Saturday, January 26, 2008

Separated at Birth: Rats!

Captain America #272/Detective Comics #585
L: Captain America #272 (August 1982), art by Mike Zeck and John Beatty
R: Detective Comics #585 (April 1988), art by Jerry Bingham
(Click picture to rodent-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Finding His Voice

"Finding His Voice" (1929), directed by F. Lyle Goldman and Max Fleischer

Friday, January 25, 2008

Can we rebuild it? Yes we can!

Hey, look: reviews!:

X-MEN: FIRST CLASS #8: This comic is fun. I've been in love with the X-Men since I was a tiny stuffed calf, but that love's been spread among different titles, different creators, and different X-Men teams through certain periods. Right now I'm taking a break from most of the mainstream X-Teams (I do enjoy Astonishing X-Men, but it's really best read in big chunks or in the trade), so that leaves X-Men: First Class as my perennial top X-Title these days. I've heaped enough praise on this book from month to month that you know where I stand: it's fun without being full of angst, even in this month's issue which guest-stars the always gloomy Man-Thing and puts chipper Jean Grey face-to-face with her future, the future we all know from having read Uncanny X-Men #135-137, but which young Jeannie is sensing for the first time. I'm not quite certain weighing this book down with the gloom of the future is something I want to see every month, but it's done in such a light and clever way (the X-Men glimpse alternative future realities when Man-Thing's Everglades Nexus goes haywire) that it hardly seems as heavy as the frequent "Dark Phoenix" references of the mainstream X-Books. Add moments like the delighted glee Cyclops has at the opportunity to pilot a hydrofoil, Angel's encounter with valkyries, and consistently some of the best and cleverest intro/recap pages at Marvel. New (or guest?) artist Eric Nguyen provides suitably creepy swampish atmosphere, and there's a funny one-page Chris Giarrusso "Mini Marvels" strip at the back which ties into an Iron Man gag running in other Marvel magazines. In short, consistently delightful, even with dead Wolverine stinkin' up the place.

AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #548: This comic is fun. Well, here's the surprise comeback of the year as far as I'm concerned: bitter and tortured "One More Day" leading into an entertaining and energetic Spidey comic book. I picked this ish (and the two weekly issues preceding it) solely because Dan Slott's handling the writing on this story arc—he's a writer who I nearly always enjoy, and he does Spidey well. There's a fun and footloose 1970s Gerry Conway/Ross Andru feel to the entire proceedings: a clever death threat in a poison engineer to target certain DNA, the soap opera aspects of JJJ's heart attack and what Marla's getting up to while he's out of action, a funny and frantic taxi chase...and just what is the mystery with cute Carlie—will she and our hapless Pete become an item? Most of all I applaud the concept of actually having a story arc that ends (even though with weekly publication, it seemed to come to that end fairly fast) at the same time subplots continue from week to week. Since the next arc is not written by Slott, I'm not entirely certain I'll be buying it, but I'm certainly gonna peek at it. I do miss Mary Jane. But the best thing that Marvel can do now is produce entertaining Spidey stories, and with this, they're off to a good start.

DAMAGE CONTROL #1: This comic is fun. Or, as the full actual title in the indicia says "WORLD WAR HULK: AFTERSMASH!: DAMAGE CONTROL". But that's a bit like calling an old friend "Mister." I loved, loved, loved the three original nineties Damage Control miniseries, so picking up this issue this week was a no-brainer. What I hoped for but didn't quite expect was that it'd be a worthy 21s-century successor to the original, one of the cleverest concepts of the Marvel Universe: who picks up and rebuilds after superhero battles? Damage Control, that's who! This one hits all the right notes straight from the first scene, where DC CEO Ann-Marie Hoag negotiates with Tony Stark...and wins. Like the original, it's funny if not necessary laugh-out-loud, but it doesn't sacrifice story for silly jokes. There's an interesting subplot about unregistered superheroes and a dandy cliffhanger when the Thunderbolts show up on the last page to kick ass and check ID. All the original cast are back (even the Damage Control bulldog), and Damage Control creator Dwayne McDuffie scripting, which is good enough news to make me do the happy Bully dance. Damage Control is a three-issue limited series, and I think it works best in small short stories, but I'm hoping that like the original, this'll spin off annual miniseries. And in a week with funny Spider-quips and some thoughtful Jean Grey dialogue, I'm gonna award The Best Line of the Week to the title of this issue, which sums up the way I've been feelin' about the Marvel Universe before Damage Control's return: "Whatever Happened to All the Fun in the World?" Why, it's right here! Right here in a comic about guys who rebuild the shattered Marvel Universe and give us a good laugh. That's why DAMAGE CONTROL #1 is the most fun comic of the week: because if fun isn't what we all need right now, I don't know what we need.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Why, Ben, Why?

FF #109 panel
Panels from Fantastic Four #109 (April 1971), written by Stan Lee, art by John Buscema and Joe Sinnott, lettering by Joe Rosen

That's why.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Something's coming over me/I'm so dizzy I can't see

It’s a wonderful but frantic day, so what better way to celebrate it than with the wonderful and frantic Miss Jane Wiedlin? (little stuffed heartbeat pounding)

"Rush Hour" by Jane Wiedlin (EMI-Manhattan, 1988), written by Jane Wiedlin and Peter Rafelson

"Cool Places" by Sparks feat. Jane Wiedlin (Atlantic, 1983), written by Ron Mael and Russell Mael

"Blue Kiss" by Jane Wiedlin (I.R.S. Records, 1985), written by Jane Wiedlin and Randell Kirsch

"Inside a Dream" by Jane Wiedlin (EMI-Manhattan, 1988), written by Jane Wiedlin and Gardner Cole

"World on Fire" by Jane Wiedlin (EMI-Manhattan, 1990), written by Jane Wiedlin, Scott Cutler, Terry Hall, and Valerie Block

"Our Lips Are Sealed" by The Go-Go's (1981), written by Jane Wiedlin and Terry Hall

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Unsettling Slang of Mister Clint Barton, Part 7

The interior monologue of a superhero tells you a lot about his or her personality. Captain America, in quiet moments of repose, is likely to think on the American people and how much society has changed since the 1940s. Spider-Man will likely consider his plummeting bank account, concerns over his grades or Aunt May, or what great power is accompanied by. Thor will muse on the hallowed halls and the great green fields of Asgard, and whether or not Loki is giving Highfather Odin a hotfoot at the moment. Tony Stark is plotting his smooth, smooth romantic moves with the suave attitude and sureness of Billy Dee Williams. And Hawkeye? Do you wonder sometimes if, even when he's just thinking, whether Hawkeye uses cringeworthy, unfortunate slang when he's pinned to the floor in a sticky mess of gooey Adhesive X?

Giant Size Avengers #3 panel
Panel from Giant Size Avengers #3 (February 1975), written by Steve Englehart and Roy Thomas, art by Dave Cockrum and Joe Giella, lettering by "L. G. Peter," coloring by Petra Goldberg

Still, who's to say that gummed up in a sticky, gloppy trap like that, we wouldn't think the same sort of unfortunate slang? But Hawkeye's always a good sport about this blog ragging him. Say, Hawkeye: Why do you always use so much unfortunate slang, huh? What's the reason?

Giant Size Avengers #2 panel
Panel from Giant Size Avengers #2 (November 1974), written by Steve Englehart, art by Dave Cockrum, lettering by Tom Orzechowski, coloring by Bill Mantlo

Monday, January 21, 2008

Ten of a Kind: Poultry in Motion

Chicken Monday Continues!

(More Ten of a Kind here. And a special tip o' the beak to Chickeny Chris Sims for a couple suggestions.)

Mystery Science Monday: "The Chicken of Tomorrow"

Hey, long as we're talkin' 'bout chickens...

"The Chicken of Tomorrow" Part One (1948), this version from Mystery Science Theater 3000 episode #702 (1996), starring Michael J. Nelson, Trace Beaulieu, and Kevin Murphy
Here's Part Two.

A Wodehouse a Week #39: Love Among the Chickens

"I was reading your last book the other day."

"Yes?" I said, gratified. "How did you like it?"

"Well, as a matter of fact, laddie, I didn't get beyond the third page, because the scurvy knave at the bookstall said he wasn't running a free library, and in one way and another there was a certain amount of unpleasantness. Still, it seemed bright and interesting up to page three."
—from Love Among the Chickens

A Month of Firsts continues this week with Love Among the Chickens, which is the first literary appearance of Wodehouse's Stanley Featherstone Ukridge. It is also, by a curious coincidence, Ukridge's chronologically final appearance. Gasp! Consternation! Uproar! How is that so, Bully? you demand, grabbing me by the fuzzy little neck and shaking me vigorously. We're not fools! We happen to know that there are later stories about Ukridge! Are you lying to us? Are you? Are you? Well, s-s-s-stop s-s-s-shaking me and I'll tell you!

Love Among the Chickens was originally published in 1906 (1909 in the US), but Wodehouse later re-wrote and re-published it in 1921. (I'm reading the 1921 version). Even that stretch of 15 years doesn't account for my original statement, however. While this is Ukridge's only novel, he appears in nineteen short stories, all of which are published after (both versions of) Love Among the Chickens, but which take place chronologically before Love. Clear yet? Ah yes, but how can I tell? Ukridge is married in this one, and single in the stories. He gets married to the delightful Millie at the of 1924's Ukridge. And he's married in Love Among the Chickens. So Ukridge's literary debut is also his chronological ride into the sunset. Meta, huh?

Whatever the timeline, this is mild but entertaining fun. Ever quick with a get-rich-fast scheme, Ukridge cons his writer friend Jeremy Garnet into helping him and Millie to start-up a chicken farm in the Dorset countryside, a surefire way of making money, if Ukridge actually knew anything about chicken-farming:
"The incubator has not done all that it should have done," I said. "Ukridge looks after it, and I fancy his methods are not the right methods. I don't know if I have got the figures absolutely correct, but Ukridge reasons on these lines. He says you are supposed to keep the temperature up to a hundred and five degrees. I think he said a hundred and five. Then the eggs are supposed to hatch out in a week or so. He argues that you may just as well keep the temperature at seventy-two, and wait a fortnight for your chickens. I am certain there's a fallacy in the system somewhere, because we never seem to get as far as the chickens. But Ukridge says his theory is mathematically sound, and he sticks to it."
Jeremy's more interested in a chick than a chicken: the lovely Phyllis Derrick. It was love at first sight when he spied Phyllis and her irritable Irish father Professor Derrick on the train down to Dorset, especially since Phyllis was reading The Manoeuvres of Arthur, one of Jeremy's novels. Complications set in (don't they always?) when Ukridge riles up the Professor at a dinner party (much like Basil Fawlty was warned not to talk about the war, Ukridge cheerfully and unconsciously commits the sin of discussing the Irish)—Jeremy is banned from Phyllis's sight, and the resourceful writer must resort to bribing a servant to tip over the Professor's boat in order to save him and win his respect—the sort of plot Bertie Wooster might come up with later on in the Wodehouse canon, with about the same backfiring results. It takes a golf tournament to smooth over the ruffled feathers, but here come Ukridge's creditors, storming down the country lane and demanding payment...

Love Among the Chickens isn't one of Wodehouse's finest novels, even judged against his earlier work, even in this rewritten form. Jeremy Garnet is no James Corcoran (Ukridge's later Boswell), and even Ukridge is not fully developed—the later rogue outshines this early prototype with blinding clarity. It's a very gentle romance plot with only a couple ups and downs, punctuated by lightly humorous recountings of trying to raise poultry but winding up eating most of them for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Wodehouse's prose is clever and tight but not as sparkling as his later works, and he sometimes falls prey to a mawkish sentimentality which wouldn't be out of place in a motion picture of the time but which seems clichéd and caricatured compared to his later romances:
The sun was setting as I left to return to the farm, with Aunt Elizabeth stored neatly in a basket in my hand. The air was deliciously cool, and full of that strange quiet which follows soothingly on the skirts of a broiling midsummer afternoon. Far away, seeming to come from another world, a sheep-bell tinkled, deepening the silence. Alone in a sky of the palest blue there gleamed a small, bright star.

I addressed this star.

"She was certainly very nice to me. Very nice indeed." The star said nothing.

"On the other hand, I take it that, having had a decent up-bringing, she would have been equally polite to any other man whom she had happened to meet at her father's house. Moreover, I don't fee altogether easy in my mind about that naval chap. I fear the worst."

The star winked.

"He calls her Phyllis," I said.

"Charawk!" chuckled Aunt Elizabeth from her basket, in that beastly cynical, satirical way which has made her so disliked by all right-thinking people.
In keeping with A Month of Firsts, and perhaps for the very first time in the Wodehouse a Week project, this is the first time I have read Love Among the Chickens. I have only one copy of the book, a nice Herbert Jenkins uniform hardcover reprint from 1963. It may have sat in the bookstore for quite some time, as the initial used book price penciled inside the front cover is "12/6" (twelve shillings and sixpence). It was given to me by my friends Mary and Jay following their trip to London a few years ago. It's a lovely gift and I treasure it greatly, but I'm not certain I'll read it again any time soon. You might say "P. G. Wodehouse: he does chicken right," but on the other hand, while savory, this isn't exactly finger-lickin' good.

If, in your desire for fine chicken literature you feel a strong yearning to pick up a copy of Love Among the Chickens, why, you're in luck, cluck! Simply, click on the Amazon sales box to the right to pick up your own copy. You might want to hunt around, though—I'm sure there are less expensive used copies on the marketplace. After all, if you're digging into your nest egg, you'll want to save some scratch. Look closely and you may be able to find a copy for a buck-buck-buck!

A Wodehouse a Week Index.