Saturday, May 10, 2008

Separated at Birth: Top o' the World, Ma

Batman #272 and Manhattan Guardian #3
L: Batman #272 (February 1976), art by José Luis Garcia-Lopez
R: Seven Soldiers: The Manhattan Guardian #3 (September 2005), art by Cameron Stewart
(Click picture to hemisphere-size)

This week's "Separated at Birth" was suggested by Chucklin' Chris Sims of Chris's Invincible Super-Blog, the face-kickin'-est blog around, who introduced me to the genius of Batman and the Manhattan Guardian straddlin' the globe, ready to take on all comers. Read Chris's homage to the completely kick-ass Batman #272 here..

Friday, May 09, 2008

Friday Night Fights: The ink is black, the page is white

Its all black-and-white Friday Night Fights during this round of Bahlactus's all-out brawl, and while the Galactic Master of Cosmic Funk surely means for us to post panels that are all in black-and-white, I wonder if he expected any of tonight's fist-fests to include a battle between black and white?

Oh no, I'm not inciting a race riot by posting panels of racial violence, never you fear. But when a black cat meets a white cat, you know the fur is gonna fly, especially when the white cat imitates a black cat and starts moving in on...well, let's sit back and watch the catfight in these strips from Otto Messmer's classic Felix the Cat comic strip, as Felix heads to the airport to pick up his visiting cousin from down under:
Felix the Cat

White cat Alex isn't in town just to see the Catnip Museum and the Broadway musical Cats, however...he's only around for a few comic strips before he gets the clever idea to put the moves on Felix's gal, Kitty. Shame on you, Alex! Shame, shame, shame. But ain't that the way of Whitey...always trying to keep us down:
Felix the Cat

Don't blame poor Kitty, of course—it's not her fault she can't tell the difference between a black cat and a white cat covered in stove polish. Whenever you slide yourself in to get some of that sweet, sweet kitty love, however, there's always the chance that the jealous cat is gonna come waltzing through that door. Man, this situation is almost as complicated as your average episode of Three's Company:
Felix the Cat

In the end, it all boils down to what you've been waitin' for: fight! Like Rocky versus Apollo Creed, it's a knock-down, drag-out...oh wait, it's over in the first round!:
Felix the Cat

And the moral of the story is: we must stop black-on-black violence. Or, as KRS-One and company sang:

Today's topic, self destruction
It really ain't the rap audience that's buggin
It's one or two suckas, ignorant brothers
Trying to rob and steal from one another
You get caught in the mid
So to crush the stereotype here's what we did
We got ourselves together
So that you could unite and fight for what's right
Not negative 'cause the way we live is positive
We don't kill our relatives


Bahalctus is at the door so there'll be no bum-rushin.

Thursday, May 08, 2008



"Parker! Get out there and get me photographs of stick-skinny models in goofy superhero costumes! And Spider-Man!"

On Monday, The New York Post, the major metropolitan newspaper that comes pre-wrapped around a dead flounder to save you valuable time, featured a spread in their "Pulse" section (hmmm, why does that sound familiar?) spotlighting the current glitzy and glamorous "Superheroes: Fashion and Fantasy" exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. So what's on the slate for Manhattan's bastion of fine journalism? A thorough history of the spandex super-suit in comics and movies? A pertinent essay by Jonathan Lethem? Reed Richard's recipe for making your own unstable molecules in your microwave at home?


The Post gives you three full-color in-your-face pages of stick-skinny supermodels in couture "inspired by" their favorite superheroes and villains. Well, sure, that kinda makes sense. Here's every Carrie Bradshaw's favorite fashion icon, the late great Captain America (played here, I think, by Matt "My Dad Wrote Catcher in the Rye" Salinger). You can trust your car to the man who wears the star, but would Cap be caught dead in those spiked-heel boots? Not on active duty, soldier!:

Who's up next on our parade of famous superhero icons? A chemise inspired by Wonder Woman? An emerald green artfully tattered slipdress a la She-Hulk? A stretch peek-a-boo top in the Power Girl style? How about a girl dressed as a one-eyed cartoon mouse in a Honey Ryder bikini and a trio of models showing off sugar, spice, and everything priced over $300?

Well, one more page for the Post to redeem itself with, say, a nicely designed piece based on a major character like Superman, Batman, Spider-Man or...perhaps a commercial spokesbandit who commits crimes stealing fried beef and cheese patties? (Bonus classy points for the caption "She's in it for the special sauce.") And the sword is not included with the She-Ra look-a-like, but you could probably cut yourself just as sharply on her collarbones. Why don't you girls steal a cheeseburger while you're at it, huh?

Or, in the words of the quintessential Manhattan superheroine, Miss Carrie Bradshaw:

You can't spend too much money on the right outfit. But you can attract too much attention in the wrong one.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

My review of the Iron Man movie

Iron Man logo

Tony Stark makes you feel/He's a cool exec with a heart of steel. That's what I was whistling this weekend as I lined up, ticket in hoof, to see the first major blockbuster motion picture adventure thrill-ride of this summer, the big-budget superhero flick Iron Man, which I've been waitin' for all year. You've prob'bly seen it two or three times by now, and everybody and his brother is bloggin' about the tight, action-packed script, the amazing special effects, and the apt and canny casting for this big Marvel movie, but I'd been spending the week staying off the internet, avoiding any spoilers that might ruin the surprise and excitement of the movie for me, and with my popcorn-bucket-a-jostling and my Big-Gulp-a-spilling, I darted through the ankles of the thousands of folks, confusedly working my way through the weekend crowd over at the AMC Empire 25 cinemamultimegaplex just off Times Square (conveniently around the corner from where Luke Cage has his offices when he first set himself up as a Hero for Hire!), dashing quickly into the darkened theater just as Forrest Whitaker was telling us we can change America by turning off our cell phones, and I snuggled into an empty seat, dug my hoof into my popcorn bucket, sat back and enjoyed the show.

Iron ManAnd now I can tell you: from the bouncy opening credits to the last tearful moment, Iron Man is the feel-good movie of the summer; great fun for the entire family from nought to ninety. When brilliant inventor Toni Stark (Tina Fey) invents a unique new technology to integrate machines and humans, there's much confusion and action as everybody under the sun is trying to find out how to capture the Iron Man technology. The laughs begin when the Iron Man technology is accidentally implanted inside Stark's assistant, the bubbly Angie "Pepper" Potts (Amy Pohler) and Stark and Potts are forced into a uneasy alliance not unlike Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier in The Defiant Ones or Sylvester the cat and the bulldog in The Defightin' Ones. But guess who wants the Iron Man technology? Evil scientist Obladiobladah Stane (Greg Kinnear) who will stop at nothing to capture the secrets of this technological treasure! Is it thrilling? Heck yeah! Dah-dah-DAH!

The special effects are quite amazing (they do a great job as showing how the Iron Man tech is working its way into Pepper's body) but I couldn't help but feel that maybe there could have been one or two more flying sequences. Come to think of it, I actually didn't see any flying sequences. Maybe they all happened when I was digging in my popcorn or snuffling up my nachos. A movie this fast-paced and exciting, you honestly better not blink or you might miss the best bit!

Iron Man

The action heats up towards the end of the movie in an exciting court sequence where the fate of the Iron Man is determined in an all-out no-holds barred legal battle upon which the fate of the free world rests! Will Toni Stark prevail? Will Pepper stop doing nutty things? (Don't bet on it!) And don't miss the cameo by Stan Lee (Maura Tierney)! From opening credits to the moment when the usher tosses you out, a solid two hours of thrills that's have you on the edge of your seat—and when you're a little stuffed bull, that means there's a lot of seat behind you!

Iron Man

Then again...well, I don't want to be that guy who complains, but as much as I giggled at the jokes and bounced along to the cheery pop soundtrack, in the end I'm not really 100% absolutely certain this is the Iron Man movie I expected. Um, I don't want to be that guy, but where was the red and gold suit? Why were there not very many punches to the face? And no shouting refrains of Has he lost his mind? Can he see or is he blind? Can he walk at all? Or if he moves will he fall? Why, it's almost like the writers and director and producers really weren't making a movie entitled Iron Man after all, but instead...

(re-checks my ticket stub)

Curse you, AMC Empire 25!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week Special: "Goodbye to All Cats"

A Wodehouse a Week banner

Oh, hullo there. I'm Gus the Qat, Bully's kittycat friend. He's asked me to help out with this "A Wodehouse a Week" thing. I imagine it will be intellectually stimulating, if not necessarily tuna-flavored. So, let's get right into it, shall we? Right. Let's.

The Wodehouse story contained in Young Men in Spats that Bully didn't tell you about last time is entitled "Goodbye to All Cats." Huh. I'm not certain if I approve of that title. Yes, I'm a very well-read feline and I recognize it is a pun on the title of Robert Graves's autography. I'm not entirely certain Laura (Riding) Jackson would have approved, but as Robert Graves was a long-time friend of Spike Milligan, he probably would have enjoyed the works of Wodehouse as well. Then again, Graves is the human who wrote:
Through long nursery nights he stood
By my bed unwearying,
Loomed gigantic, formless, queer,
Purring in my haunted ear
That same hideous nightmare thing,
Talking, as he lapped my blood,
In a voice cruel and flat,
Saying for ever, "Cat! ... Cat! ... Cat!..."
Perhaps Robert Graves was more of a dog person. Which is his loss. But that's neither here nor there.

"Goodbye to All Cats" is the tale of young Freddie Widgeon of the Drones Club and his love for the animal-loving Dahlia Prenderby. Well, she sounds a bit of all right, doesn't she? With an eye to marching down the matrimonial aisle, Freddie is out to impress Dahlia's family, but he's not making friends of them...or of the RSPCA:
'Permit me,' said Freddie, suave to the eyebrows.

And, bounding forward with the feeling that this was the stuff to give them, he barged right into a cat.

'Oh, sorry,' he said, backing and bringing down his heel on another cat.

'I say, most frightfully sorry,' he said.

And tottering to a chair, he sank heavily onto a third cat.

Well, he was up and about in a jiffy, of course, but it was too late. There was the usual not-at-all-ing and don't-mention-it-ing, but he could read between the lines. Lady Prenderby's eyes had rested on his for only a brief instant, but it had been enough. His standing with her, he perceived, was now approximately what King Herod's would have been at an Israelite Mothers' Social Saturday Afternoon.
And rightfully so, I do think.

Bully passed me a copy of "Goodbye to All Cats" that he purchased in the United Kingdom, and a most unusual little item it is. It's not quite a book: it's one in a series of "Travelman Short Story Editions" which are printed and folded like a map, making them handy short reads for your commute on the London Underground or British rail, and indeed these were created to be mostly sold at W. H. Smith's and other newsagents in train stations. There were a large series of these which republished short stories and essays by famous authors from Saki to Ruth Rendell, Arthur Conan Doyle to C. S. Forester. Retailing for a mere pound a pop, they're cleverly and attractively designed—you don't even have to open them all the way at once, since the folds are planned so that you only need open a small portion at a time before flipping to the next section. It's a bit difficult with paws (after all, cat thumbs are designed mainly for flicking rubber bands), but clever, clever humans! First the canned tuna invention, and now this. I begin to see why we cats keep you humans about.

Still, aside from the "build a better mousetrap" sheer engineering skill of the Travelman concept, I can find little to recommend "Goodbye to All Cats" from a purr-ly feline purr-spective, being filled with much animal abuse for comedic effect as anything short of a Monty Python "Confuse-A-Cat" so-called "comedy sketch." Witness this scene following Freddie's horrified discovery of a Pekinese and a cat fighting in his bedroom, and his inability to explain the situation to his hosts:
Well, you can't say this was pleasant for poor old Freddie, and he didn't think so himself. He opened the door to perceive, without, a group consisting of Lady Prenderby, her daughter Dahlia, a few assorted aunts, and the butler, with poker. And he says he met Dahlia's eyes and they went through him like a knife.

'Let me explain..." he began.

'Spare us the details,' said Lady Prenderby with a shiver. She scooped up the Peke and felt it for broken bones.

'But listen..."

'Good night, Mr Widgeon.'

The aunts said good night, too, and so did the butler. The girl Dahlia preserved a revolted silence.

'But honestly, it was nothing, really. It banged its head against the bed...'

'What did he say?' asked one of the aunts, who was a little hard of hearing.

'He said he banged the poor creature's head against the bed.' said Lady Prenderby.

'Dreadful!' said the aunt.

'Hideous!' said a second aunt.

Well, that's all well and good, and perhaps there's more than meets the eye in Freddie Widgeon. Perhaps we should not be too quick to judge the young man harshly. Perhaps he means well. Shall we read further?
The spectacle he presented was so unpleasant that Freddie withdrew into his room and shut the door. His bosom, as you may imagine, was surging with distressing emotions. That look which Dahlia Prenderby had given him had churned him up to no little extent. He realized he had a lot of tense thinking to do, and to assist thought he sat down on the bed.

Or, rather, to be accurate, on the dead cat which was lying on the bed.
To be fair to the hapless human Widgeon, 'twas not he who was responsible for the demise of my fictional brother, but the over-excited dog who had worried it to roughly. Still. This supposedly cheerful little romance Bully has given me has turned into a rather gruesome and grotesque murder drama, and we can only hope that the poor departed soul's mortal remains be treated with the respect and reverence that he deserves.
And then the thought came to him that it might be possible not to be discovered with it on his person. He had only to nip downstairs and deposit the remains in the drawing-room or somewhere and suspicion might not fall upon him. After all, in a super-catted house like this, cats must be dying like flies all over the place.

...He suddenly thought of the window. There lay the solution. Here he had been, fooling about with doors and thinking in terms of drawing rooms, and all the while there was the balcony staring him in the face. All he had to do was to shoot the body out into the silent night, and let gardeners, not housemaids, discover it.

He hurried out. It was a moment for swift action. He raised his burden. He swung it to and fro, working up steam. Then he let it go, and from the dark garden there came suddenly the cry of a strong man in his anger.

'Who threw that cat?'

It was the voice of his host, Sir Mortimer Prenderby.

'Show me the man who threw that cat!' he thundered.

Windows flew up. Heads came out. Freddie sank to the floor of the balcony and rolled against the wall.

'Whatever is the matter, Mortimer?'

'Let me get at the man who hit me in the eye with a cat.'

That's it! That is right out. I am out of here, and I shan't review any more. Please to take your foldable catty-snuff story away, Bully. And whatever you do, do not click on the Amazon link to purchase this story by Mister Pelham Grenville "Fiend to All Cats" Wodehouse. Hmmmph.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Monday, May 05, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #49: Young Men in Spats

A Wodehouse a Week

John BuchanSpats! All the hip cool cats are wearin' 'em. From John Buchan (left) to John D. Rockefeller to Uncle Scrooge McDuck, spats make the man (and duck) and tell us, the spat-less observer, that this truly is a person (or miserly waterfowl) to be reckoned with. They're snazzy, stylish, and sharp—just like this week's Wodehouse! Young Men in Spats (1936) is a collection of short stories, mostly about the various members of the outrageous Drones Club. Interestingly, whenever there's a Drones story, there's neither hide nor well-combed hair of Bertie Wooster—not even a mention of him as one of the most illustrious members of that particular gentleman's social organization. No matter. These young men (chiefly Freddie Widgeon, Pongo Twistleton and Archibald Mulliner—yes, nephew of the illustrious Mr Mulliner) face challenges in love and life without the expert help of Jeeves, so there's no shame in them temporarily eclipsing the spotlight from Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, is there?

These eleven short stories feature some of the most hapless members of the Drones thrust into situations that would try the souls of many stronger men:
Rather a chump it made him feel, he tells me, because a fellow all by himself on the bank of a river shouting 'Prudence! Prudence!' is apt to give a false impression to any passer-0by who may hear him. However, he didn't have to bother about that long, for at this point, happening to glance at the river, he saw her body floating in it.

'Oh, dash it!' said Freddie.
Which is almost as serious a situation for Freddie Widgeon as when he tries to make his escape:
...Not ten seconds, accordingly, after the other had disappeared, he was wrenching the front door open.

He was taking a risk, of course. There was the possibility that he might be walking into an ambush. But all seemed well. The Captain had apparently genuinely gone round to the back, and Freddie reached the gate with the comfortable feeling that in another couple of seconds he would be out in the open and in a position to leg it away from the danger zone.

All's well that ends well, felt Freddie.

it was at this juncture that he found that he had no trousers on.
And I think we all know how much of a setback that can be.

In this collection, Adolphus "Stiffy" Stiffham is mistaken for a ghost by his objectionable (and objecting) future father-in-law, Percy Wimbolt and Nelson Cork experience the mystery of the mis-sized top hats (a puzzlement so dire it leads them to swap girlfriends), while Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps and Pongo Twistleton vie for the same vicar's daughter (and emerge from the trial better and stronger men). There's three Mr Mulliner stories as well (two of them about Drone member Archibald Mulliner), but the star of four of the stories is Freddie Widgeon, and you know you're always in for some dandy and delightful dialogue when you're tagging along with Mr W.:
'Looking for someone?' she asked.

'Why, yes,' said Freddie. 'I suppose you couldn't tell me when Miss Jennings will be in?'

'Miss Who?'


'How do you spell it?'

'Oh, much the usual way, I expect. Start off with a J and then a good many 'n's and 'g's and things.'
Not to mention Wodehouse's usual sparkling, technicolour descriptions:
Always a natty dresser, today he had eclipsed himself. The glistening trousers, the spotless shirt, the form-fitting blue coat...all these combined to present an intoxicating picture. And this picture he had topped off with a superb tie which he had contrived to pinch overnight from his uncle's effects. Gold and lavender in its general colour scheme, with a red stripe thrown in for good measure. Lots of fellows, he tells me, couldn't have carried it off, but it made him look positive godlike.
I'm sure Wodehouse only accidentally forgot to mention the spats in that last paragraph.

Young Man in Spats is a clever and entertaining collection—not one of Wodehouse's finest, and not starring any of his top-billed characters (with the exception of one I'll get to in a moment), but it's one of my favorite books of Wodehouse short stories: cheerful and lyrical at the same time, fast-paced tidbits of delight. What brings it up from the level of a merely good Drones collection like Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets is the first appearance, in the Pongo Twistleton story, of Frederick, Lord Ickenham: the irrepressible Uncle Fred. If you're been following along with A Wodehouse a Week, you met him first in my review of Cocktail Time, but here's his debut short story: "Uncle Fred Flits By." When Uncle, flits by, trouble follows, as he casually and enthusiastically cons his way past a maid into a home to take refuge from a rainstorm:
...Lord Ickenham lit the gas-fire and drew a chair up.

'So here we are, my boy,' he said. 'A little tact, a little address, and here we are, snug and cosy and not catching our deaths of cold. You'll never go far wrong if you leave things to me.'

'But dash it, we can't stop here.' said Pongo.

Lord Ickenham raised his eyebrows.

'Not stop here? Are you suggesting that we go out into that rain? My dear lad, you are not aware of the grave issues involved. This morning, as I was leaving home, I had a rather painful disagreement with your aunt. She said the weather was treacherous and wished me to take my woolly muffler. I replied that the weather was not treacherous and I would be dashed if I took my woolly muffler. Eventually, by the exercise of an iron will, I had my way, and I ask you, my dear boy, to envisage what will happen if I return with a cold in the head. I shall sink to the level of a fifth-class power. Next time I came to London, it would be with a liver pad and a respirator. No! I shall remain here, toasting my toes at this really excellent fire. I had no idea that a gas-fire radiated such warmth. I feel all in a glow.'

So did Pongo. His brow was wet with honest sweat.
Not content to simply put his feet up and relax, Uncle Fred involves himself in the affairs of the denizens of the house, including cementing a romance between the young woman of the household and her true love, disapproved of by the family:
'I found to my horror that a young man of whom I knew nothing was arranging to marry my daughter. I sent for him immediately, and found him to be quite impossible. He jellies eels!'

'Does what?'

'He is an assistant at a jellied eel shop.'

'But surely,' said Lord Ickenham, 'that speaks well for him. The capacity to jelly an eel seems to me to argue intelligence of a high order. It isn't everyone who can do it, by any means. I know if someone came to me and said "Jelly this eel!" I should be nonplussed. And so, or I am very much mistaken, would Ramsay MacDonald and Winston Churchill.'

The woman did not seem to see eye to eye.
Uncle Fred is my favorite Wodehouse character, not merely for his enthusiastically carpe diem and laissez-faire lifestyle, or for his casually criminal view to putting things right that might have gone wrong. Most of all, however, Uncle Fred Ickenham reminds me of my own Uncle Fred, who taught me, among other lessons, that Things Oughta Be Fun. His spirit lives on in his fictional counterpart, and every time I read an Uncle Fred story, I think of my own Uncle Fred.

It might be coincidence or it might be kismet, therefore, that last night I went out for a lovely evening of theater at Lincoln Center here in Manhattan to see John Lithgow's one-man show Stories By Heart, a celebrating of tales and story-telling. He recounts with humor and charm the effect of story-telling by his grandmother and father upon his young life, and how he was able to return the favor years later by reading to his parents when they were much older. The story he recounts reading to them? "Uncle Fred Flits By." And then Lithgow begins to read us the story, doing all the voices of the Crumpet and Pongo and Uncle Fred—and then he puts down the book and continues from heart, reciting with great energy and humor the text of the story, acting out the characters and their outrageous circumstances. I do truly love reading Wodehouse, but you pick up so much more when it it read or recited by a great storyteller, and I was laughing my stuffing out all the way through. If you're in New York City, I highly recommend seeing the show. Remember to turn off your cell phones because he'll scold you gently if you don't, and be ready to be charmed and amused!

Even if you don't have an Uncle Fred, you can experience the joy that is Lord Ickenham (plus Drones galore) by picking up a copy of Young Men in Spats. I've got a trio of editions of the book: a Penguin UK paperback, a Collier's US hardcover reprint (with a slightly different line-up of stories: it includes three Oldest Member golf stories that appeared in the UK edition of Lord Emsworth and Others), and a lovely hardcover edition published by the Everyman Library, available in the US from Overlook Press; click on the Amazon link to the right to buy yourself a copy of this edition. Or, if you want to skip the middleman and go right to the stylish glamour of the Drones Club, well, then, get yourself a pair of these:

Is that all? Of course not! Wodehouse fans and scholars out there will note that I haven't discussed one of this collection's most delightful and yet eerily macabre stories. But I'll leave that to a special guest star to discuss tomorrow...stay tuned, cool cats!

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Sunday, May 04, 2008