Saturday, July 19, 2008

Separated at Birth: The Spy Who Cubed Me

Nick Fury #1/Bloodshot #5
L: Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.* #1 (June 1968), art by Jim Steranko
R: Bloodshot v.2 #5 (November 1997), art by Sal Velluto and Rodney Ramos "after Steranko"
(Click picture to Q*Bert-size)

And lest you forget who's the toughest, roughest, baddest superspy of them all:

*Stepping Heartily Into Entirely Lumpen Dominions

Saturday Morning Cartoon: Three Little Bops

"Three Little Bops" (1957), directed by Friz Freleng, featuring the voice of Stan Freberg and the music of Shorty Rogers

Friday, July 18, 2008

Bully's Sketchbook: Mo Willems

From New York Comic Con 2008, a lovely sketch of yours truly by Mo Willems, award-winning children's book author and artist and animator (he created Sheep in the Big City!) and former fellow Park Slope denizen!

Bully, by Mo Willems

Thanks for the lovely sketch, Mo! And if the pigeon gets a hot dog, I want one too, okay?

PS: Buy Mo's books! They're great!

We live in interesting times...

...where not just movies but even movie trailers can increase the sales of books:

Watchmen book at Amazon Top Ten Book Bestsellers, July 18, 2008

Addition on Monday, July 21: It was #2 today.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

You know that extremely improbable thing they said would never happen? Well...

I'm not a huge fan of Time-Warner, but I like pigs and I like Supertramp. So take it for those reasons.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Mistakes Were Made

Marvel No-PrizeSo you think you've got it tough today with Orion dying in The Death of the New Gods, only to pop up a couple months later in Final Crisis #1, only to get murdered again? Error, clue, stupid mistake, deliberate misdirection, or just a failure to communicate in the DC offices? Whatever the case, we know a dead Orion when we see one, and we were looking at him right then. No point in telling us he not dead, he's just restin' (altho' I'll admit...Orion does have beautiful plumage)...DC out and out made a silly mistake. It's apt to happen with these complicated and elaborate crossovers, but silly mistakes aren't the sole property of Messrs DiDio and Morrison, oh no no no no no. (No.) Once upon a time Marvel used to award their famed empty envelope that held nothing but bragging rights...for fans who wrote in not simply to nitpick a mistake, but to explain it in a logical in-universe manner. Stan initiated the empty envelope prize in '67, but that's not to say that Marvel Mistakes began in the summer of love. Why, let's take a big steaming gander at the final page of Tales of Suspense #74 (February 1966), shall we? Yes, let's shall!

Tales of Suspense #74 panels
Written by Stan Lee, art by Jack Kirby and George Tuska, lettering by Artie Simek

Captain America has just made the Red Skull's Skull-shaped airship (skullship?) go whoom!, and as he floats gently to earth on his parachute, he reflects about the land of the free, the home of the brave, upon mom, baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, all probably to the tune of "The Battle Hymn of the Republic." Stirring moments from Cap there. Brings a tear to your eye. It's good to be an American when he's around, blowin' up Nazi-themed sky-cruisers.

Wander down to your local Rexell drug store a month later, grab Tales of Suspense #75 from the ("Hey Kids! Comics!" spinner rack, plop your 12¢ down on the counter, and roll it up in the back pocket of your Toughskins to read later on in your treehouse. Flip open the open and the first thing you see is

Tales of Suspense panels

Captain America plummeting to his death after blowing up the Skullship.

Wha...huh? What the Sam Scratch is goin' on here? Where did his parachute go? And by all that's holy and good, how will Captain America survive? How will the Cap survive?!?

Tales of Suspense #75 panels

Oh. Well, that's okay then. Emergency over.

Still, where did that chute go? Now, there were no No-Prizes (is that a double negative?) given for solving a mystery in 1966, but if I was to have a shot at it, let's might go something like this: As Captain America floated to Earth on his parachute, a technician who had been blown free of the wreckage of the Red Skull's ship hurtles past him. In the blink of an eye Cap instantly realizes that, like those contractors for hire on the second Death Star...

...that this guy is an innocent, a simple Joe jus' doing his job, so he goes into a power dive, hands the guy his parachute, allowing Mister Independent Contractor Work-for-Hire to float gently to safety, and Cap continues plummeting downwards, knowing he'll be able to pull himself to safety, just the way Cap always does.

At least, that's my story, and I'm sticking to it. And I betcha I woulda won a No-Prize for it. Because Cap always thinks about the little guy.

Still, even without a No-Prize, folks are gonna notice. (Remember: comics are not just for kids anymore!) From the letters column of Tales of Suspense #78, a few months later:

Tales of Suspense LoC

Stan's candidness..."we just forget to draw it" refreshing is that?!? And...

Tales of Suspense LoC

Didja ever think it might just be this exact incident that gave Stan the idea to reward readers for solving Bullpen mistakes? The timing's right...hmmm. The world may never know, but I'd like to suggest that John Bemus and Stephen McMichael hereby be awarded retroactive No-Prizes for possibly inspiring Stan to explain away errors the good ol'-fashioned all-American way: get somebody else to do it for him. John and Stephen, we salute you! Your No-Prizes are in no way shape or form in the mail on their way to you!

The No-Prize disappeared in the 1980s after substantial differing ideas on how and why to award them, thus removing one way among many to connect the readers with the true Marvel Bullpen Experience. The demise of the No-Prize is sadly mourned by yours little stuffed truly—it seems that maybe Marvel just doesn't want you to point out errors (and I'm bettin' there a lotta 'em) these days. Another error-related practice that has long fallen out of vogue at Marvel is the occasional actual editorial correction—an admission in the letter column or the Bullpen Bulletins that "We goofed!", making our pals at Marvel seem just that much more human and approachable. Why, here's a great example from Fantastic Four #201 (December 1978):

FF #201 panel
Written by Marv Wolfman, layouts by Keith Pollard, finishes and inks by Joe Sinnott (finished art), coloring by Francoise Mouly, lettering by John Costanza

This panel is a much-needed infodump after a lengthy battle where the FF are trapped by the computer systems in the Baxter Building, fighting for their very lives (SPOILER ALERT: they survive). But Reed "Professor Exposition" Richards neglects to explain how he escaped from a deadly microbe, and the rest of the FF, and most of the readers, forget all about it. I bet a Swiss Army knife was involved somehow.

But in the letters page of FF #204, Mighty Marv takes the time to issue an apology and correction: apparently Reed spritzed the evil killer microbe with his contact lens fluid, making it the most ineffective alien threat until those spaceguys in M. Night Shaymalan's Signs landed two miles from the beach.

FF #204 panel

Marv even suggests you cut the panel out of FF #204 and paste it into #201. Is it mere coincidence that months later, he was over at the Distinguished Competition, putting together a team of Titanic Teens? We may never know, but I know I gotta get my safety scissors and a pot of paste to fix my copy of FF #201. Mistakes may come and corrections may go, but I miss the old days when the Bullpen at least had a sense of humor about it. Those were the days when, even if we didn't get a No-Prize, we were all winners.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Ten Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He likes clam chowder. A lot. (Hulk #4)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He travels by public transport. (Hulk #5)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He loves to play 'Simon Says.' (Hulk #3)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

His favorite hobby: building model weapons from sci-fi movies. (Hulk #6)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He gives credit where credit is due. (Hulk #6)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He has an active romantic life. (Hulk #4)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

He reads more about it at his public library. (Hulk #5)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

His secret identity is concealed in a most unusual manner. (Hulk #6)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

Yukon Cornelius's greatest foe? Actually the Hulk. (Hulk #5)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

The Hulk never falls for the same trick twice. (Hulk #3)

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

And nobody ever saw the Hulk, ever again.

So, what do you think? Will there be more installments of this feature? Will we ever see even more things that you didn't know about the Hulk?

10 Things You Didn't Know About the Hulk

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Wodehouse a Week #55, Bastille Day Special: French Leave

A Wodehouse a Week

Bonjour, ma petit fromages! Je m'appelle Petit Taureau, et la boîte de crayon de ma tante est sous la table de mon cousin. Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé. Contre nous, de la tyrannie...well, you get the picture. Today is Bastille Day, and to celebrate the occasion in a way that won't have you losing your head, this week's Wodehouse is the aptly named French Leave (1956). To a Francophile little stuffed bull, that's nearly as good as French toast or French fries, and to heck with those who say this book should be titled Freedom Leave. As Wodehouse himself says in a witty introduction:
A word on the title. I have not actually come across them, but I assume that everybody who has written a novel with a French setting must have called it what I have called mine. I wonder my American publisher did not change it. Changing titles is an occupational disease with American publishers. As A. A. Milne said when they altered the title of his Autobiography from It's Too Late Now to What Luck, 'This is a habit of American publishers. I fancy that the Order of Installation—taken— (as I see it) in shirt sleeves, with blue pencil upheld in right hand, ends "And I do solemnly swear that whatsoever the author shall have called any novel submitted to me, and however suitable his title shall be, I will immediately alter it to one of my own choosing, thus asserting by a single stroke the dignity of my office and my own independence.
Wodehouse's jab is curious—not so much that he takes one at American publishers, who frequently changed his UK titles, sometimes somewhat charmlessly—but more curious is his reference to Milne. By the time this book and later introduction had been written, Milne was well-known as one of Wodehouse's most aggressive critics. He accused Wodehouse of being a traitor for Wodehouse's ill-advised broadcasts for the Germans during the time Wodehouse was a prisoner of war. Wodehouse got his own back by creating some fairly fanglike parodies of Milne's verse, but perhaps it's not all that surprising: despite their personal argument, both continued to enjoy and appreciate the work of the other. Milne passed his love of Wodehouse onto his children, which means that at some point we might picture Christopher Robin reading Wodehouse alongside Pooh. A stuffed animal reading Wodehouse? Inconceivable!


Wodehouse wraps up the introduction to French Leave with:
For some reason French Leave got by and joined all the other French Leaves. I can only hope it will be found worthy to be included in the list of the Best Hundred Books Entitled French Leave.
The novel itself is a bit of an unusual departure for Wodehouse: rather than a young charming man as its protagonist, a pair of young charming women—the Trent sisters, Jo and Terry, accompanied by their older, slightly-sour sister Kate—take center stage. When les soeurs Trent come into some money (from the sale of their late father's play to a television producer), there's no way they'll take sensible Kate's suggestion to bank the green for a rainy day. Nope, the Trent girls are heading to the seaside resorts of France for an all-out holiday, and if they happen to fall in love and find themselves suitable husbands, all the better a vacation!

Complicating their love-pursuits (isn't that always the case!) are some of Wodehouse's most continental characters, a rarity for this very English of writers. Wodehouse has a wonderful teaser at the end of the first chapter, as the Trent girls prepare to leave their New York chicken farm for les plages de Français:
The new moon hung in the sky like a silver sickle, and Terry, as she stood in the little garden outside the kitchen door, bowed to it three times. She found herself a little breathless. She was wondering what the future had in store for her.

Among the things which the future had in store for her were that exuberant old gentleman, the Marquis de Maufringneuse, his son the Comte d'Escrignon, Mrs Winthrop Pegler of Park Avenue and Newport, Frederick ('Butch') Carpenter, majority stockholder in the well-known sparkling table-water, Fizzo, J. Russell Clutterbuck of the publishing house Winch and Clutterbuck, and last but not least—the bonne-bouche, as it were—Pierre Alexandre Boissonade, Commissaire of Police.
They're all wonderfully colorful characters, but focus for un moment upon Le Marquis de Maufringneuse, or, as he's known throughout the novel, Old Nick. A rogue, a little bit of a con man, perpetually down on his luck but never down in his spirits, Old Nick is the anti-Uncle Fred of French Leave—responsible for much of the chaos and consternation, not to mention hampering the romantic life of his son, Jeff (the Comte d'Escrignon). Jeff is (like so many Wodehouse heroes) an honest, likeable writer, typing away on the great American French novel, and just on the verge of hitting it big when publisher J. Russell Clutterbuck (please don't say it three times fast) falls in love with the novel as much as Jeff falls in love with Terry Trent—and she with him, although there's much plot in the way to untangle before they can clasp each other in their arms and murmur sweet French coos of love in each other's ears.

Much of the novel's humor comes from what seems like an unusual character for Wodehouse: the Commisonaire of Police Pierre Alexandre Boissonade, a Clouseau-esque character with an inflated sense of his own gallic importance and an mild streak of larceny. As one of Wodehouse's few pure-French characters, it might be easy to sneer and turn up one's nose at his poking fun at the French. But, let's face it: the British, and the Americans come in for just the same sort of good-natured parody in this novel (and other Wodehouses), and if you're offended, you're paying too much attention. This is a light and frothy romance set among the hotels, casinos, and beaches of Southern France. Add to the mix (and stir vigorously) the usual imposing matrons and befuddled millionaires, and garnish with a love story for the other Trent girls as well, and it's the perfect celebration of la vie en rose. You can almost see this as a light-hearted 1950s romantic comedy: Audrey Hepburn as Terry, Gregory Peck as Jeff, and maybe Maurice Chevalier as Old Nick...probably with a soundtrack by Henry Mancini, too, now that I think of it. I'd certainly see it, especially with slightly risqué scenes like this:
'Hoy!' said the voice.

Terry was a sweet-natured girl, but even sweet-natured girls can be ruffled. The shock had made her bite her tongue, and she spoke with a good deal of asperity.

'Who's that? You scared me stiff,' she said, thought fearing that the rebuke would be wasted on what was presumably an untutored Frenchman.

The voice uttered a whoop of joy.

'Gosh! For Pete's sake! Are you American?'

'I am.'

'Thank Go! I thought I should have to explain the situation in French, and I only know about two words of French.'

'What situation would that be?'

'I'm in a spot. It's like this...' A sudden alarm sized the voice. 'Hoy!' it said. It seemed to be his favourite word. 'You aren't coming any closer, are you?'

'Not if you don't want me to.'

'You see, I haven't any pants on.'

'Any what?'

'Pants, trousers.'

Terry was conscious of a quick thrill. She was a girl who liked things to be interesting, and she found this human drama into which she had stumbled fraught with interest.
Still, among the usual humorous dialogue and funny descriptions—and perhaps fitting for a country alive with the sound of the language of love—there's more than the usual romance, and romantic writing, in French Leave:
'Did you have a good swim?' asked Kate.

'Splendid," said Terry. 'And I've met the young man who looks like Gregory Peck. He's a Count.'

'He would be!'

'Well, he has to be, because his father's a Marquis.'

Kate sniffed. She had her own opinion of French Marquises.

'He seems quite nice,' said Terry, and went into her room to get ready for lunch, conscious of having abbreviated her story a little. She had not, for instance, mentioned what had occurred when Freddie, called away for a moment on one of those mysterious yacht-owners' errands, had left her alone with Jeff and she had seen that look in his eyes, had seen him coming slowly toward her, had found herself in his arms, kissing Jeff, being kissed by Jeff, a Jeff who had become very French and was murmuring things like "Je t'aime" and "Je t'adore"...

One didn't tell Kate everything.
Do you remain unmoved by that? Then you, monsieur, have truly a heart de stone. Can't you remember the first time you felt like Jeff did?:
But at heart he was a romantic, and he had always known the other half of himself that every romantic prays for, and in Terry, from the first meeting on the yacht, he was convinced that he had found her. 'I wandered through a world of women, seeking you,' said the poet, and Jeff felt how true that was. And there was another poet who said 'Once you're kissed by Amy, tear up the list, it's Amy,' and that was true, too. These poets hit the nail on the head.

A Wodehouse a Week #64: French Leave

J'ai seulement une copie de Les Français partent; mais quoiqu'il soit l'un des travaux relativement moins connus de P.G. Wodehouse, c'est amusement encore grand et une sorte merveilleuse de festin différent si vous voulez une brève coupure continentale de sa Londres et anglais de manoir de campagne livres d'amour. Dépensez quelques francs et sélectionnez-vous vers le haut d'une copie. Voulez écarter votre profit dégoûtant un peu plus près de maison? Cliquez sur dessus lient à la droite ci-dessus. Rappelez-vous juste: elle est française! (Amazon ad.)

I have no idea what I just said.

C'est l'index à un Wodehouse chaque semaine.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Ten of a Kind: I Wouldn't Belong to Any Club That Would Have Me As a Member

Not to mention this interior page from L.E.G.I.O.N. ‘94 Annual #5:

(More Ten of a Kind here.)