Saturday, November 22, 2008

Saturday Evening Cartoon: I Met the Walrus

I Met the Walrus (2007), written, directed and animated by Josh Raskin

From the press release on the official website: "In 1969, a 14-year-old Beatle fanatic named Jerry Levitan, armed with a reel-to-reel tape deck and a head full of questions, snuck into John Lennon's hotel room in Toronto and convinced John to do an interview. This was in the midst of Lennon’s “bed-in” phase, during which John and Yoko were staying in hotel beds in an effort to promote peace. 38 years later, Jerry has produced a film about it. Using the original interview recording as the soundtrack, director Josh Raskin has woven a visual narrative which tenderly romances Lennon’s every word in a cascading flood of multipronged animation. Raskin marries the terrifyingly brilliant pen work of James Braithwaite with masterful digital illustration by Alex Kurina, resulting in a spell-binding vessel for Lennon’s boundless wit, and timeless message."

An important message: Carla and Lance Hoffman

If you frequent the comics blogosphere, you've probably already seen this news, but it bears repeating:

The wonderful and witty comic blogger Carla Hoffman and her husband Lance were seriously injured in the Santa Barbara, California Tea Fire. Seriously burned escaping the fire, they are now being kept sedated in intensive care. (Here's a 11/18 newspaper report on their situation.) The Hoffmans' home and all their belongings were destroyed in the fire, so it's not simply the matter of immense medical bills they'll accrue over the next several weeks, it's trying to rebuild their lives.

A Facebook group has been set up with more and updated information. By now you may be thinking "What can I do to help?" Besides keeping them in your thoughts and prayers, consider that in these tough times, it's going to be even tougher for Lance and Carla. Please consider donating money to The Lance and Carla Burn Fund, which will go directly to helping their expenses. You can send a check or money order direct. Make your check out to The Lance and Carla Burn Fund and mail it to

Santa Barbara Bank & Trust
1483 East Valley Rd.
Montecito, CA 93108-1248

I highly urge you to please help Lance and Carla out—in our hobby we read about heroes every day, but here's a case where you can help these folks in need. Don't do it, however, to be a hero; don't do it for the good karma or because I said so: please just do it because it's the right and human thing to do.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

This Little Piggy Went to War!

Everyone knows that The Punisher can use anything as a weapon. A gun, a knife, a carrot, a Nerf ball, a bit of string...the man can break your spine in six places with a Jell-O™ Pudding Cup.

Punisher War Zone Annual #1
Panels from The Punisher: War Zone Annual #1 (July 1993), written by Chuck Dixon, penciled and inked by John Buscema, colored by Ericka T. Moran, lettered by Michael Higgins

That's why whenever you sell out Mister Castle to the mob, make certain there's nothing within his reach that he can use against you as a killing tool.

Punisher War Zone Annual #1
Especially never

Punisher War Zone Annual #1
let him have

Punisher War Zone Annual #1
access to

Punisher War Zone Annual #1
a pig.

Captain America may use a metal shield for protection...
Punisher War Zone Annual #1
...but all Frank Castle needs is a pig.

This otherwise-serviceable tale of crime, revenge, and ham would have gone unnoticed in the annals of the many Punisher titles that glutted your local comic book store in the mid-1990s (Punisher, Punisher War Zone, Punisher Armory, Punisher vs. Archie, Punisher's Summer Vacation Spectacular, Punisher Love-In, Punisher: Son of Odin, The Mutant Misadventures of The Punisher, X-Punisher, Punisher: Sorcerer Supreme, Wolverunisher, and Star Comics' for-children-series Kid Punisher, to name but a few) if it hadn't been for the sparkling debut of that fan-favorite character whose first appearance later drove the back issue price for Punisher: War Zone Annual #1 higher than Hulk #181...the epic premiere of Frank's later constant companion and sidekick, his comrade in arms, dangerous and deadly, powerful and porcine, he's...

The Punisher's Battle-Pig!

Appearing in over seventy separate comic book guest-spots during the height of his popularity, the Punisher's Battle-Pig is one of those characters that's not often seen in today's modern "realistic" Marvel Universe of Red Hulks and shape-changing alien infiltrators, but he was an icon of his time. Let's remember him with a look at his popular page from The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe, shall we?:

The Punisher's Battle-Pig
(Click picture to Hogzilla-size)

Remember kids, The Punisher's Battle-Pig says

Punisher's Battle-Pig

Take a bite out of crime...not bacon!

So, in conclusion, let's all listen to The Punisher's Battle-Pig's Haunting Love Theme, shall we?

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The Amazing Spider-Maps

Over the past forty-six years (46! Gosh, Pete's old), the world of Spider-Man has been chronicled in the pages of The Amazing Spider-Man, Peter Parker: The Spectacular Spider-Man, Marvel Team-Up, Web of Spider-Man, Everybody Loves Spider-Man, Spider-Man Episode II: Attack of the Clones, Gossip Gwen, and many other fine Marvel Comics publications. But even for a visual medium, it's sometimes hard to picture the setting of Spidey's many amazing (spectacular, webbish) adventures in and around Manhattan, New York, the place so nice they named it...Manhattan.

Once in a great while, however, Stan, Steve, JR and the gang o' Bullpen Buddies at Marvel flesh out the New York City of Pete Parker and his pleasant pals and Spider-Friends by providing us, the gentle readers, with maps or views of where ol' Pete lives, works, hangs out, or watches the love of his life plummet from a bridge. Hop on the F train of Earth-616 and journey with us now to the Manhattan of Spider-Man:

"Where It's At!" (Map of Spider-Man's Manhattan and environs), from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5
Click on any image to Man-Mountain Marko-size 'em
Don't use this map of Manhattan island from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #5 to get around town...not only is the print really, really small and the streets not marked, you also risk driving right into the giant Gwen Stacy head somewhere in the East River. (Although, running into Gwen Stacy...say, I don't see the downside of that!)

"Peter Parker's House," from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1
Peter Parker grew up with his Aunt May and his Uncle Dead Ben in the Queens suburb of Forest Hills, right down the street from Burt Bacharach, Carol Channing, Michael Landon, Ray Romano, Art Buchwald, and a guy by the name of Stan Lee, whose house Li'l Petey once egged. He also lived near Paul Simon, who was so impressed with the young whippersnapper that he later wrote a song called "Me and Pete Parker Down By the Schoolyard," although he was later convinced to change the title by his good pal Julio Iglesias. Here's where Pete lived with Aunt May in Forest Hills, where every morning the home was filled with the delicious scent of fresh-made wheatcakes, which went a long way to cover up the lingering smell of gunfire cordite.

"A Visit to Petey's Pad" from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4
Every Spider-Boy must become a Spider-Man, and later on when Peter moved into Manhattan his with pal Harry Osborn, the squarest-lookin' teen in the world, they shacked up together shared this swingin' bachelor pad from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #4. Chez Osborn/Parker was full of hot and cold running chicks and microscopes and an impressive amount of closet space for Peter to hide his Spider-Jammies and Harry to keep his Green Goblin suit. Oh, the fun those two had on laundry day when their outfits would get mixed up! They laffed and laffed and laffed. Later on, Harry died, but then Peter sold his wife to the devil and Harry came back, so that's okay.

"Peter Parker's Pad" (incorrect version), from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13
Here's Pete's solo apartment from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13, which the caption tells us is located at "410 Chelsea St....right off 8th Ave." Well, Google map detectives, there ain't no Chelsea Street in Manhattan (there's one in Staten Island, but that's a heckuva commute for a guy who seldom rides the Staten Island ferry). Let's assume the Merry Marvel Marching Society really meant that PP lives in Chelsea off 8th Ave., and since 23rd Street's smack-dab in the middle of Chelsea, let's guess that Pete hunkered down on 23rd Street. No. 410 W 23rd Street would put him closer to Ninth than Eighth Avenue, but what the heck—slapping Casa Parker on Twenty-Third means that during the seventies, he's on the same block at the famous Chelsea Hotel, and you know what that means: Marvel Team-Up featuring Spider-Man, Sid Vicious, and Nancy Spungen!

"The Daily Bugle and The Daily Globe," from Amazing Spider-Man #13
Also in ASM Annual #13, here's a look at the offices of everybody's favorite fish-wrapper, The Daily Bugle, where the paper's motto is "A 'Spider-Man: Threat or Menace' story in every issue, or the next one's free!" (Also: "You may have already won a million dollars in the Bugle's Triple-J Lottery!") During this time, however, May Parker's little boy Petey had smartened up a bit and gone to work for the Bugle's leading competitor, a great metropolitan newspaper whose editor-in-chief can't seem to notice that his bespectacled star reporter is actually...wait a minute, I got confused. The Globe is the muckracking tabloid that busted wide the story that blind attorney Matt Murdock is actually the superhero Daredevil, and also that Lindsay Lohan is a Skrull advance scout intent on conquering and devouring the entire human species. One of these stories was later proven to be false.

"Empire State University," from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13
ASM Annual #13 also peeks in on Pete's college alma mater, Empire State University, home of the Fightin' Clones. Pete's college woes were lightened by dating the vivacious and sultry Deborah Whitman, a firebrand of a foxy lady who had a reputation as a wildcat and a hellraiser. Well, that's the way Peter tells it, and if he doesn't want to admit he actually got those clawmarks on his back during a fight with a supervillain guy named Puma, let's let him have his little fantasies.

"Peter Parker's Apartment", from Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15
Remember how we found out, through the cunning use of maps, that the Parker apartment in Annual #13 wasn't all that it was cracked up to be? Well, with lightning speed and the swiftness of Pietro Maximoff, two years later Marvel Comics admitted their error and published the real Parker-Pad in Amazing Spider-Man Annual #15. Just as the Batcave had its giant penny, big dinosaur, and stuffed Jason Todd, Pete's secret hideout (never discovered by the female sex in all the years he lived there), contained the traditional cigar store indian, Burma Shave slogan sign, and the very first prototype of Big Mouth Billy Bass, the electronic talking toy that Peter created during an aimless weekend and later sold the rights to Wham-O for the sum of sixteen million dollars. Sadly, he blew his fortune that very evening when Aunt May sent Pete down to Gristede's to pick up a quart of milk but instead returned with a handful of magic beans. I've said it before about Peter Parker and I'll say it again: the boy ain't right.

Can't get enough Super Sugar Crisp maps of Marvel's Manhattan? Check out these non-Bully but still pretty cool webpages on the Official Map of NYC's Spider-Man Week, Wizard magazine's Guide to Marvel's Manhattan, or this clever juxtaposition of the buildings of Manhattan on Earth-616 and Earth-1218 (look it up, fanboys).

Just remember, whichever one you use, choose wisely: everybody needs a map sometimes.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Say it ain't so, Shoeless Joe

X-Men #123 (July 1979) crams a lotta stuff into its four-color 32 pages. Not only is it the second appearance (after Marvel Team-Up #65) of Arcade, the Marvel Universe's least cost-effect superassassin (seriously, just shoot the guys, don't put them in a multi-billion dollar robotic pinball machine, dude), but it also features...

A guest appearance by Spider-Man...
X-Men #123 panel
panels from [Uncanny] X-Men #123 (July 1979), scripted by Chris Claremont, co-plotted and breakdowns by John Byrne, pencils and inks by Glynis Wein, letters by Tom Orzechowski

Scott Summers not quite "getting the concept" of dating somebody new...
X-Men #123 panel

Wolverine at his most cultured...
X-Men #123 panel

Storm in the shower...
X-Men #123 panel

Heck, Storm in her bathrobe!
X-Men #123 panel

But flip between the story pages and you'll find two ads in this comic book that are, only in modern retrospect, creepy and a little unsettling in their juxtaposition: two ads featuring major sports figures of the seventies who ain't quite the heroes now that they were then:
X-Men #123 panel
X-Men #123 panel

Oh dear. Those were innocent times, weren't they? Well, the rest of the comic at least is still fun, and Spider-Man's still a hero. That is, when he ain't bustin' up New York City public phone booths:
X-Men #123 panel

Monday, November 17, 2008

Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time: More Than Five Weeks to Christmas

Love Actually header

There are several actors I'll follow from film to film; I'll watch any of their movies just to see them work: Michael Caine, Buster Keaton, Audrey Hepburn, Gene Hackman, Helen Mirren, Humphrey Bogart, Bill Murray, Uma Thurman, Peter O'Toole. There's a handful of directors who will get my fuzzy bottom into a theater seat just to see what they're going to do with a film: Terry Gilliam, John Ford, Wes Anderson, Mira Nair, The Coen Brothers, Charlie Chaplin, Chuck Jones. But there's very few writers who make a film a must-see for yours little stuffed truly, and no, one of them isn't Mr. George Lucas. Sorry, George.

But slap a "Written by Richard Curtis" credit on a screenplay and I'm there, oh boy, with my popcorn in hand and my eyes wide open, staring up at the screen. Curtis has written approximately one bajillion movies and TV shows that have pretty much delighted me from end to end: Blackadder, Mr. Bean, The Vicar of Dibley, The Tall Guy, Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill(probably one of my top five movies of all time), the two Bridget Jones movies, The Girl in the Café. For these (some more than others...I'm lookin' at you, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason) Richard Curtis is a screenwriter I'll follow to any movie he makes. More important to our social history, the man deserves...and will probably be given someday...a knighthood for his founding of the Comic Relief UK charity organization. But top in my personal Bully-charts for fluffy but heartwarming movies is his 2003 directorial debut Love Actually, an Altman-esque multi-charactered homage to love in all its forms from perfect to flawed in contemporary Britain. It's a movie I'll watch a few times every year, and especially at Christmastime, and not because it co-stars Keira Knightley. Well, okay, not solely because it co-stars Keira Knightley.

Love Actually begins in the weeks leading up to Christmas in London and follows the travails in love of several characters, whose lives, loves, and stories interweave in so many intricate ways that Curtis published a flowchart in his book of the film. Week by week as we draw closer to Christmas the plots progress and merge. Some will lead to wonderful happy-ending stuff, others to tears, and even a few to bittersweet "that's life" conclusions. Right now, it's a little more than five weeks before Christmas. So too, begins Love Actually, in the lead-up to five weeks (and each subsequent week) until Christmas.

So, thinks I, why not watch Love Actually in real time? Oh no, not pacing it out hour by hour, calculating which scene takes place at which time and day and clicking my little stopwatch to make sure I don't watch a second beyond my appointed time. No, Love Actually is neatly separated, by screen titles, into each week before Christmas, so in each week leading up to our Christmas I'm going to watch the bit of Love Actually that corresponds and tell you about it. (That's why I'm calling it "in (sorta) real time.")This is no serious film critique or history you're in for, and if that's what you're looking for—hoo boy, have you got the wrong blog. No, this is just a little stuffed bull lookin' at one of his favorite movies and talking a little bit about it, pointing out some of my favorite bits and celebrating the heart of a movie that, whether it makes you giggle or cry—and I bet it does both—will remind you that love is actually all around.


This week is a short bit and a good way to start off, getting us up to speed on both the movie and our (sorta) realtime viewing. Love Actually opens on a montage of people greeting their loved ones at the airport.


This is London's Heathrow Airport, we're informed by the voice-over narration of Hugh Grant, who tells us, as music builds under his words:


Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport.


General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere.


Often it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there—fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends.


When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge—they were all messages of love.


If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around.


As the title fades, the music builds, and it's grown into "Love Is All Around"—no, not the theme to The Mary Tyler Moore Show, but that great pop classic made famous by The Troggs:

Synchronicity alert: "Love is All Around" was covered by Wet Wet Wet, whose version appears over the end titles of Curtis's Four Weddings and a Funeral. We fade to a recording studio, where past-his-prime pop star Billy Mack (the sublime Bill Nighy) is recording the tune, but this version's off to a false start.

As Billy sings "Love is all around," his manager Joe (described in the script as "unprepossessing, wooly, chubby, moist, in his forties"...gosh, sounds like my pal John!) interrupts the recording: Billy has sung the words wrong.


Start again with another take, Billy singing "I feel it in my fingers/I feel it in my toes/Love is all around..."


He's done it again, and scolds himself with a blue streak of swearing. Let's begin again:


"I feel it in my fingers
I feel it in my toes
Christmas is all around me...

Joe exalts in celebration: Billy's gotten it right at last.


We'll learn the backstory of this recording session a little later, but for the moment it has to take place before five weeks until Christmas, as by the next bit the record's already out and Billy's hawking it in the attempts to make it his big career comeback Christmas hit. But he's got no illusions that he's creating a classic, in his aside to Joe: "This is shit, isn't it?"


Joe: "Yup—solid gold shit, Maestro."


Next time: meet the cast, the Prime Minister changes his tie, and (sigh) Keira Knightley in a wedding dress. In the meantime, you may want to get your very own copy of Love Actually and follow along, bit by bit, as we watch Love Actually in (Sorta) Real Time. If you do, you know what to do: make with the clickety-click and get yerself a copy of the Christmas movie that makes Jingle All The Way look like an Arnold Schwartzenegger Christmas movie. We'll see you soon, five weeks until Christmas, for the next bit. And, as they say, so the feeling goes.

Sunday, November 16, 2008