is an awesome Silver-Agey name. For the next week, I will only answer to that name. Students have the choice of calling me either "Dr. Champ" or "Dr. Hazard." And I will speak of myself in the third person: "Today, we are going to learn to do things the Champ Hazard way!"

Bahlactus has rung the bell on another edition of Friday Night Fights!

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

DC Showcase Presents: What's Going On?

A little stir has started over DC's cancellation of pre-orders on several eagerly anticipated Showcase Presents editions, as reported here. I was planning on getting all five of the titles: Captain Carrot, Suicide Squad, The Great Disaster, Secret Society of Super-Villains, and Jonah Hex Vol. 2. I was especially looking forward to the SSOV volume, which was to reprint the issues of that series previously published only in the notoriously rare Cancelled Comics Cavalcade. DC states in their press release that these will be resolicited in the future, and I sincerely hope that this is the case--that the postponement is simply due to production delays or some other manageable problem.

However, the pessimist in me fears that this is another sign of bad times at DC. As commenters on the Newsarama forum and elsewhere have mentioned, all of these books contain work published after the "1976-wall," where DC significantly raised its royalty rates. DC still seems to be planning to publish the Batman and the Outsiders volume, which also falls after that date, so it may only be a coincidence. There may also be other reasons that the BATO book is going forward, but I have to think that the royalty cost is a factor here in the cancellation or postponement of the other books. I was surprised when these books were solicited in the first place: I had heard that the 1976 cut-off was the reason for the first Jonah Hex volume containing the odd Outlaw reprints, as well as the reason why there were no plans for a Warlord Showcase. If these books don't come back on the schedule, that may mean DC is going to steer clear of reprinting post-1976 comics in the cheap Showcase volumes, which would be sad. The only exceptions might be Batman- or Superman-related reprints.

I may be over-reacting here. Or I may just be nervous because DC might be cancelling reprints of material from the "DC Implosion" era of the mid-70s, and the irony is just too much for me.

I want to add how much I love these Showcase Presents volumes. Last Christmas, the Other Dr. K put stacks of these under the tree, and I was as happy as a little kid. (And I may get halfway through all those books by the time next Christmas comes around.)

Also, this little tidbit from the press release seems to have escaped others' notice:


TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS PRESENTS: THE ANTI-MONITOR #1 (AUG070223) will arrive in store with the title TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS PRESENTS: SUPERMAN PRIME #1. This issue now will run 48 pages and feature a cover price of $3.99 U.S.

The most important item here: DC seems to have settled on the name "Superman Prime" for the character formerly known as "Superboy Prime." Though it's unfortunate that a name change had to occur at all, the new name is infinitely better than the annoying "Prime" or all the other awkward ways DC was trying to get around the legal restrictions of using the name "Superboy." I wonder, though, why they merged two separate Tales of the Sinestro Corps books into one. It seems like a good idea, regardless.

The Adventures of Larry Craig

To help us all understand what exactly happened to Larry Craig in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport men's room, a Sacramento CBS station has provided a re-enactment of the incident here. (I couldn't find this on YouTube, but if it does show up there, I'll embed the video here later.)

This sets new standards of journalistic integrity.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Help Out 7-Year-Old Dr. K: Clobberin' Time Update

I think I'm really close on this one, but I'm stuck on three answers that I just can't get. Here's what I have so far:

Any help would be appreciated.

Also, feel free to create your own "Clobberin' List" and turn this into a meme. Who do you want to see get punched by The Thing?

Help Out 7-Year-Old Dr. K: What Time Is It?

Here's another puzzle from the 1976 Mighty Marvel Superheroes Fun Book that 7-year-old Dr. K didn't even try to do (Click here for an earlier entry in this series.).

Click it and print it!

So, the goal here is to fill in the blanks to spell out the names of people The Thing has punched. I don't know why my childhood self gave up on this puzzle--some of these seem easy now.

To get things started, I'll do one myself.

I'm pretty sure I'm right here, though I can't figure out what to do with that S.

Post your answers in the comments!

Monday, August 27, 2007

The Annals of Education

I'm not sure how much play this video is getting outside of South Carolina, but here's Miss Teen South Carolina attempting to answer a question at the recent Miss Teen USA pageant:

I just want to mention at this point that I love my job.

Dr. K's Guide to British Literature

Another school year has started, and once again I am teaching the survey of British literature, a class that one student in particular managed to pass despite frequent complaints about the lack of face kicks in the British literary canon.

Because I now have tenure, I have decided to teach works only if they have been adapted into comics form. Getting tenure was hard, and now I need a break from reading difficult literary works, especially poetry. I feel this is a nice compromise: it's still reading, after all, and I could be just watching movie adaptations if I were really lazy.

Luckily, I normally begin the Brit Lit survey with the Old English heroic poem, Beowulf, a work that is not lacking in comic adaptations. Gareth Hinds has done a nicely illustrated version that uses a limited amount of prose to tell the story. Speakeasy published a Beowulf series by Brian Augustyn and Dub, but that one imagines the hero in a contemporary setting, so I can't really substitute it for the original. And Jerry Bingham did a great, straight-up adaptation for First Comics back in 1984, but I don't have access to that book.

What I do have access to, however, is the 1970s DC series by Michael Uslan and Ricardo Villamonte, so this will have to do.

Okay, that looks like Beowulf is fighting the monster Grendel, so this looks like it will be a good, faithful adaptation. However, I don't remember there being a blonde in a bikini in the version of Beowulf I read, but maybe that was just a flaw in the translation.

Again, "The Slave Maid of Satan" does not appear in the translation I read, but I like how the phrase captures the alliterative qualities of the Old English verse. And it looks like Beowulf is fighting a dragon here, so that goes along with my memory of the poem.

So, the blonde woman's name is "Nan-Zee"? And she carries a sword? Man, I really must have stopped paying attention at some point when I read the original.

Wait a minute! Dracula?! Now I'm starting to suspect that this isn't just me, that this comic adaptation may not be very faithful to the original. I know I would remember if Beowulf fought Dracula, because that would be awesome.

Crap! Now I'm going to have to go back and read the poem after all. I hate it when comics let me down.

Friday, August 24, 2007

Friday Night Fights: The Return of Aparo Style

It's Friday night: time for another edition of Bahlactus's Friday Night Fights! If you're watching WWE Smackdown! tonight, and you look real carefully at the crowd, you just might see Chris Sims and me cheering from the stands. We're pretty easy to spot: I'm wearing a bright green shirt, and Sims is the only one cheering for Finlay in a stadium full of Batista fans.

Tonight's Friday Night Fight comes from The Brave and the Bold 152, courtesy of Bob Haney and Jim Aparo, and it features one of the fightingest covers in Aparo's career.

In this issue, Batman fights a lederhosen-clad pack of thugs, while Atom punches a bag of gold (Atom hates that gold!).

The story is titled "Death Has a Golden Grab." I'm not quite sure what a "golden grab" is, but I did pay $10 for one in Singapore once. I don't remember anything about it, though, and the next day, I woke up in a pool of my own sick, and, for a week, I could only sit on an inflatable sheepskin pillow.

Nothing in the world makes me happier than watching Batman and the Atom beat on a bunch of guys in lederhosen, so let's take a closer look.

That guy's nose is now smelling the back of his throat.

Batman and Atom double-team on an uppercut!

Heed the call of Bahlactus!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair 4

After weeks of set up, we have finally reached the explosive conclusion of "The Lazarus Affair!"

As usual in these situations, Ra's al Ghul presents Batman with a choice: immortality and life in paradise fathering genetically perfect children with Ra's's hot daughter, or death. Batman, not one to be limited by binary thinking, goes for the third option: hand-to-hand combat.

(Now that I think about it, that's always the choice Batman takes. Surrender or watch a hostage die? Batman chooses punching instead. White or wheat? Paper or plastic? The outcome is always the same.)

This is basically how every meeting between Batman and Ra's al Ghul ends: two guys with excellent taste in capes throwing down.

Before the fighting begins, however, Ra's needs to find a metaphor to explain his relationship with Batman. Luckily, Ra's keeps a cobra around for just such an occasion.

A cobra cage hanging from the ceiling of a computer lab really serves no purpose other than providing a handy metaphor (or it could work as a good motivational tool for employees. If productivity were slipping, Ra's could move to the cage and ask, "When did you say my plans for world domination would be complete?" In the choice between the carrot or the stick, Ra's chooses the snake.). However, in order to illustrate his comparison, he has to kill the snake every time, so he has to have a good back-up supply of snakes. Or maybe he has cages of various animals around for this purpose--the snake metaphor probably gets tired after a while.

Before the fighting starts, however, Batman and Ra's have to be reminded of their common ground: Talia. In this case, she gets in the way of a machine gun fired by Ra's's chief scientist, Saltzer, which inspires characters to speak with an excessive amount of alliteration:

"Saltzer, you snivelling sycophant!" "Despite all she has done, Talia was my daughter!" "He deserved to die!" "She's breathing, but just barely!" It's a little known fact that, in some schools of martial arts, the alliterative attack is the first stage of a fight to the death.

And Ra's breaks Saltzer's neck with a backhanded pimp-slap.

Once Talia is healed by a dip in the Lazarus Pit, Batman and her father can commence to fighting. For a while, it seems that Ra's has the upper-hand, but Batman eventually leg-tosses Ra's into the Lazarus Pit. Though this should be the end of things, it isn't, and a red, flaming, insane Ra's al Ghul rises from the pit to continue the fight.

In the finale to this battle, we learn something that we probably should have always known about Ra's al Ghul:

Ra's is a top.

The fight ends with Batman giving Ra's another toss into the Lazarus Pit, this time also causing the pit to flame up and destroy Infinity Island. Batman and Talia manage to escape in a helicopter, where Batman succumbs to the injuries he suffered in the fight.

The story ends with an epilogue where a wheelchair-bound Bruce Wayne recovers in his penthouse home. The triangle between Batman, Robin, and Talia that had been established in the early chapters also resolves itself. Talia leaves to face her impending old age alone, while Robin decides to stick around and work again as Batman's partner for a while.

This story does have some goofiness common to Bronze Age DC comics, but writer Marv Wolfman sets up a fun multipart adventure (when such stories were rare) that hits all the high notes of classic Ra's al Ghul conflicts. And when 12-year-old Dr. K read this story when it first came out, he loved the inclusion of an obscure character like King Faraday (Wolfman later turned Faraday into the go-to secret agent for the DC universe, including him in some issues of New Teen Titans as well.). As I said in an earlier post, I'd really like to see DC put out a second volume of the Tales of the Demon trade, to include this and the great "Bat-Murderer!" multiparter from Detective Comics 444-448 (more on that story in a future post).

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair 3

The 100-Page Super Spectacular returns with the penultimate chapter in "The Lazarus Affair," Batman 334. This chapter runs a short 17 pages, with the final pages taken up by a one-page murder mystery solved by Commissioner Gordon (written by Bob Rozakis) and a Jason Bard backup by Mike W. Barr and Dan Spiegle.

The issue opens with Batman, having been gassed in Hong Kong as Bruce Wayne, waking up on Infinity Island in his Batman costume. Batman's captor shows him various scenes of life on the island, with toga-garbed elite living an idyllic life on the surface, and shirtless slaves working the mines below: a class division reminiscent of Fritz Lang's Metropolis.

Meanwhile, Catwoman and Robin, in disguise, have been taken prisoner in Hong Kong and are about to be injected with overdoses of opium.

It appears from that sequence of panels that Catwoman was wearing a Selina Kyle disguise over her Catwoman costume, which makes no sense. (If that third panel were taken out of context, it would appear that she's holding up Selina Kyle's head.) Also, it's unclear how they got out of their disguises and into their costumes so quickly. Catwoman and Robin soon round up King Faraday and head off to Infinity Island. However, they are captured along the way by the red, Rover-like retrievers.

The trio are quickly put to work in the mines.

I have a new appreciation for the practicality of Robin's costume here. Sure, the short pants are goofy, but when you're forced to perform slave labor in a mine, you want to be comfortable. Catwoman's high-heeled boots and King Faraday's trenchcoat certainly aren't helping them.

Batman gets to see all this on a tv monitor, and his captor gives him a choice between life on the surface or in the mines, and he, naturally, chooses the mines. He's not there long, however, because it turns out this is the easiest slave camp to escape from.

Talia also assists in the escape, but as is common in these stories, she is faced with a choice, as her premature aging conveniently kicks in.

I wonder what Catwoman's basis for comparison is here. Talia looks "almost fifty" only if we're talking about someone who spent every day coated in butter, laying out in the sun and smoking unfiltered Camels.

One of the biggest flaws of this storyline is that it tries to build suspense as to the identity of the villain. It's difficult to imagine a reader not being able to connect the dots here: Talia, the international settings, a story called "The Lazarus Affair"--it all seems pretty obvious.

Yet, what's even more befuddling is that the heroes didn't figure it out, either, as we see in the issue's shocking ending:

Next: The Explosive Conclusion!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Book Review: Crooked Little Vein by Warren Ellis

In the fantastic posthumous collection of Terry Southern's writing, Now Dig This: The Unspeakable Writings of Terry Southern 1950-1995,editors Nile Southern and Josh Alan Friedman include an amazing little screenplay fragment titled, "Proposed Scene for Kubrick's Rhapsody." Fans of Stanley Kubrick will know that the director spent decades trying to adapt Arthur Schnitzler's Rhapsody, a Dream Novel to the screen, and the novel ultimately served as the basis for Eyes Wide Shut. In the early 80s, Kubrick asked Southern, who had worked with Kubrick on the screenplay for Dr. Strangelove among other projects, to help with Rhapsody. Southern's idea for the story, about a man whose quest for sexual fulfillment sends him deeper and deeper into the sexual underground, was to make it a comedy.

The one scene that Southern wrote is hilarious: the husband, Brian (in this version, a gynecologist) describes to his wife how he helped a patient with a particular problem with physical sensitivity. The scene is classic Southern, and it leads me to imagine a perfect alternative universe where Kubrick followed Southern's advice and turned Eyes Wide Shut into a broad sex comedy (I do think Eyes Wide Shut is a comedy, but that's an argument for another day).

While reading Warren Ellis's recent first novel, Crooked Little Vein, I was reminded about this imagined Kubrick/Southern dream project, because I think that such a project would greatly resemble Ellis's novel, in tone and theme if not in detail. Crooked Little Vein, in fact, reminds me a lot of another Terry Southern work, the novel Candy, co-written with Mason Hoffenberg in 1958. Candy is about a young female college student on a failed quest to lose her virginity, which leads to a series of comic misadventures that expose the sexual deviances and hypocrisies of Americans in the late 50s. Crooked Little Vein, published almost 50 years later, is about a private detective in search of the secret, second Constitution of the United States, and his quest leads him to explore the sexual deviances and hypocrisies of Americans in the 2000s. Both novels are picaresque in structure; both are satires; both contain scenes that would offend even the most jaded readers; and both are absolutely products of their time.

In Candy, which was banned in its initial publication, it often seemed like Southern had to invent terminology for some of the acts he described, as there was little or no precedent for such descriptions in prose, yet in my recent reading of it, I found the book to be almost quaint, sounding much like the way inexperienced adolescent boys talk about sex in the locker room. In other words, much of what was shocking in 1958 is no longer shocking today. In one of the novel's episodes, for example, a physician, Dr. Krankeit, extolls the virtues of self-pleasure in a way that would not be out of place in the "Masters of our Domain" episode of Seinfeld.

While reading Crooked Little Vein, I wondered how long it would take before this novel, with its Godzilla fetishists, saline-enlarged scrota, and ostrich abusers, would seem as quaint and old-fashioned as Candy. Ellis invites such thoughts, as much of the detective Mike McGill's interactions with other characters involve discussions of what, exactly, represents the "mainstream" in American culture. Other characters insist, often to Mike's chagrin, that the Internet, as a medium, has moved much from the margins or underground into a form that is readily accessible to all Americans. The argument, then, is that the Internet makes everything it contains mainstream. This is an interesting alternative to the view that America has become increasingly conservative over the past decade, and it's an alternative that Candy must have presented for the conservative Eisenhower era as well.

Warren Ellis does himself a lot of favors by creating a main character and plot that can be used to feature a lot of short little vignettes. McGill's macguffin--the secret Constitution--takes him from east to west coast, and his leads bring him to experience many people and places that might be considered the fringe of American sexual practices. McGill is also a self-described "shit magnet," to whom strange things just seem to happen, and this gives Ellis unlimited freedom to put his hero through some extreme and unlikely situations. The cumulative effect of these vignettes, combined with the novel's rapid pace, can be numbing. By the time the novel gets to Las Vegas, and the Jesus-shaped casino named "Freedom" (complete with Christian sex toys in every room), I felt a bit worn out, but it's about this point in the novel where Ellis's "mainstream" argument kicks in, which gives the novel's picaresque structure a larger purpose.

To offer another comparison for this novel: it's like a Naked Gun movie directed by Takashi Miike. In the Naked Gun series (or Airplane, for that matter), the jokes come so fast, and in such large quantities, that he quality of each individual joke matters little. If you don't like a joke, just wait a few seconds for the next one to come along. The same could be said about the offensive or distasteful gags (and I don't necessarily mean those terms to be pejorative) that rapidly follow one another in Crooked Little Vein: some work better than others. For example, McGill's experience with MHP, or macroherpetophiles (a word that presents an etymological wet dream)is probably the funniest set piece in the novel. However, a running gag about airplane terrorism (a flight attendant upset about her boyfriend hands out boxcutters to boarding passengers so that they can drop the plane on him; later, McGill gets a woman kicked off a plane for "speaking Iraqi") just doesn't seem well-thought-out. Even within the creative freedom Ellis has allowed for himself in this novel, those gags lack an internally consistent realism: a flight where passengers were given boxcutters would surely be grounded, but it isn't, though extending this one-off gag into a larger scene would allow Ellis to play more with the theme of American paranoia and paralysis over terrorism. Also, a scene in a Texas steakhouse, where a waitress rolls out half of a raw steer as the "special," is just too easy a joke.

In general, fans of Warren Ellis's comic work will find much here that is familiar (Mike McGill seems cut from the same cloth as many other Ellis protagonists, especially Michael Jones from Desolation Jones.). But it also seems like all that earlier, similar work was a build-up to this larger, more encompassing satire about technology, sexuality, and contemporary culture (though Transmetropolitan probably does a better job covering those topics). And I'd be especially curious to see how this novel looks in 10+ years (or 50 years, for that matter, though it's unlikely that either the author or myself will be around to evaluate reactions then). Readers then might find it a quaint little snapshot of a time when we were just figuring out what technology like the internet could do, and the fetishes and acts in the novel may be read as signs of a more innocent time--a time before the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences devoted a special Oscar category to Godzilla Bukkake.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Back to School Edition

Bahlactus has rung the bell, and it's time to go back to school with this week's edition of Friday Night Fights.

Today's lesson: How to clear out a roomful of thugs with a single kick.

When you're Batman, and you have to fight a roomful of guys, things can get pretty exhausting, so you need to find easy ways to get the situation taken care of fast.

1) Find the bouncy guy.

2) Wait for it ... and KICK!

3) Let momentum do the rest.

There is probably a bigger Physics lesson here about speed, momentum, energy, friction, ricochet, angles, etc., but I'm not that kind of doctor.

This also may be a useful lesson for gym class.

Images from Batman 336, "While the Bat's Away...": plot by Bob Rozakis, script by Roy Thomas, and art by the awesome Jose Garcia-Lopez and Frank McLaughlin.

Collect This! The Lazarus Affair 2

The series of posts on this Batman story got delayed by a variety of things, so I'm going to spend the next couple of days getting through the remaining issues of "The Lazarus Affair."

Batman 333 opens with an introduction to another mysterious player in the story: a white-haired man wearing a trenchcoat, who picks up the signal sent by Archer Templeton in the previous issue.

Who is this white-haired mystery man? My guess is it's CNN anchor Anderson Cooper. We'll have to wait until later to see if I'm right.

Meanwhile, Batman has traveled to Switzerland disguised as Gregorian Falstaff's henchman Karlyle Krugerrand in order to search Falstaff's safe deposit box located in what's called a "criminal bank." However, Batman doesn't realize that Krugerrand is dead--killed in an encounter with Catwoman at the end of the previous issue. Batman thinks he's gotten through the tight security system, only to have a trap sprung on him.

Now, here's the panel that immediately follows:

How did Batman get his jacket, pants, shoes, and gloves off while hanging by one hand? Maybe he was wearing those tearaway, velcro pants that basketball players wear for warm-ups.

Also, does building a bank on top of a volcano fill clients with confidence that their assets and valuables will be safe?

Whatever the case, Batman manages to escape the deathtrap, and a James Bond-style ski chase ensues, complete with lasers.

Batman takes a laser beam to the ribs, though, and has to make his way back to Bruce Wayne's Swiss chalet, where Talia is waiting for him. And here, we get the obligatory shirtless Batman scene, which occurs in nearly every Ra's al Ghul story.

I think it's great that Batman leaves the mask on while Talia administers the "salve." You just know at one point in their relationship, Talia instructed Batman to "leave the mask on," and that's how things have gone since.

Of course, one of the dangers of doing a shirtless Batman scene is that someone doesn't get the memo that Batman is shirtless. Let's take a closer look at the fifth panel from above:

Rather than seeing this as a mistake, though, I'd just like to believe that Bruce Wayne has a Batman symbol tattooed on his chest. Perhaps that's what Talia's doing in the second panel.

One of the many things I like about this story is how Marv Wolfman characterizes Bruce Wayne. Though he does come across as a bit whiney in the above scene, complaining about painful relationships, Bruce Wayne is otherwised characterized as an international playboy with some James Bond qualities.

There is especially a lot of sexual innuendo in the dialogue between Batman and Talia: we know exactly what they mean by "comforting," a word that appears in bold every time it's used. I'm surprised that Bruce doesn't put up air-quotes when he says it.

And speaking of sexual innuendo, I'm really surprised at what DC let Marv Wolfman get away with back in 1981:

Man, someone at the Comics Code Authority must have been asleep at the wheel!

(And by "Chinese border," she really means "utility belt.")

Anyway, Batman and Talia decide that their next step is to sneak into China. This installment ends in Hong Kong, where Bruce Wayne is gassed and taken prisoner.

The issue also contains a related backup story featuring a Robin and Catwoman team-up. After leaving the Batcave in a huff last issue, Robin seeks out help from another of Batman's love interests.

This team-up squares the love triangle established in the previous issue, and much drama comes from Catwoman's jealousy of the Batman-Talia relationship.

Following their own investigation, Catwoman and Robin also make their way to China, where they join with the mysterious, white-haired trenchcoat guy from the beginning of the issue:

Turns out it's not Anderson Cooper after all, but DC universe secret agent King Faraday. I may be wrong about this, but I think this is Faraday's first appearance in a DC comic after decades in limbo. After this story, I always thought that King Faraday was a cool character, and he's been used off and on as the go-to secret agent ever since. And now, he can be seen regularly in the series Checkmate.

The issue ends with Faraday, Catwoman, and Robin all being taken prisoner, which sets up the reunion with Batman and Talia for the final half of the story.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Bob Loblaw's Law Blog

Because of some love expressed for the Arrested Development reference in my last post, I wanted to share some of my favorite Bob Loblaw (Scott Baio) moments from the show.

"You, sir, are a mouthful." Was Tobias Funke the greatest character in television history, or the GREATEST character in television history?

There is, by the way, a real law blog for Robert Loblaw.

And here is Bob Loblaw's tv commercial:

"Why should you go to jail for a crime someone else noticed?"

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Beginning and End of My Lecture Circuit Tour

Late last week, I was invited by a local fraternal organization to speak at their monthly lunch meeting. Such invitations come my way quite often, actually, because, as you have probably guessed, I am an exciting and dynamic speaker with a broad range of knowledge, including such subjects as awesome mac and cheese recipes, German Batman translations, the complete works of Duran Duran, dinosaurs, the relative merits of monkeys and robots, and movies where cars jump onto barges (apparently a favorite subject among Google users).

On Thursday, a message appeared in my office voicemail that went something like, "Dr. K, this is so-and-so, and I hear from our mutual friend, Bob Loblaw, that you are an excellent speaker on the subject of movies, and we'd like to invite you to come speak at our organization's monthly lunch meeting." ("Bob Loblaw" is a close approximation of what I heard in the message--I couldn't identify the name of our mutual friend at all. I actually do not know anyone with the same name as Scott Baio's character on Arrested Development.)

I then called the gentleman back and told him that I would be glad to speak at their meeting. "But 'movies' is a pretty broad topic," I added. "Is there anything in particular that your group would want to hear about?"

"No," he responded, "nothing in particular. But most of the members of our organization are 'senior,' if you know what I mean. Our speakers usually speak for about 20 minutes, so try to do something you can cover in that time."

So, I began to brainstorm possible topics for which I could put together a presentation on short notice. I considered drawing together some of the stuff on the blog--perhaps a presentation on the complete works of Burt Reynolds? The genius of William Shatner? I even sought the advice of fellow bloggers Kevin Church and Chris Sims. However, their suggestions, on either a Takashi Miike or Sonny Chiba retrospective--respectively-- were unfortunately not very helpful.

I decided, instead, on a two-part plan: I would start out by asking questions of the group to see what movies, actors, and actresses they liked, and so on, with the possibility of running with that for a while; but if the questioning didn't generate anything to go on, I would prepare an outline for a presentation on Alfred Hitchcock, which should be pretty easy to segue into.

At the meeting, the organization had to go through it's normal agenda before getting to the guest speaker. At one point, an elderly gentleman, who I later found out was 90 years old, got up and told a joke. I'll summarize the joke for you here, but it's safe to say that the telling of it took about 20 minutes:

"A priest, who is dying in a hospital, asks the nurse to summon Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton to his bedside. They both arrive, and ask the priest why he has afforded them this great honor. The priest calls them each to either side of the bed and responds, 'I have always tried to pattern my life after Jesus Christ. And since Jesus died between two lying thieves, I wanted to make sure that I died the same way.'"

The audience cheered uproariously.

That was, essentially, my opening act. So, after being introduced, I got up and said, "You know, I've heard that joke before. But instead of a priest, it was an American soldier in Iraq with half his skull missing because his vehicle didn't have the proper armor when it got hit by an IED, and instead of Ted Kennedy and Hillary Clinton, it was Dick Cheney and George Bush. But the punchline is exactly the same, and it's just as funny."

Actually, I said that with my inside voice. My outside voice said, "Thank you for inviting me here to speak with you--it is a great honor. I'm sorry to say that my presentation will not have any jokes that are quite as funny as the one we just heard."

I then began with some background on how I got into teaching film, and then moved to my questions for the audience. The questions didn't really go anywhere, though I did get enough responses to provide a nice segue into the discussion of Hitchcock that I had prepared. I handed out a list of Hitchcock's films, telling little personal anecdotes about a few of them, like the story of how I got to see a rare screening of his first film, The Pleasure Garden. I then talked about Hitchcock's theory of suspense vs. shock, the concept of the "macguffin" (even telling the joke from which the term derives, though it was met with blank stares, obviously because it did not feature the necessary political bias), the use of national landmarks as sites of danger, the "innocent man" plot, and so on. After a little over 20 minutes, I stopped and opened the floor to questions.

From the back of the room, I heard something that sounded like, "What about token?" I wasn't quite sure what was being asked--was this some part of the organization's lingo that I didn't understand?

I paused for a second and then asked, "Are you talking about The Lord of the Rings movies?"


I wondered, at that moment, what in my presentation had led to this question, but I came up with nothing. I suspected that this was some kind of delayed reaction--the questioner had taken twenty minutes to respond to my initial question. Whatever the case, it was a bizarre nonsequitor, and I quickly answered that I thought the movies were great, and that they used special effects well in service of the story.

And then I thanked everyone again for inviting me and took my seat. I did receive several compliments following the meeting, along with an invitation to return.

In a recent news story on Alan Greenspan, it was reported that the former Fed chair receives a speaking fee of $100,000 per engagement. At the time, I thought that sum excessive, but I don't think that way anymore. I think that Greenspan got a few too many "What about token?" questions and decided that he wasn't going to deal with that crap unless he was going to get PAID. So, the next time an invitation like this comes my way, I'll have to tell them that I won't be doing it for less than Greenspan bucks.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Mike Wieringo

Sad news today that comic artist Mike Wieringo passed away yesterday from a heart attack. (Here's the Newsarama link.) Mike Wieringo was one of my favorite artists, from his phenomenal work on The Flash with Mark Waid to the recent, immensely entertaining Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four miniseries with Jeff Parker. His art exudes fun at a time when so many comics are moving away from that ideal. This is a huge loss for comic fans.

Here's a page from Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four 1. This page just cracks me up--Jeff Parker's humor and Mike Wieringo's fun style mesh perfectly. Wieringo was really born to draw the Impossible Man. Of recent superhero comics, this is a series I would give to someone, especially a young person, who didn't read comics regularly.

Wieringo was a staple at HeroesCon in Charlotte for years, and in the last two years, I managed to chat with him briefly and get some stuff signed. Of all his work, his run on The Flash is probably my favorite, especially because of his hand in creating the character Impulse.

His dynamic, cartoony style was really perfect for this series. He used a variety of techniques to draw Flash in motion, including speed lines or a strobe effect. I also like how he drew Flash's costume, with shading used to give the costume a reflective sleekness.

I'm going to sit down tonight with his issues of Flash, Fantastic Four, Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four, and especially Tellos to remind myself why Mike Wieringo's work so exactly reflects what I read comics for.

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Happy Birthday, Chris Sims!

Today is the birthday of Chris Sims, of the Invincible Super-Blog.

So, what do you get for a guy like Chris? Comics would seem to be the obvious choice, but it's difficult to know what he already has.

What else is there? Perhaps a tie and some socks? A gift card?

No, there's something that I'm looking for, but I just can't put my finger on it...

That's it! Thanks Silver Age Steel Sterling! Now, do you know anyone who could deliver such a gift on short notice?

Ah, the Silver Age Web! Thanks so much for your help, guys. You weren't doing anything important, anyway.

Happy Birthday, Chris!

Images from Mighty Comics 46 (1967). Art by (I think) Dick Ayers.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Michael Vick Style!

It's another Friday night--are you prepared to heed the call of Bahlactus?

Batman provides step by step instructions for taking down two dogs at once.

From Detective Comics 485, reprinted in the Batman: Tales of the Demon trade paperback. Story by Denny O'Neil, art by Don Newton and Dan Adkins.

Is There Something I Should Know?

Why, yes there is. Today is National Duran Duran Appreciation Day.

Why, you might ask, is there a National Duran Duran Appreciation Day? Oh, we don't need to understand, just like that river twisting through a dusty land.

I don't know about you, but I'm taking the day off.

On holidays like today, I think it's important to offer thanks for the things we really appreciate. One of the things I do appreciate about Duran Duran is how much I learned about global geography and different cultures from their early 80s videos.

And then there's this:

So, to summarize:
1) Why don't you use it?
2) Try not to bruise it.
3) Buy time, don't lose it.

And I think we appreciate Duran Duran just that much more after this:

Everything's a little better once Bruce gets ahold of it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Collect This! Batman: The Lazarus Affair 1

The coverage of "The Lazarus Affair," one of the great Ra's al Ghul stories, continues with the first part of the story, from Batman 332.

In "The Lazarus Affair," Marv Wolfman created a kind of corporate espionage thriller that involved Bruce Wayne as much as Batman, and few writers between Wolfman and Grant Morrison have dealt with the Bruce Wayne character in this executive role to this extent. Through the long-developing subplots, Wolfman gradually makes things very bad for Bruce Wayne, to the point that he is at risk for losing Wayne Enterprises. This is also not the ultra-competent version of Batman that we've seen lately in the comics--here, Batman is spread too thin, and he misses signs that something is wrong with his company until it is almost too late.

As an espionage tale, however, "The Lazarus Affair" wears its influences on its sleeve. The title itself bears a striking resemblence to the titles of Robert Ludlum novels, like The Bourne Identity and The Parsifal Mosaic. And including the word "Affair" in the title hearkens back to The Man from U.N.C.L.E. series, in which every episode had that word in the title.

One of the most strikingly obvious references, though, comes in a framing sequence from issue 332. The story opens with a spy named "Archer Templeton" escapes in an inflatable raft from "Infinity Island." Archer hastily removes a radio transmitter from his bag and begins broadcasting a secret code. As the issue concludes, the master of Infinity Island sends out a retrieval device to eliminate Archer.

Now, what does that remind me of? A spy, who attempts to escape from a mysterious island, is tracked down by a globular retrieval device? Have I seen that somewhere before?

Oh yeah--that's it.

Before I go any further, I want to get one thing out of the way. In the interest of full disclosure, I feel it's my duty as a comic blogger to point out that Batman 332 contains the following panel:

Now, when I saw that panel in my recent revisiting of this comic, my comic blogger sense started tingling, and my mind was filled with lines like, "It always does in those shorts, Robin!" and "I think we all know who pitches a tent when Talia's around!" However, here at the 100-Page Super Spectacular, I try to run a classy operation, so I'll just let that one pass without comment.

In this issue, Bruce Wayne figures out that Gregorian Falstaff has been sabotaging his business deals through inside information provided by Wayne's secretary, Caroline Crown. Here's a panel from issue 330 showing Caroline giving Falstaff a call:

It seems, from the arch of her eyebrow and the tone of her dialogue, that she's enjoying her espionage activities, but that is not consistent with the way she is portrayed two issues later:

Here, we see that she is being blackmailed by Falstaff, who is keeping her daughter hostage. (An added note: I love the way Batman enters the room in this panel. It's not so much that he's kicking the door open, but rather opening the door with his foot.)

Gregorian Falstaff is a great character, and I really wish someone would bring him back. Here are some randomly selected images from his appearances in the series:

Notice some similarities? He is always wearing the same green coat with yellow ascot, he talks like Sidney Greenstreet, and he always has a giant, partially eaten turkey leg in his hand. Seriously, what's not to love about that character.

Unfortunately, this is Falstaff's final appearance, as Talia kicks him into a a glowing energy sphere (which resembles the one I showed earlier), and he disintegrates.

Or does he?

No, he does.

Next time: "The Lazarus Affair" continues with some very special guest stars!