Saturday, May 24, 2008

Ben Grimm Totally Rocks! #17

You can bet yer bottom dollar that when the Thing relaxes on a bright sunny May weekend like this one, he doesn't just hang around the, Baxter Building, all day. Nope! Mister Grimm is out and about, heading over to the AMC Empire 25, ready to grab a large-sized bucket of popcorn (he's the only person in the Marvel Universe who can eat a whole large popcorn) and settle down in his seat for the Saturday matinee showing of one of his favorite movie series.

Why, whatever could be premiering this weekend that Ben Grimm might be a fan of?

Fantastic Four #241 panels
Panels from Fantastic Four #241 (April 1982), script and art by John Byrne, colors by Glynis Wein, lettering by Jim Novak

Yep, that's right: when there's a new Indiana Jones movie at the cineplex, there's no time for love, Mister Grimm! But yes, he will bring Alicia and whisper what's going on in her ear. Because he's that kinda guy: a man who loves his Harrison Ford action-adventure movies so much he's willing to wait 19 years for the next installment to come out. And that's another reason why Ben Grimm totally rocks.

Separated at Birth: Attack Plan X!

Uncanny X-Men #1 & 104, Marvel Knights 4 #24
L: [Uncanny] X-Men #1 (September 1963), art by Jack Kirby and Sol Brodsky (?)
M: [Uncanny] X-Men #104 (April 1977), art by Dave Cockrum
R: Marvel Knights 4 #24 (January 2006), art by Mike Allred
(Click picture to Fred Dukes-size)

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Bathtime in Clerkenwell

"Bathtime in Clerkinwell" by The Real Tuesday Weld (2007), animated by Alex Budovsky

And the sequel...

"Last Time in Clerkinwell" by The Real Tuesday Weld (2007), animated by Alex Budovsky

Cartoons suggested by the lovely Lucy-Anne, who is away and being much missed this weekend.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Spyday Night Fights: Hey, hey, what do you say? Someone took your plans away.

In a world...where the great Bahlactus demands we fight in black-and-white, what more natural impulse is there than to pit the forces of black versus the forces of white? Now, I'm not talkin' about Muhammad Ali versus Superman (although we all know who would win that one...there's a reason they call him The Greatest!), but rather the unending battle of agent against agent set in the shady world of espionage and rivalry between the man in black and the man in white—better known as...
Spy vs. Spy

Created by the late great Cuban exile Antonio Prohíos for MAD magazine in 1961, at the height of the Cold War, "Spy vs. Spy" has waged a never-ending battle's not quite good vs. evil. It's not even democracy vs. communism. It is, in fact, only and forever just spy versus spy:

Spy vs. Spy
"Spy vs. Spy" by Antonio Prohíos, from MAD #144, July 1971 (Click picture to spy-size)

Along with the elaborate, Rube Goldberg-esque machinations of each spy to trap, crush, or destroy each other, there's another important continuing element: nobody ever wins. Yes, although the Black Spy might triumph one month (or, see above), you only have to wait to see the tables turned on the world spy stage:

Spy vs. Spy
"Spy vs. Spy" by Antonio Prohíos, from MAD #164, January 1974 (Click picture to Newman-size)

Prohíos passed away in 1998, but the Spy vs. Spy saga continues in MAD in the capable hands of Peter Kuper. The Spies have moved on to other media as well. But the basic premise remains the same:

You can learn a lot from a pair o' spies. Just like David Lightman taught WOPR that in war games, "the only winning move is not to play," Spy vs. Spy taught me that in espionage, the only winning move is to hit your opponent over the head with a spring-loaded mallet cunningly concealed inside a fake bomb. With role models like these two, who says the Cold War is over?

Nobody does it better/Makes me feel sad for the rest/Nobody does it half as good as you/Bahlactus, you're the best.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

These feelings won't go away/They've been knockin me sideways

Nope, you haven't fallen over on your side, true bull-lievers: during much of the 1960s, Marvel Comics featured "sideways" house ads, all the better to spotlight multiple covers from their bombastic offerings every month in a super-Cinemascope widescreen format. It's like sitting in the first row of a movie theatre! These ads are not only nostalgic, they're mini-works of art in themselves, so savor the sweet sixties swingin' sensations by turning your computer monitor 90 degrees to the left and getting ready to look at Marvel from a whole new angle!:

Marvel sideways house ad
Marvel sideways house ad
Marvel sideways house ad
Marvel sideways house ad

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

You can't make me! You're not my real dad!

The first page of Fantastic Four #557, released today...

FF #557 page 1

Wait a minute...what's that in the small print down there?

Read Mighty Avengers!




Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Today in Comics History, May 20: Happy birthday, Jane Wiedlin!: 01001010011000010110111001100101

The "got mail" flag popped up on the ol' email box this morning here at Bully HQ with a missive from bull-booster Andy, zipping along some news that he thought I'd be interested in: Jane Wiedlin is creating and starring in her own new comic book, Lady Robotika, along with Bongo Comics creative director Bill Morrison.

I don't know when Lady Robotika is coming out, but I'm getting in line at my local comic book store right now.

Lady Robotika
Photo by Bonnie Burton at The Official Star Wars Blog

Two of my favorites: Jane Wiedlin and comic books. The only way this thing could be better would be if it were dipped in chocolate. Happy birthday, Jane...but apparently I get the present!

My Crunch-Sense is Tingling

Cap'n CrunchOne of the most prized comics in my collection is Uncanny X-Men #201 (January 1985). No, not for the ground-breaking battle that pitched Cyclops against Storm for the leadership of the X-Men (Spoiler alert: Storm won), nor for the first appearance of everyone's favorite 1990s X-Man and the guy who brings you crystal-clear channel reception, Cable, but rather for a two-page advertising supplement that gives us the rarest installment of Marvel Team-Up ever printed: a crossover between Spider-Man and Cap'n Crunch. Now, I'm a big big fan of sugar-frosted cereals, and I've tried 'em all out of the Crunch family: regular crunch, Crunchberries, Peanut Butter Crunch, Christmas Crunch, Vanilly Crunch, Punch Crunch. If you're a fan of the Crunch mythos, you may even remember the ultra-rare Admiral Crunch, where the good Cap'n was promoted to a desk job but regained command of the Guppy and once again gathered his faithful old crew in order to fight off a massive destructive alien machine which turned out to be a Voyager probe and...oh wait, I've gotten my cereal mixed up with my Star Trek movies.

Published to tie into a promotional contest to deduce where the Cap'n had disappeared to (Spoiler alert: he was in the Milky Way), here's the two-page Spider-Man saga I like to call The Search for Crunch:

Where's the Cap'n?
Where's the Cap'n?

Geez, Spidey didn't search this hard for the killer of Gwen Stacy.

Mystery CrunchStill, the promotion was so successful that Quaker Oats revisited it in 1999 by creating the teeth-rottingly yummy Mystery Crunch cereal, sending the Cap'n off into limbo for several months as everyone tried to discover where he was. Mulder and Scully actually even spent fourteen episodes searching for him on the sixth season of The X-Files. No Spider-Man tie-in for that period, I'm sorry to say, as Spidey was busy still trying to live down the Clone Saga to play breakfast detective.

Still, we are indebted to the "Where's the Cap'n" promotion for giving us perhaps the ultimate Spidey/J. Jonah Jameson face-off:

Where's the Cap'n?

Monday, May 19, 2008

If I Ran Marvel Comics (#2 in a series)

Super Villain Team-Up

A Wodehouse a Week #50: The Clicking of Cuthbert

A Wodehouse a Week banner

It's a gorgeous bright warm spring day. The birds are chirping, the sun is beaming, and it's the perfect weather for a fine walk. Let's say, down eighteen fairways, hitting and chasing a tiny white ball? Not for me, the non-sporty bull. Instead, I'd much rather sit under the leafy tree of my choice in Prospect Park and read P. G. Wodehouse's collection of golf stories The Clicking of Cuthbert (1924, titled Golf Without Tears in the US). This book is the first appearance of clubhouse regular The Oldest Member, but we here at A Wodehouse a Week have met him before in The Heart of a Goof, Nothing Serious, Lord Emsworth and Others and A Few Quick Ones. These books contain the entire text of all the Oldest Member stories, so for the first but not the last time as we move into the second year of A Wodehouse a Week we bid farewell to a character: we won't read of The Oldest Member again in this project.

But in the meantime, let's revel in his first stories, fine and delightful examples of love and laughter on the links. (Hey, alliteration!) There's nine stories in The Clicking of Cuthbert, each of which celebrates golf as the most important thing in life: it heals wounds, brings couples together (or, if fate necessitates it be so, drives them apart), and joins empires. (Think I'm exaggerating? Not in this book.) Wodehouse lays down the tenor of golf über alles from the first page, on which the book is dedicated:
And even in the introduction he's having the usual Wodehouse fun:
POSTSCRIPT.—In the second chapter I allude to Stout Cortez staring at the Pacific. Shortly after the appearance of this narrative in serial form in America, I received an anonymous letter containing the words, 'You big stiff, it wasn't Cortez, it was Balboa.' This, I believe, is historically accurate. On the other hand, if Cortez was good enough for Keats, he is good enough for me. Besides, even if it was Balboa, the Pacific was open for being stared at about that time, and I see no reason why Cortez should not have had a look at it as well.
And we haven't even gotten to the golf yet.

The same formula of all the other Oldest Member stories follows here, which is proof that Wodehouse had a good thing going when he genially borrowed it from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner:
It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
`By thy long beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp'st thou me ?'


He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years' child:
The Mariner hath his will.
Like the Ancient Mariner (and not unlike Mr Mulliner, come to think of it), the Oldest Member pigeonholes a guest at the golf clubhouse and relates a tale of probable connection to the events just observed or discussed—always, always a tale involving golf. Golf pits two rivals against each other for the love of a girl in "A Woman is Only a Woman," golf teaches a demure milquetoast to become an outspoken go-getter in "The Salvation of George Mackintosh," a case of mistaken identify causes a golf enthusiast to marry a woman who loves croquet instead in "Sundered Hearts," and many more. By this point working our way through the canon there's an air of familiarity about golf-as-salvation stories, but Wodehouse is not so pedestrian as to simply recycle plots from book to book. "A Mixed Threesome" begins with the challenge that mild-mannered Mortimer Sturgis must win his beloved Betty away from the affections of he-man adventurer and big-game hunter Eddie Denton:
'And what did you do then, Mr. Denton?' asked Betty, breathlessly.

'Yes, what did you do then, old chap?' said Mortimer.

Denton blew out the match and dropped it on the ash-tray.

'Eh? Oh,' he said, carelessly, 'I swam across and shot him.'

'Swam across and shot him!'

'Yes. It seemed to me that the chance was too good to be missed. Of course, I might have had a pot at him from the bank, but the chances were I wouldn't have hit him in a vital place. So I swam across to the sandbank, put the muzzle of my gun in his mouth, and pulled the trigger. I have rarely seen a crocodile so taken aback.'

'But how dreadfully dangerous!'

'Oh, danger!' Eddie Denton laughed lightly. 'One drops into the habit of taking a few risks out there, you know. Talking of danger, the time when things really did look a little nasty was when the wounded gongo cornered me in a narrow tongo and I only had a pocket-knife with everything in it broken except the corkscrew and the thing for taking stones out of horses' hoofs. It was like this——'

I could bear no more. I am a tender-hearted man, and I made some excuse and got away. From the expression on the girl's face I could see that it was only a question of days before she gave her heart to this romantic newcomer.
Obviously golf is the solution to Mortimer's problem, and he tones up and sharpens his skills on the links with a feverish devotion that, if this were a movie, would be accompanied by a musical montage showing his improvement at golfing in each swift subsequent scene. Of course the expectation is that, like sending away for Charles Atlas's Dynamic Tension work-out kit, learning golf will give him the confidence and the self-assuredness Mortimer needs to win Betty. In fact, Wodehouse has written other stories in which exactly that happens: the hero woos away his love from a more manly specimen simply by sinking a twenty foot putt.

But Wodehouse isn't that predictable: Mortimer instead becomes so obsessed with and entranced by golf that he's more interested in the game (well, of course) than in Betty:
'Well, my mind's made up. Mortimer, you must choose between golf and me.'

'But, darling, I went round in a hundred and one yesterday. You can't expect a fellow to give up golf when he's at the top of his game.'

'Very well. I have nothing more to say. Our engagement is at an end.'

'Don't throw me over, Betty,' pleaded Mortimer, and there was that in his voice which cut me to the heart. 'You'll make me so miserable. And, when I'm miserable, I always slice my approach shots.'
And in the end, Betty marries Eddie, and Mortimer joyfully shaves a few more points off his handicap. Everybody's happy. Would you expect a Wodehouse story to end any other way? That's par...excuse the expression...for the course.

With Wodehouse's golf stories, however, you do have to put up with a certain amount of writing about golf. Just as you can't make a sandwich without bread, an Oldest Member story without some thorough descriptions of golf is like a pile of shaved lunch meat sitting lonely on a plate. Tho' I know the basics of the game, I'm no golfer (they don't make those spiky-soled shoes in a small enough size for little hooves). There's a thin line between too much golf detail for the general reader and not enough to explain what's going on, and nearly every time Wodehouse hits that mark spot on. A few times in these early Oldest Member stories, however, his play-by-play description of a golf game makes your eyes wander swiftly to the next paragraph to see when the witty dialogue is going to begin again:
The fifth and sixth holes produced no unusual features. Peter won the fifth in eleven, and James the sixth in ten. The short seventh they halved in nine. The eighth, always a tricky hole, they took no liberties with, James, sinking a long putt with his twenty-third, just managing to halve. A ding-dong race up the hill for the ninth found James first at the pin, and they finished the first nine with James one up.
Of all the golf stories, there aren't many technical passages like this, so it's pretty forgivable. I don't share the passion Wodehouse does for stepping out on the green in plus-fours and a jaunty plaid cap, so even though his enthusiasm for the game is usually infectious, there's a few passages in this collection that seem unpolished and too technical: sand traps of dry patches the later Wodehouse would deftly avoid.

But, as ever, he has—and we have—a lot of fun. In the title story, Cuthbert Banks eases his way into the admiration of the woman he loves from afar when her family's guest, an abrasive Russian writer, is not interested in discussing world literature with the assembled party...
'No novelists any good except me. Sovietski—yah! Nastikoff—bah! I spit me of zem all. No novelists anywhere any good except me. P. G. Wodehouse and Tolstoi not bad. Not good, but not bad. No novelists any good except me.'
...but Cuthbert's in like Wynn when the two discover their mutual love of the game of golf:
'Let me tell you one vairy funny story about putting. It was one day I play at Nijni-Novgorod with the pro. against Lenin and Trotsky, and Trotsky had a two-inch putt for the hole. But, just as he addresses the ball, someone in the crowd he tries to assassinate Lenin with a rewolwer—you know that is our great national sport, trying to assassinate Lenin with rewolwers—and the bang puts Trotsky off his stroke and he goes five yards past the hole, and then Lenin, who is rather shaken, you understand, he misses again himself, and we win the hole and match and I clean up three hundred and ninety-six thousand roubles, or fifteen shillings in your money. Some gameovitch!'
And you needn't know what a niblick is (a type of golf club) to find this funny:
'I want your advice,' said Celia.

'Certainly. What is the trouble? By the way,' I said, looking round, 'where is your fiancé?'

'I have no fiancé,' she said, in a dull, hard voice.

'You have broken off the engagement?'

'Not exactly. And yet—well, I suppose it amounts to that.'

'I don't quite understand.'

'Well, the fact is,' said Celia, in a burst of girlish frankness, 'I rather think I've killed George.'

'Killed him, eh?'

It was a solution that had not occurred to me, but now that it was presented for my inspection I could see its merits. In these days of national effort, when we are all working together to try to make our beloved land fit for heroes to live in, it was astonishing that nobody before had thought of a simple, obvious thing like killing George Mackintosh. George Mackintosh was undoubtedly better dead, but it had taken a woman's intuition to see it.

'I killed him with my niblick,' said Celia.

I nodded. If the thing was to be done at all, it was unquestionably a niblick shot.
The final story in the book "The Coming of Gowf" is not an Oldest Member story but a fable about a distant and long-ago kingdom straight out of the Arabian Nights. It's got that deep-perfumed, lush and exotic appeal for fans of Sir Richard Burton (the explorer, not Liz Taylor's ex), of, for those of us who read comic books, the mystery and romance of Sandman #50 or Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall. Or even Disney's Aladdin minus the genie but with an inpenetrably-accented Scotsman teaching King Merolchazzar of Oom how to win his love, the beautiful Princess of the Outer Isles, through the strange foreign game of "gowf." Yes, even in the realm of the mysterious Arabian east, a game of batting a tiny ball into a hole in the ground with a collection of sticks is not so much a game, more a way of life:
'Ye puir gonuph!' he cried, 'whitkin' o' a staunce is that?'

The King was hurt. Hitherto the attitude had been generally admired.

'It's the way I always stand when killing lions,' he said. '"In killing lions,"' he added, quoting from the well-known treatise of Nimrod, the recognized text-book on the sport, '"the weight at the top of the swing should be evenly balanced on both feet."'

'Ah, weel, ye're no killing lions the noo. Ye're gowfing.'

A sudden humility descended upon the King. He felt, as so many men were to feel in similar circumstances in ages to come, as though he were a child looking eagerly for guidance to an all-wise master—a child, moreover, handicapped by water on the brain, feet three sizes too large for him, and hands consisting mainly of thumbs.

'O thou of noble ancestors and agreeable disposition!' he said, humbly. 'Teach me the true way.'

'Use the interlocking grup and keep the staunce a wee bit open and slow back, and dinna press or sway the heid and keep yer e'e on the ba'.'

'My which on the what?' said the King, bewildered.

'I fancy, your Majesty,' hazarded the Vizier, 'that he is respectfully suggesting that your serene graciousness should deign to keep your eye on the ball.'

'Oh, ah!' said the King.

The first golf lesson ever seen in the kingdom of Oom had begun.
Learning golf even prevents the King from being assassinated by his evil-hearted brother—the brother too becomes obsessed by the new game. And when the Princess finally arrives, it's a match made in the Grand High Heavens, because she too, is a devotee of gowf. It's the perfect fun, fanciful, and whimsical tale to close the book on, and even tho' it's the only story in the collection that's not narrated by The Oldest Member, it's the same sort of tale he'd tell. And, depending on how old he really is, maybe he was there all along.

A Wodehouse a Week #56: The Clicking of Cuthbert

I have no bags of clubs, or collection of golf balls, or snazzy flannel knickerbockers in various plaid colors. But I do have a couple copies of The Clicking of Cuthbert, and so can you by putting clicking on the link to the right. Not in the modd for golf tales? Well, that's up to you. sells books about love too, of course. But, as we bid farewell to the Oldest Member, let us remember his words: 'While there is nothing to be said definitely against love, your golfer should be extremely careful how he indulges in it. It may improve his game or it may not....Love has had a lot of press-agenting from the oldest times; but there are higher, nobler things than love. A woman is only a woman, but a hefty drive is a slosh.'

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Ten of a Kind: Man! I Feel Like a Woman!

(More Ten of a Kind here.)