Saturday, July 07, 2007

Separated at Birth: Eight Arms to Hold You

Amazing Spider-Man #55 and #427

L: Amazing Spider-Man #55 (December 1967), art by John Romita and Mike Esposito
R: Amazing Spider-Man #427 (October 1997), art by Steve Skroce and Bud LaRosa (?)
(Click picture to octi-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Dave Chapelle on Superheroes

Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist: Dave Chapelle on Superheroes
from the episode "Electric Bike" (1997), created by Tom Snyder and Jonathan Katz

Friday, July 06, 2007

Friday Night Fights: Beast Wars

Happy Friday Night, folks! A few weeks ago when I was putting together a "Ten of a Kind" of heroes and villains in their ultimate staring-matches or face-offs, I came across a comic book cover so brilliant, so bizarre, so wonderful, so fun that I didn't want to jus' throw it in with nine other covers. No, fight fans, this is in a class by itself. This is sheer, utter brilliance. This is the pinnacle of characters racing at each other on a comic book cover. This is Justice League of America #132...
Justice League of America #132

Go ahead. Gaze at its beauty for a while. Bask in the sheer mind-bending brilliance that is Ernie Chan's portrayal of the Justice League facing off against animals with weapons.

But one sweeping gaze does not a work of art make. Get up close and examine the details, won't you? Like Cameron Frye in the Art Institute of Chicago, stare at it up close and absorb every detail until it sinks into your conscious mind, surrounding and bathing you in its sheer artsy brilliance while your best friend makes out with his girlfriend in front of the Chagall Window. Go ahead, look more closely. As a great man once said, Every Picture Tells a Story:

JLA #132
To heck with super-gorillas...who needs superpowers when you've got the ultimate equalizer: a gun! It's just too bad that Mister Monkey here picked the worst possible opponent to go up against: The Batman! Every since his parents were shot in that alley by an ape, Batman's got a mad-on for simian shooters...and he's taking a monkey bite out of crime! You oughta've stuck to knuckledusters, Kong!

JLA #132
Speakin' of Bats, what's up with the Dark Knight's posture? All the other Justice Leaguers are charging full speed ahead to meet the awesome animal attack. But Batman looks like he's leaning into battle...or maybe he's just been standing on a box and somebody pushed him off balance. No fear, tho' a Weeble, Batman wobbles but he don't fall down!

JLA #132
An elephant never kill you! Looks like Wonder Woman will have her hands full with this homicidal heffalump! But look: the Amazing Amazon has drawn her Golden Lasso and will soon have the beast in bondage. And as the theme song to her TV show goes, when Wonder Woman has you in a tie, there's nothing you can do to lie! So pretty soon this perplexed pachaderm will be spilling all his elephanty secrets to WW. First up on his confession: mice freak him out!

JLA #132
Hey, look, it's Supergirl! Hi, Supergirl! Gosh, I didn't even know she was in the Justice League, but there she is, getting ready to lay the smackdown on a rampaging Rhino (Note: not the Spider-Man villain). And what a sensible outfit she's wearing. We love you, Supergirl! Try not to die in Crisis on Infinite Earths, will ya?

JLA #132
Now, there's a certain class of folk who bring a knife to to a gunfight. And then there's a certain class of animal that just isn't all that bright, either. Hey, look around you, guys: Gorilla's got a gun. Elephant's got a mace flail (thanks for the correction, Matthew!). Giraffe has got, no, seriously, work with me here...the giraffe has got a spear. But it looks like the cheetah and the rhino just plum fergot to bring their weapons. Right at this very moment both of them are thinking "Did I leave my chain saw in the taxi...oh, freakin' heck, I did...!...We're gonna die, aren't we?...Yep."

JLA #132
Batman versus a brown gorilla. Wonder Woman versus a grey elephant. Supergirl versus a grey rhino. And of all those choices, who did Green Lantern pick to face off again? That's right, folks...a yellow giraffe. Oh, Hal, Hal, Hal, Hal, Hal, Hal, Hal, Hal. Will you never learn? I have the feeling that this particular battle is going to be neck and neck.

JLA #132
So, let's recap. Bats versus ape. Wondy versus Jumbo. Kara versus Horny. Hal versus his own poor judgment. Black Canary versus some kind of cheetah. So who do you think was smartest in choosing his opponent on this cover?:

JLA #132
Shame on you, Oliver Queen! Everybody else is pulling their weight, and you stand there so smug and happy that you don't have to actually fight anybody. Sure, you're loading up your longbow, but what are you aiming it at? Nothing! You're shooting between the animals! What, are you just thinkin' "Ah, it's Friday afternoon at 4:15...I'm not gonna do any work. I'll just look busy and then scoot out of here real fast at five." Well, Ollie, there's only one word to describe you, and it's spelled S-L-A-C-K-E-R. And stop lookin' so smug about it!

I just want to see them explain this all to Martian Manhunter and Superman later. "And there was a rhino, and a ape, and a giraffe with a spear..." "Oh yes...a lion with a whip too, I bet...and a Thompson's gazelle with a Thompson machine gun, right?....We're never leaving them alone again, J'onn."

Oh course, such a face-to-face combat awesome cover could never be topped for sheer wacky craziness, could it. I mean, there's no way you could top that...
Shazam #20

DC Comics in the seventies...thy name is awesome.

Bahlactus is kind to all animals.

This is the sort of thing that keeps me up at night.*

...the sort of thing I'm always thinking about obsessively. In the Star Trek episode "Miri," the Enterprise (back when ships used to be all called the Something and not just Something) visits an earth-like planet overrun by a deadly virus which has killed all the adults and extended the lifespan of the kids. How Earth-like? how about Earth-freakin'-identical?!?:

Now, I do know why so many of the planet surfaces that Kirk and his merry crew visited looked like Earth, or more accurately, the backlot of Desilu Studios or canyons in the outskirts of Los Angeles: sheer economics of television production. (Also the same reason most aliens had two arms, two legs, and maybe, if we were lucky, a funny nose). There's also an in-universe explanation of this: Hodgkin's Law of Parallel Planetary Development, the idea that cultures across the universe evolve in similar ways, which is why you could spend Stardate 3972.2 on the Cowboy Planet and then warp over to Nazi World by Stardate 4001.9, making only a quick detour to Roman Planet on the way. Star Trek: The Next Generation backed this up with a story that made canon the long-discussed in-universe belief that each of the major galactic races was seeded by a group of superbeing meddlers, spreading similar beings across the far reaches of the galaxy much like you or I leaving our action figures in the back yard after a rousing afternoon playing "Infinite Crisis on Ultimate Secret Civil Wars." Whoops, that reminds me!

(sprinting out into the yard, retrieving my Captain America figure before the sprinklers come on, running back to the computer)

None of that, in or out of universe, however, explains why Miri's planet looks like Earth II: The Next Generation:

It's only commented on in the pre-credits tease of the episode when Uhura gasps and Kirk says in "Another earth...another earth!" Well, yes, Jimmy T., that is what we're looking at. But once y'all beam down to the planet and play with some tricycles and Yeoman Rand shows you her legs, everybody seems to forget this planet out in the middle of nowhere has an Africa and an Australia and a Bay of Biscayne, although they're probably all overrun with annoying little pre-teen twerps going "bonk bonk" in various languages.

So, my question, the thing I muse about at night, is this. I know that the episode itself never explained why this planet is a duplicate of Earth. Nor did any episodes of any of the follow-up shows: Star Trek: The Next Generation, or Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, or Star Trek: Hey Look, We Have a Borg in a Silver Catsuit or Star Trek: We're Not Going to Call Ourselves Star Trek, Oh Wait, Now We Are. Sheesh, we even had a Star Trek episode devoted solely to explain why some Klingons have bumpy foreheads and why others didn't. But although I know they're not "canon," did any of the Star Trek novels, of which there appear to be approximately one gazillion, try to explain it? Maybe as a parallel universe Earth that slipped through a wormhole? Trick of Trelane? Trick of Q? Giant alien race who copied the Earth for kicks? Cunningly-placed space mirrors? The world, well, just I, really, really want to know. And then maybe I'll sleep better at night.

After I figure out why we always see starships facing each other oriented on exactly the same plane, of course.

*Also, my fear of night-flying vampire bats.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

My review of the Transformers movie.

So! I went yesterday to the AMC Empire 25 to see that big new Transformers movie all the kids are abuzz about. It's very busy seeing a movie on the Fourth of July. Seriously! I had to dart in and out of everyone's legs with my big bucket of popcorn and my giant Coke, all the while holding my ticket stub in my little mouth. There were so many people stepping all around me I was afraid I was going to get squished! Haven't you people got family barbecues to go to? Go eat some hot dogs, for Pete's sake!

Well, I finally squeeze my way into the dark dark theater just in time to play "Coca Cola Screen Play," which is always an exciting and thrilling way to pass the time before the movie forty minutes of previews start. It is very fun to play these fast-moving trivia games. Just for fun, next time you see one, shout out into the theater "ANGELINA JOLIE!" as the answer to every question. I like the fill-in-the-blank puzzles a lot. "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doo_". Doop! Oh wait, I was sure that was the answer.

Fourteen Steve Carrell previews later, Transformers starts. Wah-hoo! I am so excited I spill some of my popcorn on the floor. It would not be such a big deal but I had earlier sprinkled a bag of M&Ms in with them. Also, gummy bears.

Optimus PrimeSo what did I think of the movie? It was pretty good! The effects were amazing and the plot just kept racing along so I would never be able to guess what happened next. I was very impressed by some of the big name stars they got to appear in the movie...seriously, did you ever think you would see George Clooney up on the big screen? Playing Optimus Prime? Me neither! The CGI effects they used were pretty amazing as well....Optimus Prime looks amazingly lifelike and realistic, like you could reach out and touch him, even though this movie were not in 3D. Which was a little disappointing, because I was wearing the glasses and all. Unlike many of the Transformers fanboys complaining online before the movie opened, I didn't even mind that you could see Clooney's lips move. He totally brought excitement and gravitas to the role of Prime. I think we are talking an Academy Award nomination here! Mr. Clooney is a handsome, handsome man and whatever they paid him for this role was not enough.

MegatronIn fact, who'da thunk that you'd see the amazing cast they got to play the Autobots and Decepticons? Wow, they must have spent a lot of money to hire Don Cheadle to play Jazz and Matt Damon as Bumblebee. Don't you feel Brad Pitt was the perfect choice for Rachet? And oooh, Al Pacino as Megatron? Scary, scary man, absolutely perfect for the role. And Ellen Barkin as...I dunno, The Baroness or something. I couldn't figger out who she was playing, to be honest.

Scarlett JohanssonUsually I'm not a big fan of director Michael Bay. I had my hooves over my eyes during most of Armageddon, a very very loud movie which scared me very much. I do not want to see New York City destroyed, thank you very much! I think that film should have been titled Armageddon-outta-here! I did not see Bad Boys, and therefore I was lost and all at sea in trying to understand the subtle character development and intricate, Proustian plot of Bad Boys II. And I liked The Island much better when it was called Parts: The Clonus Horror. Still, Scarlett Johansson...that makes up for something, doesn't it?

Anyway. Michael Bay. I was expecting to see a lot of big explosions and car chases and sky-diving falls and crashes and booms and bangs and Mister Bay very much impressed me with a much subtler story that really delved into the personalities and wittiness of our favorite robots in disguise. It was sort of a "Transformers go Vegas" treatment in which the good guys were running a con game against the bad guys. You know, it is very nice in this violent day and age to see a film in which action characters can use their heads instead of their fists. I commend that philosophy.

Robots in Disguise

That said, I have to admit much of the movie surprised me. CGI George Clooney as Optimus Prime was pretty impressive, but unless I blinked, I didn't get to see him transforming from one shape to the other, and I never even really heard that distinctive transforming whir-click-snap-shu-shu-shu sound effect we all know and love. I'm kind of skeptical about the decision that all the robots were human size and never grew to giant proportions and fought each other towering over the buildings of Las Vegas. And there was a whole lengthy sequence about dice and lighters that I thought was going to lead to something real Transformy cool—like giant transforming dice and lighters fighting each other! But it didn't work out that way. Hmmm, the movie was really crowded and everyone seemed to be having a great time, but when I think about it a lot it really was a weird Transformers movie...with George Clooney and Matt Damon and Don Cheadle and Elliott Gould and all...

(re-looking at my ticket stub)


Curse you, AMC Empire 25!

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week #10: Over Seventy

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Cough. I'm feeling much better today, but still a bit under the weather, despite or maybe because of powerful antibiotics the size of Marshmallow Peeps that are no doubt designed to K.O. every signs of bronchitis or whatever-the-Sam-scratch-it-is out of my little stuffed system. These pills seem to be working as I'm coughing a wee bit less, but they've knocked me for a loop making me feel, as they might say in a Wodehouse book, swoony (and not in the good way, say, over a chipper and tow-headed heroine named Sue or Jill). I slept better last night but was prone to almost hallucinogenic dreams, including the usual one where I have to pack for a trip in a hurry and keep finding new things to shove into my tiny suitcase. I also dreamed at one point that Gus, my kittycat, was actually speaking aloud, and at the same channeling a LOLcat by saying to me: "DO NOT WANT TACO BELL." "NO 1 DUZ," I replied, before I woke up coughing.

Anyway. I'll keep this review brief, but not because it is an inferior Wodehouse book. Quite the reverse—this was possibly one of the best books I could have read this week, light, breezy, and funny (I laughed myself into a coughing fit more than once): Over Seventy (1956), the third of Wodehouse's three autobiographical works and golly, just an all-around rollicking read. Look up "fun book" in the dictionary and you may well spot a clever line drawing of Over Seventy next to it.

It's an "autobiography" in only the loosest sense of the term. As the title tells you, Wodehouse was a septuagenarian by the time this was published (and he had a good twenty years left in his career by this point, too). As such he's got a lot of life to talk about, unlike Miss Billie Piper writing her autobio when she's 24. So you get the basic structure of an autobiography here: Wodehouse was born, and grew up, and did some stuff, and he tells us about them. But for the most part the book is a series of extended comedic essays on this and that subject: butlers, critics, smoking, women, television, the stage, writing, New York City (much of the book is set in America, either covering his early visits or his post-WWII resettlement to Long Island), cats and dogs, Santa Claus, and virtually anything else Wodehouse puts his quicksilver mind to. He even admits it's not a real autobiography: an autobiographer I am rather badly handicapped.

On several occasions it has been suggested to me that I might take a pop at reading my reminiscences. 'Yours has been a long life,' people say. 'You look about a hundred and four. You should make a book of it and cash in.'
The book was originally inspired by American journalist J. P. Winkler (who doesn't even have his own Wikipedia page; so much for his legacy), who presented a series of essays in newspapers and radio by septuagenarians on their lives and how the world has changed in their span. Wodehouse went above and beyond the call by producing the many-chaptered book I hold in my eager little hooves tonight. Ostensibly therefore it's an autobio, but it's really just a grand occasion for Wodehouse to spin a lot of tall tales and wonderful yarns and tell a few jokes, and without needing to stick to a chronological fictional narrative, he has the luxury to just have a great deal of fun throughout. As such there's more laughs and whimsy per chapter than any of the Wodehouse books I've read this far, and if it's light on characters and motivation it's one of the best Wodehouses (Wodehice?) for picking up when you've only got time to read a chapter or two, or when your little bean-filled brain is a wee bit feverish. Aw, heck, let's let his writing speak for itself here, as when he talks about his genesis as an author:
From my earliest years I had always wanted to be a writer. I started turning out the stuff at the age of five. (What I was doing before that, I don't remember. Just loafing, I suppose.)
...explaining how civil and even-tempered New York City residents are (hah!):
A man I know was driving in his car the other day and stalled his engine at a street intersection. The lights changed from yellow to green, from green to reed, from red to yellow and from yellow to green, but his car remained rooted to the spot. A policeman sauntered up.

'What's the matter, son?' he asked sympathetically. 'Haven't we got any colours you like?'

It is difficult to see how he could have been nicer.
...relating his conversations with the quintessential New York wisecracking cabby:
He is quite different from his opposite number in London, partly because of his name, as stated on the card on the windscreen, is always something like Rostopchin or Prschebiszewsky but principally owing to his habit of bringing with his quips and cranks and wreathed smiles like the nymphs in 'L'Allegro'. Except for an occasional gruff grunter, all New York taxi-drivers are rapid-fire comedians, and they are given unlimited scope for their bob Hopefulness by that fact that in American cabs there is no glass shutter separating them from the customer.


'I want to go to the Cunard White Star pier," you say.

'Okay. Don't be long," he ripostes, quick as a flash.

'You know the way there, I suppose?'

'Garsh, yes, it ain't no secret.'

Then he settles down to it. A few gay observations on the weather and he is ready for the big yoks.

'Say, mister.'


'Your name ain't Crime by any chance, is it?'



'Oh, Crime? No. Why?'

'Just thinking of a feller I had in my crate the other day. We got talking and he said his name was George Crime.'

'Odd name.'

'What I thought. Well, sir, we got to where he wants to be took and he hops out and starts walking away. "Hi, brother," I say, "ain't you forgettin' something?" "Such as?" he says. "You ain't paid for your ride." "Why would I?" he says. "Haven't you ever heard that crime doesn't pay?" Hey, hey, hey.'

You laugh politely, but inwardly you are saying, 'Not so good, Prschebiszewsky.' The build-up a little too obvious and elaborate, you feel.
For decades Alistair Cooke did a series of BBC radio commentaries entitled Letters from America. I think that Wodehouse could have done just as well and probably more entertaining job, if only the last time he had broadcast on radio hadn't been for Nazi Germany.

I'm no smoker, but I'm fond of the following passage, which is especially apt in this week in which London has banned all public inside smoking, even in pubs (which is apt to leave Warren Ellis and Shane MacGowan very, very cranky indeed):
...our own manufacturers are turning out good and powerful stuff today, so let us avail ourselves of it. Smoke up, my hearties. Never mind Tolstoy. Ignore G. Swanson. Think what it would means if for want of our support the tobacco firms had to go out of business. There would be no more of those photographs of authors smoking pipes, and if authors were not photographed smoking pipes, how would we be able to know that they are manly and in the robust tradition of English literature?
So, don't come into Over Seventy expecting to get a traditional autobiography. Bring on the Girls and Performing Flea, Wodehouse's two other autobiographical works, which I'll get around to reviewing one of these years, are similarly entertaining but a little more straightforward in their format. If you want traditional biographies, of course, there's always the Frances Donaldsonand the Robert McCrumbios (truth in disclosure: the McCrum is published by W. W. Norton, where I toil away the workdays). But none of these feature, as does Over Seventy, this wonderful glimpse of one of Wodehouse's most beloved characters, the pig-loving Lord Emsworth, in the afterlife:
...I like to think that this separation of butler and butler-aficionado will not endure for ever. I tell myself that when Clarence, ninth Earl of Emsworth, finally hands in his dinner pail after his long and pleasant life, the first thing he will hear as he settles himself on his cloud will be the fruity voice of Beach, the faithful butler, saying, 'Nectar or ambrosia, m'lord?'

'Eh? Oh, hullo, beach. I say, Beach, what's this dashed thing they handed me as I came in?'

'A harp, m'lord. Your lordship is supposed to play on it.'

'Eh? Play on it? Like Harpo Marx, you mean?'

'Precisely, m'lord.'

'Most extraordinary. Is everybody doing it?'

'Yes, m'lord.'

'My sister Constance? My brother Galahad? Sir Gregory Parsloe? Baxter? Everybody?'

'Yes, m'lord.'

'Well, it all sounds very odd to me. Still, if you say so. Give me your A, Beach.'

'Certainly, m'lord. Coming right up.'
Finally, why did I pick this book to read this week? Only partly because I want to mix up his series and hadn't covered any of his non-fiction yet, but mostly because in America Over Seventy was published in a different format under a different title: the very-apt-for-this-week America, I Love You. Hooray! I love America, and I love Wodehouse, so this is like the Fudge-Covered Oreo of Wodehouse books. The version I have is the expanded British one titled Over Seventy, and it's contained in Wodehouse on Wodehouse, a wonderful Penguin paperback omnibus edition of his three autobios in one, which means that I shall put this book back on the big daunting 'haven't reviewed yet' bookcase instead of the 'already written about' shelf in order to cover the other two books at a later date. So now you want to read Over Seventy/America, I Love You? Well, good luck, Bucky! In either version this is one of Wodehouse's harder books to find: both are long out of print and even Wodehouse on Wodehouse commands big bucks on the used-book market. Now is the perfect time for Overlook Press to republish these three autobios in their lovely uniform Collector's Wodehouse editions, but until then, you may be able to find one or another at your local library or through inter-library loan, or, if you're flushed as Croesus (and I think we all know how painful that can be), click on the link to the right to buy an expensive used copy of Wodehouse on Wodehouse. It's not my copy: I ain't givin' mine up!

Monday, July 02, 2007


Dr. Christine YangWhat's little, stuffed, bovine, and can be described using the title of a Michael Moore movie? No, it's not my sister and her stuffed rabbit's me, Sicko himself, battling a raw red sore throat, dripping mucus, and a hacking (and yet "productive") cough at all hours of the day! (I'm sure that's more information that you ever needed to know about me.) So instead of being a small bull today, I'm also a little ho(a)rse. Ha ha ha ha cough cough COUGH COUGH COUGH CHOKE CHOKE COUGH! (wheeze, gasp, pant) Okay. I'm fine now. (cough)

I just got back from my kindly stuffed animal doctor (doing intern work at the Doll Hospital) who pulled up my shirt and listened to my chest with her stethoscope and went "Hmmmmmm" a lot. I explained I had been looking on the internet and thought I might have bronchitis, which is not, as I had thought at first, a side dish to those big BBQ ribs you get at that Flintstones's drive-inn diner, but which is an infection that causes hacking cough with sputum. Then I looked up "sputum," and I wished I hadn't.

Anyway, kindly Dr. Yang said I had a lot of mucus in there with my beans and fluff, but she poo-pooed my amateur diagnosis and said it might be allergies or something less severe, and she gave me a prescription for some ultra-high powered antibiotics which apparently are the Kal-El of antibiotics: they're so powerful against bacteria that after five days of these you can't even eat a spoonful of yoghurt without it dissolving off your spoon before it gets in your mouth. She also poked me in the tummy and said I should cut down on the candy beans.

So now I'm lying in bed with a cup of orange juice and I'm taking my temperature every five minutes to see if it changes at all. I took my antibiotics and after not sleeping most of the night because I kept waking up coughing and choking (not fun!), I'm gonna take a little nap. What does that mean for you? Well, first of all, don't let me breathe on you. Second, "A Wodehouse a Week" will be delayed one day, but, to paraphrase my favorite alces alces, "Tomorrow fer shure!" I'm certain you will all agree it's worth the wait and hope that the slight delay doesn't disenchant you.

Oh, and before I drift off, just a tiny bit of comic book commentary so you don't feel completely foolish for coming here today:
Captain America's Funeral

1. Help me identify Cap's pallbearers here. From left to right: Ben Grimm, Rick Jones (?), T'Challa, Carol Danvers, Sam Wilson, Tony Stark. Tony Stark? Whoa, there's gonna be some awkward moments over the potato salad later, isn't there?
2. Number two is Rick Jones, is it? He should be a pallbearer, right?
3. Why must it always rain at a superhero funeral? Can't at least one of them catch a break and get a nice day?
4. Make sure you seal the tomb well so that Lex Luthor doesn't try to steal the body, guys!
5. Wouldn't this be a wonderful moment for Nick Fury to come back?

Cough! See ya tomorrow.

Sunday, July 01, 2007


"Terry" (1983)

"A New England" (1984)

"He's on the Beach" (1985)

"Mambo de la Luna" (1999)

"Fairytale of New York" (with the Pogues, 1987)

Ten of a Kind: Kiss me quick 'cos it's my birthday

Today is my birthday! I am six years old today. Which is a very good age to be.

(More Ten of a Kind here.)

PS: As a birthday present to me, won't you please listen to one of my favorite songs, the sad and lovely "Soho Square", by the very-much missed Kirsty MacColl?

See Kirsty's empty bench in Soho Square.

PPS: By some coincidence, this is my seventh hundredth post on this blog!