Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Kitsune Britney: The Persona of Britney Spears In Folklore

This isn't so much an observance of pop-star Britney Spears as a person, but more an observation of her public image, which I believe is key to what still keeps her interesting. There are a number of "journalists" keeping tabs on her like ghouls, waiting for when she might go the way of Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe...or Kurt Cobain...or Amy Winehouse...or Judy Garland...

And I seriously doubt that will happen...because in recent years, it looks like Britney Spears has begun to embrace her public persona and roll with it, as opposed to self-destruct and reject it. Between 2007-2008, it looked like self-destruction was a possibility, wherein she appeared to reject maturity and becoming attached in favor of becoming increasingly immature and detached...and then that dilemma was put into a seeming holding pattern where responsibility became delegated via a conservatorship and she has spent the last decade in a kind-of stasis, where all there is for her to do is embrace all that she is and learn to like it.

But what is Britney Spears? If she's reinventing her "self" to be more like the image crafted by manager Larry Rudolph and music video director Nigel Dick over 2 decades ago, then what is that image of that could make it identifiable as a form of empowerment for her to realize was already there? What identity is she in the process of adjusting to accepting? At the time of this writing, I present my answer:

In folklore & mythology, there are characters who represent the power of the human spirit to combat and make light of negative behavior patterns. These characters appear in tales of morality and ethical dilemmas. They are identified as Tricksters. These are usually depicted as smart, clever animals, both good & evil, helpful & hurtful - not particularly perceptive or self-aware all the time...but they have the potential to mature into self-awareness. Britney Spears' public persona is essentially a female trickster. The most famous tricksters in folklore - B'rer Rabbit, Reynard the Fox, Coyote, Bugs Bunny, Bill Murray, Batman - are male, but there are notable female tricksters in mythology, particularly the one I believe can most be associated with Britney Spears: the Japanese fox spirit, Kitsune.

So..let's meet Kitsune Britney, shall we?

Now..wasn't that convenient? Britney's line of fragrances includes one emblematic of duality..and for the purposes of my comparison, shape-shifting. I might buy a bottle of Fantasy Twist to see what the two-in-one fragrances smell like, but this is already a head-start on the road to becoming acutely self-aware. Kitsune starts off as a fox and then gains intelligence and magic powers with age; the nine tails of Kitsune represent her "levels" of power & experience.

Through the conveniently-provided visual aid of a perfume bottle shaped like a Pokeball...we can track the journey of this "Kitsune Britney":

Kitsune Britney made her grand debut on the cover of Rolling Stone, prior to the debut of Britney's second album, Oops, I Did It Again. The cover was controversial at the time because Britney was 17 and the photo, while looking pretty tame compared to today's standards, implied sexual intimacy on a cover of a magazine aimed at adults..and yet, compared to most images offered of Britney over the years, this actually looks elegant:

And there she is...looking like a genie in a bottle, hence the bottle. While Christina Aguilera was singing a song laden with innuendo about offering to be "..your genie in a bottle..", we already have Britney, who might as well be classified as ascending to the form of a Djinn, on the cover of Rolling Stone! And Genies are also tricksters. But this is just misdirection, here. This is Kitsune Britney, in the form of a genie, right away standing apart from the competition arisen since the debut of her first album. It's perfect. Kitsune Britney is marking her territory.

Kitsune Britney next appears in the music video for Spears' "I'm A Slave For You", part of her third album, simply titled Britney. Within a short space of four years (1998-200), Spears' career has focused on her coming of age and increasing confidence with her celebrity fame, but an eerie focus/curiosity by tabloids on her eventual "de-flowering" and transition towards appealing to adults more than kids & teenagers. This happens clumsily, because the content of her songs don't deal with growing up emotionally, but rather, asserting misplaced confidence that everything's proceeding as it should and the sky's the limit. Meanwhile, it's clear that the Britney Spears of the music videos is not the same person in private, or may try clumsily to live up to the public image, as her relationship with Justin Timberlake eroded. Kitsune Britney is still art imitating life. Real-life Britney Spears was life imitating art.

Tricksters aren't perfect. Their tales were created to make light of human behavior and serve as parables of success & failure. Whenever Britney dropped the ball, she wasn't quite sure where to go next, professionally or personally. Many stories about tricksters involve encounters where the trickster gets tricked. Between 2002 and 2008, Britney can't shake the sense that her best days were behind her, but like Kitsune, she assumes different roles...she becomes a girlfriend, a mother, a wife, an entrepreneur, a producer. She had even officially embraced the role of a sex symbol with her fourth album, In The Zone, but that role was more effective when it was subtlety handed, not overt. The video and song for "Toxic" looked like nothing more than a better-than-average Jessica Simpson routine. It's all "old hat".

And then there's the breakdown between 2007 and 2008, of which I can observe she's on the defensive all the time, adopting various affects like a British accent, multiple multi-colored wigs, an umbrella (Kitsune's umbrella!) and shaving her head to look like a genie (maybe), all while surrounded by a sinister entourage. It's Kitsune Britney in attack mode, but it's totally unbecoming and sad. A fifth album, Blackout, debuted at this time, of which the one song of note, "Gimme More", hints at the self-awareness of how excessive her life had become, while confirming & unveiling the duality of Britney & trickster Kitsune Britney for the first time. Not exactly good times, though, but they pave the way for the damage control summation of Britney's life by that point in the form her sixth album, Circus, which implies a return of the old wit..And the marked the return of then-former manager Larry Rudolph to bring some stability back to her career.

And we next arrive on the years of her residency in Las Vegas, where she performed nightly to refill her bank account, pay the bills and assure everyone that she's still viable:

This is Britney saying "I've still got it!", but it's also the Kitsune Britney showing off her sexier side more often than in the past, on a schedule. Her outfits almost look like artist's depictions of Kitsune in the form of a sexy woman, but this is more of a reassurance, not a reinvention. It's Britney using her trickster self to play it safe, as safe as you could be, considering it's sexy Kitsune:

The blonde Kitsune on the upper-right looks like the cartoon version of Britney from the video for her song, "Don't Break The Ice".

And so...with the Vegas residency over, Britney has been posting more videos of herself on social media, often as a continued assurance that all is well, but this Britney that we're seeing is different somehow. If her public persona is truly the trickster "Kitsune Britney" and the real Britney is less artful, than this new Britney is either a reconciliation of both identities or Kitsune Britney firmly in the driver's seat. Nevertheless, she's seemingly more self-aware than usual...and self-awareness is not the ultimate goal of a trickster, but in finding it, they seem heroic. Here's to days to come for Kitsune Britney:

Monday, May 20, 2019

Doctor Who: Scratchman by Tom Baker (and James Goss)

I first heard of Doctor Who Meets Scratchman in 2008 - when the revival of the BBC TV series was truly at the peak of its trendiness and David Tennant was a few months away from passing the key to the Tardis over to Matt Smith. The show was so popular that there was talk of doing a spin-off movie, though whether it would star Tennant, Smith or a stunt-casted Robert Downey Jr or Johnny Depp was up in the air...well, that's what interested the people at Doctor Who Magazine, because they knew attempts at a film featuring the cast of the TV series had been tried before..

In the 1960's, there were 2 Doctor Who movies starring Peter Cushing as "Dr. Who", but he was playing a different version of the First Doctor, played by William Hartnell on television. In the 1970's, Tom Baker had become the 4th actor to play the Doctor on television and fancied starring in a spin-off film that would've starred himself and TV co-stars Elisabeth Sladen & Ian Marter, who played Sarah Jane Smith & Harry Sullivan, respectively.

This is what the lineup looked like:
    They liked working together. 

Baker collaborated with Marter on a film script that would've been in the style of the stories told at the time, which resembled pastiches of British gothic horror movies, usually the ones featuring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, but also Roger Corman movies featuring Vincent Price, Basil Rathbone & Peter Lorre. I personally prefer the era where Baker is hanging out with Mary Tamm or his future ex-wife Lalla Ward offering gummy bears to megalomaniacs while tinkering with upgrades for his robot dog/valet, K9.

K9, meet K9...Now THAT'S a crossover!

 That being said, there are a lot of great moments featuring this team and the banter between them sparkles in ways that make other Tardis teams look like an assembly of actors.

The film's plot was the 4th Doctor vs The Devil, possibly the biggest representative of evil the character could've faced. Longtime foes the Cybermen and the Daleks would've served as guest-villains. The Devil, going under the name "Scratchman" stages elaborate scenarios to get the Doctor's attention, including an army of scarecrows terrorizing a village...

           Cool, but not quite what we got...

   Uh..kinda yes and no..happens later, but this is going to be a spoiler-free review, because it's good enough to recommend.   

That's more like it! 

Those scarecrows are the main original monsters in this adventure. Scratchman would've been played by Vincent Price:

Artist's conception. Of course 

The final showdown between Scratchman, the Doctor, after many twists and turns, would've taken place inside a giant pinball machine in place of a labyrinth:

Certainly larger than that, but you get the idea.

Having outwitted Scratchman, the Doctor and his friends return to the Tardis and party down to the tune of "Yes, We Have No Bananas."

I'm reminded of Marvin Suggs & His All-Food Glee Club rendition of that old chestnut..

And that was all that was known of the film, according to the only surviving copy of the 1st draft of the screenplay, found among papers belonging to departed 1980's Doctor Who producer John Nathan-Turner. Proper financing for the film couldn't be found, plus the effort seemed awfully humble in the wake of Star Wars and Star Trek movies either in-development or already released. It was condemned to "development hell" and talk of even adapting the script into a novelization at least began when the scripts authored by Douglas Adams for "Shada", "The Pirate Planet" and "Doctor Who And The Krikkitmen" were being novelised. Up until then, fans had to settle for a vaguely detailed synopsis with a speculative mock-up of a movie "poster" published the TV series official tie-in magazine to indulge our imagination...

Baker collaborated with writer James Goss on a reimagined version of this story, with the end result being a novel written & published in 2019, so it will have a cameo by Doctors 10, 11, 12 & 13, plus a feeling of a "last hurrah" proper for Tom Baker in his own words, particularly as he approaches his ninth decade. Goss cleans up the narrative to feel less cinematic and more like an extra-long adventure from the original series, so it's familiarity may make it seem more cozy than groundbreaking; but that's usually the highest compliment a tie-in novel can recieve. Considering how there aren't too many novels featuring the 4th Doctor because writers found him tricky to convincingly transition to plain prose, the fact that his portrayer on television succeeds while the seasoned journeymen didn't makes this adventure worth your time.

One thing that bothered me: it appears they couldn't get permission to use the Daleks as they appeared in the screenplay, so they were substituted with giant Chess's okay, but they're no Daleks.

Not quite as it appears in the book, yet it has the right ring to it..I actually think Goss & Baker should've realized the Chess pieces this way, rather than as golf carts. Spoilers.

Friday, May 10, 2019

"Frank Duck...You ARE The Father!"

Let's speculate that the father of Donald Duck's nephews - Huey, Dewey & Louie - might be someone whose name was revealed subtly, right under our noses. How is this possible?

This is the great unanswered question: Huey, Dewey & Louie have no father in the comics or cartoons - there was simply no character created identifed in the role. Technically, Donald is the closest to a true parent those boys ever had, yet because he's their uncle, he can get away with being reckless and irresponsible, albeit in that tricky way of fictional characters who remain likable even when being might strain things to put it in stronger words than that. Consider how it took close to 80 years to bother giving the boy's mother, Della, a personality of any definable sort.

This theory is somewhat of a retcon built on a frivolous cartoon, but it could work. There's an old Donald Duck cartoon titled "Frank Duck Brings 'Em Back Alive!", in which Donald is exploring the jungle in a search for a "wild man" - played by Goofy - and the hijinks ensue. The interesting thing about it is the roleplay involved - by this stage, the Disney short cartoons featuring Goofy  (particularly the shorts from 40's & 50's) commonly featured Goofy assuming different identities or playing multiple characters in an effort to broaden his comedic range as a cartoon character. It was risky, because the character could wind up becoming a total blank or changing too much, particularly the ones where he's a suburban dad - foreshadowing Goof Troop, albeit with a faster pace - but it didn't take hold too much. This cartoon tries a similar trick with Donald, who is presented as "Frank Duck", a light nod to real-life explorer Frank Buck, but Donald is Donald, functioning as more or less a straight man to Goofy's surreal Tarzan cosplay.

                 You see what I did there?

My theory is simple. Instead of Donald as Frank Duck, we'll presume Donald is borrowing a boat belonging to his brother-in-law, Frank. Isn't that easy? The nephews daddy has a name...a name that risks sounding more like a nod to current Ducktales producer Francisco "Frank" Angones rather than a nod to an obscure Donald Duck cartoon, but it's a neat double-connection to the past & present.

No need for the test results, Maury, we've got this figured out.

Friday, May 3, 2019

#FlashbackFriday - The Cereal-ized #JusticeLeague

These comics were critic-proof. You get a free mini-comic inside a box of cereal. Bagged, of course. The only difficulty lay in the fact that they were randomly inserted into the boxes, so you were always at risk of getting "repeat" copies of comics (I'm reminded of the scene in Evan Dorkin's "Eltingville Club" comics, where Josh goes insane searching for specific trading cards packed in bundles of sliced bread at a supermarket). With luck, I only wound up with 1 repeat copy and got all 4.

These were simple Justice League stories, although juggling a large group of characters like that in an itty-bitty amount of story space is a feat, so it's hardly a simple matter. Each issue spotlighted a specific character and juxtaposed a flashback to their respective origins amidst repercussions felt in an adventure happening to the team in the present day. 

There are neat tidbits of things: Batman's mommy, Martha Wayne's vocation as a professional artist (a rare bit of character development for a character that is mostly unknown aside from serving as a catalyst in her son's story); Bat-Mite's rivalry with Mr. Mxyzptlk; Green Lantern's Simon & Jessica coming off like Wonder Twin analogues...It's nice that the comics were done by actual veterans and not freelance newcomers, so you can definitely meet them on the convention circuit, but this was all done to coincide with the release of the Justice League movie, which came and went. 

One thing that's kept this promotion from being entirely forgotten is the cereal boxes, particularly the one with Wonder Woman on the box of Multi-Grain Cheerios. I have never seen that box of cereal on any supermarket or grocery store shelf during that time. I saw the other General Mills cereals featuring their mascots dressed as DC Comics superhero characters: The Trix rabbit as Superman; Sonny, The Cocoa-Puffs bird as The Flash; Lucky, the Lucky Charms leprechaun as Green Lantern; the Honey Nut Cheerios bee dressed as Batman (or Bat-Mite, perhaps), but no Wonder Woman on Multi-Grain Cheerios.

The only time I saw that image in particular were in two places: on Neal Adams Facebook page  (for he was the artist who illustrated the character in this promotion) and in-person, when I visited Neal's "gallery" on Free Comic Book Day that year  (this was in 2017). The boxes were offered as merchandise available for sale at the "gift shop" corner of his gallery...which in all honesty, was clearly his Continuity Studios office in midtown Manhattan, which he toyed briefly with offering guided tours under the auspices of the location being an art gallery but was clearly an office space that we were invited to look around and brose the was nice, if dimly-lit in places and the corridor was a tight fit to maneuver when traveling among a group of four while nodding "Mmm-hmm, a-ha, mm-hmm, a-ha, oh, yes, that's interesing!", but yes, it was interesting. The man is a living legend, so it was a fun opportunity. His private office had a model globe illustrating that "Expanding Earth"/"Hollow Earth" theory, which he did not create, but has become associated with because he talks about it more often than those who did originate it..imagine a round, blue balloon with a single slice of pizza lying face down ontop of it...and that's it. He was also giving out free signed copies of reproductions of The Neal Adams Sketchbook, a sampler that he used to sell in the late-70's/early-80's that offered xeroxed reproductions of line-art. It was worth getting just for his drawing of Atomic Mouse, a character that probably should be dusted off and brought back, preferably with Neal's design, which reminds me of Andy Panda:
Ain't that cute?

I remember he signed that new "edition" free and then charged a fee if you wanted anything else signed. I got my copy of Batman: A Celebration Of 75 Years signed, simply because I had brought it along with me and those "Anniversary" books from that time seem built for that purpose.

An autograph book? 

 But I didn't buy the cereal box. I have never paid more than five bucks for any box of cereal and those boxes on display were priced at more than a sawbuck...I wonder if Neal still has them...I'm assuming he has the same bunch he used for that photo of them bundled in that tiny shopping cart. My dad used to save an old can of lager beer because it had a baseball-themed image on it, like an old-time baseball card, but that can got thrown away because the metal rusted and...well, it's kind of a gross idea to collect and trade beer cans like bubble gum cards...or Camel Cash, if anyone out there remembers that.

Neal's experiment with tourism made for a fun Free Comic Book Day memory. And I still have those mini-comics, so I can go back and read them, so I don't have to remember what they were about.

Now...Atomic Mouse..when are they gonna bring him back? Maybe the guys at American Mythology would be interested...

Tuesday, April 30, 2019

And Now...A Totally Random Observation:

I sometimes wonder who decides which celebrities get to appear as contestants on Dancing With The Stars. About 8 years ago, actress Daniella Monet campaigned on social media to drum up interest in seeing her appear on the sounded like a great idea, but she has yet to appear on the show...especially since she co-starred with popstar Ariana Grande on the sitcom Victorious for all of its 3 seasons. It's simple arithmetic of fame=merit×association.

So..8 years later..and she's still not on Dancing With The Stars?!

And thus concludes this week's random observation...

Friday, April 19, 2019

The Great Justice League #Fancast of 2014...

I'm just going to hazard an assumption that fans of superhero teams like to imagine their own lineups. Like NBA draft picks. In 2014, I posted on Instagram two pages from my bullet journal of a Justice League lineup that consisted of 1) Azrael, Batgirl, Hawkman, Captain Marvel, Green Lantern & Plastic Man and 2) Azrael, Batgirl, The Atom, Hawkman, Vibe and Element Woman.

Considering that it was 2014, it was a very timely bit of casting. Barbara Gordon was back as Batgirl after 25 years spent wheelchair-bound as Oracle; Vibe had been sharply modified in large part by appearing as a supporting character in The Flash; Element Woman had appeared prominently in the Flashpoint mini-series and was presumably going to appear more often (she didn't). The point behind the two images was me imagining two or three years worth of stories, so this pipe-dream follows the tradition of shuffling the team roster midway through the tenure to keep things fresh. I even imagined Azrael's habit of wearing different costumes come into play - I used an image from when Sergio Cariello was drawing him, followed by the red armored costume he wore in Knightquest. 

So...of course, I  paid attention to Azrael appearing in Justice League Odyssey. Did somebody involved in the book see my post from 6 years ago and say, "Okay"? It's an extraordinary coincidence to use a character who had been in mothballs from DC canonical continuity for almost two decades. I remember turning Hal Jordan into The Spectre was based on a suggestion from a message board...having the 90's incarnation of Superboy be revealed as a clone made from DNA of Superman and Lex Luthor was inspired by a fan letter that got published in an issue of said placeholder's comic book.

At the end of the day, every idea gets used. I didn't imagine Congorilla joining the Justice League, but that was something James Robinson had in his bullet journal..maybe they just get willed into existence that way. Or we're just reading the same stuff. I'm not going to go into too much detail on how my take on these characters working together would've worked out, but hopefully it will inspire their existence.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

And I Don't Know At All If These #BatgirlMovie Rumors About Casting #LilyCollins as #Batgirl Are Unfolding Properly...

...because we should've heard some official news to keep the wheels in motion a little further, given that 2019 is reaching the halfway mark.

A few weeks ago, I re-tweeted a bit of gossip I read on Twitter regarding the upcoming Batgirl film that made me believe my instincts regarding Hollywood casting were right on the money. The rumor was that 1 of 3 actresses were being sought after for the role of Barbara Gordon (Batgirl): Emma Watson, Riley Keough and Lily Collins. The source was Delve Calzone ( @TriggerTwin ).


A guy. On Twitter. I don't know him personally, but I like that rumor, particularly the mention of Lily Collins. I can believe that she would be perfect casting, as I've hopefully suggested properly in past Batgirl-related posts on this blog. Aside from the fact that she's the only actress alleged to be in contention whose film resume has gotten better and better over the years, wheras other flavors of the week have hit a slump, what helps sweeten the argument are all these beautiful photos I keep finding of Lily, usually as part of her modeling work for Lancome's cosmetics line. I can picture her playing a character who would NEED to wear a Batsuit to battle criminals. We've already seen Emma Watson in another franchise fighting evil characters without having to wear a mask & cape. Riley Keough would just look like she was cosplaying - sorta like Alicia Silverstone did in Batman And Robin. #LilyCollinsIsBatgirl, ok?

Having written that, I must admit the rumor also includes another big leap in the same tweet, which doesn't sound impossible, but only calls attention to how little we actually know of anything...we know Matt Reeves has submitted his script for The Batman and that it will be set in Batman's early days...

...the next leap in Calzone's rumor is that Barbara Gordon is a character in Matt Reeves' Batman film, which doesn't suggest much about what the Batgirl film will be about, but Reeves might be involved in an advisory capacity, like a co-producer of sorts, until they get a director for it, so there might be some talk of having the films be connected without being prequels or sequels of one or the other. Warner Brothers is interested in a female director - of the names out there, I thought Reed Morano would be cool.

And then there's the costume. There are a lot of different Batgirl costumes. Nowadays, the most-popular Batgirl costumes are Cameron Stewart's "Batgirl of Burnside" design and Jim Lee's "New52" design from Gail Simone was writing Batgirl in 2011-2014. I would suggest the film use both.