Saturday, May 26, 2007

Separated at Birth: Swing and a miss, strike two

Thor #337 and #451

L: Thor #337 (November 1983), art by Walt Simonson
R: Thor #451 (September 1992), art by Ron Frenz and Al Milgrom
(Click picture to Simon-size)




Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dancing Animals in Love


"Dancing Animals in Love" by Ben Meinhardt (2006)
(Opens in a new window. Short ad precedes film, but it's worth waiting for.)


Pet peeve of the day: folks who post videos to YouTube but can't be bothered to format them in the correct aspect ratio.


Friday, May 25, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Batman versus PETA

Once again, we're layin' the smack down for the heppest world-devourer in the universe: the mighty Bahlactus! Tonight: everyone's ultimate fighter, Batman! (Na na na na na na na na!)

Batman #232 panel

That's it, Batman! You've got that ferocious jungle cat right where you want him! Now, simply administer a paralysing nerve jab to knock him safely out, or spray him in the muzzle with a sleeping gas capsule, or...
Batman #232 panel

Whoa! Hardcore, Bruce!

So what kind of defenseless animal are you going to beat up on now, Batman? Gonna leap on a lemur? Wrestle a wombat? Assault an aardvark? Terrorize a Thompson's gazelle?

Batman #235 panel


...

I hate you, Batman.


(Panels 1 and 2 are from Batman #235 (September 1971),
written by Denny O'Neil, art by Neil Adams, Dick Giordano, and Tom Zuiko;
Panel 3 is from Batman #232 (June 1971),
written by Denny O'Neil, art by Bob Brown, Dick Giordano, and Tom Zuiko)



OMG

I HAZ A POSSE?!?


Thank you Kevin! And Laura! And Bill D.! And Sleestak! And Mikester! And H and Mag! And FoldedSoup and Deliah! And Steven! And Michael! And Johnny Bacardi! And Chris! And Dave! And Shane! And Carla! And The Fortress Keeper and Fuzzy & Softy! And Morgan! And Evan! And Steve! And Walaka! And Andrew! And Siskoid! And MD! And Erin! And Elayne! And Tony! And Gordon! And Vaklam! And everybody who congratulated me in my comments!

ZOMG! I do have a posse!

Thank you, all!


Here I am, stuck in the middle with Pooh.

Superboy is stuck!
Blame Dorian.



Now We Are Two



Now we are two. No, not me. I'm not two! I'm almost six-and-eleven-twelfths. No, today is an important day not only because thirty years ago the coolest movie in the universe premiered, inadvertently spawning an entire growth industry where it was okay to reclaim the term "stormtrooper" as something that was fun to dress up as rather than getting you banned from the B'nai Brith for expressing your fascination with. (As Randal Graves might say, we're takin' that term back!) Anyway. Two years ago this little stuffed bull sat down at a computer keyboard and hesitantly hunt-and-pecked the words Amazing Spider-Man #520 and other comics of the week! Yes, folks, today is the second anniversary of Bully Says: Comics Oughta Be Fun! (Warning: this is a somewhat indulgent self-congratulatory post, so if you don't care for that kind of horn-tooting, even with real horns, you may of course feel free to skip to the bottom for your special bonus: the secret origin of Bully!)

Why did I start blogging? Well, each week after I read my comics I wanted to talk to somebody about them, or even give my excited opinion. But when no one around me is paying attention to my little squeaks, who will? Why, the internet, of course! Especially inspired by a cool and fun scene in Amazing Spider-Man where Aunt May faced down Wolverine, I started my first blog entry. Now don't get all pedantic on me and note that my Blogger profile says I joined in September 2005. The first several months of my blog were actually laboriously hand-coded in HTML and posted on my own domain, LittleStuffedBull.com. (That site still exists but it's basically been abandoned as far as new content is concerned. I keep thinking about moving the whole blog hosting over to it. One'a these days...) It didn't take more than a handful of entries on and off through the summer of 2005 to realize that coding manually was a pain in my little bean-filled butt, and also that I was blogging to an audience of exactly one: me. At the same time I began discovering the comics blogosphere and realized there actually were web tools to make it easy to blog. I signed on with Blogspot/Blogger and I haven't looked back once. Well, a few times when I've stepped in some mud, but there you go.

Two years later I am astonished at the joy and fun I get out of doing this, and the great comments and feedback I get on what I like to call my little puppet-town cowblog. I've only met a handful of my fellow bloggers and commentators in person, but through your writings in comments and your own blogs, I feel like I know you all very well. And while I know you ought not to pay attention to your blog traffic, it warms my little red satin stuffed heart when I see people actually do wanna come by and gawk at what I read. I once made a joke (and not all that long ago!) that I was blogging daily to an audience of thirty-seven. Well, the number's gone up significantly since then, and it's you all I have to thank for it. I 'specially wanna thank Kevin for a great deal of laughter, help, and sharing his illegal Pet Shop Boys MP3s with me, and Laura for a great deal of moral support and inspiration.

On blogiversaries it seems to be traditional to sometimes look back. If you read back far enough in the big barn of Bully's backlog you'll often see a blogger struggling to find his niche and his voice. Early entries were infrequent, scattered, sometimes unfocused. (Witness one entry simply for the purpose of scolding a Brooklyn eatery for their bad pancakes). In my first year of blogging there were some months I only blogged once or twice. I don't feel that I really hit my stride until the start of my second year—and even then, what with taking most of June 2006 off for a mental break, it was a little late coming. I decided to post daily in the summer of 2006, and aside from a few planned (and a handful of unplanned) exceptions I've hit with a blog entry (sometimes two or more) on most days of the year since then. Please pardon the self-indulgence (after all, if you can't celebrate yourself on your blogiversary, what can you celebrate?)but here's a rundown of my favorites to date (more or less in chronological order), and I hope you like/liked them too:
  • Eternal sunshine of the little stuffed mind: commentary on All Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder #2. I do believe this is the first post I made that got linked to from another blog (thanks, Ragnell!), sending me on the coasting path of the thrills you get from an external link.
  • Ben Grimm Totally Rocks!: the first installment of a feature focusing on my favorite superhero. I thought I would probably run this idea into the ground pretty fast but I'm surprised sometimes how infrequently I do it. Incidentally, I first posted this as "Ben Grimm Totally Rules." It took me about 24 hours to realize how much more appropriate the word "rocks" would be. The wonders of Blogger made it much easier to fix than the old hand-coding method!
  • Magnum Force: the first of my long-form comics overviews, lookin' at a British Annual comic of one of my favorite TV shows ever, Magnum, P.I.. I'm still giggling at my own Michael Caine and Brian Michael Bendis jokes there.
  • Leggo Mjolnir!: although not named as such, the first real "Ten of a Kind."
  • Ditko in the eighties, or: "The Tipping Point of Mister Benjamin J. Grimm": A lot of times I am inspired by another blogger's posts and I start to respond at length in their comments before realizing that I'm actually writing a blog post of my own. Here's one that grew out of a comment I started to post on BeaucoupKevin about Ditko's eighties Marvel work and whether or not the Thing is a good tipper.
  • Crouching Tiger, Hidden Flash: I was very happy with the way this essay came out: a review of the Chinese movie The Promise...and how it felt to me like a Barry Allen Elseworlds story.
  • Can robots pick up Thor's hammer?: Why yes. Yes, they can.
  • The World's Greatest Comics Magazine Logo: a lengthy illustrated history of my love affair with the Fantastic Four cover logo.
  • Who's in your league?: You can't force a meme. The ones that work just happen. I was surprised at the eager responses I got when I posted my choices for a modern-day League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
  • Ten of a Kind: Look at My Butt!: I do think this may be my favorite "Ten of a Kind," ever. And yes, there will definitely be a sequel some day.
  • Dr. Doom: Party Animal: one of my favorite posts ever helped me sharpen my love of scanning old panels out of Marvel Essentials and captioning them with wacky comments.
  • A Visit from Doctor Doom: in which Victor von Doom took over my blog for a weekend. He renamed it, did "Ten of a Kind" and "Sam Scratch," wrote some reviews, walked down Yancy Street, and had a run-in with a beloved children's book character. And oh yes: Doom loves Lorelei.
  • "You get what everyone gets, you get a lifetime.": Rendered moot by later events, but at the tail end of these weekly reviews is a little short story about the final fate of a favorite hero.
  • The fearful symmetry of Star Wars: At last, a chance to expound my "symmetrical opening and closing scenes" theory about Star Wars.
  • The Man in the Iron Mask: I was wrong, dead wrong. But it woulda been fun, wouldn't it have?
  • The Unsettling Slang of Mister Clint Barton: First in a series (and not just restricted to Clint, either). If the Thing is the heralded hero of this blog, then Hawkeye is its focus of derisive giggles.
  • Math: Every now and then I shut up and let the pictures do the talkin'.
  • Go, Tony, Go!: I'll buy Iron Man as a womanizer, not as a traitor and murderer.
  • The Little Things: one of my favorite moments from the Superman animated cartoon.
  • War without End: I wonder if anybody clicked on the photo to get the full effect?
  • Bully's Fantastic Christmas: part one of a twelve-part serial story inspired by those counting-down to Christmas comic strips of yesteryear. I can't draw, so I wrote one instead.
  • A trip to London: an index to the several dozen posts on my Christmas 2006 holiday in London. I'm especially pleased to have captured the memory of quite possibly one of the most perfect days of my life.
  • Crisis on Infinite Small Worlds After All: Man, is the Disney Multiverse ever freakin' weird.
  • Colorforms: I was really, really happy how well this one came out. Quite possibly my favorite post, ever.
  • Book 'Em, Spidey!: part one of a series I really oughta get back to: examining the Spidey storyline of Peter's Webs book tour.
  • GIANT GREEN STAR WARS RABBIT!: 'Nuff said.
  • The Multiple Crimes of Henry Mitchell: Why Dennis isn't the biggest menace after all.
  • Roughhousing: A Civil War #7 Parable.
  • The Mighty Clor: Part 1 of 5. One of those things I was sure someone else was gonna do before I got a chance to do it. I do hope everybody sang along at the end.
  • Do You Yahoo?: I'm told I made someone cry with this one.
  • Let's Cook with Cap!: I really need to make this a regular feature.
  • Breakfast at Forbidden Planet: Every time I go in there I wonder if the FP-NYC employees saw this.
  • James T. Quack: Captain Kirk = Scrooge McDuck.
  • The Story of Easter...as told by cover book covers with bunnies on them.
  • The fault, cursed Richards...: The comic book that made me love Doctor Doom.
  • A Wodehouse a Week: The first entry of my newest project. Two years to go...
  • Everybody does laundry sometimes: But I refuse to pose with tentacles.
  • Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit: The Special Edition: Hey, I remember this one as if it were yesterday.


Whew! What a long, fuzzy trip it's been. I've had a lot of fun doing all of these and I hope to have even more fun in Year Three and beyond.

Oh, and a little bonus for reading this self-indulgent post so far...

The Secret Origin of Bully!
("Who he is and how he came to be")

Ready for it?...

....

...I came from a catalogue.
Naito catalogue


To be precise, that's not me. You may note the name "Trixie"—that's my Mama Bull in her early years as a catalogue model (sheesh, Mom, put some clothes on!). But I am, as they say, "cut from the same cloth." Literally! I was discovered in the now-closed Manhattan store Little Ricky's and taken home to live in Brooklyn with my best pal John. It is, as Clarence the Angel has been heard to observe, a wonderful life. And I've very happy to have shared these past two years with all of you. I'm looking forward to many more, and although I don't know what's ahead of me on the long and winding road, I can say one thing for a certainty...

...it's gonna be fun!


Thursday, May 24, 2007

Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit: The Special Edition

Thirty years ago tomorrow...and for the sake of this story, you have to ignore the fact that I'm only six-an'-three-quarter years old...thirty years ago tomorrow I plunked down my three dollars and stepped into the single-screen cinema of the Bayberry Theater (now sadly defunct, going out of business only a few weeks after I saw Octopussy there). In the half-darkness of the Bayberry, I snuggled my little stuffed butt into the seat, popcorn and sody pop on my lap...in those days we didn't have staidum seating or cup-holders, oh no, we wore out snacks on our laps and liked it that way! And when the movie started up, my eyes flew wide open as that bombastic music, brand-new at the time but soon to become iconic and familiar, burst onto the screen, the giant title of the movie flying at the audience, followed by action, adventure, derring-do, reluctant heroes, a beautiful heroine, rogues and scoundrels, hissable villains, amazing special effects, and weird strange creatures from a place far far away. Yes, folks, I truly did love my first viewing of Annie Hall.

Annie Hall


Haw! I kid you good folks. You all know I'm talkin' 'bout Star Wars. It wasn't episode one, it was Episode Four...but we didn't need a subtitle (that new hope came later). I sat glued to my seat for two hours and when it was over I saw it all over again. I saw Star Wars eleven times in the theater, including a couple times in the drive-in in a double bill with The Eagle Has Landed.

[EDIT on 5/26: in retrospect, I almost certainly didn't see it exactly on May 25, 26, or 27th. From Script to DVD.com has an excellent rundown of the relatively few theaters in which the movie opened, and the Bayberry wasn't one of them. It's much more likely that it didn't show up there until the film was more widely released in June 1977. I did see it opening night whatever day that was...the first time I ever saw a film the day it opened.]

I wanted to celebrate that momentous occasion and its thirtieth anniversary, so I went looking to see what the perfect gift for Star Wars would be. Let's see now. According to the internetmajig, you give the gift of aluminum for a tenth anniversary. So I will be buying a lovely roll of Reynolds Wrap for all my friends who got married in 1997. Twenty-fifth anniversary is silver. And thirtieth is...let's see...oh, the thirtieth anniversary is the gift of fan fiction.

'Cos, you see, I been thinkin'. I'm a big fan of the Marvel Star Wars comics from the seventies and eighties, and even when they're a little bit goofy, they're still relentlessly fun. Giant space station gambling casino? Water world with dragon-riding warriors? Fuzzy telepathic hoojibs? Yes sir, sign me up for those! But from all I understand, George Lucas wasn't too fond of all of the developments, plots, and characters in the Marvel Star Wars series...in fact, he downright loathed a few of them with his little CGI-designed-beflannel-shirted heart. And there was one he reportedly loathed more than any other Marvel character...you know who I'm talkin' about, don't you? Yes you do...
Star Wars #9
GIANT GREEN STAR WARS RABBIT!


Oh my oh my how Lucas loathed Jaxxon the Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit (or so the story goes)...so much that according to possibly-apocryphal Star Wars scuttlebutt and hearsay, Giant Green Star Wars rabbit creator Roy Thomas was off the book before you could say 'midichlorian." I ain't sayin' it wasn't a turn for the better...I started reading only after Thomas had left and been replaced by Archie Goodwin. My first Star Wars comic...in fact, my first Marvel comic of all...was issue #21, which I picked up fresh on the newsstand for the then-cover price of 35 cents, just because it had Darth Vader on the cover. The series went through some great ups (especially the Walt Simonson and Tom Palmer issues post-#50) and downs (those issues that were just redrawn inventory John Carter, Warlord of Mars stories), but I hung on to the very end. I'm glad, too, because #107 is worth a mint. Hoo hah! Put that in your space-hookah and smoke it, Jabba!

Star Wars panel


Thirty years later, however, you gotta look at the Marvel Star Wars comic and then look at the three "prequels"...episodes One, Two, and Three...and much as I liked 'em, those later three movies will never stand up to the power and inspiration of the first three. So, thinks my little bean-filled brain, with my usual optimism and action-oriented attempts to 'make things fun'...what can I, Bully, do to improve some of the weaker moments of, well, let's say, um, just off the top of my head...Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace? Hmm, what can I do, what can I do...?

There's a fan film floating around somewhere on the World Wide Web that consists of an edited version of Episode 1 in which everybody's "favorite new character", Mister Jar Jar Binks, has been completely excised from the film. That got me thinkin'. In this day and age of digital technology, CGI advances, and talking cartoon donkeys, why simply settle for removing Jar Jar Binks...

Why not replace Jar Jar Binks with a truly awesome and kickass character...?

Why not replace Jar Jar Binks with Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit?
Star Wars Panel


Here's the point where I say "and I think it would go something like this." But I can't draw, or else I'd do a comic book of Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit kickin' butt an' takin' names during the events of Episode 1. A few little moving slideshows aside, I can't direct films. What I can do, he said modestly, is write. But just as when George plopped new characters into Episodes Four through Six he really wasn't creating from scratch, neither will I. What follows is my own re-writing of Terry Brooks's novelization of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. Think of it as a redubbed movie or a comic book remix. I'm fully aware that I didn't write most of the words in what's below, and I certainly don't mean to diss Mister Brooks, partly out of respect for the craft and skill of a fine writer, but mostly because if he finds out he's gonna wallop me on the backside with the Sword of Shannara.

So here it is, a remix of the novelization of Star Wars Episode I, in which Terry Brooks has done most of the heavy lifting but I've been paddling around in his puddle and tracking mud across his nice clean floor in order to bring you:

Giant Green Star Wars Rabbit:
The Special Edition!



Qui-Gon Jinn slipped wraithlike through the thick brush, listening to the sounds of heavy rustling and snapping branches behind him as the Trade Federation transports began to advance. Mixed with the deeper, heavier whine of the transport engines was the higher pitched buzzing of STAPs—single trooper aerial platforms—small, individually piloted mobile gun units used to transport battle droids as scouts for the main army. The STAPs whipped above the watery terrain of Naboo, fleeting shadows as they surged in front of the larger transports.

Animals of all shapes and sizes began to scatter from their places of concealment, racing past Qui-Gon in search of safety. Ikopi, fulumpasets, motts, peko pekos—the names recalled themselves instantly to the Jedi Master from his preparation for this journey. Dodging the frightened creatures stampeding around him, he cast about for Obi-Wan, then picked up his pace as the dark shadow of a transport appeared out of the mist directly behind him.

He was running out of firm ground and searching for a way past a large shrub when he saw a strange green rabbitlike creature before him. The rabbit was squatting on the ground, his furry body crouched over a small animal he had snatched up, his sharp incisors gnawing at the animal's soft underbelly as he ate its prey raw. Qui-Gon grimaced—while it was not the Jedi way to consume other living beings, he understood enough of the wide variety of lifeforms to realize that not every being in the galaxy felt as the Jedi did.

Casting aside the bloody fur, the rabbit stood to face Qui-Gon, towering well above the Jedi, his green furry and floppy green ears rising in alert at Qui-Gon's approach. The nostrils in his whiskered snout flared and the rabbit bared his incisors, speckled with mauve blood from whatever delicacy it had just consumed. His large pink eyes narrowed and a massive green paw paused over the belt slung on his hips. Qui-Gon's gaze took in the blaster hanging from the rabbit's belt and he hoisted his lightsaber in warning. A tense moment passed as the rabbit regarded the Jedi cautiously and then took his hand away from the blaster, his mouth squirreling up into a crooked grin.

Qui-Gon turned, lightsaber at the ready as he heard the crash of trees behind him, followed by the roar of the Trade Federation transport. For the first time the rabbit spoke, in a deep guttural growl: "Crummy droids!" he grunted, drawing and raising his blaster, standing shoulder to shoulder with Qui-Gon. "You take the left an' I take the right," he barked, nudging the Jedi. "Howzabout you an' me take these rustbucket Roger-rogers down together?"

Qui-Gon had no intent of facing off against an armored Federation transport, even with a giant green rabbit covering him. He broke left past the strange creature, anxious to get out of the path of the approaching transport. The rabbit dropped the blaster, eyes scowling, and grabbed onto Qui-Gon's robes.

"Where you goin', Grandpa?" he scolded tauntingly, furry face contorting in scorn and derision. "'Fraid of a few tin cans?"

"Let go!" Qui-Gon snapped, trying in vain to break free. The transport thundered toward them, skimming the surface of the swamp, flattening grasses and stirring up water spouts in the wake of its passing. It bore down on Qui-Gon as he fought to break free of the creature that clung to him, dragging it sideways in a futile effort to escape.

Finally, with the transport only meters away and looming over him like a building about to topple, the Jedi Master pushed the rabbit into the shallow water and sprawled facedown on top of it. The Trade Federation transport passed over them in a wash of sound and shocked air, the vibrations hammering into their prone forms, flattening them into the mire.

Almost before it was even safely past, Qui-Gon was bodily lifted out of the water by the rabbit-creature, its towering strength pushing the Jedi back out onto the muddy ground. "What's the idea, pal? Little eeny-weeny robot-carrier too scary for the big fraidy-bantha Jedi Knight?" He gave a quick glance after the departing transport, and shook himself frantically, water spraying from its sodden green fur everywhere. "Sheesh. It's like I say: never send a man out to do a rabbit's job."

"Stop that!" Qui-Gon huffed. "Are you brainless? You almost got us killed!"

The rabbit's eyes glowered. "Brainless? Look who yer talkin' to, Beardo! Where I come from, them's fightin' words!" He tapped his large skull with one oversized paw, producing a resounding and solid thunk. "This sound like I'm brainless, grand-dad? It ain't fluff an' pleasant thoughts holdin' these big beautiful ears up, ya know!"

"The possession of giant ears does not make you intelligent!" Qui-Gon was having none of it. "Now let go of me and get out of here!" He pulled his robe free from the rabbit's clutch and began to ran off, glancing around uneasily as the high-pitched buzz of STAPs sounded in the distance.

The creature scowled, then began stomping after him, its gigantic green feet thudding on the soft ground as it easily kept pace with the running Jedi. "My name's Jaxxon. You can call me Jax for short—which I ain't. An' I ain't no fluffy bunny. Lepus carnivorous, if you gotta know. Do these floppy ears'a mine detect that you might need a li'l help help 'gainst these bolt-buckets?"

The Jedi Master barely glanced at him, watching the shadows' searching now for Obi-Wan. "Thanks, but that won't be necessary. Better be off with you."

Jaxxon snorted and splashed after him, his powerful thighs almost springing him along Qui-Gon's sprinting pace. "What do ya think, pal, my mother raised me to run away in a fight? Not on yer life. Like mama always told all eighty of us kids, when yer in a jam, put yer fluffy tail to the wall and start shootin'. An' don't stop 'til everybody else is more fulla holes than a Caiyan milk-beast cheese log."

The swamp reverberated with the sound of STAP engines, and now two of the gun platforms burst from the mist, bearing down on a fleeing Obi-Wan Kenobi, battle droid drivers wheeling their speeders to the attack.

Qui-Gon pulled free his lightsaber, motioning Jaxxon away.

"I have no time for this now--"

"No time for jawin', ya mean," Jaxxon growled. "Only time we got is to do or die, pallie..." He glanced up, hearing the STAPs, turning to see them bearing down, eyes narrowing again. "And it looks like it's gonna be die!"

Qui-Gon grabbed the rabbit by his gunbelt and pulled him out of the path of the enemy laser fire. "Stay put." He flicked the lightsaber back on, bracing himself as Obi-Wan and the pursuing STAPs approached. "I suggest you stay out of the line of fire."

Star Wars panel"Yeah?" challenged Jaxxon, raising his blaster. "Then I suggest we get up off our fannies an' cotton tails," he growled, firing a few well-aimed shots at the STAPs, "'Cause I got a hunch trouble's on the way!" The battle droids opened fire with laser cannons from their gun platforms just as Obi-Wan reached his friend. Qui-Gon blocked the blots with his lightsaber and deflected them back into the attack craft. Between his deflected fire and Jaxxon's blaster bolts the STAPs exploded in shards of hot metal and fell into the swamp.

An exhausted Obi-Wan wiped his muddied brow, gasping for breath. "Sorry, Master. The swamp fired my lightsaber."

He pulled out his weapon. The business end was blackened and burned. Qui-Gon took the lightsaber from Obi-Wan and gave it a cursory inspection while Jaxxon's whispered nose scrunched up and sniffed the air at the sight of it.

"You forgot to turn off your power again, didn't you, Obi-Wan?" Qui-Gon asked pointedly.

Obi-Wan nodded sheepishly. "It appears so, Master."

"It won't take long to recharge, but it will take some time to clean it up. I trust you have finally learned your lesson, my young Padawan."

"Yes, Master," Obi-Wan accepted the proffered lightsaber with a chagrined look.

Jaxxon snorted, his long ears bobbing and pink eyes scrunching in disdain. "Some Jedi Knights. One guy who doesn't know when to stand and hold his ground an' another one who can't find an 'off' switch."

Obi-Wan gave a sideways glance at Jaxxon. "Who's the rodent?" he asked Qui-Gon.

Jaxxon grimaced menacingly. "I ain't no rodent!"
Star Wars panel


Qui-Gon held out his hands calmingly. "This is one of the locals. His name's Jaxxon." Qui-Gon's attention was directed out at the swamp. "Let's go, before more of those STAPs show up."

"Bring 'em on," snorted Jaxxon. "Bring 'em all on, I say!"

Qui-Gon was already moving, shifting into a steady trot through the mire. Obi-Wan was only a step behind, but even though it took Jaxxon a few moments to start moving after him, with his powerful legs working effortlessly he caught up with them in seconds.

"You 'warriors' are so intent on running," he snarled, "Then at least you oughta retreat to a safe hidey-hole rather than makin' yourselves easy target. Best place to hunker down an' rest yer fluffy tail is the Great Hutch." All about, lost in the mists, STAPs sounded their high-pitched whine. "It's where I grew up. Safe city."

Qui-Gon brought them to a halt, staring fixedly now at the rabbit. "What did you say? A city?" Jaxxon nodded sharply. "Can you take us there?"

The rabbit seemed suddenly distracted. "Ah, um...well, maybe there's better places to stuff our ears into. Naw, the Great Hutch ain't the place you want. C'mon, I'll take ya someplace even safer." His eyes shifted from side to side nervously.

Qui-Gon leaned close, his eyes dark, his hand raising and waving slowly before the rabbit's face. "But you want to take us to the Great Hutch."

A buck-toothed grin broke out in Jaxxon's fuzzy face. "Grandpa, you can stop it with the Jedi mind tricks right there. They don't work on us lepus carnivorous. Too much brain stem in our beautiful ears." He stroked his left ear almost fondly.

"Then stop distracting us!" snapped Qui-Gon, lowering his hand. "Can you take us to this Great Hutch or not?"

Jaxxon glanced sideways, his eyes darting evasively. "I ain't exactly welcomed there no more, is all," he grunted reluctantly. "They ain't rolling out the bunny hail and welcome for old Jax at the Great Hutch no more."

"What happened?" Obi-Wan asked, in spite of himself. Qui-Gon shot him a sharp look, but Jaxxon had already begun to reply:

"Let's jus' say Boss Grass...he's the king o' all us meat-eatin' rabbits...well, he ain't likely to welcome the guy who got his daughter pregnant." He looked sheepishly at his large feet. "He's got a powerful mad-on for yours truly here."

Obi-Wan grinned. "So you gave her a kid. Forgive and for..."

Jaxxon shook his head, his ears whipping back an' forth. "A kid? Ain't the work it works with us, cloak boy.m Sixty-six kids. We have litters. No, Jedi pallie, I ain't goin' back to the Great..."

A low, deep, pulsating sound penetrated the whine of the STAPs, rising up through mist and gloom, growing steadily louder.

"You hear that?" Qui-Gon asked softly, placing a finger on the rabbit's furry barrel chest. Jaxxon scowled but nodded. "There's a thousand terrible things heading this way, my green friend..."

"And when they find you, they will crush you into dust, grind you into little pieces, and serve you up as piping hot rabbit stew to Nute Gunray," Obi-Wan added with more than a little glee.

Qui-Gon nodded. "Is that truly a better fate than facing up to your responsibilities, Jaxxon?"

Jaxxon rolled his eyes and snorted through his fuzzy nose. "Yeah, yeah, I get the point." He gestured grumpily. "This way. Jus' a hop, skip, and jump to the entrance to the Great Hutch. But I'm tellin' ya, Boss Grass's gonna serve us up for lunchmeat himself when he sees I came back..."

In a rush, they raced away into the twilight mist.

To be continued? Maybe. Yes, someday, if little stuffed me isn't sued into the ground by Lucasfilm. And incidently, why am I doing this post thirty years from tomorrow instead of on the actual thirtieth anniversary? Well...tomorrow's an even more important anniversary, folks. Stay tuned!...


Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Four butlers and a valet

Stevens!



Wadsworth!



Prawn Salad?



Blackadder!



And Jeeves!



Special bonus: a non-embeddable clip of the greatest butler of them all.


Tuesday, May 22, 2007

The secret stealth department of fun at Marvel

X-Men: First Class Special #1X-MEN: FIRST CLASS SPECIAL #1: This comic is fun. As I mentioned a handful of weeks ago, and some of you may have noticed, I'm not buying very many floppies at all anymore. Part of the reason is economics—the books I'm interested in are mostly likely to come out in trade paperbacks within a few months after storylines or runs are completed, often for less cold hard cash than the separate floppies, certainly less when you count in the Amazon.com discount. But it's not mere penny-pinching alone that has turned Bully into a patient and neglectful comics reader, oh no no no. It's in many ways also the product of an age where the two big companies...especially post-Civil War era Marvel...are producing dreary and dystopian storylines that featured my once-favorite heroes. You know that I'm much more of a Marvel than DC fan (making me rare among the comics blogosphere, I think) and I don't think I'm alone in believing it's not the best time to be a fan of the old-school Marvel heroes. Spider-Man? Coming of a period where he had his eyes eaten out, now wearing the uniform of a known killer and a creature who terrified his beloved wife. Iron Man? Master manipulator and betrayer of the decency and good he once stood for. Mr. Fantastic? Justifier of horrible, horrible deeds. Captain America? Gut shot. Etc., etc., etc. One of the most popular series of books for Marvel in the past few years? Story after story of a nightmare zombie world where heroes eat their friends and beloved and even Reed Richards infects the Fantastic Four because he's impressed by the efficiency of the zombie neurosystem. Now, I ain't sayin' there's no place for titles and stories and even heroes like this...it's just simply that there is no joy to much of the Marvel Universe any more for me, and I'm taking a breather from it. It's not so much "good riddance to bad rubbish" as it is "stay away from the bad kids." Look, I've got nothing personal against Joe Quesada. He's selling a heck of a lot of comic books in which Norse god clones kill people and at the end of the day that's what Marvel is...a business. It's just that they're publishing huge gobbets of stuff I don't wanna read anymore.

But every now and then...a glimmer of light...

Do you get this feeling that there's a secret stealth department at Marvel, working away under the noses of Joey Q. and the powers-that-be, sneaking away to some basement lair and firing up the old printing press to occasionally publish a sneaky-pete good old-fashioned fun comic? Just like Harry Potter formed Dumbledore's Army, doesn't there seem to be a kind of "Stan's Army" fluttering around the edges of Marvel today? If not, how else to explain that while the mainstream Marvel books featuring the top iconic characters all seem to be doom, gloom and Jarvis's corpse being greedily gnawed on by the Avengers...there's almost a whole other Marvel line, not as distinctly delineated as Epic or Star or the New Universe, but sure enough a more upbeat and high-spirited antidote to the rest. Nextwave. Agents of Atlas. Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane. Marvel Adventures: The Avengers. Franklin Richards. Chris Giarrusso's Mini-Marvels. Little parts and bits 'n' pieces of Heroes for Hire (but not "that cover") and She-Hulk. And the comic I did buy last week and clutched in my fuzzy little hooves like manna from heaven: X-Men: First Class Special #1.

This follow-up to the critically acclaimed and yes, absolutely fun X-Men: First Class miniseries features three short stories and three gag pages about the original X-Men, long before that guy with the knives for hands came along. Sure, they're continuity implants. Who cares? Heck, you might even want to argue that the continuity doesn't follow properly with the original Marvel Universe. Again, who cares? Previous "reboots" of the original X-Men have attempted to follow the general track and mood of the first Stan 'n' Jack 'n' Roy 'n' Company books, p'raps missing one very important point: while the concept of 1963 X-Men is solid gold, the execution frankly often left a lot to be desired. Whoo boy, a lot of those early X-Men issues are kinda stinkers, ain't they? Go ahead...I dare you, pull your Essential Classic X-Men off the shelf and try to read more than two or three stories before your mind wanders away.

What Jeff Parker has done in the original miniseries and this follow-up special is keep intact that basic concept of the X-Men—five teenage mutants trying to help their own kind and save the world—and tell modern stories using modern conventions and pacing (not, however, decompression...each of the stories have very wonderfully been done-in-one), and most important to me, with a humor and glee and a joy that is oh-so-missing from modern Marvel comics. Sure, you can point especially at the wonderfully giggleworthy Colleen Coover gag pages in this book. I love Colleen Coover's work (even tho' John won't let me read her book about the two girls who like each other very, very, very much). But did you ever think you'd see panels like this in an X-Men book?
X-Men: First Class Special #1 panel


Yeah, yeah, I know everybody and his brother posted that panel in their blog. How about this one?
X-Men: First Class Special #1 panel


Or this one?
X-Men: First Class Special #1 panel


It's humor that's not only well-written and well-paced, but is...and this is rarer than you might think...is actually funny.

Even a handful of wonderful gag pages don't make a comic a stand-out. What works best for me in X-Men: First Class is the upbeat sense of hope and triumph that is oh-so-missing from "mainstream" Marvel Comics. More often than not in these stories, the X-Men don't battle a foe to a stand-still and utterly defeat him: they figure out what makes him tick and work alongside him to help out. A gargoyle in a haunted house? A mysterious psychic neo-mutant at the X-Men's favorite coffee shop/beatnik hangout? Dragon Man, for Stan's sake? For First Class X-Men, these aren't foes to be defeated, they're puzzles to be figured out. That doesn't mean there isn't plenty of action and good fight scenes. It simply means that yes, it's not necessary for death and destruction of entire alien empires and guys with big swords to follow in the wake of the X-Men in every comic being published by Marvel today. The feel-good effect is nearly foolishly gambled away with a handful of X-Men stat pages featuring the modern-day X-Men (really, who gives a flying fig that Scott Summers was once called "Slym Dayspring" in an alternate future miniseries) and a couple full-page house ads for contemporary X-Men books full of over-detailed impossible anatomy (and I ain't even talking about Colossus's muscles; what's the deal with Xavier's big-as-his-ear lips and Magneto's wrinkly, wrinkly nose?) but hey, go ahead and tear those pages out of your comic and throw them away. I won't tell anyone.

I've probably blathered on long enough when all I really need to say is: : This comic is fun. But it occurs to me that we're living in a Marvel Age which is almost the exact opposite of the 1970s Marvel. In the 1970s, mainstream comics—the big guns like Spider-Man, the Hulk, the FF and Captain America—were all running the usual type of Marvel storylines for that time: stories that were once in a while classic, but usually just serviceable, and most of all safe. There were no great risks taken or changes being made in Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, the quintessential seventies Marvel superhero title. But. Under the surface...in what may have seemed at the time to be a hidden basement secret printing press, a more involved and, let's face it, adult type of Marvel comic was also being published: Tomb of Dracula. Master of Kung Fu. Howard the Duck. And, towards the end of the decade, one of the lowest-selling titles in the Marvel pantheon—X-Men—suddenly became more adult and nuanced. Those small pantheon of titles in many ways set the tone for the reinvention of superheroes in the eighties: without them, no Uncanny X-Men, no Frank Miller Daredevil, maybe no Watchmen or Dark Knight. All fantastic comics. But when everything Marvel published was trying to be like those eighties and nineties comics, trying to outdo themselves with bigger and bigger steps: no secret identities, national superhero registries, one of Marvel's iconic characters killed: well, there was no place for the fun to go but to be the hidden comics—published but seldom promoted by Marvel, acclaimed by fans and accepted as cult classics. As our old friend Kang would tell us, it's all just a case of history repeating, and this reader has his hooves crossed that as time goes by, the wheel will swing back around, and what's a stealth comic of today will gradually grow acceptance and acclaim. The best first sign of this? X-Men: First Class is becoming a regular series. In other words, the fun is slowly but surely peeping its head out from the basement at Marvel. It's still only Groundhog Day...as far as I'm concerned, there's a lot of time and work until the fun returns to Spider-Man and Iron Man...but like a baby duck, it's the first sign of a glorious Spring on the way.


Monday, May 21, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #4: Bachelors Anonymous

A Wodehouse a Week banner
Scoff all you like when a meteor lands a few feet away from Peter Parker in Central Parker Park, sparkering the beginning of action, adventure, thrills and merchandising that leads to the wacky, nutty adventures of Spider-Man 3. (What's this got to do with A Wodehouse a Week? Please stay patiently tuned, gentle reader.) It's both a massive coincidence and a plot device that you more or less must forgive or else the story doesn't really get going. Sure, we can all try for the No-Prize and justify it: maybe the symbiote was looking for and zeroed in on the most powerful human in the vicinity. Or maybe there were hundreds of meteors carrying symbiotes and this is the only one that made it to a strong host. Or maybe it purposefully came to New York City just because it likes chocolate cake and cold delicious milk. Take yer pick and it really doesn't matter which, does it? Because the story needs it to happen and you can shrug and forgive it because it's not too outrageous to have on coincidence like that in a story. Now, pile on six or seven coincidences, well, then maybe it might get a little outrageous...

Or maybe it might be a P. G. Wodehouse story, in which synchronicity and serendipity merrily rule, and coincidence is merely just another chance for a boy and a girl to come face to face and realize they love each other.



Speaking of coincidinks, the first paragraph that greets me when I peel open the cover of Bachelors Anonymous re-introduces me to Ivor Llewellyn, bombastic Welsh Hollywood magnate, one of the larger-than-life characters of two-weeks-ago's Pearls, Girls, and Monty Bodkin. More to the point, this is more-or-less a direct sequel to...um, let's momentary call it PGMB...because it follows directly on the heels of that novel and picks up Ivor Llewellyn a few months following his happy divorce from the shrew Grayce (the fifth Mrs. Llewellyn) in PGMB. Aside from Llewellyn, however, there's no recurring characters from the previous book, but it's a lovely little touch of consistency showing what we comics fanbulls would call Wodehouse's "universe." Bachelors Anonymous was actually even published directly after PGMB: in 1973, making it his second-to-last finished novel. That's completely coincidence in and of itself, by the way: I chose Bachelors Anonymous merely because it was a slim paperback and easier to carry on the subway. And yet I'm yet again at the tail end of Wodehouse's career here, flitting back and forth like Doctor Sam Beckett. Luckily it's quite a happy journey and despite Pearls being fresh in my mind it wasn't actually essential that I have read it two weeks before to enjoy and understand Bachelors Anonymous. Such is the skill of P. G. Wodehouse: even more than Chris Claremont, he's a master at making certain you're quickly up to snuff whatever book in the canon you crack open.

Ivor Llewellyn, as previously mentioned, is freshly divorced which should make him as happy as a clam, but instead he's stewing in his own oyster juices. He's attracted to handsome and harpyish actress Vera Dalrymple, and there lies his problem: he's terrified of getting re-married. And yet, he often can't help himself. He's a compulsive marrier. Enter the mysterious (and yet oddly practical) Bachelors Anonymous, an organization of confirmed bachelors who rely on the moral and mental support of each other to help their comrades avoid marriage at all costs, by hook, crook, or slipping a Mickey Finn. Capital idea, wot? Ephraim Trout, lifelong bachelor, steers Llewellyn in the direction of the London law firm of Nichols, Erridge, Trubshaw and Nichols (pay attention to those names, mind you!) to suggest he hire from them a personal bodyguard to keep him from proposing to Vera in moments of weakness. Joe Pickering, on the other hand, would like nothing more than to be married to a beautiful and bright Sally Fitch, journalist extraordinaire. Joe fell in love with Sally at first sight when she interviewed him during rehearsals for the play he wrote...a play which stars Vera Dalrymple and whose backstage has Ivor Llewellyn hanging about like a lovesick puppy. Also present behind the scenes of this doomed production: Sir Jaklyn Warner, a ne'r-do-well (delightfully, the closest the Wodehouse world ever comes to true villains are ne'r-do-wells) who borrows money from Joe. All clear so far? That's two balls in the air criss-crossing each other. Following the failure of his play, Joe can think of nothing else but Sally (whose last name he has forgotten, meaning he can't contact or find her), and goes to lunch with his friend, the lawyer Jerry Nichols (where have we heard that name before?). Jerry suggests a bit of buck-you-up by proposing a new job for Joe: some Hollywood bigwig chappie who hired his law firm is looking for a personal bodyguard to keep him from marrying an actress. Meanwhile, young Sally Fitch heads to an appointment at a solicitor after a mysterious letter hints at a situation of advantage to her. That solicitor? Oh, surely you have guessed that it's Nichols, Erridge, Trubshaw and Nichols. Much hilarity ensues, of course. Jerry and Sally are reunited and make a date to meet later, and Sally soon finds out she is due to inherit twenty five thousand pounds in the will of her old employer, but only if she can give up smoking for one year. (Still with me?) Overcome by the news, Sally misses her lunch date with Joe (now employed by Llewellyn), but meets her own personal bodyguard: Daphne Dolby, a detective hired by the law firm to ensure she keeps to the non-smoking clause of the will. Daphne is quite looking forward to living with Sally for a year, if only to keep her rather dodgy boyfriend Jaklyn Warner at bay. Oh, and for good measure, Warner is Sally's ex-boyfriend. But how will Sally find Joe again now? Well, she'll have to worry about that later, as she's off to interview Hollywood mogul Ivor Llewellyn...

Well, with coincidences like that, I've certainly lost count of the number of balls that Wodehouse has tossed up in the air, but they're all crossing paths so elegantly it might as well be a ballet...or as Wodehouse would put it, a musical comedy without the music and singing. What I've just described above (without the charm and the grace that Wodehouse gives it) is merely the set-up: the first fifty pages of an exceptionally fast-paced novel. It's short, yes: I read it in one day in one and a half trips between Brooklyn and Manhattan on the subway. Fair warning: if you're going to read Wodehouse in public be prepared for sideways glances when you laugh out loud. Bachelor's Anonymous is in some ways a quieter book humor-wise than some of Wodehouse's early work, and he does sometimes repeat jokes (the whimsical Barribault's earthquake metaphor he used a year ago in Pearls pops up again here, though delightfully rewritten). But then of course you have sequences of pure joy like these (brush up on your Shakespeare for maximum giggle-effect):
'Mr Pickering here tonight, Mac?'

To which Mac replied:

'He's round in front'—which would not have been a bad description of the visitor propped against the wall, who was noticeably stout. Julius Caesar would have liked him.
and
...in less than the specific time he was in a chair at 8 Enniston Gardens, and Mr Llewellyn was saying 'Listen', prepatory to cleaning his stuffed bosom of the perilous stuff that weights upon the heart, as Shakespeare and the Welsh school marm would have phrased it, though Shakespeare ought to have known better than to put 'stuff' and 'stuffed' in the same sentence like that.
Lesser writers would be satisfied with a sentence like, say, 'He gave Joe a disdainful look.' Not Wodehouse. Oh no, no, no, no:
Even to an unobservant eye it would have been apparent that he was not one of Joe's admirers. In the look he gave him as he entered there was something of the open dislike a resident of India exhibits when he comes to take his morning bath and finds a cobra in the bath tub.
It's not one hundred percent prime Wodehouse, but there's a lot of gold here in this late novel of his career—you're along for the joyous ride and you either must forgive the coincidences or accept them as part and parcel of the Wodehousean World: that nothing happens in this universe that does not spiral around itself in an elaborate dance. Joe meets Sally and she spins away again, dinner dates are broken and chances are missed until the very last few pages. Thanks to Bachelors Anonymous, Joe is slipped a Mickey Finn by Ephraim Trout to help him avoid the terrible catastrophe of falling in love, but a few dozen pages from that Trout himself is falling in love with Sally's old nurse, Amelia Bingham. (Even Rosie M. Banks, romance authoress and wife of Bingo Little from the Jeeves stories, gets a name check and provides us with ammunition to continue to tie the Wodehouse Universe together into a cohesive whole.) Nearly everybody falls in love, Joe gets a lucrative Hollywood writing contract, Sally blows her chance at the twenty-five thousand pounds with a careless puff (but isn't love better than money?) and it of course all ends happily, especially for Llewellyn, who's the only one who actually gleefully escapes marriage to a nurse in the hospital who just happens to be Amelia Bingham (she of the betrothed-to-Ephraim Trout-fame). Oh, don't look so shocked and yell at me for not posting a spoiler warning. You don't need a spoiler warning in the world of Wodehouse, you know everyone will end in each other's arms as bluebirds tweet merrily outside of the drawing room.

Improbable coincidences? Sure. But I say, hoorah for them. Wodehouse always used coincidence as a weapon. But he used it deftly and accurately: a foil rather than a broadsword, and he always used his power for good.

Bachelors AnonymousI've got two copies of Bachelors Anonymous, a Penguin Books paperback with a lovely Ionicus watercolor on the cover (though one that really doesn't represent a scene from the book at all), and a Simon and Schuster US hardcover, one of my exceptionally few first edition/first printings in my Wodehouse collection. A listing on Amazon.com for this particular edition is asking $60.00 for it, which ain't bad, as I paid $8.50 for mine. But I'm in this to collect books, not bucks. Really, I collect 'em for the joy and the diversity, not for the investment, and later Wodehouse is easier to find than earlier, of course. But most of all I just like the Simon edition for its gleefully romantic cover by distinctive British cartoonist Osbert Lancaster. That's Ephraim Trout and Sally's nurse Amelia Bingham, on the cover, by the way. Doncha just love the expressions? I think I want to be in love now simply so I can have an expression like that.

Even if you don't want to spend sixty smackers, you can get your very own copy of Bachelors Anonymous using the link on the right. Although it's apparently out of print (really, what is wrong with you publishers? It's even out of print in the UK!), you can pick up an inexpensive paperback through one of Amazon's third-part Marketplace sellers. If you're the sort of person who falls in love at the drop of your trilby you'll emphasize with Joe and Sally. If you're the sort of person who says 'Bah, humbug!' to love, you'll emphasize with Ivor Llewellyn. And if you're the sort of person who enjoys reading about Mickey Finns and smoking you might enjoy the works of Raymond Chandler, but this ain't bad, either.


Sunday, May 20, 2007

Ten of a Kind: To Infinity and Beyond










(More Ten of a Kind here.)