Saturday, September 23, 2006

What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here?!? #10

Marvel Feature #4
(Marvel Feature #4, July 1972)

Proving that a Hank Pym who's a bit of a jerk isn't an invention of Mark Millar, here Ant-Man attempts to give a helpless victim incurable tetanus.

And Peter Parker is Spider-Man?!?! Wow, why didn't this cover come with a spoiler warning?

Friday, September 22, 2006

Home improvement.

Comics blogging is delayed just a little while longer. Instead, on today's busy busy Bully schedule: help John finish painting the living room. Also: working hard to avoid the sort of scrub-intensive bath I had to have last night. Water-soluable, my pink butt.

Bully paints!

Before you recoil in shock and horror: that pinky bubblegum tone is the primer. Pink is purty, but I don't wanna living room that looks like the inside of a Pepto-Bismoll tummy. Now I'm the sort of bull who is very careful with his money and I feel that primer may well be just a cheap excuse for the hardware industry to sell you twice as much paint as you need, but if you're gonna do a job, you might as well do it right. Still, my idea of cleaning a paint brush is throwing it out and buying another one, so maybe I shouldn't be the judge on what the proper painting procedure is.

No, the real final color will be a rich, buttery burgundy (actually the paint chip calls it chianti, not to be confused with the other colors in Behr's line of paints including zinfandel, rosé, champagne, Guinness, and rich amber ale). I have tasted it and it doesn't seem a bit like wine. I was hoping the paint would be like Willy Wonka's lickable wallpaper and I would be able to have a pleasant lick at the wall while enjoying my spaghetti-and-meatball dinner, but I guess I will just have to stick to chewing on the paint chips falling down from the ceiling in the hall as an after-dinner snack. (Editor's note: Mister Bull's comment about eating paint chips is purely for comedic purposes. Do not eat paint chips. Not even bright, candy-colored ones that look as if they would melt in your mouth. Yum.)

Until we return to the subject of comics, let's shake up the Big Bully Bag of Miscellany and see what comes out:

iToons, Too. Oh yes. A few months back I highly recommended a handful of video podcasts for cartoon buffs. Let's update that, 'coz in this fast-moving world of cartoon podcasts, the players can change quickly. (Again, I link to the iTunes versions of these podcasts; you don't need to have an iPod to view the cartoons, but these links will work only if you have iTunes installed.) Two of the podcasts I recommmended earlier, Brickfilms and Vintage ToonCast, are close to being defunct. It's especially exasperating with Vintage ToonCast, which has been hawking its own "for sale" status over the past several weeks and even interrupted a cartoon in an earlier podcast to play a political message.

ReFrederatorGoing stronger than ever, however, is the probable reason Vintage ToonCast can't compete: ReFrederator, which brings vintage cartoons every weekday in themed weeks. Right now we're in the middle of "Popeye Week," which is a great way to celebrate and honor America's top massive-forearmed sailor man in these troubled times. Earlier this week I wrote an extensive post about the recall of spinach and how the plot was masterminded by Bluto in order to steal Olive Oyl away from a vegetable-deprived and physically-weakened Popeye. Then I found out at least one person had died from eating E. coli-infected spinach, and I vetoed my own silly comedy. So the real deal of actual Popeye cartoons is a more fitting salute. I also enjoy the fact that ReFrederator brings you an eclectic mix of famous cartoons but also ones that are seldom- if ever-seen. I'm especially fond of bovine cartoon star Molly Moo Cow, and a recent podcast featured one of my favorite cartoons of all time, the books come to life at night masterpiece "Have You Got Any Castles". Other recent stars include Little Lulu, Mickey Mouse, Daffy Duck, Porky Pig, Superman, The Little King, Betty Boop, and plenty of non-series cartoon stars. There's a treasure trove of cartoons (over 100) to view at ReFrederator, in easy-to-download podcast format.

FrederatorI also recommend checkin' out ReFrederator's big brother, Channel Frederator, which gives you a small handful of animated independent films every week. Frederator's a smorgasborg: not everything every week is to my taste, but there's a lot of gems to be found between the Adult Swim-style bumpers and frequent self-congratulation and "viewer mail" which are easily fast-forwarded through. I 'specially recommend Episode 36 which features the hilarious "The Dan Danger Show!" and my favorite music video (aside from those guys on the treadmills), the ska-influenced "Wizard Needs Food Badly," by Fire Iron Frenzy, which is sort of a cross between Darwyn Cooke and Fatal Instinct. With a giant robot! And if you're a Thor fan (and who isn't), you should, nay, must check out "If I Had a Hammer" in Episode 46. Stan 'n' Jack fans be forewarned: this isn't golden-tressed, Shakespeare-rappin' Thor but the red-bearded, demandy Thor of Snorri Sturluson and legend ahoy. Looking for a new hammer in a hardware superstore. Also, if you're sensitive or impressionable, watch with care, because this cartoon is a wee bit gory when Thor (not quite accidentally) kills a superstore security guard and customers. A Thor that kills people? Inconceivable! The Marvel Universe Thor would never kill somebody! Never! You'll never see that happen!

Before we close up the Big Bully Bag of Miscellany and toss it back in the Crowded Cow Closet, let's take a look at one more use of the Fantastic Four font (previous examinations here and here):—from the comics-fanboy-friendly "Pie Man" episode of The Simpsons:

Fantastic Floor
MILHOUSE: This isn't Fantastic Four, it's Fantastic Floor! We can't put in new floors. We rent!

And yes, that "screen shot" was actually achieved by photographing the TV screen. Here at Comics Oughta Be Fun, we spare no expense. Except actually buying screen capture software.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Musical chairs.

A little behind on comics blogging because I'm helping John paint the living room (and trying not to get painty hoofprints on the hallway floor). So instead, let's go to the Bully mailbag where I was tagged with a meme so long ago that I can't remember who tagged me. (Step forward if it was you!) This one's a musical meme and I have procrastinated on it but been 'specially keen to do it, 'coz you know I love my music, my iPod, and my vast collection of virtual music.

1. Total amount of music files on your computer:
The new iTunes (7.0) allows you to see the different categories of files separately (it actually takes some getting used to that way), so I'll break it up: 14252 music and music video files (total 37.1 days of uninterrupted play, 50.91 GB); 32 movie files (ripped by myself from my own DVDs using the excellent and simple-to-use HandBrake; total 2.1 days, 12.15 GB), 67 TV shows (also ripped from DVDs, 1.5 days, 9.54 GB) and 33 podcasts (21.2 hours, 854.5 MB). No, I don't have them all on my iPod at once. I'd need the new 80GB iPod for that. I'm waitin' for the 100GB sideways widescreen model, I am.

2. The last CD you bought was:
I don't buy as many CDs as I used to, not because I prefer my old music to modern music but mostly because I'm on an economy drive and need to buy many fewer CDs than I used to. On the other hand, I couldn't resist picking up a used copy of The Land Where the Good Songs Go: The Lyrics of P. G. Wodehouse last week. You know what a Wodehouse fan I am, and this is a luverly and sunny collection of some of his greatest lyrics ("Anything Goes," "Bill," "You're the Top," and the greatest title ever for a love song, "You Can't Make Love by Wireless"), snazzy Wodehouse lyrics set to music by a few guys you may have heard of: Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Ivor Novello and Cole Porter. As far as I'm concerned most everything Mister Wodehouse touched turned to gold (altho' he really should have given a second thought to broadcasting for the Germans), so this is a delight and a half.

Yes, I'm a little stuffed bull who listens to showtunes. What's yer point?

3. What is the song you last listened to before reading this message?
"Darwin Star," by Des'ree. A superb, moody song from her underrated sophomore album. Reminds me a bit of Tanita Tikaram or Tasmin Archer. I love all three of 'em, but no, I'm not just namedropping them here in an attempt to be cool—remember, little stuffed bull who loves showtunes.

4. Write down 5 songs you often listen to or that mean a lot to you.
"Goodnight Moon" by Shivaree. Especially the spooky spoken-word part near the end. Aiiie! It's gonna eat my head.
"It's in Every One of Us" by Dayna Manning. Yes, it's a cover of the song from that John Denver/Muppets Christmas special.
"A Sorta Fairytale" by Tori Amos. Much of Tori's more recent work I can admire but don't especially obsess over; this is an exception. Can't stop listening to it.
"On Her Majesty's Secret Service" by the John Barry Orchestra. Not that I don't love Lulu and Shirley and Tom and Carly and Sheena, but this is simply the best and most sublime James Bond theme, ever. There's a little bridge in it which sends a chill up my spine. If I had a spine instead of fluff.
"Still" by Alanis Morrisette. I'm not 'specially religious but this is how I think I would like to imagine God viewing us—with dismay but love. Sadly more appropriate than ever.

5. Who are you going to pass this stick to? (3 persons) and why?
Nope. This is a "pick-up" meme. If you wanna do it, grab a ticket and go to it. I won't point in anyone's direction...this is an all-volunteer action.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

What the comic book industry needs

I think we all agree the industry needs more strong female heroes. Smart, savvy, action-oriented female heroes who are as capable or better yet, more capable than the men around her. Able to kick butt, move like an Olympic gymnast, drive like a NASCAR pro, hack computers like David Lightman, outwit her pursuers, and land on her feet like a cat.

It wouldn't hurt if she was cute, too.

That's why the comic book industry needs...

Erin Esurance
...a comic book series starring Erin Esurance.

She's clever. She's witty. She's fast on her feet. And she's got all the elements of a successful running saga: a clueless love interest, three menacing supervillains on her trail, and the savvy and know-how to defeat and escape them. She's like Mrs. Peel: The Animated Series.

Erin Esurance

What's more, every issue would have a lesson learned, a moral at the end of the story: that you can save time and money buying auto insurance at competitive prices online.

Erin Esurance

So wise up, Dan Didio. Wake up and smell the coffee, Joey Q. American needs an Erin Esurance comic book, and they need it, now!

Erin Esurance

No, wait. That's what I need.


Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Ten of a Kind: Arrrrr, Jim lad.

Ahoy, ye scurvy dogs! Today do be International Talk Like a Pirate Day, arrrr Jim lad. To celebrate, hoist yer cup o' grog and salute the cap'n and do be lookin' wit' yer one good eye at this 'ere Ten o' a Kind Extra:

And ye be a scurvy dog who be worthy of walkin' the plank if ye do not check out the amazing reconstruction of the best pirate comic book of all time: Tales of the Black Freighter: Marooned. Arrrr.

(More Ten of a Kind here.)

Monday, September 18, 2006

Great questions of comic book history: answered!

Throughout history, there are many great mysteries of the comic book world that have been answered one by one. Who inked Fantastic Four #1? Who is Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch's father? What is Wolverine's real name? Why is this chimp crying?

Who cares about any of those, when one of the greatest mysteries of the ages still remains unanswered: What does the 'S' on Jughead's shirt stand for?

Archie's Pal Jughead #57 (January 1960)

Well, after exhaustive research and a good deal of guesswork, we here at the Funnybook History Labs at Comics Oughta Be Fun have uncovered the answer to what that "S" stood for: After years of being tormented by Reggie Mantle for his counterculture views, his voracious appetite, and his total disinterest in girls, the teenaged Jughead's mind snapped and he grew up to become the supervillain Syndrome:

Later in life, of course, Jughead/Syndrome became the all-mighty Heat Miser:
Heat Miser

The moral of the story? Don't tick off Mister Forsythe Jones, because whatever he touches, starts to melt in his clutches! He's too muches much!

Another moral? I have way too much time on my hands.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Fearful Symmetry of Star Wars

It was Star Wars weekend here at Casa del Bull, which does not mean I spent my hard-earned dimes on the new Star Wars DVDs. I've got no beef with George Lucas re-releasing the movies in any way he wants as many times as he wants, but I've already got last year's Special Edition DVDs, so I have better things to spend my cold hard cash on than seeing Han shooting first or the Yub-Yub Song. In my little stuffed imagination, Han always shoots first. I don't have to spend another twenty bucks to remember that. (Nobody's swindlin' you by releasing these, folks...just put your wallet back in your pocket and walk away if you don't want 'em!)

Bully plays the new Star Wars Lego game
A pleasant weekend spent with the new Lego Star Wars video game.

I did spend the weekend with a wiser purchase: my dimes were well spent on the new Lego Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy video game, which is even more fun than the original. If you've ever wanted to see a Wookiee rip the arms off an Imperial Stormtrooper, cram a Stormtrooper helmet on Chewie's head, or rampage an AT-ST through Mos Eisley, this is the game for you! It captures the thrill and the fun of the films and adds a whimsical humor that is too-often missing from both video games and Star Wars spin-offs. Between these games and the Dark Tater and Spudtrooper toys, I'm happy to see someone at Lucasfilm licensing has a sense of humor. It's a hugely addictive game and gave me a little food for thought: its "chapters" dividing each film's events into special missions take the movies back to their roots of action serials and show how Lucas could have broken them up into cliffhanging "to be continued" serials, each with their own opening narrative crawl. I'm stuck now in the big room after the garbage compactor (I figured out how to leap up to the catwalk but not how to open the Stormtrooper-only door yet), but I'll be getting lots of hours of lightsaber-twirlin', AT-ST-trippin', stormtrooper-arm-poppin' fun out of this one.

Inspired by Mike Sterling's ruminations on upcoming Star Wars novels, I also spent a few hours reading Wikipedia entries on the movies and characters, which I would not recommend in a lengthy dose. The entries themselves are generally thorough and entertaining, but checking out the behind-the-scenes discussions makes me feel that no matter how much a little fanbull I am, I'm glad I am not online arguing about the proper way to cite the misspelling of Denis "Wedge Antilles" Lawson's credit in the end titles of The Empire Strikes Back.

But lookin' over some of the barely-concealed conspiracy theories behind a buncha fun adventure movies reminded me of two things I noticed about the two trilogies that I haven't seen discussed anywhere else on the internet. I know there's a bajillion fan sites and a mazillion essays on every aspect of Star Wars and my two theories might very well be completely obvious to anyone else, much like the theories of Miss Anne Elk. I'm sure I can't be the first one to have noticed it: that there are two vital elements of the two Star Wars trilogy that mirror each other in a symmetry that can't be coincidental.

1. The symmetry of the titles. All of fandom groaned a bit when Lucas announced the title of Episode I to be The Phantom Menace (and to a lesser extent for Episode II, Attack of the Clones), decrying them to be hokey and old-fashioned, too tied-up in the mystique of the science-fiction film serials that Lucas says inspired the saga. Everybody and his droid was suggesting alternate titles like The Balance of the Force and Weesa Run Way Fast Fast. I submit it to you that the titles of Episodes I, II and III are, while old-fashioned, absolutely perfect for the sequel trilogy because they are a dark mirror of the titles for Episodes IV, V, and VI.

I know what you're sayin': Dark mirror? Have you gone loopy, little stuffed bull? Are you in Bearded Spock territory here? No! No, I am not. Let's look at the titles of the prequel trilogy, each of which hold a dark mirror up to their counterpart in the original trilogy:
  • A New Hope: An optimistic promise of better things to come, of a light dawning on the darkness, amorphous and undefined yet positive.
  • The Phantom Menace: A dread portent of doom approaching, darkness falling over civilization, amorphous and undefined yet fearsome.
  • The Empire Strikes Back: a mighty military force for the power of evil moves dramatically ("strikes": a strong action verb). The events suggested by the title directly strike against the events promised in the previous movie's title.
  • Attack of the Clones: a mighty military force for the power of good (at least in that movie) moves dramatically ("attack": a strong action verb). The events suggested by the title directly strike against the events promised in the previous movie's title.
  • Return of the Jedi: a group using the Force for good returns and is triumphant, fulfilling the promise inherent in the title of the trilogy's first movie.
  • Revenge of the Sith: a group using the Force for evil returns and is triumphant, fulfilling the promise inherent in the title of the trilogy's first movie.
Scary, huh? But give George a little more credit in naming his prequel trilogy; I think that hokey titles aside, he knew exactly what he was doing: mirroring the movement from dark to light in the originals in the light-to-dark journey of the prequels.

2. The symmetry of the end scenes. You probably know 'em by heart: each of the six movies ends in an iconic scene, holding for the camera as John Williams's score soars dramatically and then sweeps into the end titles. And like the titles, the end scenes of IV and I, and V and II, mirror each other, blocked and shot in similar design:

The cast gathers on a stage of steps for a public celebration at the end of Episode IV:
The end scene of Star Wars IV

And the cast of Episode I is posed in a similar scene to celebrate their triumph:
The end scene of Star Wars I

I admit to a slight cheat on the second two films in the trilogies, as the final scene from The Empire Strikes Back is of spaceships moving away into the stars, but it's immediately preceded by the hero and heroine of the trilogy, arm in arm, and their two droids, gazing off into an uncertain future:
The end scene of Star Wars V

As they do at the end of Episode II:
The end scene of Star Wars II

I realized those two symmetries in between the time Episodes II and III were released, which led me to believe, that since Episode VI, Return of the Jedi, ended like this:
The end scene of Star Wars VI

...then Episode III would end with Palpatine, Vader, and a bunch of stormtroopers dancing and clapping among a heap of seared bodies of Jedi. Good old fashioned nightmare fuel, huh? Luckily, we didn't get the Empire Jamboree but rather this scene of Lars, Beru, and baby Luke gazing off into the Tatooine dusk:
The end scene of Star Wars III

...which actually mirrors instead a scene from the first fourth next Star Wars film:
Luke on Tatooine

...which is one of my favorite visual moments of Star Wars: no clunky Lucas dialogue, no screen crammed full of special effects: just dramatic lyrical music and a farm boy dreaming of adventure and excitement in the stars. We've all been there, and make fun of 'em or not, the Star Wars movies have brought us that excitement and adventure. It's kinda fashionable to bash Lucas, and complain about the changes, and look down on the prequels, but it's moments like the mirrors of titles and final scenes that remind me why I love these films: on so many levels they reward our love and appreciation of them, and while Lucas will never be regarded in the same breath as Howard Hawks or Orson Welles, the man did know how to entertain us. Long may the Star Wars saga thrill us all, and, like the TV commercials for the new DVDs remind us, may they inspire and enthrall the next generations of viewers and dreamers.

Oh heck, I'll say it. May the Force be with you.

Ten of a Kind: Seeing Red

(More Ten of a Kind here.)