Friday, December 28, 2012

The Nifty 9 of 2012

It's time for a list of the Nifty 9 - reading material you can find in a better-than-o.k. comic shop that premiered this year:

(In no particular order...)

1.  Jim Henson's Tale of Sand:   I found out about this book after it won the Will Eisner Award for Best Original Graphic Novel. This GN, an adaptation of an unproduced screenplay written by Henson and Jerry Juhl, is a psychedelic romp through Monument Valley in which an average everyman tries to match wits with his better-prepared, urbane doppelganger while on a quest to "follow the map", have a cigarette, win the woman of his dreams, dodge the mad sheik's army, stay out of the director's shot, be the town hero and cross the dessert while heeding the warning:  "don't trust the map."

2. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye #1: the quick-changing robots get the Justice League International treatment, beginning with this issue. Those of you only familiar with these characters (yes, characters) via the Michael Bay films will experience shell shock.

3. Case Closed - Volume #42: this manga series about a teen detective who turns into a kid detective and has to slowly solve the mystery of the clandestine organization behind his transformation, has been going strong for over 15 years, even if any hope for futher episodes of the anime spin-off being brought over to the USA seems unlikely. Anyway, this is the one - the volume I would recommend to someone who would be curious to try it. It's got some strong arcs and characterization, along with appearances and revelations from the semi-recurring characters that tend to pop in and out.

4. Doctor Who - Shada: this was the best read of the summer. Gareth Roberts had to rise to the challenge of cobbling together every draft, fragment and scribble of Douglas Adams aborted Doctor Who epic and reshape it into a proper full-length novel. Well, he did it. He really, really did it. My only question is: What will you do for an encore, Gareth? ... it just so happens that Tom Baker had written a script for a DW film that would have featured Vincent Price as the villain - titled Doctor Who Meets Scratchman, the film was almost put into production before the financing fell apart. When I had asked him on Twitter about it, Roberts reply was, "Good Idea." ...

5. The Secret History of D.B. Cooper: Oni published this series that offered a fanciful look into the life of that mysterious skyjacker whose fate has never been solved. The artwork is very Mike Mignola/Darwyn Cooke-ish, right down to the red gummi bear sidekick.

6. Idolized #0: From Michael Turner's Aspen MLT. The special premiere #0 issue of this comic starts off well. It's about the winner of a reality show in which super-powered wannabes compete for a rookie spot in an established team, The Powered Protectors, but there are hints that the protagonist is going to be their bad penny. BTW, this series is also notable for being the only comic book series I can remember that offered variant photo covers (in which they get a model to pose in costume as the lead character) that weren't bikini pin-ups in disguise. Vampirella, Glory, Ally Kat, The 10th Muse - all cheesecake.

7. Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye, #5: this standout issue is the conclusion to a medical mystery (yes, robots solving medical mysteries!) featuring fan-favorite Ratchet, is very entertaining, with an ending that's a laugh riot. There's a good reason the title of this chapter is not revealed until the last page...spoilers. ;)

8. Burt Ward, Boy Wonder:  the problem with small press companies is that you never know if the premiere issue is the only issue, or in this case, a sneak peek offered on Free Comic Book Day. This was supposed to be a spin-off of a popular series of their hit Misadventures of Adam West series, in which Sir Adam West gets involved in different kinds of adventures in different genres (usually nods to gigs-that-might-have-been, like playing James Bond in On Her Majesty's Secret Service or a Western film without the Three Stooges or a serious Caped Crusader and even appearing as Indiana Jones or The Mad Hatter). Here, Ward gets his own turn. First we get an update of his life right now - running a non-profit animal rescue shelter and walking two amiable pooches around the location of the batcave from the 60s Batman TV series. Then we see him chase a mysterious masked man (looking suspiciously like The Red Hood) into said cave,with the dogs tagging along. Just as John Carter wound-up whisked into Mars,  Ward and  the dogs wind up on another planet. It sounded like a fun adventure - we'll have to wait and see if and when it resumes. An ad featuring a spin-off series about Julie Newmar was also solicited, but has not appeared on stands yet.

9. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen - Century, Part 3: 2009: And this is the one to recommend to everyone - be it the folks who are curious try it or the ones who found past installments inaccessible, and not just because they'll get the references to 30 Rock, Burn Notice, Lost, Heroes, 24, Centurions, Emma Peel, Mary Poppins, Harry Potter, Children in Need, The Dark is Rising and Wizards of Waverly Placethis is the best comic book of the year. 'Nuff said. 'Nuff said.

So there you have it - a Nifty 9 bon-bons from 2012. I'll see you in 2013. :)

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

In The Spirit For An Xmas Wedding

I had to jump out of the passenger side of Nick's car and land feet first in front of the courthouse steps as it hovered near a fire hydrant.

"Thanks for the lift. Central isn't exactly across the street from the carrier."

He laughed and gave me a thumbs up. "No problem. I'm sure Eb would've gotten you here even quicker - Duggan tells me that cab has booster rockets! And tell Colt the job is still open if he wants it!" He shut the door and took off as I rushed in.


The Groom was staring into a mirror in the Commissioner's office, adjusting his mask. I knocked on the door. He saw me through the mirror's reflection.

"The door's open!"

"Hi Denny. You're not wearing your black suit?"

"I don't wear a black suit."

"Right, right. So anyway, I'm glad I made it here in time to be the best man and all, filling in for Eb and such. Where's Sam and Blub?"

His mask secure, he began readjusting his tie. He must have been nervous. "Sam's on a new case with Tracy's kid, Junior - and he talked Eb into coming along...a trio of investigators...sheesh. And Blub is with the Curry's in Alaska, fighting winter zombies. By the way, Eb left his cab behind to serve as our chariot - you'll have to drive it, so that's three jobs I've got for you."


"Yeah - Dolan's doing the ceremony after we caught Mr. Carrion posing as Judge Kitchen. You'll need to give away the bride."

"Busy day?"

He smiled. "'s looking up. It looked like the bride would be late, but it turned out she found where we left the gown on her own and sent the message to Dolan through one of the bailiffs." Finished, he took one last look at himself. "..and something blue."


I couldn't see the bride under the heavy veil, but the gown was beautiful. It also had a very long train that I almost tripped over when I walked around from behind to take her hand.

The organist began to play the wedding march. As we slowly walked up the room, I took stock of how they decorated the area with loads of Christmas and Wedding-themed decor: pink bouquets, a white cake, a Christmas tree, a table full of gifts (I'm glad I remembered to bring something, although most of the gift boxes were the same size as what I had brought with me - a dreadful thought popped into my head)... Dolan stood at the center, with Denny to his left. I wonder what Dolan was going to say? Or did the Bride and Groom have vows prepared?

There were even two of Santa's helpers - though they looked kind of seedy: the first one was acting as an usher and didn't even fill out his suit; the second was slumped in a chair at a far corner with his gloved hands wrapped around a bottle of rot gut on his lap. He was out for the day.

I also took notice of the crowds in attendance: Family, friends and acquaintances of the Dolan family appeared on the Bride's side...the Groom's side was made up entirely of cops and crooks - the crooks in handcuffs, of course. Among that lot I recognized Satin, Wang, Boil, Cossack, Hussein, Lox, Carrion, Paris, Julia, Sand, P'Gell ... I think someones missing..

And then I almost tripped again! "I've got you," the Bride whispered. She did have a very good grip.

"Yeah, thanks," I whispered back.

And then she kept on whispering. She was talking to herself. "I've got you this time, Gainsborough, in front of everyone, now. There'll be no more cat-and-mouse games from here on."

Her grip was getting tighter, that's when I looked at her hand and notice the gloves she was wearing. They were purple with stripes on the back...purple, purple, purple...


It turned out this was going to be a very short ceremony. Neither side had anything to say and Dolan seemed keener on re-lighting his pipe.

"I left my matchbook in my desk, so if the Groom wouldn't mind putting the ring on her and getting on with it, so I can consider you kids married already.."

"Sure, sure, of course." Denny nervously nodded. His hands were shaking fierce as he reached into the inside pocket of his jacket ... and then became eerily clam as he smiled while he revealed a pair of handcuffs and slapped them on the wrists of his bride!

"Sorry, dear, but I'm afraid I've got cold feet to go with your cold hands." He lifted the veil. The face was familiar: white and blue complexion, with matching blue hair and makeup. Actually, there are three or four nasty women fitting that description, so I waited for Denny to say it. This event was cooling up.

"Louise Lincoln, it's been a pleasure." He reached inside his jacket again. "I believe you were looking for these?" He held up a set of gold wedding bands that revealed inscriptions that glowed and became legible when held up to the light. "The Tibetan Yeti Bands - believed to grant unknown power to the bearer of the ring, if I recall the legend correctly. I just thought they'd make good bait when I had this event advertised in the papers."

"What did she do to Ellen?" I asked.

Dolan laughed. "Who? Seriously, this event was advertised as the wedding of Thomas Gainsborough, here. There was no mention of the bride's name."

The purple gloves on Louise's hand began to change. First they began turning into a paler shade, then they formed a heavy coat of frost before crystallizing and shattering, exposing Lousie's free hands. Her handcuffs become useless when she froze them, breaking them off as well. She then froze Denny, Dolan and myself  and grabbed the bands off Denny's palm with ease. All we could do was watch.

"Just because the wedding's off doesn't mean the bride is obligated to give back the rings, Gainsborough! Watch this bride run away!" She turned and began to make her exit. All the crooks seated in the groom's aisle were cheering her, but didn't dare cross her path.

That's when Santa stepped in. "Where's your Christmas spirit? Is that why you're so blue?" He then grabbed the train of her gown and began to spin like a top, forming a tornado that reeled her in. She began using her powers to fight back, but the end result backfired.

Santa took off his suit and revealed another red suit, one with a familiar lightning bolt symbol stamped across his chest.

"Just when I thought I was going to have to pull one of my old tricks and dash for a present, Louise shows up to help me make a gift: an ice sculpture!"

He raced forward and used his powers to thaw out the three of us - generating heat by offering the ultimate pat-down. It would've been very awkward if it lasted longer than 2.5 seconds.

Denny thanked him by admiring his handiwork with Louise - currently serving as a wedding gown tornado preserved in her own ice. "What a pity we'll have to arrest this one and put it in the fridge right away. You do good work, Wally."

"Thanks. I love spending the holidays back home in Central. By the way, those gloves she was wearing..."

I jumped in. "I can answer that one. Those gloves are a big deal this year. I brought a set for you as a gag. And I noticed that drunk Santa wore a pair as well."

Denny's eyes widened. "Santa?" He turned to the corner. There was only an empty chair where the fat man once sat.

Denny looked a bit forlorn. "I missed him...Santa was here...and I missed him."

Wally tried to cheer him up. "Y'know, it might not be who you think it is...I mean, Bats' wore purple gloves, too."

The End

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Grey Friday (Slightly Imperfect - May Contain Lead)

You won't find any comic book fans/collectors/hoarders camped outside their favorite/loathsome/middling/mediocre/so-so neighborhood comic shop on Black Friday. If you do see any, feel free to let me know, because it's an unheard of new development.

Some shops might offer a discount on Friday - emphasis on the word some. That's a shame, since I am convinced they would like nothing more than than to actually see stuff move. There are holiday sales, but not  obvious sales. No President's Day sale, but a Memorial Day sale. No Fourth of July sale, but a Veterans Day sale. No 24 Days 'til Xmas sale, but a ChrismaHanuKwanzaRamukah sale during that week leading up to New Year's  Day. No Back-To-School sale (because comics fit nicely in-between the pages of textbooks) but there might be a sale for Back-To-Comicon...(don't-forget-we're-still-here) in neighborhoods within close proximity to any events.

There was a time when I got my hopes up and thought change was in the air. Not Obama-style Change, but a chance for comics to be sold in a new venue - 99 cent stores. It turned out to be just one big fever dream.

The U.S. Government is enforcing tighter regulations banning the sale of any products containing lead. Lead - the manufacturer's friend, used in anything from electronic devices, herbal supplements, dinnerware, paint and, most important, children's toys and printed media. Could it be that all those old toys and books sold in comic shops were going to have to be rid of at bargain prices?, because technically, that's all grey market merchandise now. Grey Market merchandise consists of items that are sold anywhere but here, because they don't meet government quality control standards, yet they can be sold here in mom-and-pop discount stores, though not necessarily bargain prices. You can buy screwdrivers with handles apparently made of papier mache, wire and cables that do not fit in any of your electronic devices without a bit of give and take, toilet seats made from cardboard or shower curtains as durable as tissue paper.

Ever buy tubes of Colgate toothpaste with Chinese characters stamped all over? How about off-brand wet wipes/shampoo/detergent with Spider-Man on the packaging? It's all stuff you wouldn't find in your local CVS or Walgreens, but they've got it, along with brands of food you've never heard of, or discontinued candy (Fruitzee Rolls, anyone?). How about Flomo stationary? A Yogi Bear coloring book from 2010?
A High School Musical pencil case? Foam stickers of Spongebob Bluepants? Half-finished coffee mugs with Disney characters missing spots of color? A Hannah Montana sticker set, featuring badly scanned photos of a barely recognizable Miley Cyrus? How about some weird Winnie the Pooh robot toys? A large robot toy with the head shaped like the Ben10 character? Cars crayons? How about a CD case featuring Conan Edogawa and Harley Hartwell from Case Closed, but in pink, because the sweatshop that put the thing together had no clue that this was not a show aimed exclusively at girls, let alone young children. There's no such thing as flawed merchandise, so why not flawed comics? Never mind the high content of lead - how about comics from failed companies? Virgin Comics (Richard Branson and Gotham Chopra's attempt at launching comics as potential movie franchises), Crossgen Comics (Mark Alessi's love note to Roger Zelazaney, purchased by Disney before they decided to go for the real deal and stop being cheap), Topps Comics (The Kirbyverse, Jurassic Park, Duckman, X-Files) and Dark Hors - oops! Um..heh, sorry.

What about back issues? That's a tough one, but I would love to buy a copy of Todd McFarlane's Spider-Man #1 for a dollar - wait, I can actually do that now if I wanted... Actually, if this was 1982, there would still be 88cent stores (with tax, all items added up to 99cents). Most of the clothing in these shops come with a sticker tag that cautions that the item is "Slightly Imperfect" - just like most back issues! It's so easy!

What about direct market "exclusive" toys? The kind of toys that actually look dull out of the box, so we leave them in? That's a tricky about behind the counter? That's usually where the cashier keeps the batteries and off-brand DVD-R/+R/pi-R/(x+y=2x)R discs...and the deodorant. 

There we are ... a socially acceptable venue ripe for exploitation!...and while I keep dreaming, I'll see if the comic shop is offering another 15% off sale. I hope they're not charging tax again...

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Except From The Diary of A Nervous Husband...

Hey gang! I was at a swap meet and found a bunch of unmarked blank videocassette tapes that I brought for a buck!

...and then I found out why. I was hoping for someones pay-per-view recordings, but this was interesting ... and disturbing. Here's a transcript from a video diary on one tape dated October 14, 1997...

OK...Last time, I talked about how I was going to different flea markets, yard sales and swap meets - they're all kind of the same, but with different names, I don't get it - shopping for a specific type of lantern. Well, I've got eight so far and I need two more. I've maxed out my credit card and I'm worried if I borrow her card, she'll catch on to what I'm doing.

The tracking started to go on the video at this point. It continues for about ten minutes before the picture and sound come back.

I'm nervous about this. I was willing to believe the house was built on a hillside and the elevation kept us constantly adjusting furniture and anything hung-up on walls and anything on wheels - that type of thing. And when I found all those dead mice in the basement the day after we learned there were mice...and when we came back from our second Honeymoon and that whole family of squatters was found...hung from the ...

Another break, this time the color went to black and white and the whole image bent and at acute angles for a few minutes before the VCR went off. I checked the tape and blew off on odd accumulation of grimy ashes forming along the edges of the tape itself. Then I played it again...

I also didn't mind that she was into scary stories, particularly this Lovecraft guy. She's got boxes of stuff - all books, most of them in different languages, I think. Some of them have pictures of ...I don't know, some kind of  tantric kama sutra voodoo stuff with a guy wearing an Octopus head...My last girlfriend was a huge My Little Pony fan. Michelle, I'm sorry I made fun of you, then. You haven't met Pamela.

The last watchable footage on the tape shows the man, now holding the camera, showing off the lanterns he purchased. They are all laid out on the floor in the formation of the points of a pentagram, with their cords and extension cords connecting to form the completed shape. He is also waving a large unwieldy hardcover book with his remaining free hand.

This is it...the book shows that if I stand in the center with the lanterns powered on, I will be safe for the night. So, I'm going to put the camera back on the stand and let it continue filming while I go to sleep.

He places a rocking chair in the center of the pentagram after setting the camera on its stand. He then plugs in a power strip that is hooked-up to all the lanterns on turns it on. The lanterns light up the area, which looks like the living room of the house. A voice calls out. It does not sound friendly.

"Michael? Are you coming to bed?"

"Michael" rushes toward a nearby desk and pulls out a gun. He then scrambles into the chair at the center of the pentagram.

"I'll be right there. I'm still watching the Late Show."

At this stage the picture tends to fade out and fade in at ten-minute intervals, with "Michael" dozing off in his rocker. The gun appears to have fallen out of his hand at some point...then, the lanterns start to flicker and a weird gurgling noise starts traveling into the room from off screen. Michael is startled and starts to look panicky before staring at something lurching forward...again, off screen. Then the power goes out.

The tape ends there.

...I started searching the tapes for more information. It seems he taped "Full House", "Step by Step", "Hanging With Mr. Cooper" and "Family Matters".

Just when you thought you'd seen the scariest thing ever, there's always something MUCH scarier...

Friday, September 28, 2012

No $#!+ Sherlock!: Elementary School

"..and Sherlock Holmes after all is mostly an attitude and a few dozen lines of unforgettable dialogue."
- Raymond Chandler, The Simple Art of Murder

Well, I could say the same thing about Phillip Marlowe, but I'd rather talk about Elementary, the new CBS drama that premiered last night, starring Johnny Lee Miller and Lucy Liu as Sherlock Holmes and Joan Watson, respectively. It was a show pilot, setting up the show's premise - Sherlock Holmes moves to New York - and meets Joan. He also meets Captain Gregson, played by Aiden Quin (Tobias Gregson is a character that sometimes pinch-hit for Inspector Lestrade in the original stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, so, yes, London had more than one cop protecting the city). The mystery was routine - basic Law & Order/CSI/Monk/Mentalist stuff. What was really interesting was Holmes.

In recent years, adaptations of Sherlock Holmes lean toward him as acting like an aloof, misanthropic rock star - if you can't keep up with me, piss off - that kind of thing. Benedict Cumberbatch is like that, Hugh Laurie is like that (yes, I am counting House M.D. - I believe that's how the revival really began) Robert Downey Jr. has that same approach, with the sexual ambiguity thrown in (I'm sure all the mystery writers who thought making their detectives confirmed bachelors with no sex lives and  ridiculous-sounding names are all wearing ice bags on their heads in the afterlife - it used to be a school of thought that the bouquet of roses and magnifying glass were two separate worlds and the genre would be more "romantic psychological suspense thriller" than "puzzle-solving detective story" How could they have known that they couldn't have been more wrong?). At this stage, Gordon Ramsay and Simon Cowell could be Sherlock Holmes.

Anyway, Johnny Lee Miller does give his performance that same rock star vibe - I'm surprised they haven't thought of playing Sting's "An Englishman In New York" or maybe they're getting to it and I'm jumping ahead again - but he also comes off as a gentlemann - we haven't seen that in a while! That was Basil Rathbone's Sherlock - calm, composed and careful. There's also some of Jeremy Brett in Miller's performance - the scenes where Homes is going over the details of the various living quarters and draws inferences from how the layout influences how the people who lived in it would have moved about. And yet, he uses his gentlemanly demeanor to deliver backhanded compliments, so their is an edge beneath the surface. It'll be interesting to watch how he stands out from the pack.

As for Lucy Liu, I think this the first time she gets to really play a character who isn't emo or a prop of some sort. There are hints that she'll get to blossom acting-wise. We'll see, we'll see.

As for the production values, I would like to see them have more fun with the New York locations. It's shot the way most films are shot in New York - flat and grainy. Terry Gilliam made New York look like a Medieval fantasy world in The Fisher King.  London was Sherlock's playground in the BBC series, but it's actually smaller than New York. Think about it, guys, just think about it...

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Silver Dollars: Ducktales at 25 Part 4

Time to play a game...or watch someone else play it HERE . I got a chance to promote Chris's blog and show both of the Ducktales NES video games at the same time. Yay me. That Australian commercial for McDonald's Happy Meal toys smacks of the 1980s! I assume it must have aired with an epsiode of "Mr. Belvedere" or "Growing Pains", followed by "The Facts of Life".

I'm happy to report that my NES still works. My Game Boy is a different story altogether. It's the strangest thing - you do your best to keep things in good shape...and entrophy makes sure that it still falls apart. Anyway, I was knee-deep in the Sega Genesis (and playing Quackshot, which is a kind-of sequel to Ducktales, really - there's no other way to explain it) to get Ducktales 2. Besides, I don't remember the first game being easy to find, anyway. I recall my mom brought it from one of those small toy shops that had backpacks hanging outside the entrance from the awnings. I remember smacking my head against the wheel of a low-hanging stroller once...

I also remember the issue of Nintendo Power that had Scrooge on the cover. And that I don't have it anymore. :(

The Ducktales game was a big improvement by Capcom after the hideous Mickey Mousecapade game...the less said about that, the better. Ducktales was actually an add-on to the pre-existing board for Mega Man, (not unlike how Ms. Pac Man was an add-on created by students at MIT and submitted to Namco) so there is a
fair amount of deja vu in the gameplay. If you've played the game before, or seen the footage provided, you can see the appeal of it. I think the highest compliment paid was an epsiode of Icons on G4 devoted to the NES - a few seconds of the Ducktales Game and title card appeared in a montage of the Nintendo Entertainment System's "Greatest Hits"/highlights. Nice.

Mickey Mousecapade - this made me run and hide behind the sofa...after my mom saw how this $50.00 game that her "intelligent" son made her buy looked on the tv.

Donald Duck in QuackShot  - I recall seeing a guy selling his Sega Genesis at a yard sale and this was the only game he offered with the system. Not Sonic, not Altered Beast. Quackshot. That makes a lot of sense to me.

To the surprise of many... Scrooge made an appearance in Kindom Hearts 2, but it was in pantomime. Squareenix made up for this egregious error by bringing back Alan Young (!) for this special appearance...

Kingdom Hearts Birth by Sleep ... I wonder what that series would have been like if it began with Sora teaming up with a certain tycoon from a town where life is like a hurricane, full of racecars, lasers and airplanes.

Friday, September 14, 2012

A Lost "Last"/ Last "Lost" Tale...

I'm posting this link to one of the blogs I follow:

The Stuff That Dreams Are Made Of...: The Witches: The Real Deal.: BEWARE! SPOILER ALERT! The scariest film I ever watched as a child was Nicolas Roeg's The Witches (1990). There were many scenes in films...

I had commented that "The Witches" was one of the last projects Jim Henson worked on before he died, but in truth, it was one of the last he oversaw. Henson was a very, very, very busy man for most of his adult life. In some alternate reality, he's the guy on Ed Sullivan's show who spins dozens of dinner plates. There are a lot of things that never saw the light of day and exist only on paper in file cabinets. For example, "Tale of Sand", a screenplay for a feature-length film which he co-wrote with Jerry Juhl.  It was adapted into a graphic novel with art by Ramon Perez and won an Eisner award. It is not the last screenplay that he worked on, but it was "lost" for a while.

We do love discovering lost things, don't we? We all thought "Oh, The Places You'll Go!" was Dr. Suess's last book, but then his wife found "Daisy-Head Mayzie", "My Many Colored Days" and "Hooray For Diffendorfer Day!". We thought "Go Slowly, Sands of Time" would be the last Disney Duck tale written by Carl Barks, but then came "Hang Gliders Be Hanged", "Horsing Around With History" and "Somewhere to Nowhere". We thought "Curtain"  was the final Hercule Poirot novel, but then Charles Osborne adapted the play "Black Coffee". We thought "Shoscombe Old Place" was the last Sherlock Holmes story written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but then came "The Final Adventures of Sherlock Holmes", which collected all the apocryphal material we never thought existed. We thought "Salmon of Doubt" was all the material Douglas Adams had left behind, until Gareth Roberts adapted "Doctor Who: SHADA" into a full-length novel that is required reading for anyone curious about Doctor Who now.There's always something "lost" - never "last", or "One of the last", or something to be rediscovered...

In the 60's Jim Henson directed, wrote and starred in a short live-action film , "Timepiece", which was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Live-Action Short. The film is a series of jump-cuts to different sequences, all featuring Jim: Jim as a caveman running in the streets, Jim as a housepainter painting an elephant pink, Jim in a top hat and tuxedo jumping off a high diving board and into a pool, Jim as an escaped prisoner in stripes on the run, etc.. Then there's "The Cube" an hour-long drama that aired on NBC around the same time as Timepiece. "The Cube" is "Portal" without the portals - a man is stuck inside this white cell while others enter and exit freely, even interacting with him briefly. Both films have the potential to be pretty dark, but Jim seems to be enjoying it, so we're enjoying these meta-parables along with him.

"Tale of Sand" is "Timepiece" and "The Cube" for the widescreen. "a surrealistic comedy-drama", the introductory note describes, with most of the screentime set in the Southwest - the same battleground where Chuck Jones imagined those private battles between Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner. There's very little dialogue. The protagonist of "Sand" is Mack, an everyman who walks into a densely populated western town with the diverse townsfolk celebrating his arrival. He is drafted by it's kindly Sheriff into a quest: it is not clear what that quest is. He is given a map and a rucksack full of supplies, is instructed to follow the map, but don't trust it, then sent on his way.

Throughout the journey, Mack is pursued/bedeviled by "Patch", a tall, dark, suave, well-dressed, wealthy and better-prepared antagonist, who is always handy with a bribe and almost-always accompanied by a mysterious blonde vixen. Strange things happen: signs pop up, wild animals pop up, buildings that are smaller on the outside/bigger on the inside turn up. Mack meets more enemies than friends and his quest devolves into a chase. Toward the end, the tale unravels and we start to get answers...maybe.

Had "Tale of Sand" been filmed, it probably would have been filmed earnestly at a quarter of the budget it demands, yet come off as a camp psychaedelic experience to anyone who saw it - it would have been "a groovy trip" spaghetti western. As a graphic novel, we get a chance to taste the images more and look for the meaning of what's happening - that is, if you would like it to have a meaning. It's not casual spending and I'm lucky the library had a copy, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to read it (it's not in any comic shops I've been to). It's worth a look.

Monday, August 27, 2012

5 Ways to Write A Martian Manhunter Movie

With The Avengers a rip-roaring success for Disney, fans on the Internet are busy wondering when Warner Brothers will launch a Justice League of America film. They tried before, with George Miller as the director and a script that tied-in to then-current storylines like The OMAC Project and Checkmate, but he had cast too many relative unknowns as the heroes and the script had been rushed into production too quickly.

There's a lot of talk about how c  following the formula Disney-Marvel made to get to an Avengers film would not be possible - Christian Bale is done playing Batman, Green Lantern tanked, Zack Snyder's The Man of Steel  is still a question mark and nobody knows what to do with Wonder Woman or The Flash. So everyone is looking toward the rest : Hawkman, Martian Manhunter, Plastic Man...etc. I want to play, too, starting with the other green guy - not the Hulk, not the Green Hornet, not the Spectre, not Green Arrow, not Green Lantern (he needs a break)...J'onn J'onzz, the Martian Manhunter .

I already mentioned in a previous post that I imagined Taylor Lautner as the Martian Manhunter and I haven't been turned off yet by that decision (the character is shirtless and pantless most of the time, so we need a popular young actor with pecs that can carry over 120 minutes). He played Sharkboy, for crying out loud! As for the voice, that's moot. Lawrence Fishburne was the voice of the Silver Surfer, so why not try casting him again as the voice of J'onn? There we go. Actor? Check. Voice? Check.

Also, the powers. MM has a wide range - he's Superman with extra powers, or the Fantastic Four-in-1. He can shapeshift/stretch, become invisible/intangible, has super "breath" (he can blow out any candles on any birthday cake), flight, super-strength,super-speed, "Flame vision" (fire shoots out of his eyes) and is telepathic. He is also a compulsive snacker: he loves Oreo cookies, or any other sandwich cookies (obviously, I would love to see a package of Oreos with J'onn J'onzz on the wrapper. That would be just right). He also may or may not still have a fear of fire...and may or may not still be the last of his kind...I'd rather avoid all that continuity baggage and focus on J'onn as an interesting complete character.

The villains - the White Martians, Scorch (a winged devil-gargoyleish chick with firestarting powers), Bette Noir (an albino vampire, kind of like Batman foe Nocturna, but BN is a vampire, whereas Nocturna was just a glamed-up goth who played like a vampire)...I'd throw the Ultra-Humanite in there because he'd offer a  great visual - an albino ape with a Broccoli-shaped head and the voice of Jeremy Irons. Works for me.
Directors are tricky. I wouldn't mind Brad Bird or Terry Gilliam taking a crack at it - they would find a way out of the rut that a lot of these superhero movies are in - MM  would/should have a different approach to it...

5 short as possible.

Film Noir - yes, yes, in this genre, there are no winners, but who cares? In the comics, he supposedly rivals Batman as a great detective, so I would revisit The Maltese Falcon, only instead of a statue of a bird, how about kryptonite? An absorbascon? A talisman of the Bat-God Barbattos? Mercury's slippers? A golden lasso? set-up, set-up, set-up, set-up...

High Noon - how about planting the seeds for the rise of the Justice League with the disbanding of the Justice League International? J'onn has to suddenly put down the cookies and save Earth on his own, showcasing the full range of his powers. I would pit him against Manga Khan, who always seems one step away from the Fourth World  villains of Apokilips... set-up, set-up, set-up...

"It's Like Die Hard But With A Martian Superhero!" - I couldn't resist that old chestnut, but think about it - J'onn rivals Batman in efficiency as well as deductive reasoning. This could be fun. Supervillains only, please. Bank robbers and generic Bond villains need not apply.

Remington Steele - The romantic comedy. He's fronting a struggling detective agency run by an attractive and intelligent, but neurotic P.I. and they go search for that macguffin I'd set up in the film noir pitch. How about Pierce Brosnan dubbing the voice?

Supermax - a few years ago, there was a pitch for a high-concept Green Arrow feature inspired by the TV series Prison Break, in which Green Arrow wound up in a prison filled with DC Comics Supervillains. Sharp-eyed fans might recognize the story played out in Marvel Comics' Thunderbolts with Hawkeye, not GA. Anyway, forget Green Arrow - why not let it happen to J'onn J'onzz? The concept would still work, only it would rise more to the occasion because you had a superhero who could put up a real fight.

Anyway, that's enough from me. It's time Hollywood put the spaghetti in the machine and started rolling. I know a place that sells green paint real cheap.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Silver Dollars - Ducktales at 25 Part 3

In our last episode, I talked about free stickers and erased video tapes. And now, back to our story...

Season 2 (1989): Now Ducktales was going to be on a different TV station in New York - PIX11, and it would be part of an hour-long block with a new show, Chip and Dale's Rescue Rangers. I've got to admit that by this time, I had seen all the episodes from the first season at least three times and was watching other stuff. There was a clone of Double Dare called Fun House, which I found more entertaining because it had more of a pace to it (Double Dare tended to be show host Mark Summers motormouths play-by-play on updated versions of rounds of ring toss, frankly), but it was knocked out of PIX11's Fall schedule to make way for the new "DisneyHour". Who was going to complain? New Ducktales episodes? Not me!

But come September, I was willing to skip the Monday afternoon premiere in favor of watching an episode of The Super Mario Brothers Super Show, which had premiered a week earlier. Big Mistake. The episode of SMBSH that aired that day was a clunker, so I switched over to see what was happening on Ducktales. The were showing the "Tralla La" episode. I couldn't believe what I had missed out on! It's even more of a big deal now, because the episode has been censored - a key scene where Fenton creates a rescue flare by lighting up a bottle of Scrooge's nerve tonic was deleted from future broadcasts. If the episode is ever released on DVD, I wonder if they'll show it complete and uncut...
Anyway, the heck with Mario, I went right back to watching Ducktales. Among the notable episodes from that season:

Tralla La: Scrooge has a breakdown from too much business. The antidote is a stay at an exotic faraway land where money and greed do not exist - until he gets there and Fenton makes the discarded bottle caps from Scrooge's nerve tonic the new currency. It wasn't until I actually read the Carl Barks comic that inspired it that I understood why Scrooge specifically choose to act like a squirrel in his "fugue state". Nervous breakdowns are heavy subject matter for a weekday afternoon cartoon. As the years went by, characters plagued by stress and anxiety become recurring themes in most of the Disney Afternoon toons (Scrooge and his "worry room", Dale's inferiority crises in Rescue Rangers, Pete and his "stress level" in Goof Troop, Lucky Piquel and Sgt. Grating in Bonkers, even Darkwing Duck suffered from stress about his public image and paranoia about being usurped by anyone offering a helping hand).

Allowance Day: I included this one because the "convince-someone-else-that-today-is-payday-and-realize-that-the-whole-world-was-fooled-and-you-have-to-move-the-clouds-to-reveal-an-eclipse-of-the-sun" theme was also used in an episode of Talespin. I think it worked better on Talespin, due to the handily established Thembrians and their politics, but act 3 of this episode (with Scrooge and Fenton facing a firing squad - the one sequence that plays out better than it did on the Talespin episode) is terrific, the stuff of old Golden Age Superman comics.

The Big Flub: this episode, in which Fenton tries to get a promotion in one of Scrooge's other companies, only to wind up creating a marketing campaign for Gyro's helium-infused bubble gum prototype that makes people float into the air before and after they've chewed it, is very, very Barksian . I don't know if there's a speciffic story that inspired it, but it does seem like one of Donald's blunders.

The Masked Mallard: One of the few episodes in which Scrooge saves the day entirley on his own. I don't know if this was one possible inspiration for Darkwing Duck, but I'm inclined to think the inspiration for Scrooge's pogo cane in the Ducktales NES video game came from here. The plot: Scrooge thinks dressing up as a superhero will result in good PR. Obviously he's never read Spider-Man comics.

Scrooge's Last Adventure: another story in which a clunky 1980s computer outperforms anything we have on the market today and tomorrow, as well as a new feature for Scrooge's cane that Capcom forgot to add in the video game. The Plot: Scrooge thinks he's dying and Fenton suggests downloading his fortune into a computer. The problem is that Fenton doesn't know how to work a computer! so, obviously the best way to retrieve the data (or electric assets) is the enter the computer, TRONstyle and catch the dollar signs with butterfly nets while evading Moby Glitch. Again, we have another episode that was recycled into a Talespin story, though this time both work well on their own terms.

Metal Attraction: Gyro builds a robot maid, Robotica, who develops a crush on Gizmoduck. When Giz turns her down, she instantly decides it must be because he's overworked protecting the money bin and seems preoccupied with Fenton's girlfriend Gandra Dee for some mysterious reason, so she set both of them in range of a handy guided missile and prepares to launch. This episode is the only one where Bubba, Tootsie, Fenton and Gizmoduck appear, but not together, save for a "family photo" highlighted in one scene.

Blue Collar Scrooge: Scrooge plans to sell a skateboard factory to Donald Trumpcard (I love puns!) but then, oh, the irony, he skids on a motorized skateboard then drops him into a lake and hits him on the head. Now suffering from amneisia, he loses his looks and ...gets a job at the skateboard factory and organizes a strike! Oh, and he also gets freash and cozy with Fenton's mother, Ma Crackshell, while her son is away impersonating Scrooge. If anyone wants to see a less avuncular Scrooge, this is the one to watch.

The Bride Wore Stripes: Ma Beagle is at it again, this time posing as Scrooge's wife to fool the Justice of The Peace into thinking they are married and get his fortune. Yep, another screwball comedy episode, notable for featuring none of the new characters and only the season 1 cast. This epsiode was given heavy rotation during reruns - instead of seeing "My Mother, The Psychic" "Attack of The Metal Mites" or "New Gizmokids on The Block", we would get this one, like finding a penny on the sidewalk. It's very good, but it appeared all the time.

The Unbreakable Bin: Another Carl Barks tale gets tweaked, actually this borrows bits from two stories featuring Magica De Spell, ("Bye, Bye, Money Bin" and "The Unsafe Safe") her only appearance in the later episodes, but they made it count. Her late entrance in the second act is a neat surprise, since I had not read the comic at that time. It would have been neat if SHE had been the main villain in "SuperDucktales" instead of Ma Beagle. Sure, it's the same actress in both parts, but the characters have different bags of tricks.

Yuppy Ducks: again and again, stress, allergies, anxiety, being replaced, pests - these themes pop up a lot in the Disney shows over and over. Scrooge gets "loot lice", lice with Beagle Boy masks and has to sealed in a plastic bubble at the hospital. Huey, Dewey, Bubba (remember him?) & Louie take over running the business before everyone remembers this is a violation of child labor laws (technically, that only applies if they were being exploited, but they did come off pretty dumb, here - Fenton's not around this time, so they can't blame him). The best scenes are of Scrooge at the free clinic - holey moley, the writers did their research!

Ducky Mountain High: Glomgold was another villain that got the short end of the deal (though not as much as Magica), appearing only in a handful of episodes, but kind of, sort became the main villain in the hodge podge "3rd Season". Seeing him compete with Scrooge in a scheme to get a plot of land from old flame Glittering Goldie is a lot of fun. I would've loved to have seen a character like Brigitta MacBridge appear as a semi-regular on the show, because whenever the writers tackled screwball comedy, they did it very well. Brigitta was created by Romano Scarpa to even out the number of female characters available - she's like a "nice" Millionaira Vanderbucks (from "'til Nephews Do Us Part"), the tycoon Scrooge almost married in the season 1 finale.

The Duck Who Knew Too Much:  It's The Fenton Crackshell Show as Fenton pretends to be sick so he can go on vacation with his girlfriend and avoid an assignment from the boss - but whaddyaknow, the assignment was to go to the same be he's having his vacation! Is this a Jetsons episode? More spy high jinks, plus there's a giant mechanical Praying Mantis (I guess Jon Peters produced this episode). This is one of several episodes where Fenton saves the day without the Gizmoduck suit, though he conveniently forgets in time for another episode in which he does it again. The highlight: Scrooge gets some screen time with Gandra Dee...waitaminute, doesn't she work for him too?

My Mother, The Psychic: Fenton and his mother deserved a spinoff - maybe that was the forerunner to Johnny Bravo? Fredericka Von Strangeduck appears in a cameo as the star of a daytime soap opera playing "Erica" (draw your own conclusions on what this is referring to) and gets psychic powers from a jolt on her TV. I think this was inspired by the urban legend about the couch potato who died of a heart attack while watching TV, but as he was being lifted onto a gurney, his hand smacked the TV screen and broke the glass. He was electrocuted and revived by his TV set! Anyway, Glomgold gets to play Goldfinger, only his mansion gets to be OddJob by hurling giant discus into space (what on Earth could that have been built for before this episode?).

Part 4 will be up soon - feel free to practice your Golf swing with a Pogo Stick while you wait...

Friday, August 10, 2012

Silver Dollars: Ducktales at 25 - Part 2

My memories of watching Ducktales episodes continues with Premiere events/episodes/stuff:

There was a lot of merchandise with Ducktales characters in 1988, just a few months after the show premiered in 1987. McDonald's Happy Meal toys, jigsaw puzzles, coloring books, a tie-in magazine with a comic strip. Then there was Gladstone Comics, which published the Ducktales comic book, which premiered with adaptations of two episodes in it's first two issues: "Armstrong" and "Jungle Duck". I was slowly being schooled on the history of Carl Barks and Disney comics by following letter columns, editorials and profiles of other series offered by the company. (Yes, it was named after Gladstone Gander, but it was almost named after Gus Goose) ;) . I had mentioned in the comments for Part 1 that the first Disney comic I saw was an issue of Uncle Scrooge in a grocery store; I started visiting the shops because the grocery stores would stock comics at random - they would just receive a bundle of comics from the distributor, maybe two or three copies of each, and that was that. My mom had mentioned seeing comic shops in  Manhattan, so I asked if we could visit them. I have no reason to believe she regrets starting the hobby off - I just don't think she would like to say so out loud: she'll blame Dad or my Grandpa, instead. That's a whole other blog entry.

But then there were the videocassettes: Fearless Forutne Hunter, Daredevil Ducks, High Flying Hero, Masked Marauders, etc... Two episodes per tape, for the price of $14.95. This seems like a rip now, as well as the laserdisk offering (4 episodes for a few dollars more), compared to how you could get a boxed DVD set of over 20 for the same price. I remember Disney also had "Gold Editions" - about an hours' worth of the classic short cartoons, compiled accoring to a theme, Like Donald's Bee Pictures - those were almost $100.00 in some places! What was the appeal? ... You got a perfect recording. Even the current VCR/DVD recorder combo units tend to be very clumsy on the VCR end, with each pause and stop noticable on playback. Plus, you can never tell what the TV signal is going to be - even now with pop-up ads and emergency broadcast "tests". Pfft.

Pathmark Halloween Commercial: One Year later (1988), Pathmark aired a commercial featuring Scrooge, Webby and the nephews preparing to go Trick-or-Treating. The ad was for a special sheet of stickers available only at Pathmark Supermarkets/Drugstores featuring the characters, which could be used as an alternative to handing out candy. I'm certain most people thought the way I did: get the stickers, get the stickers, get the stickers ... and the kiddies can have the marked-down Fruitzee Rolls.

 The stickers were interesting: Scrooge, Launchpad, Webby, the nephews, the Ducktales title logo...and introducing...Bubba the cave duck. This was the first time I saw him anywhere - when Ducktales magazine announced that he would appear as a new character, they did not include a picture of him. This sheet of stickers was it - it may be the only merchandise with him at all! His first appearance on TV was months later, too. Because the sticker had him standing alone, I had imagined he might be one of the tall brutish cave ducks that appeared in the "Dinosaur Ducks" episode - like it would be a sequel to that.

Time is Money (1988): A new 2 hour movie! This was great, but I don't remember it being promoted well. This was probably when I got into the habit of reading TV Guide. Fall Previews of new Saturday Morning Shows (Remember Saturday Morning programming?), listings of new schedules and occasional adverts for new Ducktales episodes (I had seen a half-page ad taken to promote "The Golden Fleecing" when it aired on a Monday afternoon, so that might have been what inspired this). Anyway, the point is, I found out about this just days before it aired, so I erased a tape of Daffy Duck cartoons. For many years, my recording of "Time is Money" was on a tape with the crude "Daffy Duck" scrawled on it.
So what did I think? I was surprised to see that Bubba was portrayed more like an adopted son of Scrooge's than a new pal for the gang. Scrooge's behavior was odd (although it's more in-character than we're used to seeing on the show) more like it was for the 1st 1/4 of  "Treasure of The Golden Suns" - only there it took about 15 minutes to change - here it took 2/3 of the movie! The best parts were the odd stuff - the laser pen, the bombastion pops, the shopping cart chase (which the crew must have liked, because the print ads for the new episodes had Scrooge perform a rescue riding a shopping cart with a helicopter blade attached  to it), the teleconference calls via computer (those old Apple2s could do so much more than an iPad in those days, couldn't they?) and the weird "I've got fish in my pockets" exchange, which made no sense to me when I first saw it - why bother with the banks in town when he has a wall safe at home (and THAT was a deleted scene which aired in the reruns of the film)?

The most remarkable thing about the memory of this event was that it aired on a Friday. I had been conditioned to expect new episodes the following Monday. That did happen, so I was left wondering if I had just seen the final episodes, which ended with "Scooge" building Jurassic Park in his backyard.

Speaking of which, did Michael Crichton's novel inspire what we just saw? That's a stretch, but who a popular sci-fi action film would inspire what came next...

Superducktales (1989): airing as a 2 hour film on NBC on a Sunday night as a special on the fading-fast Magical World of Disney, this seemed like confirmation that a little syndicated afternoon cartoon was a really big draw (when there's no internet, you end up trying to look for clues to a show's popularity beyond the schoolyard) . The Gizmoduck character name had not been announced, but the half-page ad was so obviously Robocop that it had to be "Roboduck", so of course they surprised us with that twist.
Right up until the premiere, they did not show Fenton Crackshell anywhere, so I wonder if they wanted us to think it was Donald under that armor. That would make sense - shift the paradigm back to Scrooge and Donald with HD& L, only this time, Donald has this new status quo following his for real stint in the navy. At the time, I was expecting to see Bubba in there. They went out of their way to establish him in the group and he's not there! I'm not sure if I thought they just imagined he wasn't there, but they don't mention that adventure at all, plus they were careful not to feature Glomgold, the main villain from that story.
Speaking of villains, Ma Beagle becomes the main villain of the series from here on, with June Foray's performance sounding more like Granni Gummi form The Gummi Bears . I guess it takes a certain kind of old woman to pull off schemes like that. Incidentally, they still have Gizmoduck's instruction manual, which appears to include schematics and data allowing for a pirate remote control to be built. The writers were probably wise to ignore this, since Gizmoduck eats up a lot of screen time as their puppet. Also, the focus on Scrooge protecting the money bin becomes a big part of the later episodes - it's all foreshadowed here. If I wasn't a fan of the show, I might be inclined to think the well had run dry!
In retrospect, the characters that own this are Fenton and Scrooge. Where did Fenton come from?  He's often regarded as a milquetoast Donald with a lisp like Daffy Duck. The suit reminds me of Howard the Duck, but Fenton was more excitable than Howard. If I can imagine a plot connection to a bestselling novel to the last special, I can imagine a character connection to a classic movie. I think Fenton was inspired by the character of Sam Lowry from Terry Gilliam's Brazil. You go watch that film and you'll see what I mean.
Oh, another tape got erased for this one. This one featured a TV special, Down and Out With Donald Duck, which got wiped because I needed the space (I had already learned not to record anything in EP or LP mode). It turns out that was rebroadcast in 1993 with the premiere of Bonkers because Donald had a cameo in that. If only they had rebroadcast Soccermania with the premiere of Goof Troop...

Part 3 will appear next week...

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Donald J. Sobol - RIP

I'm saddened to have learned about the passing of Donald J. Sobol, the creator and author of the Encyclopedia Brown: Boy Detective mystery series. He passed away on July 11th, at age 87 of gastric lymphoma. 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the Encyclopedia Brown series, of which a new book, perhaps Sobol's last, Encyclopedia Brown and The Soccer Scheme, will debut next year.

The stories are set in Idaville, Florida. Leroy Brown is the son of the town's police chief and is nicknamed "Encyclopedia" for his incredible knowledge of obscure facts, which he uses to solve mysteries - he is also  referred to as "Young Sherlock Holmes in Sneakers". He often helps his father solve crimes whenever the chief sits down at the dinner table and discusses a case that has him baffled. As a result, the success rate of the Idaville Police Department is extraordinary.

Encyclopedia has his own detective agency set up in a shed by his parent's house. He fee is one quarter, plus "expenses". His right hand/chief aide/hired muscle is Sally Kimball, an attractive blond who may or may not be his would-be girlfriend, but is very useful in keeping the local bully (and Encyclopedia Brown's arch nemesis) Bugs Meany at bay. Meany wears a ridiculous paper crown hat and leads The Tigers street gang but is surprisingly intelligent, able to think up complex scams to bilk money out of local kids and adults (he once even set up a rival detective agency as a ruse to get money from gullible would-be clients and sully Encyclopedia's reputation).

The format of each book is the same - all short stories, each ending with a challenge to the reader (similar to Ellery Queen), with solutions offered in the back. The first story is always an introduction to new readers, with "E.B" solving one of his Dad's perplexing cases at the dinner table. The second story always introduces Bugs Meaney, while the third introduces Sally.  The mysteries themselves are different from what you would find in a Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys adventure in that they are set in the proper scale - this is why I preferred this series over the other two when I was a kid : Encyclopedia Brown actually solved puzzles, whereas the other series were primarily chases - Nancy, Joe and Frank eavesdropped or stumbled into something suspicious and stumbled their way through what was happening; Encyclopedia Brown was the real thinking machine. Fans who "don't like mysteries" have stumbled across an Encyclopedia Brown book.

I did not know he lived a middle-class existence and was not a rich man when he died, or that he had mistakenly sold the TV/movie rights for just $25,000 in the late 1970s (the late-80s HBO TV series was made without his involvement). Still and all, I still love those books.

Donald J Sobol - RIP.

Mike Gruss's Tribute

Recommended Reads: The Encyclopedia Brown Mystery Collection (Scholastic) - omnibus reprints 3 books, including the cookbook - Encyclopedia Brown Takes The Cake(!)

                                   Encyclopedia Brown Lends a Hand (aka "Encyclopedia Brown and The Exploding Toilet"/ "Encyclopedia Brown and The Exploding Plumbing") (Penguin Books)

                                   Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective - the one that started it all.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Silver Dollars - Ducktales at 25

Ever since Disney was quick to note that this year marks the 25th anniversary of the mega-hit Ducktales TV series, it's still unclear how they plan to celebrate...complete the DVD box sets with a Volume 4? Announce new episodes in production? Have Selena Gomez, Debby Ryan and Brenda Song jump out of a cake in bikinis at Disney World?

I was watching Marilu Henner in an interview, recently. She was promoting Unforgettable, which starred Poppey Montgomery and aired on CBS. It's been cancelled, but it was inspired by Henner's ability to recall her whole life with no gaps - she remembers what happened on any date and time of her life in the past and present.

So.. in honor of Ducktales 25th anniversary, I thought I would try to recall the first week that it aired on television and my reactions/comments. It's all so very potted...

September 1987 - Friday: "The Treasure of The Golden Suns" premieres in prime-time as a 2-hour film. I had no idea. The ad in TV Guide for that week was not specific - it just had an image of Scrooge and Huey, Dewey & Louie hiding in a bush, with some new character (Launchpad McQuack) hovering above in a neat little helicopter offering a rope ladder. A large spear is resting on a palm tree behind Scrooge and the boys - presumably the ducks are fleeing from a jungle ambush (does this remind me of Raiders of The Lost Ark? No, it reminds me of Sport Goofy: Soccermania, a TV special that had aired on NBC months before and featured Scrooge, Huey, Dewey & Louie - I had been watching it over and over in the VCR since then).
Bullet points from that time:
1. Donald's cameo: "Why isn't he in this more? he wasn't in Soccermania, either."), Donald's re-appearance in the third act ("This is great! Maybe he'll be in more episodes."), then the realization that this is really about Scrooge, who used to be Ebenezer Scrooge, but is now Scrooge McDuck. (I had not read the comic books). "Scrooge does a lot of cool things."
2. The Beagle boys are redesigned with individual personalities, but still play the same role as stooge-villains, like they did in Soccermania. I love that chase through the candy factory.
3. New characters: Glomgold ("Looks like an evil uncle of Scrooge's"), Gyro ("Interesting"), Launchpad ("Funny guy, kind of like Indiana Jones. It sounds like they'll announce his arrival when he shows up.") Mrs. Beakley and Webby ("Characters for the girls watching. Mrs. Beakley must know Donald if she can tell the nephews apart. Webby looks like Daisy Duck in Disney Babies."), El Capitain ("He's awesome! He must be coming back again! He's the biggest bad guy here!").
4. The City of Gold (viewed in silence with total awe...there were no cartoons on television at the time offering visuals like that. If you were not interested, you must have been some form of deadwood, really).
5. The announcement at the end that this was the start of a new series airing on weekday afternoons, starting Monday: ( "Mom! I need ten blank videotapes to record this!")

Final Thought: Without next week's TV Guide, I had no idea there would be more. During the weekend I suddenly lost interest in Thundercats, Voltron, Transformers, The Smurfs, Yogi's Treasure Hunt and any other series I had been watching...for a while, anyway. ;)

September 1987 - The Following Monday: "Send In The Clones" airs. Magica DeSpell makes her entrance and is just one more great reason to keep watching - they didn't drop the ball after the premiere, though it seems like it won't all be about lost treasures and stuff. We get to see the nephews room (actually, the design of the attic was cooler - says me in the present-day). We get more of the Beagle Boys. Act 3 is great. My Mom "gets" the Webra Walters/Barbara Walters joke and o.k.'s me putting off homework for a half-hour so I can watch this show - it has proven that it is not childish junk.

Tuesday: "Sphinx For The Memories"
Donald's back as special guest-star. This is really his episode. Since it became clear that Scrooge is the star, then in retrospect I think that if they had Scrooge tag-along with Donald, then things wouldn't seem so disconnected after the crazy pace of yesterday's episode (I'm translating my past-thoughts using my present-day brain).

Wednesday: "Armstrong"
As I had observed earlier, Launchpad appears in this episode with an introduction, as we watch him put out a forest fire. Later, he gets to do some awesome Talespin-ish flying with his biplane, The Joyrider. But the character who owns this episode (aside from a neat bit where Scrooge uses gold nuggets to play Checkers) is Armstrong the robot. The design is very much like Barks, or psuedo-Barks, with the light bulb nose and square jaw. You've got to wonder what set the 'bot off and made him go Dalek Emperor/Cybermen on everybody - perhaps it wasn't the toy robot but the fact that Scrooge was using him as cheap labor. "When do I get my hot cocoa break. you old tightwad? I must take over the world so that I can make time to have my own breaks - ha,ha,ha...ha,ha,ha...mek,mek." And Gyro didn't learn...the GICU2 from SuperDucktales is Armstrong 2.0. Armstrong's antics anticipate Gizmoduck's gizmos and gadgets, so you got to wonder, why didn't they expect him to get out of control, too?

Thursday: "Magica's Shadow War"
There was something of a "13 Ghosts of Scooby Doo"-ring to this one, but I like these characters, better. Magica owns this episode, plus Scrooge gets a good moment when he breaks down the door and wears the moose head. (Years later, I learned that the writers for this episode had originally conceived it as an episode of "The Real Ghostbusters" but then tailored it for Ducktales, instead. It works very well. Does this mean the money bin was supposed to be the GB's firehouse?)

Friday: "Master of The Djinni"
Glomgold's back - Scrooge should really think hard about posing with treasure maps in a photo op. After meeting the Genie and race down the mountain, the pace slows down too much. I don't think it recovers, but Shewebbazad is very cute. It's still worth watching for Act One, anyway.

The Following Monday: "Hotel Strangeduck"
This is more like Monday's episode - fast paced and wild. I'd rank this one very high on the Top 10. Is Ludwig Von Strangeduck related to Ludwig Von Drake? Fredericka Von Strangeduck (along with Webra Walters) continued to pop-up here and there in cameos, or at least their character designs did, even in a few Darkwing Duck episodes.

What an uneven, yet delightful week and a half that was! A wacky witch, a crazy robot, mummies, a haunted hotel, a clone saga, a shadow war, invisible men, hot furry lady ducks..a distillation of things we now use to describe the series to people under 20 who are occupied with the adventures of talking kitchen sponges...and there was more, much more! I hadn't even discovered the comics, yet!

Monday, July 16, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure - Part 2

More of my guilty pleasures in pop culture! Let's begin!

1. Trail of The Pink Panther - okay. Imagine you're an executive at MGM. You had just green-lit another sequel to The Pink Panther because, aside from James Bond, Scooby Doo, The Muppets and Star Wars, the 70's were quite shit. Also, the Panther films are making lots of money. You've managed to talk Peter Sellers into doing another Panther by letting him plot and co-write the script. The new film, Romance of The Pink Panther, will be directed by Sidney Poitier - wait, the script's not done yet and he bowed out - okay, Clive Donner will direct it. The plot? Clouseau falls in love with a beautiful woman who is an ardent fan and a jewel thief. The film is likely going to be the series finale. Two drafts of the script are completed. Blake Edwards is not involved in this one.
Then...Peter Sellers dies. What to do? Edwards, for many reasons, is approached with "saving" the project by re-casting Clouseau, perhaps with Dudley Moore. Moore isn't quite interested. Edwards instead hatches a new idea, a new, cheaper continuation of the series with a new character - Clifton Sleigh - introduced with a "tribute" of sorts to Sellers as a transition film, using deleted scenes from two of the recent sequels and borrowing key plot elements from the aborted Romance script. But the budget is slashed, and the money that would have gone to buying scenes owned by another company (ITC, for Return of The Pink Panther) is gone, so Blake has to settle for adding previously seen "flashbacks" in the film's 2nd half. Stunt doubles for Sellers are used to give the "new" Clouseau scenes a narrative and ... it almost works. I enjoy this film for what it is - it's a YouTube mash up before there was YouTube, really. You get a lot of scenes of Clouseau engaged in mundane activity - bringing home groceries, filling his pipe with tobacco and setting off the sprinklers in his office, setting his car on fire - and Henry Mancini's music for the title sequence has neat variations on the familiar theme. Also, we get hints of continuity - the events of the first film are addressed in a way that has had fans on the Internet offering explanations for years and years. One explanation offered for why Cato is ordered to attack Clouseau often is because Clouseau has become paranoid after the woman he was married to for 20 years turns out to have been the lover of the thief he had been trying to catch for just as long.

2. The Adventures of Ford Fairlane - Andrew Dice Clay - remember him? Oh! This comedy/mystery, set in the music business, involves a pirate CD operation run by Wayne Newton, who murders his co-conspirators - Gilbert Gottfried, Priscilla Presley, Vince Neil - then chases after a private eye that had been hired to find the owner of a CD-Rom (one of 3) that holds copies of all the evidence. I just gave away the plot..oh!  Never mind, this film, based on a little-known DC Comic from the late-80s, is a nostalgia trip through early-1990s pop culture noise and funk. Clay's career was at it's peek around this time, but he's never nearly as offensive as people want him to be. There's much worse.

3. Lemony Snicket: The Unauthorized Biography - I am not a fan of this series, but this book is irresistible. A collection of miscellaneous old photos, bogus newspaper clippings and doctored scrapbook-like items are cobbled together into a bogus autobiography that puts the spotlight on the elusive (and very distracting) narrator of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I thought it was more entertaining than the main series, which I found lacking in suspense or much in the way of a good cast of characters that would keep the interest up for as long as it went. It seems to have faded away once the Harry Potter series ended, as though it were just a stop-gap for people craving something else to read between HP installments. This biography of the digressing author is better.

4.  Dr. Sax by Jack Kerouac - I'm inclined to agree with Truman Capote when he commented on the Beat Generation/movement of literature from the late 50's-early 60's this way: "None of them can write - not even Mr. Kerouac - that stuff is not writing, it's typing." But it is possible to have mixed feelings about it - sometimes, my own writing reads like it when I'm not paying attention. Dr. Sax is Kerouac's possible account of his childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts and his own guilty pleasure - reading pulp fiction magazines, especially The Shadow. Dr. Sax is The Shadow in all but name only, the Lamont Cranston of young Jack's daydreams, whipping up potions and creeping around Kerouac's home town in preparation for the big confrontation with The Great World Snake, a Midgard Serpent-like creature promising destruction. Dr. Sax is Jack's imaginary friend; by the time the book ends, Sax has removed his costume and stands revealed as Kerouac himself as an adult, forced to face the world without herb potions or cloaks or floppy hats. Talk about deconstruction of a comic book hero - I'd say this is where it all starts. It's fitting that Alan Moore would eventually get around to writing him in one of his stories (he appears in the Kerouac-ish "The Crazy Wide Forever" pastiche in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier).

5. Never Say Never Again - fans of Sean Connery's 007 count it, fans of EON Productions do not, yet through a curious chain of events, the distribution rights for the movie belong to MGM and it airs alongside the other Bond films in annual marathon cycles on cable television. This film is a remake of Thunderball, even though it looks cheaper in places and Klaus Maria Brandauer is too "real world" for a Bond villain. But Max Von Sydow is perfect as Blofeld, Barbara Carrera is awesome as Fatima Blush and Connery is in fine form in his last appearance as Bond. Also, I thought the film had a better pace and a stronger mix of suspense and humor than Thunderball, which I thought slowed to a crawl after the pre-title sequence. If it weren't for Luciana Paluzzi as Fiona Vulpe, I'd probably not have the DVD at home.

Don't tune out now, rehab fans! The best is yet to come!

To be continued...

Friday, July 6, 2012

Moore Hot Dogs!

"Page 36/TRUMP 8 Panel 2. The Battle of Marathon (490 B.C.E) was a major victory for the Smurfs over the forces of Gargamel, and prevented him from conquering Oz and Wonderland."
- Jess Nevins, Annotations to The Black Dossier

There you have it. Solid evidence that Jess Nevins has gone mad from making sense out of Alan Moore and Kevin O'Neill's League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. For the past decade, Jess has become the universal translator for every minute reference hidden in the panels and text of each installment of the series, and that reference/footnote in particular makes no sense whatsoever, yet it's on his webpage!

Anyway, I have to say I fell back in love with the League after a trial separation. When I picked up that premiere issue of the series back in the Fall of 1998, I really thought Sherlock Holmes was going to be in it. They have Mycroft in it, Professor Moriarty, Colonel Moran and a reenactment of the showdown in "The Final Problem"...there's even a couple of references to Mina Murray visiting Sherlock during his retirement, when he became a beekeeper (there are also hints that she might have found him very interesting or very dull, depending on what the postcards offered in The Black Dossier would have you believe - I suspect it's the former). Aside from these... bon-bonbonbons, I've seen little else.

There is proof that I'm not the only fan who was starving for some Sherlock-schlock - for a time, Moore had to answer over and over that Captain Nemo was NOT Sherlock Holmes in disguise. I didn't even think of that one! Anyway, something about volume 2 of the series - the second arc, which adapted H.G. Well's War of The Worlds within the context of the LOEG (or LXG, if you saw the movie with Sean Connery - Alan didn't, so be of good cheer if you didn't either) - it featured a made-up almanac that mapped-out the shape of the LOEG/LXG universe, even featuring nods to things that Alan and Kevin might never get around to, like Doctor Dolittle's post office, a young Auric Goldfinger searching for the lost city of El Dorado, The Hardy Boys, Zorro, Conan and Pogo - stuff like that. It also featured key continuity points, like introducing Orlando, Raffles and the Frankenstein monster as the royal consort to the queen of Toyland...stuff , like Mina and Allan Quatermain visiting the ruins of Dracula's castle and stuff  like Allan's rejuvenation in  Uganda. It bugged me that that was stuffed in that stuffy almanac. Obviously, they're being careful not to trip over copyright, but it made me feel as though the main arc of each mini-series was lacking...or just wasn't my cup of tea...or maybe I was just still stinging from not seeing Sherlock play a bigger role in it...or all of the above.

Of course, that's the genesis of that "Sherlock Edition" I posted a few weeks back. I had put together a reading list of pastiches - some good, some not so good, all worth a glance - offering a parallel timeline that explains his absence. I recall Roger Ebert, in his review of Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows, remarking that Holmes was too quirky to mix well with James Bond-style shenanigans, but that never stopped anyone before... proper spy/sci-fi stories with Holmes would be things like "The Lion's Mane", "The Devil's Foot" and "His Last Bow" - all written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, of course. It's tempting to imagine the LXG/LOEG Sherlock sitting in a corner, playing his violin/puffing on his pipe/shooting up coke/leering at Irene Adler photos/whatever, playing armchair sleuth while Allan, Nemo and Mina do all the legwork, because he would feel his dignity compromised by engaging directly in that sort of thing, following them discreetly in disguise as nondescript beggars, crippled limping booksellers, clergymen, old dowagers, etc... just in case they need someone to bail them out - they usually did. Or imagine an ancient octogenarian Sherlock, kept alive through some deus ex machina (royal bee jelly?) to join a new incarnation of the league in the upcoming 2011 installment - yes, the opening of the next big arc is set to take place in 2011.

So I delayed from getting the Black Dossier, a compilation/sourcebook of sorts, often mistaken as volume 3, because it does feature a new adventure as a wraparound (not unlike those Looney Tunes movies from the 1980s that mixed old and new footage), but got it anyway when the price was right. It was a discounted hardcover copy, still in it's shrinkwrap, with the variant "Mina in bed" cover. I didn't know if I would like it - it's considered the one that draws the line - the one where fans either got off the train or stayed on for the rest of the ride. I liked it. I still have problems with Moore's prose work - it's so exact in it's execution that it's not engaging to people who are not fans of the various writing styles he's approximating. But I don't hate any of it. I realize I won't be buying a copy of Fanny Hill or P.G. Wodehouse's books any time soon, but I doubt John Cleland ever imagined Fanny being chased by a giant erect penis while running inside a giant vagina (you really have to read this thing to believe it - you can understand why DC Comics was increasingly unnerved by it and eventually turned chicken), nor do I think James Bond was the nasty guy Moore believes he was, or whom Ian Fleming meant for him to be, or that Jack Kerouac meant for Dr. Sax to be the grandson of Fu Manchu and Dean Moriarty the Professor's descendant (but then again, who can tell when reading Beat "literature"?). I'm not too crazy about the Golliwog (I don't really understand a word he says), but I like Orlando and have taken a liking to Mina and Allan - Next to Batgirl and Spider-Woman, Mina Murray is in my top 5 of cool female comic book characters. That fact that we have seen her nude often is merely coincidental.

 I'm surprised he didn't add Paddington Bear into the soup. He's been around since the late 50's. The dolls/toyline, by the way, were launched by the parents of Jeremy Clarkson! I'm surprised there wasn't a Top Gear reference in the current Century:2009 (more on that below).

I was patient when it came to following Century, the recent 3-part arc that launched Moore's new publishing relationship with Top Shelf (it happens that LOEG is the only property from the ABC lineup that Moore and O'Neill owned and can take anywhere - due to the contract signed in negotiations for the LXG feature film - it's much more clear than the contract they signed for the Watchmen comic book, obviously; this is what the outcome should have been for that property). Timing is everything. It took about four years for this arc to end - my interest came back when it was announced that the final chapter would be set in 2009. So I got the first two installments a few months ago and brought part 3 last week.

I was not disappointed. The 2009 chapter is, in my opinion, the best installment of the series. You may not have read it yet and heard all the hype (that Moore and O'Neil skewer J.K Rowling) but the big shock is...they really don't. The Harry Potter books are high-profile, but part of an even larger target - the lack of originality and banality in pop culture. Watered-down remakes, revamps, adaptations, ripoffs, retreads...this one seems a bit more personal than what came before - certainly not a book you would have ever seen with the DC logo, or their front, the ABC star that was used for all of Moore's comics. I'm not going to give away a thing, here - if you're not buying any comics this year, reconsider and check this one out and only this one.  Yes, you'll still need Jess Nivens' annotations to help spot all the in-jokes and nods, but they're not as myopic or obscure as before. The thesis here is that our fiction parallels fact - the ups and downs, everything.

One last thing - upon reading this comic (and the issues before it, including The Black Dossier), one can't  help but notice that Moore and O'Neill are offering something new to mainstream comics - No, not the fact that their stories have influenced the last decade of superhero team comic books, but something that is very obvious and yet, not so obvious...weiners. Graphic depictions and usage of  the devil's trumpet. Usually, superhero comics focus on "Good Girl Art"/cheesecake/Boobs, but here in the LOEG, you'll probably see more raw sausage (in their natural casings) then in Magic Mike (according to Sara Underwood, this film about male strippers only offers a glimpse of one "dawg" - in a pump...I have no interest whatsoever in confirming this). Aside from the Gargantua and Pantagruel sex scene/chase I described above, most of the weenies are of average size - thankfully none were shown in the 3D sections offered in the Dossier -  we would've sued for damages to our eyes.

I see Joey Chestnut won the Nathan's Hot Dog Eating Contest again this year...

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

It's Been A Pleasure...Part 1

The following are Guilty Pleasures in Pop Culture that offer an enjoyable experience in ways that must be explained:

(You'll notice that I wrote 'part 1' in the title. This post will be ongoing and yes, there is a comic book in this list)...

1. Knock Off - In 1997, Jean Claude Van Damme appeared with Rob Schneider in this action-comedy flick set during the Hong Kong Handover, in which the UK took their Union Jack off the flagpoll and let China replace it with their flag, under the proviso that the status quo in Hong Kong remain the same...ish. The muscles from Brusseles played Marcus Ray, a clothing manufacter with a shady past linked to bootleg merchandise. Schnieder played his business partner, an undercover CIA agent who was assigned to keep tabs on Marcus. Paul Sorvino played Schnieder's boss. Lela Rochon played a CIA agent working undercover as ... well, the whole point of the film is a series of double and triple-crosses concerning nano-bombs small enough to disguise as buttons on bluejeans or watch batteries, with Jean Claude being the guy who has to spot the real ones from the fakes (I'm quoting the trailer). The film is the forerunner for the Rush Hour movies, only less leaden and a better ensemble and some really good action sequences and showy camera angles using practical effects. I can watch this anytime.

2. The Life and Death of Peter Sellers - oh boy. You know the saying, "Never work with your heroes"? I knew what I was in for because I had read the Roger Lewis biography a year before seeing this, which was the source for it, as well as Ed Sikov's more sympathetic Mister Strangeglove, which I had read before the former. I had bought the DVD of this for the nice price of $1.99 last month and never regretted it, because I enjoyed it a lot. However... I must inform you that Peter Sellers, in real life, was an abusive, insecure, paranoid, egotistical, negative, drug-addled and self-destructive man-child who may have only been kind to Sophia Loren (who he was gaga over) and members of his old comedy troop, The Goons, though you'll get an argument from me that he kept them around as little more than his entourage. Once you get over that hurdle, you'll find how the screenwriters and director and the stars of the film (Geoffrey Rush actually becomes Sellers in some places, Charlize Theron and Emily Watson are terrific, Stanley Tucci awesome as Stanley Kubrick) are able to bring this actor to life one more time. BTW, I wouldn't mind seeing Rush play Clouseau in a Pink Panther film. Perhaps that Romance of The Pink Panther which was originally intended to wrap the series and was co-written by Sellers. This is not the only time an artist belied his/her own work with their personality/private life - it seems like just a matter of course, really. What's interesting is I can still watch any movie with Sellers after this. Hey, he was dead before I turned one!

3. Azrael, Agent of The Bat - I wonder if people picked this book up for kick-ass violence and superhero action. If you did, you probably didn't find it at all satisfying. That's because this book, the thinking man's Spawn , was all about a vehicle for Dennis O'Neil to tell stories. I don't think he was conciously aware of it, but over the course of 100 issues, O'Neil was reflecting on how costumed superheroes go through different incarnations and change in order to stay relevant. Azrael's various costume changes were part of the character's evolution: first as an obvious Spawn-wannabe, then a member of the Bat-family, then finally his own man before reverting back to his own form of "AzBat-Man" by choice. A lot has changed in the DCU in the decade since he was killed off, but some characters are too good to stay buried. I'm still surprised how jolly that book was. More like a dark pulp-gothic comedy than average superhero soap opera fare.

4. Victorious - There are many tv shows out there that have what is sometimes referred to as "The secret weapon" - a character played by an actor or actress whose performance makes it the reason to keep watching - often the only reason. Even if, on average, they get less than 3 minutes of screentime when they do appear - if at all! On Seinfeld, it was Wayne Knight as Newman. On Futurama, it was Bender the robot. In The Electric Company, it was Ashley Austin Morris as Francine Carruthers. In Victorious, it is Daniella Monet as Trina Vega. Every time she arrives, she gets the whole joint jumping. When she disappears, we realize how dull the show - an interchangable carbon copy of most teen sitcoms - and its main cast are. In fact, the producers should consider a spinoff: What Was Trina Doing?, which, just like Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (or "The Zeppo" or "Lion King 1 1/2", for those of you who don't know), would show what Trina was doing for the remaining 19 of the 22 minutes she was kept offscreen.
It also doesn't hurt that the talented Ms. Monet wears micro-mini skirts and short-shorts in almost every scene she's in. Nice legs. She's 23 and was 20 when the show started. Of course that means that she was 23 when the show started and is 26 now - that's the way it is.

5. A View To A Kill - This was the first James Bond film I remember watching, as well as the first I remember watching in a theatre. In fact, it's actually the only one I've seen in a theatre! But this is not about nostalgia: I still find it to be an entertaining James Bond movie. It's got gadgets, locations, crazy villains (Christopher Walken before he became Christopher Walken - you know what I mean), literal cliffhangers borrowed from silent movie serials, (the finale looks like a scene from The Perils of Penelope Pitstop), some hot greasy-lipped 1980's Bond Girls ("Hey, it's the other mom from That 70's Show!") and Grace Jones, who, well, fans of Roger Moore say he gets bonus points for having made out with her and lived - few men can boast that accomplishment. It's also got an awesome soundtrack by John Glen and the title song by Duran Duran is a perfect Bond theme, even if the lyrics are ... strange. Bonus fact: if you've ever read the Bond spinoff novels by John Gardner, you'd cry deja vu after seeing this film and Never Say Never Again after reading Role of Honor. Video games and Blimps? Yes.