Friday, September 28, 2007
Solitude: "What would you do if there were no witnesses--no parents, no friends, no lovers, no bosses, no teachers, no audience of any kind except for yourself?" - T.S.T., "What Are You Like When No One Else is Looking?", Digest, 9/27/07. Is this so uncommon a situation that one must force one's self to think of what one would do under the circumstances?
Thursday, September 27, 2007
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
The first Lollapalooza skipped Houston for Dallas, but a year later, the mistake was rectified. In 1992, promoters estimated the Houston Lollapalooza crowd at 32,5000, while law enforcement guessed higher at 50,000 (only ten of whom were arrested).1 After the show, Marty Racine of the Houston Chronicle summed up Pearl Jam's set as follows:
Pearl Jam (4:05-4:55 p.m.) was this listener's favorite band of the day. Look for these guys to break out in 1993. Hailing from Seattle's celebrated alternative scene from the remnants of Green River and Mother Love Bone, this group went rocking without pretense -- a precious commodity on this day -- ending with a rollicking jam (joined by members of fellow Seattle band Soundgarden) of Neil Young's "Keep On Rockin' in the Free World."2It's difficult to imagine Eddie Vedder without at least some pretense. And break out in 1993 the band did, although in my memory, the band had already achieved a great level of success by September of 1992, at least for a new band. After all, Ten, its debut album, had been released over a year before in August of 1991 (although Wikipedia's entry on the album notes that it "took over a year to become a success."). I never understood why Pearl Jam was so closely associated with Nirvana and Soundgarden during the great grunge explosion of the early 1990s. Sure, Pearl Jam, like the other two bands, hailed from Seattle, but the musical similarities really end there. (To boot, Pearl Jam and Soundgarden did both tour as part of Lollapalooza '92.). However, Pearl Jam had more of a traditional and rootsier rock sound than the punk-influenced grunge of Kurt Cobain or Chris Cornell. That said, Ten was a marvelous record, and I listened to it ever so often in those days. I believe that I purchased the record shortly after hearing "Alive," but the slower, more melancholy "Black" became my favorite song from the album. Despite the fact that I've heard the songs so many times since then that they should be drained of any meaningful level of nostalgia, I still hearken back to the early 1990s whenever I happen to hear one of the album's tracks. Any excuse to hearken back to then is welcome. And, yes, the photograph above was indeed taken by me, using my photo pass.
1. Mason, Julie. "Traffic, parking costs, arrests part of Lollapalooza concert," Houston Chronicle, September 7, 1992.
2. Racine, Marty. " Lollapalooza!/The music is a decidedly hip, high-strung hybrid of rap, funk and hard, linear beats, laced with a requisite dose of attitude. 'Lots' of 'tude/New generation finds its alternative," Houston Chronicle, September 7, 1992. (emphasis added).
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
Monday, September 24, 2007
It is 1978, and Peter Parker plans to take Mary Jane Watson for a Saturday date to a taping of NBC's "Saturday Night Live." At that time, the program had been on the air but a few years, and the cast was comprised of Dan Aykroyd, John Belushi, Jane Curtin, Garrett Morris, Bill Murray, Laraine Newman and Gilda Radner, all of whom make appearances in the issue, along with SNL producer Lorne Michaels. Delays have made Parker and Watson late to the taping, and as they arrive, they find they must sit in the balcony. As they proceed to their seats, a brute of sorts brushes past Parker, whose spider sense begins to tingle:
Parker and Watson find their seats. The episode's guest host is, if you can believe it, Marvel Comics empresario Stan Lee with musical guest Rick Jones, a fictive musician who exists only in the Marvel Universe. (Potential musical guest Dazzler would not be created by Marvel for another two years.). Lee references his duties and position in his monologue, which draws praise from an NBC page (who is thereupon attacked by an anonymous henchman):
The bare bones plot is driven by the existence of a mysterious ring, which Belushi mistakenly receives in his fan mail. The ring, it seems, has magical properties which make it an object of interest for the Silver Samurai, who arrives at the taping with goons in tow knowing only that a member of the cast possesses the ring. (One ring to rule them all?) As the taping progresses, Parker becomes Spider-Man to investigate the assault of the page. The cast then joins Spider-Man as he fights the Silver Samurai and his men. Morris dons a Thor costume as the melee ensues while Newman dresses as Ms. Marvel (ruses which temporarily distract the anonymous thugs long enough for them to be defeated). Murray even disguises himself as one of the henchmen in an attempt to ascertain their intent and mission:
As the battle rages towards a climax, Belushi, as his character Samurai Fatubua, duels the Silver Samurai, who finds insult in the actor's portrayal of the ancient Japanese warrior. Before the villain can be captured, he wrestles the ring from Belushi. Wielding the ring and using its power, the Silver Samurai teleports to safety, though Spidey predicts that "[h]e'll be back, probably when I least expect it, too." Everything is tidily resolved:
Written by Chris Claremont, the issue was also penciled and edited by Bob Hall, inked and colored by Marie Severin, and lettered by Annette Kawecki. (
What is bizarre about the fact that Lee is the SNL guest host is that his presence establishes that Marvel Comics, the corporate enterprise, exists as a company within the Marvel Universe. Put another way, in a world where superheros exist, fight, and frolic, consumers still, apparently, buy comics about superheros - and not fictitious ones, either. (In Alan Moore's Watchmen, comic book readers follow the exploits of pirates instead of costumed superheros, about whom they can read in the newspaper.). Not only do customers purchase comics, but apparently, they do so in such numbers to make Marvel a successful enough company that Lee is invited to appear on a nationally televised sketch comedy show. Pre-meta meta, anyone?
Of course, if "Saturday Night Live" and its various players exist in the Marvel Universe, then my earlier speculation about the Human Torch proves true. Last week, I reviewed Fantastic Four #285, in which Johnny Storm a/k/a the Human Torch is emotionally affected by the death of a thirteen year old boy who set himself ablaze in an attempt to become like his hero. That story took place in 1985 during the crossover debacle that was Secret Wars II, a full eight years after Dan Aykroyd parodied cheap Halloween costumes. In that post, I wrote:
And was such a tragic accident truly as unforeseeable as Johnny Storm's grief suggests? Certainly, if the Marvel Universe is anything like our own, then children injure themselves using certain products in an attempt to emulate television and cinema. This should not be a surprise to a hero who regularly visits outer space, fights aliens and monsters, and generally sees death and destruction on a rather frequent basis. After all, was it not eight years before this issue appeared that Saturday Night Live parodied cheap Halloween costumes and "a bag of oily rags and a lighter" sold as a "Johnny Human Torch" costume?Thus, Marvel Team-Up #74 confirms that SNL and the Fantastic Four exist in the same universe, which means that Storm would have been aware of Aykroyd's gag (which went unreferenced in FF #285, despite Storm's acting as if the accident was unforeseeable).
Really, Marvel Team-Up #74 is less interesting as a narrative than as a relic and a bizarre cross-promotional item. One wonders how the cast reacted when the issue was inevitably delivered to 30 Rockefeller Plaza following its initial publication. Did they enjoy it? Were they awed by being in an actual comic book? Or did they pay it any mind at all? I found no reference to it in James A Miller and Tom Shales' Live From New York: An Uncensored History of Saturday Night Live, as Told By Its Stars, Writers and Guests (not that the issue would be among the first memories to be recounted by anyone affiliated with the program). The issue would be less interesting, perhaps, if the 1970s era SNL were not still so much in the public memory and consciousness, so I suppose Marvel's marketing department made a good decision in making the cross promotional. It could have been much, much worse.
UPDATE (9/25/07): Bob Hall, the penciler and editor of this issue, was kind enough to respond today to my earlier email asking about the origin of the Spidey/SNL storyline. His response is intriguing enough to quote in its entirety below:
I have no idea how it started, maybe with Shooter, but it was probably Claremont's idea -- he was always full of ideas and had not yet found his niche as the richest writer at Marvel because of the X-Men .I was an editor and assigned myself to draw, figuring it would be fun and that I might get to interact with the celebs. We did get to go to 30 Rock and watch rehearsals but clearly none of them had time to schmooze with lowly comic book types. We all shook hands with Lorne Michaels and I got to sketch the studio. Mainly, though, we talked with NBC lawyers. We were going to use the NBC symbol along with the usual Spider-Man logo in the upper left of the cover since we wanted to avoid featuring one Saturday Night player to the exclusion of the others. The lawyer went on and on about proper use of the logo and we (Claremont and Shooter if I remember right) couldn't figure out why. Then it hit me and I said, "I understand; I'm from Nebraska." The lawyer turned green -- literally -- but said, "Then you know what I'm talking about." As I explained to Shooter later, a staff artist named Jim Brown, who worked for public TV in my home town, Lincoln, Nebraska, had come up with exactly the same logo for the Nebraska ETV station at least a year before NBC (after most likely paying some agency a 100,000 to create the thing) started using the image. Shortly before we did the comic, Nebraska sued and NBC settled for something like a million bucks. Hence the paranoia.I was not the best choice to draw the comic. Claremont was a TV fan and while I watched Saturday Night Live, that was about all. Claremont wrote something like "The Muppet Show meets Saturday Night, meets The Avengers." I was OK with the Avengers but the Muppet references were lost on me. Whats more, it was the 70s well before VCRs let alone the Internet. Getting useful reference was difficult to impossible, even for the Muppets. For instance, Chris wanted me to draw the two old guy puppets who sat in the balcony were critics of the show. I just couldn't find pictures of them and ended up, I think, drawing them from behind from verbal descriptions. I would have watched the show, but I had a play running off Broadway and I was there every night. The Network could not be bothered to send us more than a few old head shots of the Saturday Night cast.As an editor, I should have fired me and hired someone who understood Chris's story adaptation and could draw at least some of it from memory. Marie Severin inked the thing and knew some of the references so that helped -- although we had very different styles. Actually, that was so early in my career, I don't think you could say I had a style at all, really.The best part of the project was that someone engineered me and Shooter and some of the bullpen going to the premiere party for Animal House; I can't say if Chris was there. It was at one of the famous clubs but I don't remember which one. We went out in the alley with Belushi and presented him with the cover. Belushi passed a joint around -- so I can say I smoked dope with John Belushi. I did inhale, this was after all the 70's.
Friday, September 21, 2007
After Hours: "Because of my current bouts with melancholy, I’ve been listening to a lot - I mean a lot - of [Rilo Kiley's new album] Under the Blacklight lately (although the album isn’t necessarily a downer. I think it is because Jenny Lewis’s voice is so sad) . . . ." - Digital Boy, "Lyrical Nonsense XVII," Ramblings of a 21st Century Digital Boy, 9/20/07. As far as sad voices are concerned, I'm not certain Ms. Lewis can compete with the likes of Portishead's Beth Gibbons, the Cowboy Junkies' Margo Timmins, or Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval. Heck, Norah Jones' vocals on "Wurlitzer Prize (I Don't Want to Get over You)", which appears on Lonesome, On'ry and Mean: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings, are far, far more somber than anything Lewis has ever committed to a recording. Rilo Kiley, and its lead singer, Lewis, seem to me, rather underwhelming. They earned no points with me when, in 2002, the band covered the Velvet Underground's "After Hours." (How can a light and poppy trendy-indie hipster band perform an upbeat version of that tune, especially when the original vocal performance, done by the sad, wistful, and wonderfully naive sounding Maureen Tucker, was just so darn perfect? That I know not.). I'm not certain I understand the appeal of Rilo Kiley and Ms. Lewis, other than they are, purportedly, the type of band and frontwoman I am supposed to like as a discerning listener of modern rock music in 2007. Perhaps the fact that she hangs out with the insufferably pretentious Conor Oberst infuses her with indie street cred. Really, I can describe Rilo Kiley's singles as mostly pleasant, slightly catchy, but almost always forgettable. Alas.
Really? "Dreams in which inanimate objects talk to one, urging one into nefarious exploits, are unsettling in the extreme." - horus kemwer, "dreams in which . . ." Against the Modern World, 9/17/07. Unsettling or no, I withhold judgment. After all, isn't the nefariousness of the exploit dependent upon the nature of the inanimate object making the recommendation? Doesn't motive matter? Intent? If I am the agent to the inanimate object's principal, then is not my duty of loyalty to it, and its grand scheme my purpose? Who am I to question?
Thursday, September 20, 2007
There will be more later.
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Journeyman, which premieres next Monday on NBC, stars Kevin McKidd (who played Lucius Vorenus in HBO's Rome) as Dan Vasser, a newspaperman caught in some sort of temporal rift which periodically propels him into San Francisco's not too terribly distant past. Over the course of the pilot episode, McKidd finds himself mysteriously transported to both 1987 and 1997 (times chosen by the producers no doubt to reduce the cost required to transform exterior sets into different eras). Vasser's strange and sudden disappearances, and his equally puzzling reappearances into the present, cause concern to those around him. Among them: his wife Katie (Gretchen Egolf), his editor, and to a lesser extent, and Jack, his somewhat estranged police officer brother (played by Reed Diamond, formerly of Homicide: Life on the Street), all of whom believe that Vasser has fallen into the perils of drug use.
In its philosophy of time travel, Journeyman is very much akin to Back to the Future, in that minor changes to the past made by Vasser result in a slightly different future. When he is hurled back into his own present, he notes the changes, however small, and uses that information to make additional alterations, if necessary, when he next travels into the past. There is no true sense of fate, as everything can be changed, but oddly, fate is implied, as there is some correct result which Vasser is attempting to ascertain which, when achieved, ends his journeys into the past for that particular episode. Without delving into the specifics of the pilot's plot, Vasser attempts to rectify the troubled past of a young professional who, at first, is having difficulties with his girlfriend in 1987. After some historical tweaking, Vasser notes some new problems later in that person's life, which must again and again be altered to ensure that destiny is properly achieved. Another show in which the protagonist aids strangers. Yawn. (There is no explanation why, if Vasser can be inexplicably transported to the past to fix this or that, history couldn't have simply sorted itself out the first time around).
The interpersonal wrinkle of the series is that Vasser apparently stole his brother Jack's girlfriend, Katie, following the death of his own fiancee', Livia Beale, in a plane crash sometime in the past. As we join the narrative in 2007, Vasser has married Katie, which has strained his relationship with his brother. Vasser uses his forays into the past to locate his then-living, now dead fiancee Livia Beale (played by the actress Moon Bloodgood, who must have been named by J.K. Rowling). He also is able to impersonate his former self and interact with the past versions of his friends and lovers. That part of the pilot is the most interesting (wouldn't we all like to sit down at a 1997 dinner table as our 2007 self?), but unfortunately, it must share the narrative with a "historical dilemma of the week," which Vasser must fix.
In an attempt to create some type of mythology, Vasser, upon leaving a meeting with the 1997 Livia, runs into another time traveler: a Livia from the future (our present, perhaps) who apparently faked her death and now travels through time with a bit more understanding of the process than Vasser, a temporal traveler virgin. I suppose we will learn more about how she came to become a time traveler herself as the series progresses, but it seems to be a bit unnecessary this early in the life of the show (and really, just unnecessary period).
Inevitably, the show will be compared to Quantum Leap, in that it features a hero traveling in time (but only in his own lifetime) to correct small episodes in others' lives to make the world a better place. Yuck. The only difference, really, is that Vasser, as opposed to Scott Bakula's Sam Beckett, physically travels through time himself rather than taking over the body of some pre-existing individual from whatever year in the past he finds himself.
I can't imagine this show surviving the entire television season. One wonders how long it will take the producers to stuntcast Ray Stevenson, McKidd's former Rome co-star, who played Vorenus's true friend Titus Pullo. Or better yet, maybe Vasser travels back in time to ancient Rome and meets Vorenus and Pullo and is promptly slain by them. We'll have to wait and see.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
Monday, September 17, 2007
Part of the massive crossover that was the wearisome Secret Wars II, Fantastic Four #285 begins in the office of Dr. Janet Darling, some type of coroner investigating the death of Thomas H. Hanson, a thirteen year old boy whose official cause of death is third degree burns. Dissatisfied with that brief clinical conclusion, Dr. Darling begins an investigation into the circumstances which led to Hanson's death (a more existential task which, likely, would exceed her formal duties in the real world). The narrative then flashes back to to the last few days of the life of Hanson, an all too familiar experience for many young comic book readers in the mid-1980s. Bullied, unpopular, and all too interested in the exploits of super heroes (which in his world exist not in fictional comic books but in news reports and celebrity magazines), Hanson idolizes The Human Torch, founding member of the Fantastic Four, sister of Sue Storm a/k/a The Invisible Woman, and young hero of New York City.
Hanson is a latch key kid who rarely sees his parents, both of who maintain professional careers. On the day in question, at school, a stereotypical bully brandishes a new celebrity magazine featuring the Torch in front of Hanson's face and only agrees to give it to him if he will fork over his lunch money and do his homework for him. Later, a teacher confiscates Hanson's hard won magazine and attempts to explore with him his unhealthy fascination with the Torch. Hanson replies only that Johnny Storm is, after all, "the greatest hero ever! Better 'n Spider-Man, or Captain America, or Thor, or . . . or anyone!"
Hanson's only friend, it seems, is an aged misfit toy-maker named Joss, who is making some type of model airplane than operates on actual jet fuel. (This friendship is somewhat reminiscent of the friendship between Doc Brown and Marty McFly, characters who also appeared for the first time in 1985. However, McFly was older and far, far more confident in himself than Hanson, and Brown was certainly less negligent than Joss turns out to be.). Leaving the test area to return a page, Joss warns Hanson to stay away from a fuel can, for it "could turn ya into another human torch." This, of course, is exactly the wrong thing to say to young Hanson. Only moments before encountering Joss, he had placed a call to Johnny Storm at Avengers Mansion, where the hero was staying following the destruction of the Fantastic Four's headquarters. Says Hanson to Avengers butler Edwin Jarvis, who answered the phone:
Just tell the Human Torch that Tommy Hanson called.Left alone with the can of jet fuel, Hanson does what the foreshadowing suggests he will:
No, sir. He doesn't know me. I . . . I just wanted him to know my name.
As Hanson lays dying in the hospital, Dr. Darling locates and informs Johnny Storm, who has just enough time to visit Hanson at the hospital before the young boy passes away. Storm's parents, heretofore absent, berate Storm from their newly dead son's bedside. Storm is devastated. He commiserates with his fellow team members and threatens never to become the Human Torch again. Upon this vow, he is visited by the Beyonder (whose insertion into the story seems a bit heavy-handed), who takes him into the past to observe Hanson's life. It is during these moments that the Beyonder gives the monologue cited above.
Written and penciled by John Byrne, the issue is not typical narrative fare for super hero comic books. The issue was also inked by Al Gordon, colored by Glynis Oliver, lettered by John Workman, and edited by Michael Carlin. Byrne's art is somewhat unusual in that the faces of Hanson and his bully look to be far older than their ages and builds would suggest. It is as if the heads of adults have been placed upon the diminutive bodies of children, and the effect is somewhat detrimental to the overall theme and message of the issue:
See what I mean?
The issue has drawn some critical commentary in, of all places, non-comic books. In his 1999 book, Comic Book Culture: Fanboys and True Believers, author Matthew J. Pustz explores the portrayals of comic book fans in the medium. He notes:
The depictions of comic book fans themselves fall into two main categories, the direct and the metaphorical. Mainstream visions of comic book fans have usually been metaphorical. Some, such as Byrne's story, "Hero" (Fantastic Four #285 [December 1985]), have been sympathetic. Tommy Hanson, a devoted fan of the Human Torch, faces so much parental neglect and peer ridicule that he sets himself on fire in an attempt to become more like his hero. When the boy's parents blame the Torch for his death, the superhero briefly vows never again to use his powers. An omnipotent extradimensional creature named the Beyonder soon intervenes and shows the Torch the error of his ways by taking him back in time to see Tommy happy in his room, reading Fantastic Four. The Beyonder explains, "the death of this boy is not a burden for you to bear. He did not die because of you. It was through you that Tommy Hanson lived!" It is not difficult to make the jump between Tommy, the fan of the "real" Human Torch, and fans of the comic book superheros, turning the story into commentary on the role of superheroes in fans' lives. Comics do not make fans' lives one dimensional or lacking in human contact; rather, says Byrne, comics provide fans an escape, an outlet.Pustz, now a professor at Endicott College in Massachusetts, was kind enough to offer his thoughts on the issue eight years after the publication of his book. In an email, he notes how he came to include a discussion of FF #285 in his book:
My book is all about the world of comic book readers as I'm trying to explain what the comics mean to the people who read them. But I also wanted to get a sense of the opposite perspective as well: what do comic book creators think about the people who read their comics. How are fans depicted in the comic books themselves? Tommy Hanson isn't primarily a comic book fan. He's shown reading comic books, but the focus of his fandom is the Human Torch, someone who is a real person for him. Making the leap from someone who is a fan of (real life) superheroes to someone who is a fan of comic books that star (fictional) superheroes seemed reasonable to me. After all, it was in The Fantastic Four comic that readers learned that the team stars in its own line of comic books on the Marvel earth -- comic books that we on this earth read as if they are fiction. The scene in Tommy's room, where the Beyonder takes Johnny back into the past to see him happily reading, focuses on comic books. And when his parents lash out at the Torch, they blame him in the same kind of rhetoric that people have used to pin responsibility on comic books and other forms of popular culture. So the connection is clearly there.Twenty two years after its publication, Pustz believes the issue "holds up pretty well" in 2007. However, as time has passed since the publication of his book, he has reconsidered, somewhat, his initial view of the portrayal of Hanson in Byrne's narrative:
It's still a powerful comic book, especially for people who can see themselves in Tommy. (Reading it again, I had to blink back a few tears when the Beyonder describes Tommy as being "without true friends, except those he finds in the gaudy pages of these periodicals.") In my book, I argue that his depiction is "sympathetic," but I'm not sure that I would go as easy on Byrne now as I did then. Tommy certainly seems to be a nice enough kid, and it's true that he's abused by his classmates, misunderstood by his teachers, and neglected by his parents. At the same time, though, he's not the brightest kid for 13. He falls for his classmates trick to get his lunch money for a magazine that Tommy should have been able to find anywhere, and then he gets himself in trouble by reading it in school. Maybe this is a sign of Tommy's obsessive tendencies, but it certainly doesn't reflect well on comic book fans. In fact, I'd argue now that Tommy is portrayed much like stereotypical fans: immature (his actions seem to be more like someone who's closer to 8 than 13), obsessive, less than smart, and potentially dangerous. Near the end of the story, Byrne (through the Beyonder) tells Johnny (and us) that he's not responsible for Tommy lighting himself on fire. Certainly his self-absorbed parents and irresponsible neighbor are more at fault. The Beyonder explains that superheroes (and comic books)d on't make fans' lives one-dimensional and so empty that they light themselves on fire. Instead, comics and superheroes give fans an outlet, a way to live their lives vicariously through people they idolize. This may be a positive service that comic books provide, but that doesn't really say very much in support of the average comic book fan. So, I guess the bottom line is that the story holds up (I'm always impressed by the way Byrne is able to give so much life to secondary or even tertiary characters who will never appear again) but that my interpretation of the story doesn't. I guess I need to go back and re-write my book!Although spoken in an attempt to console the Torch, The Beyonder's words are not entirely sympathetic or even appropriate. Essentially, the Beyonder consoles Storm by telling him that Hanson's attempts to live vicariously through him were what made his life worth living to him, and thus, Storm should not lament or feel responsible for his death. What lies in that message? Does it not lessen the life of Hanson to imply that he was happy only because he would sublimate his own identity to live through the exploits of a hero celebrity? There is an element of dehumanization implicit in his remarks: Tommy Hanson may be less than a human being for not living his own life, but at least he could be distracted from his troubles by reading of a hero actively living his own life. (You would think, too, that Storm would simply ask the omnipotent figure to resurrect the boy, but in comic books, resurrection is only for characters whose reappearance will sell issues. It is not a reward for minor human characters who serve as plot devices in single issues.).
Further, it seems a bit strange that Storm would not have to deal with the media consequences of such a death. Who cannot imagine such a tragedy finding itself onto the front page of the New York Post? Would it really be the place of a coroner to investigate the social and situational issues leading to the child's sad demise, or would that be the task of an investigative reporter, or better yet, a lawyer retained by his parents to sue the Fantastic Four (whose pockets are deep enough to justify such a lawsuit)? Why didn't this story linger for several issues, or perhaps a year, for Storm to deal with the consequences of his actions? And was such a tragic accident truly as unforeseeable as Johnny Storm's grief suggests? Certainly, if the Marvel Universe is anything like our own, then children injure themselves using certain products in an attempt to emulate television and cinema. This should not be a surprise to a hero who regularly visits outer space, fights aliens and monsters, and generally sees death and destruction on a rather frequent basis. After all, was it not eight years before this issue appeared that Saturday Night Live parodied cheap Halloween costumes and "a bag of oily rags and a lighter" sold as a "Johnny Human Torch" costume?
Here are the panels which feature the Beyonder's brief speech to Storm:
In the end, Storm revokes his promise to never become the Torch again, Joss is imprisoned, and everything is, for the most part, tidily resolved. Fantastic Four #285 certainly seems to be an issue that has lived on in the memory of its readers, as evidenced by Pustz's commentary and a handful of Usenet postings over the years. There is no true villain, unless you count fame itself, which is why it may be memorable.
Friday, September 14, 2007
Iron Man Trailer: "Great moments are achieved by subtlety not by the TOTAL RUINATION OF THE AD BY INCLUDING THE OPENING DISTORTED VOICE EFFECT 'I AM IRON MAN' FROM BLACK SABBATH’S 'IRON MAN' SONG AS THE MOVIE TITLE IRON MAN IS PRINTED IN A BLADE OF IRON. Wait did you miss it? He’s IRON MAN." - Steven G. Harms, "Dorky or Awesome? Iron man and 'Iron Man'," stevengharms.com, 9/12/07. (emphasis in original). 'Nuff said on that horrid aesthetic choice, although Mr. Harms takes an unnecessary jab at another superhero actor, Tobey Maguire, who has adequately played the role of Peter Parker in at least two Spider-Man films.
Disputation of The League on the Power and Efficacy of Comic Contrivances: "There are just some odd conceits of comics that make me roll my eyes. " - The League, "Things I Could Do Without Seeing In Comics Ever Again," The League of Melbotis, 9/10/07. Damn right. The League, issuing 14 theses proscribing certain cliches in comic books, should become an editor in that industry. So tiresome are the contrivances he identifies that it is a shock - a shock! - that they were not eliminated ages ago. But writers, particularly hack writers, are creatures of habit, and comic auteurs return again and again to familiar devices which have worked in the past. He is particularly correct in his assessment that such writers should abandon time travel as a plot mechanism, as it is "too complicated" and "rarely handled well." To that I would add only that too many writers, when using that as a device, are internally inconsistent in their usage of time travel, i.e. they begin with the premise that events and actions are fated and temporally immutable and then waffle into the opposite belief that timelines are fluid and may be changed with ease and aplomb. (The writers and producers of NBC's "Heroes" committed this cardinal sin last season when they abandoned a world of fate for a fateless reality in which the future, any future, is unwritten.). Pick a theory, writers.
What is truth? "I do not expect to ever discover the 'truth' of the events of Sept. 11, 2001. Furthermore, such a goal is unnecessarily ambitious. Nevertheless, pragmatic considerations alone prove our current understanding of these events inadequate." - horus kemwer, "9/11," Against the Modern World, 9/11/07. In an interesting and thoughtful post on rival conspiracy theories, horus kemwer pauses on the sixth anniversary of September 11 to reflect upon our current understanding of what took place that fateful Tuesday in 2001. In sum, he concludes that there are enough issues and inconsistencies to merit additional governmental review of the events of, and the response to, that day. I'm not certain I agree, although based on this post, I'm not certain I would include horus kemwer in the fringe on this issue. As with the JFK assassination, there are those who believe that the absence of any evidence, direct or circumstantial, is itself proof of a successful conspiracy. Kemwer rightly points out that 9/11 is, in any analysis, a "conspiracy." (There was no lone gunman on 9/11, and thus, whatever you believe about that day, it was by definition a conspiracy.). But for those who (wrongly, foolishly, angrily) argue that the U.S. government permitted 9/11 to occur or acted with malice aforethought (and kenwer does not appear to be among those ranks), no reasonable re-analysis of evidence will dissuade them of such beliefs. So why bother to put for another study for those who unreasonably cling to such beliefs?
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Now, with a film about alien mutant slugs infecting backwards townspeople, you might reply, well, caveat emptor. (Wouldn't it have been swell if I knew the Latin for "let the renter beware," or even, "let the Netflix subscriber beware"? I only made it to Latin II.). But, I had some level of faith in the film, as it featured Nathan Fillion as the protagonist sheriff, and as nerds can attest, he turned the doomed television show "Firefly" into a fun adventure (so fun for some, in fact, that they still refer to him as "the Captain" five years later, which is rather sad, don't you think?). The always lovely Jenna Fischer (Pam from "The Office," for those of you not already obsessed with her) cameos, and it is her husband, James Gunn, who wrote and directed the project. (The two of them, though, are not so lucky in love, as they recently announced that they would part ways.). All I knew of Gunn was that he wrote the recent remake of "Dawn of the Dead," and you can't go wrong with zombies, at least these days, right? (Actually, it turns out he wrote the two live action Scooby Doo movies, which, really, is not the sort of project that aspiring writers go to Hollywood to draft, is it?) But I didn't know that until after I watched Slither, and in the absence of that knowledge, could I go wrong?
Yes. Slither was awful. The "humor" is that one note, juvenile dreck that lost its amusement at puberty. It was the kind of film that aspires to be so bad that it is good, fails in that attempt, and is forever consigned to Showtime or Cinemax. (Or The Movie Channel, but I'm not sure that premium movie channel still exists, does it?) You can guess the plot: a small town full of stereotypes is invaded by aliens, and the characters conform to their stereotypes to their detriment until they blunder their way into victory. Really, if I want to watch a horror film this bad, I should just rent something from the 1980s, like Prom Night II or Night of the Demons, attempts at film-making which don't disguise their utter awfulness with the pretense of homage. Why do I bother?
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
I can't trust you. Brad was a sap, you weren't, you were with him and so you were playing him, so you're a player. With you behind me I'd have to tie one eye up watching both your hands and I can't spare it.
High school students do not talk like Sam Spade or Ned Beaumont. Were I reading that excerpt of dialogue without having seen the film, I would raise an eyebrow and scoff. But in this film, it works, down to the conventions of the detective genre and the characters' offbeat nicknames. Once you suspend your disbelief long enough to accept that these seventy year old conventions apply to a modern high school, you're hooked. It's The Breakfast Club meets Miller's Crossing.Gordon-Levitt you may recognize from the dreadful, dreadful 1990s sitcom, Third Rock from the Sun. He's made an effort of late to distance himself from that more mainstream fare with this film and 2001's Manic, a chronicle of a young man's stay at a juvenile mental facility shot entirely on digital video. The only other actors who will seem familiar are Lukas Haas (as a would-be drug kingpin), Emilie de Ravin (who you might know as Claire from Lost), and Richard Roundtree (in a brief cameo as an assistant vice principal, one of the few adults in the cast of characters). You may not dig the offbeat approach to the high school film, but you can't say it's not different. These days, with all of the detritus at the multiplexes, it's nice to see something at least attempt to be different or creative, and that is what this film does, especially if you love the 1930s.
Tuesday, September 11, 2007
Today is the first time that September 11 has fallen on a Tuesday since 2001. I struggled with whether to write a September 11 anniversary post today. This is not a site which offers political or social commentary, and it is vain, really, for me to assume that any view I have to espouse on the subject is any more worth reading than the myriad others that will be published today. But, in light of this day, I couldn't rightly write of some trivial pop culture artifact from years ago when something far more significant loomed for discussion. Considering that I will be preoccupied with the anniversary, I felt compelled to share at least some of my thoughts.
I can remember a time in the early 1990s when it was fashionable to say that Generation X (or whatever the newspaper writers and columnists were calling our age group at that time) had no event for which all of its members could remember where they were and what they were doing. (Baby Boomer writers often made this remark disdainfully, as if we should envy them for having such collective memories.). Inevitably, someone would invoke the Challenger explosion of January 28, 1986 as such an event for our generation. Really, though, that horrible accident seemed distinguishable from the violent and intentional assassination of President John F. Kennedy (the event which baby boomers would cite as their defining historical event and recount their very specific memories of). Today, those types of discussions seem, well, quaint and indicative of such a different time. Today such conversations would be silly.
On September 11, 2001, I myself saw nothing live on television. As the first plane crashed into the World Trade Center, I was at grad school, frantically preparing for a rather difficult 8:00 am CST class. Before class, I remember someone speaking very briefly about a plane and New York, but the assumption was accident and no details were known. That class had only just begun as the second plane crashed into second tower, and every person in the classroom was unaware of what was happening until 90 or so minutes later. We were, for all intents and purposes, in a brief state of suspended animation; as huge historical events unfolded, we were clueless, listening only to some lecture which would very shortly seem inane. Immediately after class, coming down the stairs to the first floor of the building, I ran into a friend who informed me that the World Trade Center buildings were, quite simply, "gone."
I had no idea what she was talking about.
I tried to access the Internet to learn a bit more about what had happened, but it was impossible. Websites were too slow; nothing was loading at the proper speed (as everyone around the word was simultaneously attempting the same task). There was no television in the the very new school building, either, so everyone huddled around a radio to listen to the news. Without television, without the Internet, without any sense of what the destruction looked like, it was as if we were hearing about December 7, 1941, another day which lives in infamy, in the days before anyone and everyone had a television set on which to rely for a visual account of such things. When I came home that afternoon, I had to retrieve my television from my closet, where I had placed it in an attempt to lessen my viewing and further my studies. I must have used the word "unbelievable" hundreds of times that awful day.
Recently, I read 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. It is a frightful tale. At the title suggests, the book's authors, Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, attempt to tell the story of September 11, 2001 - minute by minute - from the viewpoint of those trapped inside the World Trade Center towers. In the years since that terrible day, we've been inundated with the images of the planes crashing into the towers. These pictures are burned into our brains like no others in our lifetime. Yet, by their very nature, those images depict the perspective of an observer far from the upper floors of the towers and those within them. There hasn't been a significant source - at least one of which I've been aware - that has collected together the individual stories of those who were in the towers that morning.
This is that book.
Most affecting is the story of a young woman on the 98th floor of the first tower who was conversing with her husband by telephone about the pregnancy test she had taken only minutes before. It was the second such test she had taken that morning. While on the phone, the first plane flew directly into the 98th floor of that tower, no doubt killing her instantly. As the book observes, most on those floors could not have known what became of them. At that instant, her husband thought that she had simply dropped the receiver. They never spoke again.
In the second tower, there was a man who went from his very high floor down to the lobby only minutes after the plane crashed into the first tower. He was directed back upstairs by a guard. He returned to his floor in time to see the "U" on the side of the second plane just seconds before it crashed into the building. Such a perspective is almost unimaginable.
I've read books that adopt the minute-by-minute approach of tragic historical days. The Day Lincoln Was Shot, by Jim Bishop, tells of April 14, 1865, while The Death of A President, by William Manchester, does something similar for November 22, 1963. But those two books speak of the death of a single person - the leader of a nation. 102 Minutes relates the last fateful minutes of so many hundreds and hundreds and hundreds more - ordinary people with jobs to whom we, their fellow citizens, can far more easily relate. And that is why it is terrifying.
Some might find such a book sad, peculiar, or the result of a morbid fascination with a tragic historical event. These are awful accounts of many Americans' last minutes on this Earth. It is harrowing to read, but it is also compelling, because this is the real consequence of terrorism. The horror of those who tried and failed to escape from the building, as well as that of all of us who watched from afar, must be remembered. These days, we cavalierly say that important things must be kept in the public memory only to be distracted by the next fad or trend. But these are stories that must be told and retold, especially on this day.
Some commentators these days now scoff at the notion that September 11 "changed everything." Perhaps this is because our nation has returned to some level of normalcy; perhaps this is because we have not (yet) suffered a second such attack. Or, this may be a response to some politicians' invocation of September 11 as a justification for whatever program or measure they are at that moment supporting. Some things, maybe many things, do remain the same after that fateful and awful day, but the prism through which we view them was forever altered. The events of that day awoke a sleeping dragon, or Americans simply learned what citizens of another nations had learned long ago about international terrorism, or both. However, it is simply folly to say that September 11 changed everything, because it did.
Today, six years later, we'll see all the same footage again. Even after repeated viewings, it continues to shock and affect us all emotionally. I have watched historical footage of other tragedies and disasters, but I'm able to view it in a detached manner. But not this. Never this. it does not yet, and may never, seem like stuffy history from some dusty tome. We lived it. We continue to live, and we live now in a world shaped by it. Even six years later.
Monday, September 10, 2007
If you're unfamiliar with them, the titles of the aforementioned comps should suggest, slightly, the genre of their music. Based on the scant amount of information available online, one can piece together only that the band existed sometime in the mid-1990s and that they played a harder version of a sort of goth-influenced alternative rock. Deciding to investigate a bit, I tracked down Chloe LeFay, one of the band's vocalists, who gave me a wealth of information.
To answer the question, The Morgans were: Chloe LeFay (vocals), Lucy Cotter (vocals), Russell Pay (guitars), Pete Dixon (guitars), Eddy Brimson (bass, later replaced by Kevin Browne), David Axford (drums, later replaced by Steve Holland). Here they are in concert:
Using information gained from LeFay and some online resources, I have also created a discography of sorts of the band's official releases, which is made up of three singles.
The Morgans Discography
Tell Me What You Taste (1995) (Diversity Recordings)
1. Tell Me What You Taste (Radio Edit) (Pay, LeFay)
2. Tommy (Dixon)
3. Joyrider Boy (Pay, LeFay)
4. Simon Says (Dixon, LeFay)
Half Girl-Half Jesus (1995) (Diversity Recordings)
1. Half-Girl Half-Jesus (girl version) (Dixon, Cotter)
2. Half Girl Half-Jesus (jesus version) (Dixon, Cotter)
3. Half Girl Half Rant (Dixon, Cotter)
Teenile Dementia (1995) (Rented Life)
1. Teenile Dementia (Pay / LeFay)
2. Red or Dead (Pay, LeFay)
3. Say (Dixon)
Videos were shot for all three of the singles listed above, and "Tell Me What You Taste" received airplay on dear old MTV (although it is unclear whether it was broadcast on the American version of that channel). Pictured above is LeFay during the shoot for the video of "Teenile Dementia." According to her, the video for "Half Girl-Half Jesus" was banned due to her being dressed as a bald pregnant Jesus riding a horse with burning crosses.
Today, LeFay compares The Morgans' sound to the Yeah Yeahs Yeahs and notes in an email:
[W]e were really out of time to be honest. Brit Pop (yuk) was huge and there were no girl fronted bands with any balls except Skunk Anansie, only fucking Echobelly and Elastica so we were fighting a losing battle. . . . . I have always suffered from being a bit too ahead of my time, as arrogant as it sounds.Based in London, the band released the singles listed above and recorded a full length album in the mid-1990s. Interestingly, the band's initial tracks were produced by Andy Gill of Gang of Four fame and at his home, no less. However, LeFay recounts that the London-based band was not satisfied with the sound so they bought Gill out of producing the subsequent album with their advance. The band toured with Theatre of Hate, and "Tell Me What You Taste" appeared in a trailer for the early 1995 cult flick Tank Girl (although it did not appear on the official soundtrack for that film). A planned album was recorded over seven months in Ealing during night sessions over seven months, but it was never released. Instead, the singles were released piecemeal. They, along with some tracks that were recorded for the album, would ultimately end up on the aforementioned comps. But fame was not to be, for as LeFay noted, "as many bands do, [The Morgans] imploded due to sordid affairs, jealousy, too much booze and a rip- off manager." In essence, it was your basic Behind the Music narrative with all the novelties and cliches of a band's self-destruction. The band played its last gig with Theatre of Hate in November of 1996 at Camden Palace. And they were then no more. Notes Cotter in a recent email: "In the brief history of The Morgans there were many stories to be told, not all I’d wish to be printed but we had a lot of fun and some very happy memories stem from that period. "
LeFay and Dixon continued to collaborate musically under the name Morgans Baby (with other members Nick Lloyd Webber (son of Andrew Lloyd Webber), Senser's Paul Soden on drums, and Josh Town on bass). After several brief tours and the recording of a never to be released album, Morgans Baby, in LeFay's words, "withered and died," as so many things do. She now lives in Austria and writes and records for the band, Audio Medical Device.
Lucy Cotter, for her part, emails to note what her post-Morgans projects have been:
When The Morgans split up Russell and I formed an acoustic project called ‘Dust’. After this I did a hit dance single called ‘Breathe in You’ which went under the alias ‘Tekara – featuring Lucy Cotter’ with top dance producer Matt Darey. I then carried on working with 3 Beat Records to try to come up with another hit, but failed! One can but try! I’ve done various session vocals and lots of acoustic projects which is really what I enjoy most, guitar and vocals – bliss.Cotter now works in the television industry in the United Kingdom. She is currently rehearsing as a country duo with Paul Offord of The Starts. Dixon (who also appears to have a site here) is a member of Who's Who, a tribute band of The Who.
For good measure, here is another picture of The Morgans in concert:
So how is it that the only artifacts remaining of this band are the various songs and singles on the bargain bin compilations collections? LeFay blames the band's manager, who she says sold the songs for inclusion on them without adequately compensating the band. But for that, though, would there be any evidence at all for we in the present to discover? The officially released singles appear to be long out of print and very difficult to locate for sale online.
I myself discovered the band shortly after purchasing the aforementioned Femme Fatale compilation, which features "Teenile Dementia" "Red or Dead" (credited to LeFay alone), and "No Man's Land " (credited to Cotter alone). I Googled "The Morgans" and found very little about the band (and the name is not very Google-friendly, as there are many families with the surname Morgan with personal websites.). I did find one or two of blog entries similarly wondering about the band, its origin, and its ultimate fate, which prompted me to seek out information on the group. (It was on those pages that I learned that LeFay and Cotter were members of the band, as the Femme Fatale compilation did not list individual members or any other biographical information on the band).
Interestingly, my out-of-the-blue inquiry seems to have prompted some nostalgia in LeFay, as she was kind enough to scan in the concert photographs and album covers above for my benefit and use. She is also now considering creating a MySpace profile for the group and uploading the band's three videos to YouTube when she can find the time to do so.
I think that would be very interesting to see.
(All photographs courtesy of Chloe LeFay.).
UPDATE (9/15/07): I have incorporated into the post an excerpt of an email from Lucy Cotter, who emailed me to alert her to her recording projects and career following the Morgans. Elsewhere in the post, I also included a quotation from her about the legacy of the Morgans. Also added was some information about Pete Dixon and his current goings-on. I also embedded a few additional links into the story, including one to the official site of Eddy Brimson. Further, in a comment posted here, LeFay mentions the possibility of "a re-release if there appears to be enough interest." This week, following the initial publication of this post, she established a MySpace page for The Morgans.
UPDATE (10/4/07): Radio personality Nigel Barker, who was with The Morgans from 1994 to 1995, emails with some "missing facts" to complete the historical record:
I was in the Morgans right up to the release of the Tell Me What You Taste EP and I also co-wrote both that track and "Joyrider Boy" from that EP with Chloe (additional bits from Russ [Pay]). The Manager decided that since my departure occurred weeks before the EP release that Russ would be given the credit for the songs (which caused huge grievences between myself and the rest of the band).Barker notes that after The Morgans he joined HipJam, a group which featured Steve 'Smiley' Barnard and Andy Marlow. The group recorded some tracks for Channel Four TV and had a track featured in Hard Men, a 1996 British gangster movie. Barker now produces his own late night radio show in Cornwall and as well as several local bands in that city.
However, this release wasn't the first Morgans release and a limited run 12" was pressed featuring a track called "Say" by Chloe and Pete Dixon and "Television" written again by Chloe but with music by The Morgans (I think it's a bit blurred as to where the initial idea for the song came from).
Tell Me What You Taste was recorded by Andy Gill in Smokehouse Studios in Wapping and then overdubs and vocals were conducted at Gill's house.
The whole project was destined to implode from the onset and end in beautiful chaos. There was a very prodigious set of talents in the band and with proper management and direction then it might have been possible to make the whole thing work but with the guidance available it was always doomed to fail.