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Tuesday, August 22, 2006

THE GREATEST BAD MOVIES EVER MADE: Michael Winner's DEATH WISH 3 (1985)

Throughout the history of cinema there have been critically acclaimed films that made a shitload of money, thereby guaranteeing sequels, and while several such follow-ups are good, sometimes even eclipsing the flicks that spawned them — FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE, A SHOT IN THE DARK, THE GODFATHER PART II, THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and TOY STORY 2 spring immediately to mind — more often than not the sequels fall far short of the quality found in the original work. Among the lackluster movies that make up this reviled sub-category are such infamous works as EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, THE TWO JAKES, BASIC INSTINCT II, the entire gaggle of JAWS offspring, the unfortunate sequels to THE MATRIX, and of course the recent STAR WARS trilogy, but no sequel has ever fallen straight to the depths of cinematic Hell quite as spectacularly as DEATH WISH 3. And seldom has any other film, good or bad, been anywhere near as balls-out entertaining.

The original DEATH WISH from 1974 was a serious and rather depressing piece of early-1970’s social commentary that centered on a NYC architect, Paul Kersey (played by the venerable Charles Bronson, nee Buchinski), who is the most gentle of souls, once a conscientious objector during his military service, now a loving family man, basically the sort of guy who wouldn’t harm a fly. Then, one day while he’s away at work, a bunch of thugs (including a repellent Jeff Goldblum in his screen debut) break into his posh Upper West Side apartment and brutally beat and rape his wife and daughter. Kersey’s wife does not survive the assault and his daughter is so traumatized by the experience that she ends up a vegetable and is committed to a mental health care facility for life (or, more accurately, until she is again gang raped and eventually killed in the appalling DEATH WISH 2).

To take his mind off his family’s tragedies, the emotionally distraught Kersey accepts a design job in Arizona and receives a revolver as a token of appreciation from his client. Upon returning to the almost cartoonishly crime-ridden streets of New York, Kersey takes it upon himself to go on a one man spree of payback against the human vermin who make NYC life unlivable, first beating the piss out of a mugger with a sock full of quarters, then upgrading to using his gift pistol to blow away more scum, the press soon bestowing upon him the catchy moniker of “the Vigilante Killer.” Lionized by the citizens who soon begin to follow his example of fighting back and demonized by a police force that is pissed off because he makes them look useless, Kersey is eventually shot, but he survives and is given a pass by the NYPD who secretly banish him and tell him in no uncertain terms that he is never to return.

When DEATH WISH proved to be a hit the sequels took their own sweet time in showing up, the first of which opened in 1982. The early 1980’s were the dawn of the era of truly mindless action flicks, and the DEATHWISH series quickly threw out all semblance of quality and social commentary, opting instead for as much over-the-top graphic carnage as possible. DEATH WISH 2 is an exploitation piece of the lowest order, a celluloid slaughterhouse that offers up far more rape, violence, shootings and general degradation of the human spirit than even this hardened grindhouse junkie could stomach, with a sickening air of abject cruelty permeating the whole megilah. And providing the icing on this mountainous shit cake is Jimmy Page — yes, that Jimmy Page — apparently having forgotten the skills that made him a rock ‘n’ roll legend, providing a cacophonous mess of a score. Fortunately for bad movie addicts everywhere, DEATH WISH 2 made enough scratch to warrant a sequel three years later, and thus was the sublime ridiculousness of DEATH WISH 3 unleashed upon an unsuspecting public.

For his third outing, Kersey returns to “the City” to visit an old and utterly nondescript army buddy (read “cannon fodder”), but as is expected in this series the guy is soon rendered null and void by some of the many “creeps” who infest the neighborhood like two-legged cockroaches. When Kersey enters his dying friend’s apartment he is nabbed by the cops, who of course think he’s responsible, and he’s promptly brought before Shriker (played by Ed Lauter, veteran of about eleventy-jillion flicks), a hard-nosed detective who recognizes Kersey (apparently he saw the previous flicks) and roughs him up a bit just to show him who’s boss. Now, Kersey — hereafter referred to as Badass Grandpa — may be an old fart, but he ain’t taking that kind of bullshit, so he immediately socks Shriker in the nuts. That move lands Badass Grandpa in the holding tank, a foul enclosure just brimming with punks, junkies and creeps straight out of Central Casting.
“I’m old. I’m bold. GET USED TO IT, CREEPS!”

It’s all been cookie cutter stupid up to this point, but once Badass Grandpa hands out an ass-whuppin’ on an overweight creep by shoving his Rosie O’Donnell-sized skull through the bars, all bets are off. This amusing act of self-defense/gratuitous violence attracts the attention of Fraker (masterfully — and shamelessly — essayed by Gavan O’Herlihy, the guy who played Richie Cunningham’s older brother, Chuck, during the first season of “Happy Days”), a horse-faced white dude sporting an idiotic reverse Mohawk and what I guess is supposed to be some kind of scary neo-tribal war paint, but instead looks like he passed out drunk and a five-year-old drew on his face with some crayons and nobody bothered to mention it to him.
"Hey! Why the fuck are youse laughin' at me?"

Upon seeing Badass Grandpa in action, Fraker asserts his imagined status as the cell’s resident alpha wolf and gives the old coot a cheap shot to the ribs, after which he is released back onto the streets. But as he departs, Fraker looks Badass Grandpa square in the eye and advises him to watch the seven o’clock news because “I’m gonna kill an old lady. Just for you.” Then, apparently having forgotten about being pissed off at him, Detective Shriker releases Badass Grandpa, tells him how much he admires his work as a homicidal vigilante because he can’t stand creeps either, returns his gun and actually gives him carte blanche to wipe out as many punks/creeps as he feels like, all with the full clandestine cooperation of the local police department. Thus emboldened, Badass Grandpa takes up residence in his dead war buddy’s apartment and is befriended by Bennett (Martin Balsam, who was memorably offed on the staircase by “Mother” in the original PSYCHO), a tenant who is nice enough to introduce Badass Grandpa to the other residents, each and every one an ethnic/religious stereotype — the old ultra-Jewish couple, the earthy Hispanics, etc. —, gives a detailed who’s who of the local creeps, and shows Badass Grandpa where his dead pal kept a big, honkin’ military issue machine gun, complete with ammo feed (but strangely no tripod on which to mount the sumbitch). Ooh, foreshadowing!

Meanwhile, Fraker returns to lead his gang and resumes his kingship by savagely murdering the gang member who had filled in for him, an act I know would have certainly filled me with a sense of unwavering loyalty. Y’see, the creeps in this film would be right at home in some post-apocalyptic hellhole as seen in films such as THE ROAD WARRIOR or FIST OF THE NORTH STAR, what with their stilted lingo, outlandish hairdos and idiotic outfits that run the gamut from the generic biker/punk rocker gear to wildly inappropriate FLASHDANCE ballet togs, but they are completely out of place in any modern day metropolis, a point driven further home when we actually get to meet some of them. Other than Fraker, the most notable creeps are Hermosa, played with staggering non-menace by a pre-BILL & TED’S EXCELLENT ADVENTURE Alex Winter (he’s the blonde one who isn’t Keanu Reeves, namely Bill) and “the Giggler,” an outrageous black dude/FAME refugee in a leotard who gets his handle from his habit of giggling when he robs or otherwise assaults someone. Seriously, you have to see these guys to believe them.

Equipped with his new info on the local creeps, Badass Grandpa befriends all of the residents of the building, listening to their tales of misery at the hands of the scumbags and formulating the required plans of action to deal with them; the ultra-Jews have been home-invaded through their kitchen window by the Giggler more than once — he even taunted them with “We’ll be back! WHENEVER WE LIKE!!!! Hee Hee Hee Hee Hee!,” the nasty so-and-so — and the imaginatively-named Maria (the Hispanic chick, played by Marina Sirtis two years before she irritated the shit out of us for seven seasons on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” as Counselor Deanna Troi; thankfully she doesn’t have a single line in this entire picture) has been harassed to the point of near-rape by Bill, er, Hermosa until Badass Grandpa smacks him in the mouth with a convenient tire iron. I’m telling you, the ludicrous image of Alex Winter grinning like a Jack O’Lantern while plastered across Marina Sirtis’ windshield screaming “I’m gonna eatchoo, bitch!” as she drives like a maniac in an underground parking garage looks just like something out of a Wally Wood MAD Magazine illustration. I mean, how badly does an attempted rape scene fail when it elicits howls of belly-laughter even from the women in the audience?

Once he’s satisfied with his reconnaissance efforts, Badass Grandpa begins his urban renewal crusade in earnest and takes advantage of his police department free pass to purchase high-powered firearms by mail, weaponry such as a Wildey Magnum pistol that’s literally as big as your forearm, fist included.
Now THAT’S a gun!

He also rigs the tenement’s apartments with a variety of booby traps, one of which includes a wooden platform festooned with nails for the perforation of felonious feet, while another features a spring loaded two-by-four that explosively bashes would-be home invaders square in the mouth; when this trap goes off during Badass Grandpa’s meal with the ultra-Jews (causing the douchebag on the receiving end to screech like a banshee as he flees into the night), the diners rush to the kitchen and find the board sticking straight up next to an open window. As Badass Grandpa resets the trap, the ultra-Jews gape in shock, point at the board and ask, “What’s that?” Badass Grandpa smiles and says, “teeth!” We are then treated to a closeup of the board with what appear to be two bloody Chiclets embedded in the wood.

NOTE: at best the trap in question would just smack you right in the face, possibly breaking your nose, but unless the guy who got hit had been looking straight up at the ceiling and had his mandible surgically removed there is no fucking way that his teeth would end up in that plank. I’m sorry, but even for a film with this little grasp on basic reality this is a bit of a stretch.

Once the gauntlet is thrown, in short order our ancient hero renders several of Fraker’s creeps tits-up on the pavement, most hilariously in the case of the Giggler; Badass Grandpa wanders down the street eating an ice cream cone and swinging a very expensive camera like a streetwalker’s purse during Fleet Week, attracting the baleful gaze of the Giggler. The felon eyes Badass Grandpa and begins to follow him, finally launching himself at the old man, snagging the pricey Nikon. As the Giggler speeds away, looking over his shoulder and living up to his fey nickname, Badass Grandpa drops his vanilla cone and from out of nowhere produces his insanely huge hand cannon and ventilates the fleeing FAME refugee. The actor/dancer playing the Giggler makes the most of his character’s demise by not merely hitting the asphalt, oh no! This master showman goes out with a wildly inappropriate and fruity jazz dance fall and lands like he’s interpreting an autumn leaf daintily tumbling to the earth, it’s season over and its time done. Such artistic expression may be laudable, but it has no business being in this film. In fact, when I first witnessed that moment, I snarfed the beer I was drinking out of both nostrils and then sat there laughing like the village idiot. Meanwhile, people on the street stop what they’re doing and even hang out of windows cheering and laughing at the corpse of the Giggler — which in real life would have a hole penetrating his body, roughly the diameter of a manhole cover —, with one teenage onlooker raising the Black Power fist and screaming, “Right on, man!” to a smiling Badass Grandpa. And in a perfectly moronic coda to the sequence, the camera then jump cuts to the gang’s dank basement headquarters where we see Fraker’s thugs deep in the throes of mourning for their fallen comrade; much wailing and hand-wringing goes on, and then one of the creeps poignantly utters the deathless line, “They shot the Giggler, man!”

I’m telling ya, folks, not since Shakespeare have I been so moved by dialogue that truly expresses the depths of one man’s soul-wrenching misery.

Needless to say, Fraker ain’t having some old fart piss all over him and his creeps, so he decides to escalate the situation by having his boys abduct Counselor Troi and gang rape her; this scene could have been a hell of a lot worse, especially considering the misogynistic excesses of DEATH WISH 2, but it’s still pretty distasteful considering that it’s clearly meant to titillate a certain audience element, bares Marina Sirtis’ olive-toned tetas, and worst of all shows Bill, er, Hermosa leading the pack. After the boys have had their fun, Maria’s unconscious body is found and her husband and Badass Grandpa rush to the hospital to see her. They are immediately informed by the attending physician that during the assault Maria suffered a broken arm which caused a blood clot that dislodged and made its way to her heart, killing her just minutes before her visitors arrived.

At this point I would like to ask any of the medical professionals who read this blog if such a thing is possible; I’m no doctor, so I don’t know, but the offhanded speed with which that bit of info is delivered rendered all believability null and void for me.

Oh, and lest I forget, from out of nowhere comes Deborah Raffin in the thankless role of a police administrator or psychiatrist or some shit who is assigned to keep tabs on Badass Grandpa — NOTE: she’s not in on his arrangement with the local fuzz — and unbelievably falls in love with his Methuselah ass. This improbable plot element, one of the most improbable in a film where a talking, disco dancing tree would barely raise an eyebrow, allows Badass Grandpa to briefly have a love interest who you just know is going to get killed, thereby spurring the old coot on to greater heights of urban wholesale slaughter. The two instantly embark on a romance that we are supposed to deeply care about, despite the fact that the two of them have been together for all of maybe ten minutes, but wouldn’t ya know it? That ol’ meanie Fraker knocks out the police administrator (or psychiatrist or some shit) while she’s sitting behind the wheel of her car at a red light, kicks the car into gear, sending it careening out of control until it crashes and bursts into the kind of pyrotechnic display that no movie in this genre would be complete without, an event that is of course witnessed by Badass Grandpa.

Oh, it’s ON now, creeps.

Badass Grandpa returns to the apartment building with a mysterious package that he received in the mail, and then breaks out the gigantic machine gun that was in his dead war buddy’s flat, gaining Maria’s husband (and his homemade zip-gun) as backup. The two then literally wander the streets, blowing away overacting creeps willy-nilly, when, lo and behold, Detective Shriker joins in the fun and the three hobble about feebly, inspiring the once timid neighborhood denizens to pick up bricks, boards, baseball bats, the family cat, and damn near anything else that isn’t nailed down and fight back against the savage scumbags. The already ultra-violent streets are suddenly turned into an even more over-the-top living Hell as the locals give as good as they get in defense of their homes, and the skies literally rain bodies from the rooftops as Badass Grandpa and his boys blast the living shit out of everyone and everything in sight.

The sheer madness that ensues goes on for about fifteen solid minutes of our heroes staggering about like they’d stumbled into a living shooting gallery, each cutout target able to move, scream, cuss and bleed. There’s even an incredible bit where a creep hurls a Molotov cocktail through a tenement window, after which a shrill old lady’s scream is heard; shortly thereafter the old lady runs into the street, her torso ablaze, but the hilarious part of this is that she’s obviously portrayed by a dude and resembles Norman Bates doing his “mother” act while auditioning for the role of the Human Torch in FANTASTIC FOUR 2.

Eventually, shit gets so thick that Fraker gets on the phone and calls some unnamed thug, presumably of the same tribe or a regional affiliate, and politely asks him if he can “send some more guys.” We are then treated to a shot of a horde of barbarian bikers instantly roaring into the neighborhood, whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, whirling chains over their heads, and generally being a blight on humanity. The only way this image could have been any funnier is if there were a few random Vikings and pirates screaming, “Aar, me hearties” for spice.

This laughable display is greeted by Fraker’s punks with a stirring show of solidarity, namely with more whoopin’ and a-hollerin’, and whirling of chains over their own Mohawked/shaved/Afroed heads. Faster than you can say, “Have you ever seen such cruelty?” the mayhem somehow manages to get even more outrageous, causing Badass Grandpa to run out of machine gun ammo, so he falls back on his old, reliable Wildey Magnum. Yet more punks soon litter the streets with their splattered corpses and the locals appear to be gaining the upper hand. However, despite a valiant show of homicidal acumen, Badass Grandpa soon begins to tire and is caught unawares by a creep who stabs him with a trusty “shiv.” Luckily, Badass Grandpa had on a bulletproof vest during the stabbing, so he survives and makes it back to his dead pal’s flat, hurriedly rummaging for the mysterious package he received earlier. Just as he grabs the box, Fraker storms in to hold Badass Grandpa at gunpoint and taunt him about the fact the he too has on a bulletproof vest. Unimpressed and with a burst of speed that would have made the Flash envious, Badass Grandpa whips out the contents of the mysterious package, a handheld rocket launcher that he aims at Fraker, literally blowing him to chunky bits from five feet away (an act that would have also killed Badass Grandpa thanks to the confined space involved, but why quibble?) while simultaneously sending the wall behind the head creep showering onto the street below. Upon catching sight of this and somehow realizing that the pretty bits of hamburger littering the sidewalk are the earthly remains of their leader, the rampaging creeps, bikers, pirates, ninjas, Viet Cong, zombies and Shiite Muslims dejectedly lower their chains, knives, cricket bats, Panzer tanks and disintegrator pistols and drive off into the unknown from whence they came in a parade resembling the exodus scene from THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, only populated with nothing but total douchebags and no camels to speak of.

As the neighborhood around them burns and scores of stiffs festoon the place for as far as the eye can see, Shriker tells Badass Grandpa that he’ll cover for any difficult questions that may arise from his having turned the area into a demilitarized zone, so the old dude should make like a bakery truck and haul buns outta there. And so, like the hardened warrior he is, Badass Grandpa packs his suitcase and wanders off into the horizon, just as the pretty much non-existent-up-to-this-point squadron of police cars enters the post-fray. THE END.

Unfortunately, this overview simply cannot in any way, shape, or form get across just how maniacally insane this film is, so if you feel like you need a million volts of outright stupidity shot straight up your ass, run out and rent it right now. No joke, truly idiotic though it may be, DEATH WISH 3 is one of my top twenty all-time favorite movies, and I can’t urge you strongly enough to see it as soon as you can, and avoid the other sequels at all costs.

Friday, August 18, 2006

"IN BLACKEST NIGHT..."

About three years ago I was eating lunch at the local diner, wearing my Green Lantern Corps emblem t-shirt, when an old black militant walked over to me and said, "Say, my brother. Is that an Ashanti drum symbol on your shirt?" When I told him what it was he looked at me with the scorn I'd expect from him if I'd been fucking a red-headed white woman in front of him (which I would have been happy to do, but I digress...).

So last night as I was winding down my day in the kitchen, Will the bartender demanded that I look toward the door. As I looked to the front of the bar, a total stranger whom Will stopped on the street walked in, proudly rocking the Green Lantern Corps emblem. Superhero symbols are far from uncommon in Brooklyn, but the Lantern is rare.

Anyway, here's me and the stranger representing for Oa.

NOTE: if you have no idea what the fuck I'm talking about, use your computer and google Green Lantern Corps and Oa; I recommend the excellent Wikipeidia.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

THE FINE ART OF “LINCOLN LOGGING”

Westport, Connecticut, circa 1979-

The summer had arrived and the affluent denizens of Connecticut’s answer to Beverly Hills shucked off their winter malaise, bought brand new and cornea-wiltingly hideous beach attire, and readied themselves for a season of fun in the sun at poolside. And not just any community poolside, oh no; these children of privilege had huge, elaborate pools of their own, fenced off from the encroaching world outside of the family compound. Yes, Joe Average would never enjoy the luxury of having his own backyard oasis, and who gave a shit about him anyway?

This state of in your face, kiss-my-rich-ass prosperity did not sit well with every resident of the favored burg however, and it was up to the adolescent neighborhood terrorists to make their distaste known.

Kenny anxiously stared at the clock radio next to his bed, each minute seeming to drag while awaiting the stroke of midnight. Once that magic hour arrived, Kenny would don his Chuck Taylors — the most silent of stealthwear sneakers —sneak out of the house into the moonlit night, and make his own personal stab against his wealthier neighbors.

Yes, the nighttime was the right time, and Kenny had prepared for many hours in advance. His meals that day had consisted of lots of fiber and assorted health food swiped from his mother’s pantry under the pretense of fixing his questionable diet, and he could feel the inevitable results percolating deep within his innards…

Soon would be the hour for Lincoln Logging.

At last it was midnight, and Kenny threw off his covers and stole away from his home, all while his family slept securely. He wheeled his bicycle out onto the street and pedaled away, carefully keeping to the shadows. As he traveled he evaluated each house that he passed, calculating which would make a perfect venue for the night’s artistic/political declaration; after all, presentation was everything, and if he couldn’t do it right it wasn’t worth doing at all.

After an hour of slowly prowling the private back streets Kenny’s eyes were entranced by a driveway entrance with a cement lawn jockey acting as its sentry. But what good is a guard if he can say and do absolutely nothing except perpetually smile his minstrel show grin? “Not much good,” thought Kenny as he stashed his bike in the nearby shrubs, taking care to obscure the vehicle’s reflective surfaces. He then sat in the foliage for ten minutes, observing the premises for any hint of security, even something as simple as a yappy household dog that might betray his presence. Soon, Kenny felt that the coast was clear and crept around the perimeter of the house, making a beeline for where he instinctively knew the pool would be.

And there it was, a furnished lagoon right smack dab in the middle of suburban Babylon, its depths illuminated at night, even when not in use, just to draw the world’s attention to its owner’s Croesus-like assets. The surrounding deck looked ready to handle a party of sixty or more at the drop of a hat; cushioned lawn chairs and couches littered the space, all angled for a clear shot at the standing bar and the enormous propane grill, behind which was an opulent chef’s prep area large enough to hold untold barbecue fixings.

Yes, this was a ripe setting for the blow that must be struck.

Kenny once more surveyed his surroundings for wary eyes, and when he felt certain that he was unobserved he slipped quietly into the cool, inviting water of the swimming pool. The underwater silence helped to center Kenny, and after a few laps around he was ready to perform the task at hand, the grand statement for Westport’s have-nots, a stiff, upraised middle finger to the greedy bastards who looked down on him and the others like him, namely the ethnic and white trash unworthies who somehow infiltrated their bastion of means and power.

Kenny broke the surface and filled his lungs with the humid air, then swam to the bottom of the pool, coming to rest in its deepest point. Now was the time for relaxation, so he cleared his mind of all thought and let his body loosen. As he reached a state of perfect calm, he felt his bowels begin to lurch, and he swiftly doffed his swim trunks with an ease that came from repetition. “Yes,” he thought, “Come on oat bran!”

The excremental payload began to force its russet way out of Kenny’s distended butthole, a profane anti-birth, a filthy nativity that spoke more eloquently on the topic of class separation than the fourteen-year-old Kenny could hope to verbally articulate. And then the log shot free of its intestinal incarceration, lazily making its way to surface in an image reminiscent of a newborn whale in search of its first breath.

Kenny hauled himself out of the pool and surveyed the fruits of his mission. There, swaying gently in the chlorinated water, lay a spectacular two-foot, corn-packed toilet fish, floating in the opulent pool with an arrogance that would be right at home on a crocodile, secure in the knowledge that it was the baddest motherfucker on the river. And, much like its amphibious brother, the log in question was guaranteed to elicit shrill screams of panic and primal revulsion when encountered.

Satisfied with his contribution to the ambiance, Kenny readied his departure, pausing only to ponder what the manufacturers of the children’s toy Lincoln Logs would think if they knew their product’s name had become locally synonymous with squatting out a huge grunter in some rich bastard’s see-ment pond.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

POP CULTURE QUOTE OF THE WEEK

From the 2006 DOCTOR WHO episode "Love & Monsters":

At the very end of the story, told entirely as one man's videotaped document — one of only two really worthwhile episodes for the year — regular guy Elton Pope (Marc Warren) sums up his take on the world after his very, VERY bizarre experiences with extraterrestrial life forms — in which his girlfriend ends up as nothing more than a living face fused with a square of sidewalk cement, who, when Elton mentions that they still even have "sort of a love life," says, "Oh, don't mention that..." — Hey, you do the math — and I couldn't agree with him more:

"You know, when you're a kid they tell you it's all 'grow up, get a job, get married, get a house, have a kid, and that's it.' No. The truth is, the world is so much stranger than that; it's much darker, and much madder...and so much better."

Saturday, August 12, 2006

TRACEY’S REALITY CHECK

As August sets in, the restaurant biz goes into a month-long torpor thanks to families going away for the month and the staffs of any given eatery or bar nearly go insane from the sheer boredom of having little to do. At the barbecue joint, rather than succumb to the monotony we pass the hours by engaging in idiotic discourse and inventing new, horrible drinks.

During one of our nights of boredom-fueled invention, Jeff the bartender whipped out a bottle of Captain Morgan Tattoo — a truly vile concoction if ever there was one — poured a series of shots for the staff and a couple of regulars, demanding that they experience the utter awfulness of its flavor. We all downed the swill, grimaced in distaste virtually in unison, and Jeff summed it up beautifully by stating that this was something you’d drink just before you went out to rape someone. With that in mind, he set out to create mixed drink that would in some way be as offensive as the Tattoo, so he mixed Abita root beer and the heinous liquor to create the “Date Rape.”

Today is another one of those dull-assed motherfuckers, and Jeff once again got it in his head to experiment with mixing drinks, this time trying to learn some of the elixirs found in a cocktail manual that we have behind the bar, in this case a foofy beverage dubbed the “Zombie Cristophe.” I scoffed at that and urged him to come up with something more offensive than the Date Rape, but he doubted that there could be anything more offensive than that. I thought for a moment and then suggested the “Auschwitz.” “Nah,” said Jeff, “Too historical.” I quickly countered with “the Aushwitz CHILD-MOLESTER!” Jeff pondered briefly and was about to shoot that one down when I blurted out “the TRANSVESTITE Auschwitz Child-Molester!!!”

Jeff grinned broadly in assent, but Tracey, our waitress/goddess, chimed in with a much needed reality check: “That’s not so much offensive as a case of (PUTS ON CHILD VOICE) ‘Well, that’s distracting while I’m being molested. In a death camp.”

THE UNBELIEVABLE BUT 100% TRUE STORY OF “SUPERCAT”

Have you ever had a childhood experience that was so out there that when you retell the story no one believes you, yourself included?

I can’t speak for city kids, but having spent my formative years in the affluent suburbs of Connecticut I learned one indisputable truth, namely that children have all sorts of bizarre adventures that their parents will never be privy to. Upon arrival in Westport, just a week shy of my seventh birthday, I was unleashed into a landscape of endless backyards that served as shortcuts — something I’m willing to bet is no longer in any way acceptable to local homeowners — , forests and swamps that seemed to go on forever (until you ran into the off-ramp for I-95), and the strange activities of the jaded rich kids who were my schoolmates. Frequent vacations to exotic international locations were routine for these privileged youth, along with every material possession imaginable, so the play that they engaged in was frequently more...unusual than four square or “house.”

The two sick-assed games that I recall most vividly from the time are “ghost” and “Viet Nam terrorist,” both exceedingly violent and, in retrospect, hilarious in a Three Stooges meet the Little Rascals sort of way. In “ghost,” some poor kid was unwillingly chosen at random and forced to throw a sheet over himself, thereby completely obscuring his body from head to toe and rendering him more or less blind. Once covered, the other kids who were not the designated ghost would mercilessly lob volleyballs, tennis balls, basketballs, or pretty much any non-lethal projectiles they could get their hands on at the hapless spectre, the bombardment only coming to a halt when it was apparent that the victim was about to collapse into unconsciousness. “Viet Nam terrorist” was only attempted when there was a large cardboard box available; the box was hauled up to the top of a steep hill — usually the rise in back of my elementary school — and the kid who was designated the “terrorist” climbed inside. The rest of the kids assumed the roles of disgruntled American G.I.s, one of whom was the platoon leader and as such got to deliver the dramatic “sentencing speech.” The extemporized histrionics and ludicrous dialogue were what made this game fun since it gave us a no-holds-barred forum in which to shamelessly overact, and once the outrageous hamming was over, the box containing the “terrorist” was unceremoniously kicked down the hill, at which point the kid in the box got into the act, shouting epithets such as “Die, Yankee scum!”

But the most unusual aspects of this particular suburban childhood were invariably provided by parents or relatives, especially because a lot of the grownups in Westport had really interesting jobs, both legal and not-so-legal. Kids were often exposed to wildly inappropriate and sometimes dangerous distractions by well-meaning adults, oblivious elders who overlooked the questionable nature of what they exposed us to in order to look big in the eyes of children.

My own adventure into such dubious territory happened in late 1972 when I invited a schoolmate, Johnny (I can't post his surname for reasons that will become apparent as you read further), over to play. As we ran about the backyard making noise and doing whatever it is that little boys do, my sweet but hyperactive pet collie, Corky, joined in on the fun, and Johnny commented that while a big dog like the Corkster may have been cool, his uncle — who shall remain nameless — had a much better pet, a mysterious beast by the name of “Supercat,” a mystery that deepened when Johnny refused to tell me exactly what this Supercat was.

I may only have been on the East Coast for a few months at that point, but I had already learned many bitter lessons about not necessarily believing what the kids around me had to say, so I sneered “Fuck a Supercat!” to Johnny, but rather than get upset, a coolness beyond his years settled over him and he offered to prove the existence of the wondrous creature in question. We stopped playing and went inside the house, where Johnny made a beeline for the kitchen and picked up the phone. He dialed his uncle and asked if we could come over and see Supercat, and the uncle replied that he’d be over shortly.

A sense of queasy trepidation possessed me as we waited for the uncle to show up; if this was a deception it had gone on way past the point of not being real, especially since an adult was now involved, so just what the hell could an animal with the prefix of “Super” in its name be? I mean, it couldn’t be anything more than a really fat house cat, right?

RIGHT???

Eventually the uncle drove up, with Johnny's identical twin brother, Bobby, along for the ride. We piled into the finned sedan and took off into the Connecticut dusk, myself attempting to stay composed during my journey into the unknown, surrounded by a family of grinning sharks who couldn’t wait to see the little black kid shit himself. I have no recollection of exactly how long we drove or what town we ended up in, but it can’t have been too far from my home so it may have been Norwalk…

We arrived at the uncle’s house and crept stealthily to the cellar door, an imposing slab of steel whose handles were thickly looped with a dense network of chains and padlocks, all obviously intended to keep the curious out…or to keep something within from escaping. After the few minutes that it took to undo the locks, we descended a staircase to encounter another door, at which point the uncle moved to the head of our little procession and instructed us to be silent and not make any sudden moves, orders that twins had obviously heard before, as evidenced by their casual demeanor.

The uncle produced a series of keys and unlocked the door, sticking his head into the stygian blackness and calling out, “Supercat? Daddy’s home!” The uncle then herded us youngsters into the room and told us quite firmly to stay close to the wall. I obeyed, and as my eyes began to adjust, the uncle turned on the light, a single bare bulb illuminating a sparse basement space. And there in the middle of the room was a ring mounted into the cement and attached to a ten foot length of heavy chain, a chain that circled the neck of a full grown male cheetah.

Yes, there I was, all four-foot-pitooey of me, face to face with a Big Cat (as they were called on “Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom”), a top-of-the-food-chain predator and famously fastest land animal on earth. Chained or not, Supercat scared the living hell out of me and I wanted out of there immediately, but the uncle and the brothers were obviously not threatened by the animal, in fact it was quite the opposite; these humans exuded a mastery over the once-proud hunter, a humiliated badass who now was relegated to illegally residing in a dank Connecticut basement. Once I realized that Supercat was probably too weak to have even considered taking a chunk out of my pint-sized ass I was overwhelmed with a great sadness, and was even more eager to depart.

Soon enough the visit ended and I got dropped off at home, and the uncle suggested that I not tell my parents about what I had seen because it might cause him “some problems.” The brothers vouched for my silence, and then they all went home. Me, I just sat on my front porch, stunned.

Shortly after the Supercat incident, the brothers moved away and the whole bizarre moment faded into a memory that was so unsure that even I had trouble believing it ever happened. Then in 1989, after I had graduated from college and lived at home until getting my job in the Marvel Comics Bullpen, I went out for drinks with a bunch of my friends from the growing up years who also were at home awaiting the transition into real lives and careers, and we got onto the subject of weird shit that had happened to us as kids. As we got more and more inebriated our stories got wilder and wilder, and as the tales escalated in unbelievability I waited until just the right moment to break out the story of Supercat. My friends patiently listened to what just had to be me spinning a tall tale, and when it was over they erupted with laughter, all calling my story the biggest load of galloping horseshit they’d ever heard. And since I had no witnesses, other than those who were there, there was no way to verify the whole thing.

Which brings me to the punchline.

As I sat there unable to offer any sort of defense, a voice suddenly said to me, “Hey! Are you Steven Bunche?” I drunkenly turned to where the voice came from, and who should I behold but a seventeen-years-older Johnny, visiting relatives from out of nowhere!!! I almost fell over dead from shock and began to incoherently babble like a madman before I composed myself enough to blurt out, “Johnny! Tell these guys about your uncle’s pet!” To which Johnny nonchalantly replied, “What? Ya mean Supercat?”

The mouths of my friends all fell open in unison and I felt relieved to know that every once in a while the gods have my back.

Friday, August 11, 2006

COMICS WORTH READING: UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS and SECRET SIX

Let’s just get one thing right out in the open from the get-go: I hate crossover series and imprint-wide “event” comics, those annual transparent attempts at separating the fans from their cash in hopes of reading about an “earth-shattering tale that will change the (FILL IN COMPANY HERE) Universe forever!” Nine times out of ten these epics turn out to be nothing more than a waste of trees that provide little or no change to the storytelling status quo, only occasionally yielding an intriguing plot element or new spinoff series.

The latest such offering from DC Comics was the recently concluded INFINITE CRISIS, a well-illustrated but staggeringly mediocre mega-event that repeated almost beat-for-beat CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS, the company’s attempt at continuity house cleaning from just over twenty years ago, and the lack of trying to give the fans anything new or even worth the time it took to read was nothing short of a cynical slap in the face of the comics consumer. The series may as well have had “You fanboys are so fucking pitiful that you’ll buy anything!” on the covers. And as previously mentioned, the series was a company-wide crossover that has spawned a number of offshoots; I especially dread this inevitable by-product of such publishing blockbusters since they nearly always suck so badly that they are unfit for use even as fish-wrapping. Thankfully, the turgid borefest that was INFINITE CRISIS has given us two very good series to sink our eager teeth into.

UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS once more dusts off a bunch of characters that DC acquired the rights to back in the days, and the times they’ve been featured have pretty much sucked the big hard one. I mean, to be absolutely fair, what the hell can you do with a team that is not only called the “Freedom Fighters,” but consists of the Phantom Lady (whose abilities, other than looking great in a skimpy costume, have always baffled me), the Ray (an uninspired pseudo-Flash who flies), the Human Bomb (he blows up real good), Doll Man (an eight-inch dude in a costume that would make the original Robin call him a fruit), and mister “I want you” himself, Uncle Sam?

UNCLE SAM AND THE FREEDOM FIGHTERS #1

I forget who coined the phrase, but it has been said that there are no bad characters, just bad stories, and Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are handling these guys very well, working from some ideas established by comics’ resident llama of the lysergic, Grant Morrison. This time around, the FF (no, not the guys in the blue PJ’s) have been recast as a government sanctioned metahuman black ops team that kicks ass on terrorist threats that the regular government agencies can’t tackle. Not much happens in issue one, but unlike the pervasive trend of nothing whatsoever happening for the first several issues of any given new series — a crime that Marvel is increasingly guilty of — this inaugural installment spends a lot of time reintroducing us to the featured players, some of whom have been considerably altered to actually make them interesting for once; of particular interest are the new takes on Phantom Lady and Doll Man, the former now the jaded daughter of a presidential candidate who parties to excess every night in order to cope with the insane horrors that she witnesses as part of her job, while Doll Man is one of the hardest specialist soldiers in the world-saving biz, only he’s so small that he’s now nicknamed the “human action figure.” Hey, the guy may only be eight-inches tall, but a bad motherfucker is still a bad motherfucker, and I’m dying to see more of the little guy putting much foot to ass.

The Human Bomb is even cool to behold, and when he shows up looking like an even more sinister, minimalist Darth Vader in an outfit reminiscent of an SS officer’s uniform gene-spliced with slaughterhouse gear, it’s made clear that some of his team members are not at all comfortable around him because, well, DUH, he’s a human bomb, for fuck’s sake!

As for Uncle Sam, he’s nowhere to be found yet, but his unique heroic abilities are sorely needed when the team’s next mission is to take out Black Adam, the first man ever to wield the power bestowed upon a mortal by the wizard Shazam — and that shit ain’t hay, let me tell you! — , current despotic ruler of the Middle eastern nation of Kandakh, and America’s number one terrorist threat. Y’see, Uncle Sam is the living embodiment of the American spirit, so he’s kinda/sorta godlike, and his involvement in all of this ass-whuppin’-to-come should really make things interesting.

Adding further gravitas to these proceedings is the stunning artwork by Daniel Acuna; stylistically the work brings to mind Adam Hughes, Frank Cho and a few other first-stringers, but Acuna has a look all his own, and the characters all display a refreshing, fleshy physicality — one can practically feel the weight of Phantom Lady’s ample sweater-goblins shifting when she moves — and that’s very important here since such a consideration works toward making a reader believe that an eight-inch bald guy can cause serious harm to an opponent. No joke, kiddies, this book is one to watch, so give it a chance.


SECRET SIX #1

I love villains. Let’s face it, without them our heroes would have nothing to do, and the adventure genre as we know it would be nothing more than a bunch of Merchant Ivory-type genteel pussies sitting around talking about doilies and their feelings, or some shit. Think about it: Bond without Blofeld? Nothing more than an arrogant, elitist clotheshorse. Batman without the Joker? A seriously disturbed rich kid with some majorly deviant choices in outfits and companions. Simply put, the bad guys are the real point of interest in any adventure tale, and when the story focuses on them at length the results are usually fascinating. Two words on that: the Wrath.

Anyway, the idea of a comic book told from the villain’s point of view is nothing new, what with SUPER-VILLAIN TEAM-UP (featuring Doctor Doom and the Sub-Mariner; I don’t care what anyone says, the Sub-Mariner is NOT a villain. The guy represents an oppressed minority and he takes no shit when it comes to dealing out justice in the name of his people; No wonder us black folks like him so much!), SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS (pretty much every major DC bad guy of the mid-1970’s), and the late, lamented SUICIDE SQUAD probably being the most prominent in the genre, but there has never truly been a compelling piece in this area until writer Gail Simone’s VILLAINS UNITED and its monthly spinoff SECRET SIX.

I’ve loved Simone’s work for years, especially her ongoing run on BIRDS OF PREY, but she really shines when tackling the difficult task of making us care about a bunch of dangerous sociopaths, some of whom are obviously barking mad. In Simone’s hands even a nineteenth-rate weakass like Catman can be rendered cool and threatening, and her mildly dysfunctional “family” of super-villains offers an unpredictable team that can literally go in any direction at a moment’s notice. The Secret Six themselves are all flat-out criminals and badasses, each refusing to knuckle under to a much larger organization, specifically the new and ultra-powerful Society of Super-Villains, and when the Society decides to teach the Six an intend-to-be-fatal lesson about defying them war between the two factions is declared, and as they say, war is hell.

The Six consists of Scandal (de facto head of the team, and daughter of immortal villain Vandal Savage), Catman (Tarzan-esque cat-themed ass-kicker, and vicious field leader), Ragdoll (a truly deranged, psychopathic contortionist), Deadshot (one of the world’s deadliest marksmen), Knockout (a powerhouse Female Fury from the other-dimensional hellhole of Apokalips) and whoever happens to be around to fill the roster — the first being a nameless Parademon who bought the farm during the mini-series and is now a stuffed item in Ragdoll’s room, and the Mad Hatter at the moment — and with a cast like that there is very little chance of the reader getting bored. Violence, treachery, intrigue and even G-rated same-sex hanky-panky spice up the stew, and I can assure you that I’ll be there for the long haul.

And in closing: if you don’t like the work of Gail Simone, you can pucker up right now and kiss my big beige ass.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

THE YEAR'S SCARIEST MOVIE: Neil Marshall's THE DESCENT


Finally, FUCKING FINALLY, someone remembered the cardinal rule of horror films: the shit should be scary, plain and simple. I loved director Neil Marshall's spectacular werewolf flick DOG SOLDIERS from a few years back — if you haven't seen it, run out right now and check it out — and when I heard that he helmed 2005's THE DESCENT I was ready to have my socks knocked off. Well, let me tell you flat out that Marshall's new flick, just getting released in the US, is everything I expected it to be and just a little bit more.

THE DESCENT follows six friends as they gather a year after one of their outdoorsy sisterhood has lost her husband in a hideous car accident and they decide to go spelunking in an Appalachian cavern to try and restore their pal's verve, along with strengthening the group bond. The ego-tripping leader of the group takes them into an unexplored shaft in hopes that they will be the first to truly explore it and gain them some serious caving cred (mostly for herself, if truth be told), but things go horribly awry when the entrance collapses and seals them in, two miles below the earth's surface. With limited supplies and no map, the six grope about in the claustrophobic darkness, all too aware that the batteries for their helmet lights and flashlights will eventually run out. And then they realize that they are not alone.

The film is pretty intense from the get-go — we're talking original TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE-style, and that ain't hay — but it takes a while to get rolling, yet when it does it is emerges as a major league nerve shredder, gory as all fuck, and is simply the worst case of a no way out scenario that I've seen in a long time. Much like the previous DOG SOLDIERS, only more slickly made, THE DESCENT pulls absolutely no punches, and about two thirds of the way in you suss out that there is no way that the six protagonists will survive this. One of the things I admire about Marshall's sensibility is his ability to take an already bad situation, complicate it further with a fantastic element, and levae the viewer in nail-biting suuspense until his inevitable bleak ending.

I was going to see the film in the theater when it opened, but I read in several articles that the US distributors felt that the original ending was a bit much for us delicate (and stupid) Americans, so they added a different ending. Well I said FUCK THAT SHIT, and decided to wait for it to hit DVD, purportedly with the original ending and two additional ones. Then I remembered a little hole in the wall DVD shop hidden in Brooklyn's Fulton Mall that gets foreign releases of films on DVD long before they hit the US, annd I recallad seeing THE DESCENT on display there months ago. I hauled ass over ther and got my grubby mitts on the last UK copy, and watched it in the leisure of my own humble apartment, and was as pleased as punch. So if you can get the UK DVD, go for it, but if you see THE DESCENT in the theaters remember that what you see is not the real, bleak-assed finale. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

Monday, August 07, 2006

THE COMEDIC CHERNOBYL OF DATE MOVIE

When it comes to bad movies there is no greater tragedy than an unfunny comedy. A film in virtually any other genre can fail in its attempt at what it sets out to present and still in some small sense provide the viewer with entertainment by being so bad that it’s hilarious, some notable examples being EXORCIST II: THE HERETIC, DEATH WISH 3, KUNG FU FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE, AT LONG LAST LOVE, and the incredibly entertaining ROAD HOUSE. But when you suffer through a bad comedy. there is nothing to be had at all. The whole endeavor just sits there, inert like a festering corpse, and you can’t help but feel bad for everyone involved in the production. Such a film is the execrable DATE MOVIE, a literal textbook example of how NOT to make a comedy film. In fact, the film is so utterly diametrically opposed to the very nature of what is funny, it can best be described as the humor equivalent of Chernobyl, Auschwitz, Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Mi Lai massacre, and 9/11 rolled into one great big hunk of hellaciousness.

Stylistically owing everything to the already feeble school of reference-without-a-joke filmmaking popularized by the SCARY MOVIE franchise — which attempts to ape the vastly superior AIRPLANE! and doesn’t even enter the same universe of quality — DATE MOVIE is a would-be pastiche of all those vomitous flicks that guys get dragged to and squrimingly sit through in hopes of getting some pussy after the movie lets out, such as BRIDGET JONES’ DIARY, HITCH, MEET THE PARENTS/FOKKERS, THE WEDDING PLANNER, MY BIG, FAT GREEK WEDDING and innumerable other testosterone-leechers, only it also veers into “parody” territory utilizing films and other media offerings that have nothing to do with its intended target genre. NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, STAR WARS EPISODE III: REVENGE OF THE SITH, the LORD OF THE RINGS trilogy, and even PIMP MY RIDE, each hauled out to make the viewer with a fifteen-second attention span say, “Hey! That’s from NAPOLEON DYNAMITE!” or whatever random thing caught the screenwriter’s fancy at that particular moment. Forgive me if I’m wrong, but mere visual recognition is not a gag.

The plot — such as it is — tells the story of a fat chick who seeks true love, gets a makeover and lyposuction, finds the guy of her dreams and then endures every possible romantic comedy clich√© that you can think of until the film finally grinds to a halt. No surprises whatsoever there, but the true horror of this film is that it is simply so anti-funny that it becomes a thing of diabolical, even perverse, fascination. (Another perfect example of a film transcending its own horribleness is the nigh-unwatchable endurance test that is CURSE OF BIGFOOT, but that’s another story for another post…)

The cast, led by the adorable and hot Alyson Hannigan (Willow from TV’s BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER and HOW I MET YOUR MOTHER), are all quite game and try very hard to make the script into something even remotely fun, but let’s face it: you just cannot polish a turd. The jokes not only fall painfully flat, but the filmmakers apparently thought that if they stretched out any given gag to an intolerable length then the joke would render itself that much more side-splitting, a theory that might hold water if the bits in question worked at all, but such is not the case here. Once a joke falls flat, the same bit is suddenly driven home again, then there may be a brief pause for effect, as if to say, “Get it?” And then, just when you think they’re ready to move on to the next train wreck of non-hilarity they smack you right in the teeth with the same bullshit joke. Yet again!!! However, the one time where this strategy did work was a bit that played off of the sequence in MEET THE PARENTS with the toilet-trained cat; in DATE MOVIE the cat is played by a truly hilariously tatty puppet, and it takes the longest, loudest and downright foulest shit that I’ve ever seen outside of a German porno, the difference being that here it was fucking hilarious. The visual/aural is funny enough to begin with, but when stretched to such a preposterous length — nearly three minutes of a cat thrashing, shrieking and flatulating while perched on a toilet seat — the gag becomes a triumph of bad taste that had me crying for the next five minutes.

The “friend” who made me sit through DATE MOVIE insisted that I watch it so I could see just how unfunny a film could be, and as I watched the film my jaw hung open in unfeigned disbelief as each humor-void segment kept getting outdone by the scenes that relentlessly unspooled, utterly succumbing to the hypnosis of its wretchedness.

Yes, I had fallen under the insidious spell of DATE MOVIE, a foul glamour that sparked the analysis-bug in my already obsessive psyche, and I have since sat through the unrated DVD a total of two more times, once to hear the cast’s commentary and once more to hear the brilliant “anti-commentary” of two professional film critics. Not that I needed anyone to break down for me just why the damned thing sucks. It’s just a sign of resignation to reality that the filmmakers have accepted the fact that DATE MOVIE sucks big, veiny moose nards and have enough of a sense of humor to roll with it. Too bad that sense of humor is rarely in evidence during the running time of the flick. Speaking of which, the movie is as short as it can be and yet officially qualify as a feature-length movie; the fucker is barely seventy-eight minutes and they stretch out the end credits for almost ten minutes.

Bottom line: DATE MOVIE is really, REALLY bad, but I strongly urge you stare into the maddening abyss that it is and use it as an object lesson on all that can go wrong with a comedy, even when supported by a strong cast and a major studio having your back. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

COMIC BOOK OF THE WEEK: THE BEST OF JORDI BERNET'S CLARA

Every now and then some savvy publisher will obtain the rights to a worthwhile foreign comic strip and make my week by issuing it in a bound edition. Among the excelllent imports to be had at your local comic shop are ASTERIX, TINTIN, MODESTY BLAISE, DAN DARE, and while fewer in translated editions but still outstanding, VALERIAN: SPATIO-TEMPORAL AGENT. And now, add CLARA to that list of excellence.

First appearing in the mid-1990's in the pages of EL JUEVES magazine, CLARA DE NOCHE (here translated as "Clara By Night") is a bawdy humor strip focusing on the (mis) adventures of Clara, a Betty Page-esque streetwalker with a heart of gold and her interactions with the bizarre and often pathetic men who pay for her services.

Writers Carlos Trillo and Eduardo Maicas wisely opt not to dwell on the darrker elements of the world's oldest profession and provide the reader with a character who would be handled much differently in the USA insomuch as Clara is more than just a visual cue for the one-handed comics fan; she's got a clearly defined personality and sense of wry humor about herself and her chosen field, and adding a touching note to the story, Clara is a single mother who sells her body to provide for her son, Pablito, whom she clearly adores. The one note of pathos in all of this is that Pablito is old enough to understand what his mother does and why, and there are several stories in the collection that illustrate his point of view on the subject.

And make no mistake, this is definitely and "adults only" series, what with its constant doses of sexual activity, but none of it is portrayed in an offensive manner, so there are no "hamburger shots" or spewing fluids that are so common to this genre, and the overall package has charm to burn.

But the real draw here is the outstanding artwork by Jordi Bernet, one of my all-time favorites. Perhaps best known in the states for his work on TORPEDO 1936, the guy blows most illustrators out of the water with a style that wears its Alex Toth influence on its sleeve, and the humorous style on display in CLARA bears the Toth mark, but cleverly blended with a heavy dose of Harvey Kurtzman and a dash of Sergio Aragones; speaking of Aragones, he's an admitted Bernet fan, and when a god of cartooning like Aragones likes your work, you have got to be a badass. And let me assure you that Bernet is no fucking joke, despite this collection's cornucopia of jokes about fucking.

Bottom line: this volume is absolutely worth shelling out the $24.95 for, and is a gorgeous hardcover that will appeal to both male and female readers alike. TRUST YER BUNCHE!!!

GARNERVILLE GETAWAY 2006

The man you see below is Jared Osborn, one of my favorite buddies since college and a fellow former Marvel Bullpen Grunt, and today is his fortieth birthday.

Every year on the first weekend in August, my extended family of friends and loonies descend upon Jared's home in Rockland County's Garnerville for a birthday celebration weekend of grillin', chillin', and brain cell killin', and it is the one weekend per year where I put off all other activities to attend since fun is absolutely guaranteed. (The one year that I skipped this gathering was because an ex-girlfriend invited me to her baby shower in Pennsylvania; not only was it a boring, time-consuming disaster where I got to see for myself what a boorish hillbilly her husband was, her from-the-Boot Italian female relatives conjectured amongst themselves that the baby she was carrying was mine. It wasn't.)

On Friday I made my wayto Port Authority to catch the bus to Rockland County, and on the way passed a construction site that offered the following graffiti statement:

I just love that some guy actually wrote it legibly, but also invested the time to do it and presumably not get busted by the Times Square gendarmes.

The bus ride was a fucking nightmare thanks to misinformation provided to the riders and the trip running over an hour and a half longer than it was supposed to, but at least I got my yearly view of the West Side of Manhattan from across the water in New Jersey.

Upon arrival, Jared and I commenced to prep food for the next day; marinated ribs and chicken, meated and veggie chili, and all manner of goodies, soon to be launched down the gullets of ravenous partygoers. When the usual suspects arrived the next day we had a terrific time, feasting and drinking with abandon, and playing with our little tribe's several offspring. As the day wore on and the children departed, we lit the brazier and opened the portal through which we would soon commune with the Beast Who is Called the Desolate One, the First of the Fallen, Despolier of Virgins, Lord of Dark Forces and undisputed Master of Death Metal, Satan hisself.

While we awaited the arrival of the Horned One, Captain Bligh regaled all who watched with what was surely the vilest piece of pornography that I've seen in at least ten years; a short montage of obscene film clips featuring scenes of guys shoving batteries up their peeholes, driving nails through their balls (I shit you not), and a myriad of human degradation accented by some random piece of death metal, complete with the requisite Cookie Monster vocals. This horrifying apparition caused the birthday boy to sensibly flee for cover after two seconds, leaving the rest of us unable to move, utterly mesmerized by torrent of sheer filth that unspooled before our disbelieving eyes. We shouted vitriolic epithets at Captain Bligh, who by this time was reduced to a giggling mess despite threats upon his life. When its four minutes finally ended, Lia, the bespectacled cutie in the photo below, silently zombied over to the coach, plopped herself down and clutched herself, as if trying to keep warm for the next fifteen minutes or so, while her mouth hung open and her eyes bulged out of their sockets. Shocked myself, I offered "What ever happened to just plain fucking?" to which our statuesque bass player, Susan, improvised a couple of lines of a folksy ditty of the same name.

The appalled onlookers, ruined forever by Captain Bligh's video special.

When we finally went back outside and attempted to chat with Ol' Scratch, the Devil was so disgusted at the smut that we had just witnessed that even he didn't want to talk to us, no matter how many times we chanted Mercyful Fate's "Corpse Without Soul."

"Hello, this is the Devil. I'm not home right now, but if you want to leave a message..."

We soon gave up on Satan and retired to our seats on the lawn, happily sucking down beers and bullshitting into the wee hours.

And last — but definitely not least — we have a shot of another college buddy/former Marvel Bullpen grunt, Ed Murr, with his lovely wife, Olivia, and his two charmingly delinquent nieces, the older of whom is horrified by Ed's attempt at outdoing her abdominal display.

I can't wait for next year!

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

MAD MAX IV?

In my opinion, in light of recent anti-Semitic comments, Mel Gibson may as well sit back and watch his career careen down the toilet like a hearty corn-filled ass-gator. Disney is rethinking their ties to the former Road Warrior, having apparently cancelled his proposed Holocaust television series, and fearing a backlash against his upcoming film on the decline of the Mayan civilization, APOCALYPTO.

Sure, the dumbass has issues with Jews and fermented beverages, but that's no excuse for bigotry. Anyway, I've managed to obtain a top secret image of the poster for the Gibster's long awaited followup to his Mad Max adventures, but it's all moot since it will most likely be pulled too.

NOTE TO PARENTS: Photoshop can be a dangerous thing; I'm a forty-one-year-old semi-Luddite, and if I can throw something like this together in about fifteen minutes, imagine what your far more computer-savvy offspring can come up with!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

EXTENDED BIRTHDAY FUN: THE 15TH ANNUAL BUNCHECAT BIRTHDAY LOOOOOOVE SENSATION AT THE LIBRARY, NYC

The birthday kids flash the horns.

There are those who believe that you should celebrate your birthday for at least a month after it actually happens, and I have come to share that philosophy. As we grow older my friends and I no longer necessarily have comparable nine-to-five hours and can’t always get together en masse as we used to, so we have to steal time for gatherings by hook or by crook. Weekends are out for me and most of my crew are either currently residing upstate and raising families, or their schedules don’t allow them to come and go on intoxicating adventures the way they once did.

My high school friend Cat and I have held some form of annual celebration for our birthdays for the past fifteen years, starting out on her tenement roof in Hell’s Kitchen, moving to Riverside Park when we both lived on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and finally ending up in Brooklyn’s Prospect Park with our largest barbecue crowds (sometimes totaling 100-plus). After that our close-knit tribe began to disperse and move on in life, so it was simply easier for all of us to choose a bar that we could all take over and if the usual suspects could attend then so be it. If not, we’d see each other again at some other time. This year’s Birthday Loooooove Sensation was pushed back from its customary late June/early July slot due to endless scheduling conflicts from all involved, but we were finally able to schedule the shindig for the last Monday in July, less than one week before my buddy Jared’s annual birthday do in Rockland County, so it was likely that if you attended one or both of the gatherings you’d see the whole crew.

Since Monday also happens to be the start of my “weekend,” I went into the city for my usual weekly walkabout, stopping off to see what’s new at Kim’s Video and throwing a plain Wendy’s triple-cheeseburger down my eager gullet. As I made my way over to Library I took the scenic route and waxed nostalgic over the bygone days when the Lower East Side was a truly wild-and-wooly, ultra-dangerous haven for junkies, thieves and killers (remember Daniel Rackowitz, the artist who murdered his girlfriend and ingeniously disposed of her body by making her into soup and feeding her to the local homeless? No, seriously! Look him up!) and also the birthplace of New York’s 1970’s punk rock/new wave scene, with the soon-to-be-closed CBGB serving as the launching pad for Talking Heads, Blondie, and, of course, the Ramones.

The Ramones made the area so famous that there is even a street posthumously dedicated to their frontman.

I made it to Library bar — on Avenue A between 1st and 2nd Streets — at 5PM and struck up a conversation with Becca, the charming bartender who is very easy on the eyes.

Becca: show the lady respect, muthafukkas!

After my customary round of Jose Cuervo with a Budweiser chaser I waited for my friends to start arriving and first on the scene was Jared, who’d been kind enough to travel down from his home upstate. After that the usual cast of characters came out of the woodwork.

Inside Library: pretentious? Naaaah!!!

I chose Library for this year’s location because it’s one of the last good Lower East Side dive joints, complete with a jukebox crammed with punk/metal/psychedelic favorites, lots of my kind of atmosphere,

a projection screen for all manner of questionable cinema, claustrophobic, black-painted, graffiti-festooned restrooms,



and fifties-style booths that appear to have been accented with a dull switchblade.


Among the highlights of the evening were the following:

A reunion of Paul Becton, myself, and Jared, all former grunts on the comics biz frontline in the Marvel Comics Bullpen of the 1990's.

Dear old friend and comics biz goddess Amanda Conner assists me with a beer. Gotta love them Irish chix!

International playboy and gadabout Steve Hughes, freshly returned from a sojourn in Brazil.

The man with the coolest name in history: Paul Frankenstein. I swear, the charismatic motherfucker should be a secret agent or something!

Bill Wrigley and Mark Gilson, two always-welcome reprobates who share my rabid interest in hopeless geekery.

Cat's two-year-old daughter, Cleonir-Rose, showing up and having fun with tribeswoman Lexi.
NOTE: the kid's also my niece, so fuck with her at your own considerable peril.

But the icing on the cake was having one of my all time favorite movies, namely THE STREET FIGHTER, running on the projection screen and exposing newbies to the bone-crunching wonder of Sonny Chiba.

"You tell that bitch who sent you how sorry I am that I can no longer be her friend!" Sonny Chiba shares the love in a scene from THE STREET FIGHTER.

All in all, an excellent way to wind down my forty-first birthday festivities, and with that I will leave you with a solid kick in the guts from good old Sonny.

"GOOMPH!!!"

A BRUSH WITH GREATNESS: THE DAY I MET GG ALLIN

No, that isn't a Skittle. It's his dick.

Some called him a visionary rebel, out to save rock 'n' roll from the pussified product that it has become, a righteous firebrand who sought to restore danger to the form. Then there are those of us who thought he was a sociopathic idiot whose beyond-offensive musical stylings and on-and-offstage antics were downright hilarious. Yes, I am talking about the late, "great" GG Allin. And who the fuck, you may ask, was GG Allin? His story is too bizarre and involved to go into here, so I refer you to Allmusic for a very much to the point bio on the guy. I mean, you're pretty much doomed to be a fucking freak when your religious fanatic dad actually names you Jesus Christ Allin...

I first came across GG's recordings in the summer of 1987 during a trip to New Haven, Connecticut's Rhymes Records, a now defunct establishment that housed one of the best vinyl selections on the East Coast. Ever on a quest for the most offensive music I can find, I stumbled upon a "greatest hits" collection entitled "Dirty Love Songs," and was simply gobsmacked by the content; the album opened with "I Wanna Fuck Myself" (a heartfelt ode to jacking off) and continued to astonish with such anti-hits as "I Wanna Rape You" — a very strong contender for the "honor" of being the most offensive song of all time — , "I Wanna Piss On You," "Needle Up My Cock" — a cautionary ditty about the dangers of venereal disease — , "I Fuck the Dead," and many, many others. And on top of all that filth, the album opened up into a big poster of Allin onstage, shouting into a microphone while apparently attempting to rip off his own peanut-sized dick. How could I not add such a treasure to my collection?

In short order I went on to collect pretty much the entirety of the guy's output — a staggering waste of money or a bargain, depending on your point of view — and found other music deviants who enjoyed Allin's work for the same reasons I did (huge shout-outs to Smokey and Tanya!!!), while simultaneously nauseating many of my friends in the process. As the years passed I followed Allin's "career," marveling at his idiotic boasts of how he would one day kill himself onstage as a sacrifice to rock 'n' roll, taking as many of his fans with him as possible, and wondering what would become of him after he was released from a prison term for torturing one of the aforementioned worshippers.

Then, in 1993 filmmaker Todd Phillips released HATED, a must-see (or not) documentary on GG Allin. Several of my friends and I decided to attend the Manhattan premiere of the film at the Lower East Side's Anthology Film Works, and girded ourselves for the event with several rounds at our oft-frequented haunt, Nightbirds. As we drank, only my friend Smokey and I were flat-out determined to go to the film, the rest of our crew opting to hang out at the bar instead, so he and I sauntered over to the movie house where both of us were shocked as a motherfucker to find that GG himself was there, greeting his fans in the lobby.

The site of my brush with the artiste.

GG's notorious lack of any kind of personal hygiene was immediately self-evident because the guy smelled like a piss factory, but I was surprised to find that despite his unpredictable, animalistic nature the guy was really friendly. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he was clearly out of his mind on God knows what? I dunno...

Anyway, I asked GG to autograph my sketchbook. He cheerfully took it from me, and as he wastedly scrawled all over the page he announced, "This is how it was in the past. Here's how it is in the present, and here's how it's gonna be IN THE FUTURE!!!" With that he thrust the sketchbook and pen back to me, and shakily wobbled into the auditorium to watch his own chronicle unspool on the pitiful screen. The documentary was a lot of fun, and I highly recommend it to those brave enough to witness its myriad horrors.

Afterward, Smokey and I raced back to Nightbirds and told our friends what they had missed. Needless to say, they were kicking themselves for the rest of the evening.

Then, a little over a month later on the day after my twenty-eight birthday, GG Allin, the man who would supposedly off himself in the name of rock, died from a heroin overdose following a performance the night before. Say what you want about the guy, but the irony of his demise being that of the common, garden variety rock star douchebag was pretty fucking pathetic, and perhaps the only appropriate coda for rock 'n' roll's most outrageous professional, literally shit-eating asshole.