Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Secret Celebrity Babies

(Yahoo! Contributor Network rejected this - calling it a "rant for a blog"...good idea!)

For a while, we were counting on the rumor mill to tell us if Beyonce even had a bun in the oven. Now we've got to document and confirm all sightings.

The birth of daughter Blue Ivy - wouldn't it be fun if the real reason she was given that name is because Beyonce's first choice was Blue Willow but Jaz-Z reminded her that the name would forever associate the girl with Blue Willow China? at least she would have had a career available to her as a designer of flatware. The tabloids will pay big to anyone who can find pictures - she's like Nessie and Bigfoot right now.

Which brings to light a curious trend - Secret Celebrity Babies.

These are children who seem born out of  gossip - "Did they get together?" "Is she sporting a baby bump?" "Are They shopping for baby clothes?" "How long do you think she'll keep the baby weight?" "What does the baby look like?" "Is she pretending to be preggers and having it be carried by a surrogate or is she just putting away Paula Deen's donut burgers?" And son on, until a proper bidding war between tabloids produces modest photos of parents with child. Then it's over...until the next "bump" is sighted.

Or is it? Apparently there's a demand for "Baby's first steps" - photos of the toddler outside taking a stroll. Whether it be hopping into a filthy sandbox in the park or a dull play date at that dreary shop/cafe in Manhattan with the gloomy "Alice in Wonderland" decor, or just having an all-out fit on the sidewalk, it's those first steps avoiding seedy paps in dirty pullovers and enormous camera lenses that carry on well past the terrible twos.

My next-door neighbors had a baby. They act as though it didn't happen - some cosmic hiccup in reality, a slip of the metaphysical banana peel - you only think they were bringing furniture for a nursery into their apartment. What gives - who cares? Apparently they think I do, or the business of having responsibility dropped in their lap (in spite of the nine month warning) made them recoil and act relatively aloof until the squirt turns 20 and they can't wait for it to get out of the house?

For now, celebs and nobodies alike are keeping their newborn kin under wraps better than James Bond could. Maybe TMZ and Entertainment Tonight should air on the History Channel next to episodes of Ancient Aliens...

The Endgame Will Be Televised

Turning trash into treasure is one about turning an opportunity into a racket?

Long ago in a previous post, I had mentioned buying the first issue of Spider-Woman (late 70's series) for two bucks at a church show. This was in 1998, almost a decade before Jessica Drew got her big comeback when Brain Michael Bendis became writer of The Avengers. Suddenly, the price of the first issue shot up in value (though not as high as her 1st appearance in an issue of Marvel Spotlight). I recall Midtown Comics in NYC was selling the first issue for $60.00 at one point. In other shops, it earned its place on the "Please ask an employee" wall - where the prices are as high as their place on the wall. I was happy to own a gold nugget, even happier to get an autograph from Carmine Infantino - although, depending on who you're talking to, this actually lowers the value of the book. But we're not talking about money, are we?

 Oh, yes I am. Two months ago, I saw a rerun of Pawn Queens, a reality show, set in a pawn shop run by Minda Grabiec, Nikki Ruehl, Tom Brunzelle and Greg Holloway. The episode I saw featured a woman who had a collection of Spider-Woman comics and brought in the 1st issue to see if they were interested in  buying it from her. Minda (who looks a bit like Elizabeth Montgomery from Bewitched) wanted the book because she thought it would be a great prop to display in the store. Tom seemed reluctant, arguing that the book's value depended a lot on if the character appeared in a hit movie, since she was created so that Marvel could own the name "Spider-Woman". Nikki (who wasn't there, I'm just sticking her in because she reminds me of Sarah Michelle Gellar...with big boobs ) was busy elsewhere. Tom - and this is the part that got my radar antenna going - offered the collector ten dollars for it.

What do you think happened? Did she refuse? Did she say that Megan Fox signed on to play the role? Did she dust-off an old issue of Wizard from within her handbag from Jessie's comeback year?

Nah, she took the ten. And returned to the store to offer the second, third and fourth issues of the book for undisclosed amounts (possibly less).

Maybe Spider-Woman is a bad example, since I'm seeing issues offered for as low as a buck-fifty in shops lately. How about Amazing Fantasy #15? Spider-Man's grand entrance. Or the first issue of The Hulk by Stan and Jack? That was featured in an episode of FOX'S Buried Treasure.

The show is hosted by Leigh and Leslie Keno - middle-aged twins who resemble a wizened Zack and Cody, they're regulars on PBS'  Antiques Roadshow recieved humanitarian awards form President George W. Bush. ( didn't hear it from me, but gossip on the flea market circuit is VERY interesting...They Have Every Yard And Rallying Even Crying Right Out Of Kitchen Sinks). Their show, Buried Treasure, aired this past summer.

Anyway, the episode I saw showcased a collector who had those two comic books and an original animation cel from the Fleischer Brothers Superman cartoons.  And of course, the drama was that he was engaged and his girlfriend thought this hobby was silly -  not silly enough to not see the money in what he owned, but silly enough to feign ignorance as to the value and sit through the drama of whether or not they were being lowballed by offers made and if they could do better. It turned out the copies he had were not perfect - the Amazing Fantasy issue had some writing on the cover, the Hulk comic had some folds and bends along the spine (awww...look how they got their handy magnifying glass - no wonder fans and collectors complain so much when they buy a new comic and the employee ringing it up handles it like a throw pillow), but the item that had them drooling was the Superman cel. I think he kept that and let the dealers faces stay red. He did let go of the Amazing Fantasy comic, but kept the Hulk.

I enjoy seeing these collector endgames play out on the telly - it would be neat if they did a reality show set in a comic shop, where we'll see the owner buy out a guy's collection at ten cents an issue and watch employees go through the revolving door. Hopefully it will be a shop where the boss owns the building - the shops that last longer than three years usually do. Unless he finds he can make more money setting up a Starbucks or a Family Dollar - and that's the cliffhanger for the season finale! ;)

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

...The Right Of All Sentient Knuckleheads - Bwah-Ha-Ha

IDW's Transformers comics are shaking up this month. What started off as a simple reboot of the franchise and its comic book continuity became swept-up and overshadowed by the success of the live-action movies and arguably went off the rails for a while. So now we're getting a new jumping-on point that is not so much a revamp as just something exciting and new.

This month we have two new ongoing series - Robots In Disguise and More Than Meets The Eye. The new status quo? The ongoing feud between the Autobots and Decepticons is considered over, and in a goodwill gesture to show that Cybertron has moved on, the leadership is divided between Rodimus Prime and Bumblebee, who are not getting along right now. Both agree that that they need to get their home planet in order, but disagree in how to do it. 'Bee thinks it needs to be done from the ground up, Rodimus thinks something old will help - in this case, a quest for the Knights of Cybertron - a Jedi/Templar-sounding order of robots that went into hiding long,long ago.

So they split, and the two books show the change well. In More Than Meets The Eye,  Rodimus fronts a book that's very Justice League International meets Lost in Space/ Star Trek: Voyager with more humor than you'd expect - no, not terrible Shia Labeouf comedy, but the cause-and-effect, dialogue-fueled, "Bwa-ha-ha" that defined the Keith Giffen and J.M. Dematteis years writing the Justice league, and I found this approach very engaging. Robots In Disguise appears to offer a more conventional alternative, but I expect it will be good, since Bumblebee stars in it.

Casting Transformers in comics is very important. In past years, the comics would focus on characters with a cult following, like Jetfire, Grimlock and Ratchet (who didn't do much in the original cartoon, but strangely enough, became the real hero in the original Marvel comic books, even considered by fans to be Megatron's true arch-foe). Here, with Rodimus and Bumblebee, the books are centered on characters that played major roles in Transformers movies, and I'm certain that was a key strategy  to bring in new readers. I saw one guy in the comic shop pick up a copy that prominently displayed Rodimus on the cover, while I opted for Nick Roche's awesome cover tribute to Kevin Maguire's Justice League #1 cover, with Rodimus standing in for Guy Gardner. Variant covers cover all bases - not all the time, but here they did.

I tend to drift in and out of Transformers because the continuity can get ugly and self-indulgent. The old Marvel comics veer away from the TV show at one point, the Marvel U.K. comics used a time travel story set between scenes in the animated movie, Target 2006, which created an alternate continuity. Bumblebee survived in the TV series, but was killed off in any crossover with G.I. Joe. Characters like Shockwave, Ratbat, Nightbeat, Blaster, Ratchet and Grimlock were given the lion's share of attention, yet barely registered on TV.

The timing couldn't be better - The Hub channel started airing episodes from season 3 of the original Transformers series - which featured  Rodimus, Ultra Magnus, Galvatron , Wreck-Garr,  Dalek-wannabes the Quintessons and Ben Grimm-analogue Kup, so anyone watching and visiting a comic shop spotting a comic book showcasing those characters will want to try it. That season is not very popular, but technically, the scripts, dialogue and characterization are stronger than what came before. I like how it played off events from the animated film, which was something of an event to any kid who saw it in 1986. I remember I had to choose between seeing that movie or the final re-release of  Disney's Song of The South. But Song of The South had already started, and the Transformers movie was still playing into the afternoon and evening, simply because somebody ingeniously thought of having Spike Witwicky say, "Oh, Shit, what are we going to do now?!" in the middle of the picture. Well, if the parents weren't taking them out and demanding refunds when the Autobots were getting killed left and right in the 1st ten minutes... It all sounds so tame, now.

What about Bayformers? The popular nickname for the live-action films? Well, maybe it says something about my worldview, but I can't help but find Bay's ugly depiction of the humans to be more convincing than anyone would care to admit. In Bayformers our fates are often in the hands of overzealous, uneducated, interchangeable and hammy people in suits and uniforms who thrive on red tape and puffed-up men and women overcompensating for their lack of logic or personality by clinging on to growling hoary stereotypes. The giant robots have more personality, but Bay (or perhaps, Steven Spielberg) is skittish about giving them more screen time. I guess a Beast Wars movie is unthinkable, here. Ditto an adaptation of the great comic I just reviewed.

I can't help imagine what a Doctor Who/Transformers crossover would be like. Of course it would star David Tennant. Maybe Tom Baker would cameo, offering Galvatron jelly babies. And K9 would blast away Decepticons while UNIT and Torchwood would tell Sector 7 the business and show them how its done right. And the sonic screwdriver would convert an industrial fan into an inter-dimensional Hoover vac that would suck all the baddies into a pocket nowhere place and let the Daleks and Cybermen finish them off.  And Megan Fox could lay down on the hood of an Aston Martin DB9 and pose all sexy-like, just in case this was starting to look like kids stuff... This might already be on YouTube... Babelcolour's The Ten Doctors uses the soundtrack from the films better than Bay did. I'll check again...

Monday, January 9, 2012

One Life To Waste

Soon, perhaps not soon enough, One Life To Live, the ABC daytime soap opera, will be over...maybe. It may get a regeneration in the form of an online web series... or not. Whatever happens, its time on network television is running out, and will it go out with a bang - or like a cancelled comic book?

I often hear people use soap opera as an example of good storytelling in comics - "..the stories have enough of a soap opera-element to get the reader to want to ask ,'What happens next?'" Unfortunately, soap operas on television often belie this idea - they are the best examples of bad storytelling. Stories that have no plot last over a year, then extended if popular/unpopular because the writer has hit a dead end. Characters linger on past their sell-by date, bad teenage actors, weird plot connections, and worst of all, new characters are introduced either to pander to trends or further the current plot. One Life - set in an expanding working-class New Jersey town - has got it all - The Buchannon family were introduced to capitalize on the popularity of Dallas and never went back to Texas. A popular baby-switching storyline that featured Judith Light and Tommy Lee Jones (!) did not end until most of the principal characters had already left. Inner-city ghetto Angel Square and the Vega/Delgado families (Carlotta, Antonio, Christian and Tea) did not exist until the mid-90's. Before that, the show was mostly quaint New England coziness with looming skyscrapers thrown in. It was the middle-child among the ABC soaps, and , if you ask my Mom, the best years were 1993-1995, "...when they ended they story lines fast - on the next day, Joe! The next day!"  Oh, and the years when Jill Larsen played Ursula - a loony who liked to flirt with other loonies by showing her talent at building homespun electric chairs. You really had to be there to see that one. Then there's Eternia - the show's nadir. A fortune (well, in TV talk it was a fortune) spent imagining a lost city built by more-alive-when-dead tycoon Victor Lord and had all the excitement of a Land Of The Lost marathon. Eternia...Eternia - why does that sound familiar? ;)

Then there's Todd Manning. Former gang-rape leader turned tabloid newspaper magnate. As played by Roger Howarth, the character was the Joker of Llandview, PA (Didn't I just write that the town was set in New Jersey? Well, I guess Eternia took up so much space to build that all the people had to move to Pennsylvania, because the writer's have it set there, now). Always the first suspect in every crime (usually outwitting the slow-as-shit ne'er-do-well Commish, Bo Buchannon, and his comely wife Nora - the town DA) and represented by his ex-wife Tea Delgado (played like a Red Shoe Diaries character by Florencia Lozano, who often outsmarts everyone by talking down to them in a condescending manner : "Your honor, my client needed to have a time out because he did not get apple juice on his last play date.") When Howarth left, we had to endure his replacement, Trevor St. John, who played the character more like a cheap thug - you really felt like the writers needed to give up the ghost watching him play a character that had run out of mileage. Howarth came back, but they didn't want to lose St. John, so a contrived "Identical twins" twist was drunkenly pulled out someones posterior, and we've had to swallow that one for the last year or so, even after St. John left and his Todd (Victor Lord Jr.) was killed off by Howarth's Todd (ironically one of the few crimes he was actually guilty of).

I'm really leaving out a bunch of stuff, here. All the bad teen romances, the musical episodes ("We were more stoned pulling this crap out than we were when they came up with that Eternia thing.") , "Very Special Episodes" devoted to social issues that featured characters created by demand of social interest groups, and ... and... well, if it was really any good, it wouldn't be replaced by a show where a group of people with no last names tell you how to pick out clothes. Seriously, even divine intervention (Oprah) turned them down.

(for more information about the history of this cancelled TV show - I guess it's up to fan-fic now - consult Wikipedia by typing 'Tea Delgado', 'Todd Manning', 'Victoria Lord Reilly Buchannon Carpenter Davidson Balsam Buchannon', or 'One Life To Live')

UPDATE - March 27, 2012:  I noticed the online web series plan fell apart and ABC has decided to take four OLTL characters and add them to the cast of "General Hospital" - John McBain, Todd Manning, Blair Manning (yeah, she married Todd again) and Starr Manning. It was the most graceful of transitions: A car carrying Starr, her daughter Hope and husband/boyfriend/baby-daddy (I forget if they got married at all) Cole Thornheart on their way to Port Charles was wrecked in a botched hit arranged by Sonny (Maurice Bernard), the mob boss with a cold heart of gold. Instant conflict! Plus, Instant trip to ... General Hospital - the place where gangsters go to get patched up. The soap used to be a sudser dealing with medical-type stuff, but that gave way to storylines involving spies, gangsters, noisy fist-shaking tycoons, Rick Springfield, Elizabeth Taylor cameos, weight-lifting aliens, Dancing With The Stars contestants and James Franco as James Franco. my big complaint about the show is the cost-cutting measure to use the dimmest lighting possible - it looks like my tv is about to go. Oh, and it feels like there are too many characters, too many models for the camera (some of the actresses here look alike and they're not playing twins). With the OLTL gang in place (hopefully Robin Strasser - Dorian Lord - won't be far behind), it's time for some serious spring cleaning. Oh, and brighter lights, please.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Saved By The Duck

 You see? Space monsters he can handle, but anything outside his own little clockwork's Ducks swimming in money, Ducks handling race cars, lasers, aeroplanes, Ducks chomping cigars and cavorting with fashion models, Ducks lurking in the shadows and shouting egocentric proclamations, machine gun-toting, trigger-happy Ducks hanging out with finheaded green policemen..."

- with sincere apologies to Lawrence Miles.

A fine introduction to a spot of this and that. Firstly, the passing of Victor Rios, aka, "Vicar", the Disney comic artist who drew a lot of Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck comics. On average, if you've read a Disney comic in the last 25 years or so, any issue would feature a story illustrated by Victor. The bulk of American Disney comics features stories and art produced overseas and reprinted here - to guarantee quality control, the material we saw was considered to be more consistent with the work of Carl Barks; we didn't get Duck Avenger, Brigitta MacBridge or Fethry because they were virtually unknown in the states, but they did arrive in  the search for something new. Another advantage for Victor was that he often illustrated stories written/scripted by English-speaking freelancers, like John Lustig, Janet Gilbert, Dave Angus, David Gerstein, Joe Torcivia, and one time, Mike Barrier, who didn't like how his story was drawn.

At what point do drawings become "Art"? Vicar's harshest critics (fans, of course), thought his work was simply drawings - good drawings, handsome and attractive drawings, but limited expression and variation. His strengths depended on the imagination of the script. He was very good at staging exotic locations and details (actually, just one or two steps away from becoming Don Rosa art) and some fans, if I recall correctly, found his work "less obtrusive" than Rosa. He could be upstaged by contemporaries like Daniel Branca, Marco Rota, Scalabroni and Ben Verhagen. His massive output can simply be described as the work of "A Very Good Duck Artist".


I rented a DVD titled "Donald's Fire Safety Hits", pairing two educational films shown in schools during the 80s and early-90s. The first film, "Donald's Fire Safety Plan", is a revised version of the last Donald Duck Cartoon produced by the Disney studio in its heyday, and while I have not seen the original, this version incorporated live-action footage of a family consisting of a human "Uncle Donald" and his three nephews, one of whom played by a pre-"Saved By The Bell" Mark-Paul Gossellar (!). Instead of teaching "Stop, Drop and Roll", we learn about Exit Drills In The Home (E.D.I.T.H.) and the use of collapsable ladders (very usefull for a second-story man - "Gee, dese folks dink of everythin' for a humble robba' to make wit da ezcape.") I remember seing this when I was 8 - now I know why Zack Morris looked so familiar. ;)

The second film "Donald's Fire Drill", was an all live-action game show set in a child's bedroom loaded with Disney merchandise, circa 1991. It features the costumed theme park Donald demonstrating various safety precautions and hazards (and taking a minute to read a copy of Donald Duck Adventures #8 - with stories by William Van Horn and ...Vicar, of course!) It's cute.

The box art showed a deleted scene from the original fire safety cartoon, with Donald demonstrating a Police/Fire Department call box. We still have those - ah, well.

UPDATE: Vicar's son, Victor Rodrigo Arrigada Schulz, is also a cartoonist as well -I just added a carttoon he had posted on his Facebook page - notice how he also uses the "Vicar" pen name; it's like a family surname! :)