Saturday, July 05, 2008

Separated at Birth: She-Hulks Are Forever

Diamonds Are Forever/She-Hulk #50
L: Diamonds Are Forever first edition book jacket (March 1956), art by Pat Marriott
R: The Sensational She-Hulk #50 (May 1993), art by John Byrne
(Click picture to Blofeld-size)

This week's "Separated at Birth" suggested (here) by boisterous Bully-booster Brian Smith. Thanks, Brian!

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Bars and Stripes Forever

"Bars and Stripes Forever" (Merrie Melodies, 1939), directed by Cal Dalton and Ben Hardaway

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Gail Ann Dorsey.

Gail Ann Dorsey. I'd never heard of her before today, when Lucy-Anne played me an Indigo Girls live cover of "Midnight Train to Georgia" featuring Gail Ann. The liner notes read "One of my favorite songs of all time. We only perform it when Gail Ann Dorsey is with us."

Googling her turned up, in the first few results, her collaboration with David Bowie on his Reality tour: a live version of one of my favorite songs of all time. The original is tough to beat, but this version just fills me with awe and wonder:

I'm definitely picking up her stuff, tout sweet. There's something wonderful about discovering a new talent you've never known before. It's even more wonderful when that talent absolutely blows you away.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Stan Lee a Letter

3ยข stampSit back, kiddies and kiddettes, and let ol' Uncle Bully tell you a story about an older time, a simpler time, a better time, when Pepperidge Farm cookies roamed the plains and prairies, when comic books only had four colors and when Tony Stark wasn't (so much of) a jerk. In these long-ago, far-away days, the internet was just the gleam in the eye of that bright tyke little Alvin Gore, and email? Pfui. Didn't exist! You could pony up your wheat pennies and buffalo nickels and plasticine dimes at the old Western Union to send a telegram or, as Grampa Bull used to call it, "a word whistle," or better yet, hitch up old Dobbin to the buckboard and whinny on down to Mr. Drucker's General Store and Post Office, where for a mere three shiny pennies, an acorn and a whittlin' stick, you could buy yourself a glossy new first class postage stamp to stick on an envelope so you could write Ida Lou out on the farm in Oklahoma, or maybe send away for that feed catalogue you saw advertised in the back of The Farmer's Almanac, or maybe...just could write a letter to your favorite comic book magazine.

Bernard the PoetYes, before everyone and his little stuffed bull had a comic book blog to compain about Final Crisis and the size of Power Girl's breasts, you had to mail a letter into a comic book to write about it, and we liked it that way. Altho' Mister Stan Lee didn't invent letter columns, writing to comics was all the rage once the Marvel Age of Comics got underway in the Swingin' Sixties. Why, writing to Smilin' Stan and King Jack was as popular a pastime in the 1960s as challenging the establishment, burning your bra, and hanging out at the Coffee-a-Go-Go listening to the hep rhythms of Bernard the Poet.

The comic book letter columns are mostly gone from Marvel Comics (with the exception of Three Times Monthly Spider-Man, which reinstituted them recently during "Brand New Day"). But while they lasted, it was a Golden Age for the fans. That was the beauty of it all: the sheer democracy of the system. Anybody could see their name in print, anybody could have their letter published if they wrote a missive that amused or intrigued the Marvel gophers or editors (or if they wrote during a month nobody else wrote in). Why, even early on, look at the common folk fans who were writing into Fantastic Four, a guy just like you an' me who got his letter published in FF #4:
FF letter of comment

Of course, that magazine, and that letter-writer, soon vanished and were never to be heard from again.

Naw, jus' kiddin'.

Here's s'more letters to the Fantastic Four Fan Page from folks who would one day make a name for themselves in the world o' comics:

Gerry Conway! (FF #50)

FF letter of comment

Denny O'Neil! (FF #53)

FF letter of comment

Tony Isabella! (FF #74)

FF letter of comment

Don McGregor! (FF #80)

FF letter of comment

Alan Kupperberg! (FF #101)

FF letter of comment

J. M. DeMatteis! (FF #101)

FF letter of comment

Mike W. Barr! (FF #131)

FF letter of comment

Jill Thompson! (FF #246)

FF letter of comment

And some guy by the name o' Stan... (FF #269)

FF letter of comment

Huh. That guy's going nowhere in this business.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Now we are six

Today is my birthday! I am six years old today. Which is a very good age to be.

Now I am six. Happy birthday to me!

It's not a birthday without some yummy, delicious cake, and luckily we're serving up enough to share with all of you friends out there: not one cake, not even six cakes, but Ten Cakes of a (Birthday) Kind! Cut yourself a slice, won't you?:

I also got a lovely balloon from Miss Randi! No, Wolverine, you cannot touch my balloon!

I also got a birthday balloon.

Now let's all eat our cake(s) and listen to The Sugarcubes perform a special song just for my birthday. Thanks ever so much for coming to my party, Miss Björk!

Being six is the best age of all!

Monday, June 30, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #52: Piccadilly Jim

A Wodehouse a Week banner

So very many Wodehouse books feature imposters: writers posing as secretaries, shopgirls posing as detectives, and everybody posing as butlers. Piccadilly Jim (1917) has the latter: Bingley Crockett, husband of socialite and millionaires Eugenia flees his family and England to buttle for the Pett family (his sister-in-law's) in America, solely because he loves baseball too much to be stranded over in England stuck only with cricket. But Piccadilly Jim goes one better: the title character is posing as himself.

Confused? Aw, it ain't that difficult once you get down to it. Playboy-about-town Jimmy Crocker decides to reform his gadabout ways when he meets lovely Ann Chester, niece of the Petts (see above) and budding writer whose first book was savaged in a review written by Jimmy. Natch, Ann hates Jimmy, even tho' she's never seen him and doesn't know him by sight. Which is good enough reason when they meet at a booking office for the ship to America, for Jimmy to pretend he has no connection at all to the hated Jimmy, oh no no no.
'So you're sailing on the Atlantic, too!' she said, with a glance at the chart on the counter. 'How odd! We have just decided to go back on her too. There's nothing to keep us here and we're all homesick. Well, you see I wasn't run over after I left you.'

A delicious understanding relieved Jimmy's swimming brain, as thunder relieves the tense and straining air. The feeling that he was going mad left him, as the simple solution of his mystery came to him. This girl must have heard of him in New York—perhaps she knew people whom he knew and it was on hearsay, not on personal acquaintance, that she based that dislike of him which she had expressed with such freedom and conviction so short a while before at the Regent Grill. She did not know who he was!

Into this soothing stream of thought cut the voice of the clerk.

'What name, please?'

Jimmy's mind rocked again. Why were these things happening to him to-day of all days, when he needed the tenderest treatment, when he had a headache already?

The clerk was eyeing him expectantly. He had laid down his pencil and was holding aloft a pen. Jimmy gulped. Every name in the English language had passed from his mind. And then from out of the dark came inspiration.

'Bayliss,' he croaked.

The girl held out her hand.

'Then we can introduce ourselves at last. My name is Ann Chester. How do you do, Mr. Bayliss?'

'How do you do, Miss Chester?'
And that is, as they say, where the fun begins. This Wodehouse novel...early enough to be between the two Wars, late enough to be a sort-of sequel (to 1913's The Little Nugget), deftly balances the genial lyrical romances of the 1910s with the comedies of error of Wodehouse's later years. It's one of my favorite of his early novels: if not as rip-roaring funny as the immediate post-WWII stuff, it's charming and elegant, avoiding an excess of sentiment and still plenty of chuckles per chapter. There's a lot going on here, some of it better balanced (the subplot featuring bratty, oh-so-kidnapable kid Ogden, "The Little Nugget") than others (scientist Partridge developing Partridgite, a high explosive in a test tube), but the main front-and-center belongs to Jimmy and Ann, a relationship threatened when an old friend recognizes Jimmy in a Manhattan restaurant:
'I say, Crocker, old chap, I didn't know you were over here. When did you arrive?'

Jimmy was profoundly thankful that he had seen this pest in time to be prepared for him. Suddenly assailed in this fashion, he would undoubtedly have incriminated himself by recognition of his name. But, having anticipated the visitation, he was able to say a whole sentence to Ann before showing himself aware that it was he who was addressed.

'I say! Jimmy Crocker!'

Jimmy achieved one of the blankest stares of modern times. He looked at Ann. Then he looked at Bartling again.

'I think there's some mistake,' he said. 'My name is Bayliss.'

Before his stony eye the immaculate Bartling wilted. It was a perfectly astounding likeness, but it was apparent to him when what he had ever heard and read about doubles came to him. He was confused. He blushed. It was deuced bad form going up to a perfect stranger like this and pretending you knew him. Probably the chappie thought he was some kind of a confidence johnnie or something. It was absolutely rotten! He continued to blush till one could have fancied him scarlet to the ankles. He backed away, apologising in ragged mutters. Jimmy was not insensible to the pathos of his suffering acquaintance's position; he knew Reggie and his devotion to good form sufficiently well to enable him to appreciate the other's horror at having spoken to a fellow to whom he had never been introduced; but necessity forbade any other course. However Reggie's soul might writhe and however sleepless Reggie's nights might become as a result of this encounter, he was prepared to fight it out on those lines if it took all summer. And, anyway, it was darned good for Reggie to get a jolt like that every once in a while. Kept him bright and lively.

So thinking, he turned to Ann again, while the crimson Bartling tottered off to restore his nerve centres to their normal tone at some other hostelry. He found Ann staring amazedly at him, eyes wide and lips parted.

'Odd, that!' he observed with a light carelessness which he admired extremely and of which he would not have believed himself capable. 'I suppose I must be somebody's double. What was the name he said?'

'Jimmy Crocker!' cried Ann.

Jimmy raised his glass, sipped, and put it down.

'Oh yes, I remember. So it was. It's a curious thing, too, that it sounds familiar. I've heard the name before somewhere.'

'I was talking about Jimmy Crocker on the ship. That evening on deck.'

Jimmy looked at her doubtfully.

'Were you? Oh yes, of course. I've got it now. He is the man you dislike so.'

Ann was still looking at him as if he had undergone a change into something new and strange.

'I hope you aren't going to let the resemblance prejudice you against me?' said Jimmy. 'Some are born Jimmy Crockers, others have Jimmy Crockers thrust upon them. I hope you'll bear in mind that I belong to the latter class.'
If you know Wodehouse well, you know this isn't merely a funny little anecdote; it comes up later as one of those Very Important Plot Points, So Important That They Are Capitalized. Viz.:
'Do you remember at lunch that day, after that remarkable person had mistaken me for Jimmy Crocker, you suggested in a light, casual way that if I were to walk into your uncle's office and claim to be Jimmy Crocker I should he welcomed without a question? I'm going to do it. Then, once aboard the lugger—once in the house, I am at your orders. Use me exactly as you would have used Jerry Mitchell.'


'Jerry!' said Jimmy scornfully. 'Can't I do everything that he could have done? And more. A bonehead like Jerry would have been certain to have bungled the thing somehow. I know him well. A good fellow, but in matters requiring intellect and swift thought dead from the neck up. It's a very lucky thing he is out of the running. I love him like a brother, but his dome is of ivory. This job requires a man of tact, sense, shrewdness, initiative, esprit, and verve.' He paused. 'Me!' he concluded.
Ann needs someone to impersonate Jimmy Crocker to infiltrate the Pett household, so Jimmy's in the unique circumstance of impersonating someone else impersonating himself. And so what happens when Lord Wisbeach, someone who knows Jimmy Crocker, meets this "imposter"? Turns out there's yet another imposter: that's not the Lord Wisbeach Jimmy knows after all. The manor house is chock-full of imposters attempting to kidnap Ogden the brat, and it's up to Jimmy to restore the status quo without blowing his cover and alienating the lovely Ann. Does he succeed? It's a Wodehouse novel, so the answer is of course yes, with complications.

It's a wonderful fun romp, but Wodehouse is not as seasoned as he would later become, and there's some harmless missteps, like the late-in-the-book addition Miss Trimble of a female private detective with a mostly-impenetrable accent. Wodehouse spends much of the whole of Chapter Nineteen recapping the adventures of Jimmy's father, who's been posing as a butler—adventures which we've already been privy to, so Chapter Nineteen can be skimmed over quickly. But these are small faults and forgivable. There's a traditional Wodehouse late-night brou-ha-ha which brings all the players out to take place in the ruckus, and his usual sparkling description and dialogue is well-polished here:
Poets have dealt feelingly with the emotions of practically every variety except one. They have sung of Ruth, of Israel in bondage, of slaves pining for their native Africa, and of the miner's dream of home. But the sorrows of the baseball bug, compelled by fate to live three thousand miles away from the Polo Grounds, have been neglected in song. Bingley Crocker was such a one, and in Summer his agonies were awful. He pined away in a country where they said 'Well played, sir!' when they meant ''at-a-boy!'
...and this scene where Jimmy confronts another fake:
'Do you wish me to understand,' said Jimmy, 'that you are not my old friend, Lord Wisbeach?'

'No. And you're not my old friend, Jimmy Crocker.'

'What makes you think that?'

'If you had been, would you have pretended to recognise me upstairs just now? I tell you, pal, I was all in for a second, till you gave me the high sign.'

Jimmy laughed.

'It would have been awkward for you if I really had been Jimmy Crocker, wouldn't it?'

'And it would have been awkward for you if I had really been Lord Wisbeach.'

'Who are you, by the way?'

'The boys call me Gentleman Jack.'

'Why?' asked Jimmy, surprised.
Lord Wisbeach ignored the question.

'I'm working with Burke's lot just now. Say, let's be sensible about this. I'll be straight with you, straight as a string.'

'Did you say string or spring?'

'And I'll expect you to be straight with me.'

'Are we to breathe confidences into each other's ears?'
With rapid-fire dialogue like that, Piccadilly Jim is perfect for adaptation to the stage, radio, or, just maybe, the motion pictures. Imagine my surprise, then, when researching this book, I found that Piccadilly Jim has been filmed as a movie not once (in 1920), and not twice—again in 1936, with Robert Montgomery as Jimmy and Billie "Glinda" Burke as Eugenia Willis—but three times, the most recent being a very recent-indeed 2004, with Sam Rockwell as Jimmy and an all-star British and American cast. The movie's not available on DVD in the US (you can buy a Region 2 DVD from, but for a peek at it we need venture no further than YouTube, which has a wonderfully boisterous and Dick Tracy-hued clip set in a nightclub. Pay especial attention to the singer crooning a 1920s version of Soft Cell's "Tainted Love":

Recognize that singer? That's Icelandic singer Emiliana Torrini, who you might know from her end title "Gollum's Song" at the close of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers...or from a post by yours little stuffed truly a couple weekends ago. See, somewhere, somehow, everybody's connected to Wodehouse: P. G. surrounds us and binds us all together.

A Wodehouse a Week #61: Piccadilly Jim

You might have to travel to the UK to pick up a DVD copy of Piccadilly Jim, but just click on the link to the right to pick up an Penguin paperback edition (I've got two; one mass market-sized, and a trade-sized later reissue). In my collection is also a generic-lookin' Barrie & Jenkins hardcover reprint and a lovely UK Everyman Wodehouse hardcover, issued in the US as an Overlook Press Collector's Wodehouse hardcover reprint. Yoinking yourself a book edition is as easy as pretending to be someone else pretending to be yourself.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.

Sunday, June 29, 2008