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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

CHRISTMAS 2006-IT DIDN'T SUCK!

I approached going home for the holiday this year with far more foreboding than usual, due to the inevitability of the dysfunction that rampages whenever I arrive at my mom's house. Ours has always been a contentious relationship, and for some reason aspects of that are magnified during the holidays. Finally tiring of the cycle of emotional agita, I ditched Thanksgiving at home this year and had a fantatstic time, and contemplated doing likewise for Christmas, but I decided to give it one last chance. If things got ugly this year, I swore I would never return to my homestead.

And while fretting over going home, I had other issues on my mind (issues that I'm not going into here), so when I arrived at the Westport train station on Christmas eve I told my mother what was on my mind, and I honestly think that as a result of that talk she made a concerted effort to behave.

When I got home, I had a delicious meal of homemade Jambalaya, and at 9:30 my mom left for midnight mass, leaving me at home to surf the internet. And, seeing as I was exhausted from not having slept the previous night and then working for a five hour shift on Christmas eve day while trying to stay awake, I was able to go to bed early (!!!) and actually sleep through the whole night in an uninterrupted stream of relaxation. I seldom sleep the whole night through since my Brooklyn neighborhood resonates with the sounds of cars, garbage trucks, obnoxious neighbors, screaming kids, and obstreporous drunks at all hours of the day, while my hometown in Connecticut is utterly silent during the evening, and with no distractions I was unconscious in no time.

When I awoke, my mom made herself some coffee and then we got down to the business of opening presents. I did pretty well; aside from the usual socks and underwear — once a dreaded item, now an excellent gift; right, fellas? — I got two new mom-made scarves (the old gal has a real talent for it), some cash, the most recent WILD CARDS books (my favorite sci-fi series), and the brand new 3-disc Criterion edition of SEVEN SAMURAI, my second favorite film of all time. When we were done with the presents, we feasted upon a breakfast of scrumptious ham and soft-scrambled eggs (a signature specialty of mine, for I am a breakfast master), then went to visit one of my mom's church buddies who had her family in town for the holidays. They were a riot and we had a great time, but my mom and I had to cut out fairly quickly because we had guests who were arriving at 3PM.

The guests in question were my fellow Westporter and comics biz veteran (she's still in the trenches) Amanda Conner, her parents, Al and Eulayla, and her boyfriend/mate and frequent creative collaborator, Jimmy Palmiotti. It's always a pleasure to see all of these people, and the Conners have enriched my life for nearly thirty years (think about that one for a minute, A.C.!!!), so they are always welcome.

One of the running gags in our families is my mom's poorly-disguised crush on Amanda's dad; the guy has a Sean Connery thing going on, and it's sometimes hilarious to see my mom checking him out whenever he shows up. But now that my mom goes to the same church as the Conners, she's around them frequently, so Al is no longer the hot commodity of lust that he once was, especially since Eulayla is there to serve as a visual reality check.

When they arrived, Al gave me a truly bizarre Christmas gift, namely a disturbing, stuffed Black Santa Claus doll that stares like a serial killer on Benzedrine, immediately establishing itself as the strangest item in my slowly growing collection of "negrobilia" (yes, I know; yet ANOTHER collection).

Jimmy, me (holding Black Serial Killer Santa), and Amanda.

After the Conners and Jimmy left, my mom made one of the best meals I've eaten in a long time, consisting of sauteed string beans, garlic mashed potatoes, sauteed spinach in a delicate cheese sauce, and prime rib roasted to absolute perfection. By the time I finished gorging myself on all of that, I was almost delirious, and soon felt the need to nap. I slept for nearly two hours, woke up briefly, and ended the day by reading until I fell asleep once more.

I had to be back at work on Tuesday to cover for my kitchen mate who was in Texas, so I left home early on an insanely-crowded Metro North train, and contemplated how nice my holiday had been. I know the whole rap about how Christmas is a time for families, blah blah blah, but I hadn't truly felt that in a long, long time.

It felt nice.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

FREE WILLY, INDEED!



'Nuff said.

God, I love the internet.

Monday, December 25, 2006

DEAD ON THE HEAVY FUNK: R.I.P. JAMES “THE GODFATHER OF SOUL” BROWN, 1933-2006


What can you possibly say about a Christmas morning where you wake up and the first news you hear is that James Brown is dead?

JAMES. FUCKING. BROWN. IS. DEAD.

Those words echoed in my head, and I struggled to understand, the English language becoming sounds sans meaning as my mind attempted to process the impact of that statement. Sure, I knew the Godfather was but a mere mortal, but his impact on pop music in general — and R & B/soul/funk/hip-hop in particular — was as thermonuclear in scope as that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles, and when a titan falls the earth trembles.

Every newspaper, magazine, tabloid television show and damn near any other organ of mass information dissemination this side of HIGHLIGHTS FOR CHILDREN will cover the Godfather’s life in all of its legendary and occasionally sordid detail, so I won’t attempt to delve into that on this blog. Instead I’d like to remember him from my own perspective, namely that of a fan who was brought into his cult at the tender age of eight by my “tetched” elder cousin, Jimmy James.

Jimmy was a developmentally challenged man-child who often found himself in trouble for grabbing white women, and attempting to show anyone who might be interested the contents of his “jockey strap,” and I can’t even begin to imagine the torment of enduring adult urges as filtered through a defective mind. When I was a little kid and my parents took me to visit my mom’s side of the family in Alabama I was very creeped-out by Jimmy thanks to his touchy-feely leanings and gave him a wide berth, but was intrigued by his ability to sit in front of my nana’s old turntable and listen to its treasure trove of forty-fives for hours on end.

His tastes ran the gamut from trucker schmaltz like Red Sovine’s “Giddyup Go” to arcane “bump” numbers like the justly-obscure “Do the Funky Penguin” (I swear I didn’t make that one up), and anything else that might delight his kiddie-esque sensibilities, but every now and then he’d gingerly sift through the sleeveless stacks of polyvinyl, stop dead, and his face would light up like Santa had just handed him an all-access pass to the new amusement park, GROPE WORLD. He would consider the label for a moment — I later found that he identified the records by their colorful labels and not the titles since he had the most elementary of reading skills — and then place the precious disc onto the record player, switching it to the “on” position, and wait with baited breath for a song he’d heard uncounted times previous to begin. And when it blazed to life from the dinky speakers, he erupted from the floor and commenced a spastic dance of such gleeful, anti-Terpsichorean grace that he resembled an explosion in short pants.

During one such outburst the crazed rhythm, incomprehensible lyrics, and shrieked, marble-mouthed vocals spurred me to get over my uneasiness with my cousin and ask him just what it was that he was so in love with. He turned, looked at me as if for the first time and said, “Stevie, this is James Brown. He’s the Godfather, and I love him more than Elvis, Jesus, or Miss Dolly Parton and her big bubbles! You like him too?” I sheepishly admitted that I did, at which Jimmy exclaimed, “HOT PANTS!!!” and started that very record once more; the second time it played, I joined Jimmy in his thrashings, and from that moment on I felt I understood my kooky cousin a bit better. I had been somewhat familiar with soul and funk music, but the James Brown thing was something new and different for me, and with the exception of Funkadelic I felt that all others lacked that certain indefinable direct hookup to one’s funk motor until Prince started kicking ass, and he was quite obviously influenced by the Godfather (among others). So thank you, Jimmy James, and may some willing and kind young lady take the dare and peruse the contents of your jockey strap.

The next time I got kicked in the head by the Godfather was his bit in THE BLUES BROTHERS (1980) as a fervent Baptist reverend belting out “The Old Landmark.” Lemme tell ya, folks, I fucking HATE gospel music, but that segment is so kickass that even “de Debbil hisself” would leap out of his seat and boogie like he had three ounces of pureed habanero peppers stuffed up his pointy-tailed ass and sealed with a barbed butt plug. The whole soundtrack is pretty damned good but the Godfather’s track, and the one from Ray Charles (a cover of “Shake A Tail Feather” that somehow actually blows the original out of the water) make the album worth the retail price, just ignore the painfully white-a-tized version of “Sweet Home Chicago.”

We now skip ahead to the mid 1980’s and every motherfucker in the world sampling every motherfucking James Brown song in the world, swiftly building the monolith that we now know as Hip-Hop. The fact that many lesser talents (and some pretty decent ones) basically stole their beats from the Godfather pissed me off to no end, although I had to admit that if you were going to build something from material that you did not create yourself, you should work from the original clay, so to speak.

For some reason the James Brown chestnut “I Got You (I Feel Good)” saw a popular resurrection, and that planted his original music back into the immediate public consciousness, an unfortunate side effect of which was his appearance in the execrable ROCKY IV, and the hit recording of “Living In America” from the same film. Despite nearly three decades of manic, carnally-charged, virtually incomprehensible “race music” shriekings, his ROCKY IV performance was the first time I ever thought he resembled a mandrill on crack, supplemented by Carl Weathers dressed in a sparkly Uncle Sam(bo) ensemble that made him look like a total douchebag before stepping into the ring to face Dolph Lundgren’s Kal-El, er, Ivan Drago and die in order to keep the movie going. “Living In America” came off like a third generation imitation of a James Brown song as filtered through a de-funkification centrifuge, and made me realize that the Godfather’s best years were definitely over, be he “the hardest working man in show business” or not.

But James kept on keepin’ on, letting nothing stop him while embracing his status as a living legend, and I saw one of his shows in Bridgeport, Connecticut just before he got busted following the downright surreal, PCP-stoked, shotgun-wielding “private bathroom” arrest, and that show KICKED MOTHERFUCKING ASS. The guy was pushing sixty and yet dervished it up with the best of them, even pulling his signature cape bit, and that horrifying, nut-squashing split that makes even gymnasts wince, while an audience that crossed generations shook their money-makers, despite a ludicrous announcement from the venue’s management advising attendees not to dance in the aisles (yeah, right).

And when the arrest for the aforementioned PCP-stoked, shotgun-wielding “private bathroom” incident occurred, I didn’t fear for the Godfather’s safety in the joint one iota. I mean, think about it: who in their right mind, even if he were in fucking Attica, would fuck with James Brown? In a prison full of hard — and I do mean HARD — bruthas? Throwing James Brown into jail was like handing him the most loyal, lethal bodyguards imaginable, for free no less! I don’t mean to minimize the experience of incarceration, but you know what I mean; if you merely looked at the guy wrong, you stood a good chance of having your severed head used as stock for the beef barley soup in Emerald City, Jack!

When released, James continued much as before, only a bit wearier thanks to the ravages of aging, but still more dynamic in performance than many acts who could have been his grandbabies. My favorite latter day Brown moment had to be his guest spot on THE SIMPSONS, joining such august personages as Thomas Pynchon, Stephen Hawking, John Waters, and the Ramones in the land of 2-D shenanigans.


And now he’s gone.

So rest well, Godfather. With your loss, only the continued existence of George Clinton and Bootsy Collins prevents old school funk from being officially defunct (no wordplay intended).

Saturday, December 23, 2006

HOLIDAY PHOTO CORNUCOPIA!!!

Well, dear readers, it's nearly Christmas, so here's a bunch of random treats (?) for you feast your eyes upon.



Hey, it has been as cold as a witch's tit in a brass bra lately...



How fucking creepy is this? Santa's behind bars, and looks like he's gonna whip it out. Who thought of this?



Ever wonder what happens to a chicken's esophagus when it's being processed for your culinary needs? It usually gets chucked out, which obviously did not happen in this case. Yecch...



Here's me with one of the barbecue joint's favorite regulars, Vince Martin, a crooner perhaps best known for the 1950's hit "Oh, Cindy." He's a kook, and we love the guy.



New York is one of the arts capitals of the world, as proven by this bit of lactation-as-spectacle from the final BABYDADDY SHOW of the season.



This bit from the same show put me in the mind for some holiday ham.



Here's the sultry Lauren, one of the wacky staff of the restaurant next door, sporting seasonally appropriate tattoos.



I want a bite of that candy cane!



I'm sorry, but this has to be the worst name ever for a children's clothing store.



Correct me if I'm wrong, but does Jesus really need any help with his fame?

And with that, may you have a Kung Fu Chrismakwanzakkah, and a badass New Year. Or as my pal Rolls says, "2006 sucked lots of dicks, but 2007 will be Nigger Heaven!"

Thursday, December 21, 2006

THE DREAM BOX: GILLIS McQUEEN

DISCLAIMER: the following narrative relates a dream that I had the other night, and as it’s the product of a slumbering subconscious mind I take no responsibility for its content.

I awoke to the Dreamtime in a scenario straight out of one of the Lance Horner Falconhurst novels — a series of humorless potboilers set in the old south during slavery, each brimming with violence and interracial sex (both consensual and otherwise), following in the footsteps of Kyle Onstott’s MANDINGO — to find myself as one of a pair of escaped slaves making their way to freedom in some nebulous destination. I was Ozane — my maternal grandfather’s name turning up as it sometimes does — a strapping artisan/blacksmith, and my companion was the diminutive Mike, one of the Caucasian indentured slaves that you seldom hear about in history class (those who know him in the waking world, that's Mike Lackey); our “cover” was that he was a down on his luck son of a recently deceased plantation owner, a departed patriarch who went tits up after losing everything he owned to drought, sickness, and insurmountable gambling debts, and I was his father’s legacy, a valuable asset with whom he was moving to Virginia to start up a local smithy’s shop (I’m not certain of the muzzy details thanks to this being a dream and all, but I think we were in either Mississippi of Louisiana).

Our cross-country adventures brought us to a small farmhouse and barn, and under cover of the night we stole into the upper recesses of the barn. As the sun began to rise, Mike and Ozane were roused by the very loud creak and thud of a door across the loft dropping open to reveal a large featherbed covered with rumpled bedding, and a young, shift-clad girl of perhaps thirteen descending the ladder to answer the call of nature. The pretty blonde thing took no notice of Mike or myself as she ran off, bladder ready to burst, and we remained still and silent for what seemed like an eternity, but then we noticed a stirring beneath the previously immobile blankets.

From beneath the covers arose a lovely young blonde of nineteen whose looks fairly screamed “hillbilly sex machine,”
and while Mike remained stock still, Ozane’s eyes met the crystal blue gaze of the hayloft angel.

She greeted Ozane with a quavering and unsure, “Hello, Mandingo,” and Ozane rose to assure her that it wasn’t what it looked like, namely a couple of scumbags showing up looking to rape white women. The girl relaxed at that, stood up and undid the front of her shift, then said, “Glad ya ain’t here ta hurt me, but I am feelin’ a bit lonely…” Ozane considered that for about a nano-second, and made his way across the barn to the hillbilly lass, and some of the most graphic osh-osh I have ever dreamt commenced.

Oh, it was epic, the stuff of fuck-legend; forbidden carnality unapologetically played out secluded from the ready-to-lynch outside world, with tender and dream-fueled unending endurance for both participants running rampant. Once fantastically naked out of that nightie, the hillbilly gal revealed curves that would have made Stevie Wonder say, God DAMN!!!,” and Ozane acquitted himself accordingly to show his appreciation. This went on for an unnaturally long duration thanks to the skewed time/physicality of the Dreamtime, and this dreamer had no complaints.

When the lovers had spent themselves, they noticed the presence of the younger girl, not five feet from the action and held firm by Mike; the older sister yelled out, “Flora! What the hell are you lookin’ at, girl?” Flora freed herself by biting Mike and commented that what her sister and Ozane were doing looked “kinda fun.” The big sister thought about it for a minute and invited her sister to get her first taste of a man. Fortunately for Flora, Ozane was not equipped like then-legendary slave stallions of myth, and he eased her into adult activities by letting her ride “cowgirl.” After that, Mike joined the fun, and the foursome enjoyed each other’s sweaty exertions for quite some dream-extended time until a voice called from outside.

“Gillis McQueen!!!, screamed the voice.” “Why the hell aren’t you out feedin’ them chickens?” The blonde made an effort to gather herself, and answered, “Sorry, mama, I just slept late, that’s all…” She then turned to Ozane and said, in that goofy post-coital way, “Hi. I’m Gillis McQueen, named fer my daddy. Do me a favor, wouldja? Go in there and fuck my mama. We ain’t got no beef with you colored boys or you little white things neither, and believe you me, she kin use a good seein’ to!”

And so, Ozane obliged, with mum later asking, “Can you boys stay on and pretend to be our hands?” Mike and Ozane unhappily turned that offer down, and moved further north toward their freedom, possibly populating the south with more awesome kids who would go on to contribute to this fine nation’s gene pool…

TO BE CONTINUED (or not, depending in the dream stream)

Man, I have to stop reading Lance Horner novels, FALCONHURST FANCY being the best of those, mind you…

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

THE SLOW DEATH OF MANHATTAN CONTINUES

I just saw on NY1 news that Club Avalon — formerly the Limelight — has been sold and will be turned into a series of shops. The place was once a church, then was converted by infamous club entrepreneur Peter Gatien into the Limelight club back in 1983, and I just saw the Cramps perform there a few months back.

The place attracted the usual NYC club shitheads, especially as Avalon, but that's part of the territory, and I will be sort of sad to see it go, despite it being the venue that staged the one show I walked out on in my twenty-five years of seeing live music, that show being the Pixies gig from around ten years ago. I never did get those guys...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

HORROR IN A CAN

Remember my long ago post about the excellence of the chili dog (which can be found at http://buncheness.blogspot.com/2004/06/love-song-to-might-and-majesty-of.html)? Well, thanks to the beauty of my digital camera here's a photo of a can of Steve's & Ed's Original Hot Dog Chili Sauce, an alleged condiment that I honestly consider to be the single worst thing ever to hit my palate, and I've extinguished cigarettes with my tongue (don't ask, and I'm not joking).


Seriously, this is the worst shit ever knowingly sold to an unsuspecting public, and short of mass producing a blend of coffee grounds, bat guano, and refried vomit, there is simply no way humanly possible to come up with something worse and pass it off as food. Gaze long and well upon this supermarket Chernobyl that ye may know evil when thou dost witness it, then run and found yon towne witchfinder and bring him forth that he may put this culinary blasphemy to the stake.

No bullshit, folks, the shit is really that bad.

BUMPER STICKER OF THE WEEK



I agree 100%. This is right up there with the women's tank top that reads, "MY Bush would make a better president."

MOST UNINTENTIONALLY OBSCENE PRODUCT NAME EVER?



"Liquid-Plumr Foaming Pipe Snake."

Nuff said.

Monday, December 18, 2006

KENSHIRO IS BACK!!!

I just sat through Shin Kyûseishu Densetsu Hokuto no Ken: Raôh den - Jun'ai no Shô, and here's my two cents-worth on it.

Continuing the trend of reviving classic anime, this new HOKUTO NO KEN (FIST OF THE NORTH STAR) installment has a modern look and feel, and even with the addition of some new characters and continuity details not present in either the television series or feature film from two decades ago, the story is rather faithful to the source manga. However, a major problem with the film is its dependence upon the viewer having a pretty thorough working knowledge of the complete comics saga — all twenty-seven collected volumes of it — which leaves the uninitiated moviegoer pretty much shit outta luck.

The story more or less takes up where the previous theatrical feature (from 1986) left off, and finds the paths of the three North Star brothers, Raoh, Toki, and Kenshiro, converging to take on the empire of Souther, an unspeakably cruel despot from the rival Southern Cross martial discipline who enslaves children and forces them to build a huge pyramid. Also drawn into this conflict are Shuu, a benevolent and blind Southern Cross master who sacrificed his eyes years earlier in exchange for allowing the potentially dangerous Kenshiro to survive (it's way to complicated to go into here, and is given very short shrift in the movie anyway), and Reina, a female general in conqueror Raoh's army who carries a torch for the big guy. The main thrust of the story centers on the inevitabilty of Kenshiro's throwdown with Souther, and in the course of getting to that we are treated to a few fights of the type for which this series is famous, and some grade school-level soap opera involving Reina's love for Raoh.

That's pretty much it in a nutshell, and while it's fun for those of us familiar with the sometimes unmanageably sprawling martial arts/superhero epic, it can be a bit confusing to those not in on it. In order to provide the neccessary exposition to fill in information gaps such as just what the characters' super-powers and allegiences are, to say nothing of motivations that were spelled out over hundreds of pages, would have elevated the film's running time to a good three hours, and the narrative of this film is shoehorned into roughly seventy minutes (the television version of this story arc covered roughly twelve episodes, and used that time well to get into the character's heads, build suspense, and stretch the final confrontation out over three installments).

This series is notorious for how few female characters are present, and those that are there exist solely to be rescued, raped, or killed. Reina is presented as a fighter whose mettle is worthy of her status as one of Raoh's generals, and when she is introduced we see her hand out ass-whuppings like they were Halloween candy, but halfway through the film she rides off to find Kenshiro, and is promptly waylaid by a squadron of Souther's soldiers. We don't see what happens after that, but when next we see her, Reina is in pretty bad shape, apparently having survived a gang rape; this is merely alluded to, and there is no explanation as to why the soldiers let her go, or if she killed all of them and was in a state of both exhaustion and shock from having to deal with their sheer numbers. After that, Reina recouperates, rejoins Raoh on the battlefield, rescues a mewling infant and gets ventilated with a dozen arrows for her efforts, declares her love for Raoh, seemingly dies and is healed (a common occurrance in this series), and finally leaves to return to her homeland and await Raoh. As happened with the only other warrior woman in the series (Mamiya, who didn't make it into either of the features), Reina's warrior skills are rendered null and void when her feminine characteristics come to the fore, and once she shows a loving nature and concern for a baby, she no longer has a place in all of the manly action and becomes a boring old girl. Any way you cut it, it's confusing and disappointing.

Souther comes off as merely an arrogant, sadistic prick with no real reason for being as evil as he is, and that's a shame because his back story in the comics, once related, is truly tragic, and he gives up all human feeling and compassion out of a very deep sense of grief over unwittingly murdering the only person he ever loved. There is no explanation of this whatsoever in the film, and that lack of info reduces Souther to nothing more than a kung fu version of a mustache-twirling Snidely Whiplash stock bad guy.

Toki doesn't have much to do in this chapter — his set-to with Raoh is up next, so that's okay — but Raoh is played as the misguided power-tripper of the manga, and not the over-the-top pseudo-Vader of televison and the earlier feature, and that's the character who fascinated me in the first place. He's not evil, he just let his quest for power blind him to much that was going on in the big picture around him, and it's a very pleasant surprise to see his complexities accurately brought to life.

The nuclear war that provides the desolate setting is given a bit more background here, being shown as a steadily escalating series of military conflicts around the globe rather than the instantaneous result of a drunken madman pushing THE BUTTON,
thereby becoming one of the few elements of realism ever to make its way into this story. But the weird thing about that is that it's been previously established, in both the comics and the film itself, that the nuclear exchange happened all of a sudden, even catching an adult Toki off guard and afflicting him with radiation poisoning, yet we see a flashback of the very young North Star brothers years earlier leaving their homeland to get away from the obvious nuclear devastation. ??? Well, whatever; in order for civilization to have taken the precipitous nose dive into the outright savagery seen throughout the series, there would have to have been at least a decade or two of events leading to that, so I'll overlook the self-contradictory plot points.

The real selling point here is the fabled ultra-violence, and while there is plenty on hand, the film is curiously much more restrained than the film and TV adaptaions now two decades old. The Japanese have always been generous with the blood and gore, so why not go overboard with a contemporary FIST OF THE NORTH STAR cartoon? The original broke much ground as to what could be gotten away with in entertainment geared toward kids, and was highly controversial even in Japan, but now the series is seen as the venerable progenitor of the slew of hyper-violent comics, cartoons, and video games that followed in its wake, so the relative restraint shown in the new film makes not one lick of sense. Kenshiro's final showdown with Souther was a classic, both on paper and on television, but the version seen here lacks much of its visceral punch.

For us geeks, there's a real jolt when Kenshiro recovers from a near-fatal beating and lays waste to some of Souther's army; the ass-whuppin' is no surprise, but it's accompained by a new version of the deathless and rockin' TV theme tune, complete with the famous "You Wa Shock!!!" battle cry. I got a chill up my spine when I heard it, and for those of us who watched this stuff when it aired in the mid-1980's, that music was a guarantee that Ken was gonna eliminate some motherfuckers who needed killing with extreme prejudice, which is exactly what happens here.

But the bottom line is that the film is a fun way to waste seventy minutes, even if it does feel like you walked in about two thirds of the way through the picture (which you kind of did), and is a marked improvement over the abysmal straight-to-DVD trilogy from a couple of years ago. That's a good sign since there are two more theatrical features and three made-for-DVD followups in the pipeline, and I can't wait to see them. Just ratchet up the martial arts violence another few notches, please!

SEASON OF DREAD: ANOTHER BRIGHT SPOT

So I hauled my ass out into the throng of holiday shoppers and made my way to Brooklyn's Fulton Mall, an expanse of several blocks that caters to the highly rythmic and/or Spanish-speaking local denizens, in pursuit of the DVD for CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER. It's just coming out on the big screen over here, and usually the Hong Kong opuses enjoy an Asian release first, thereby, making it easy to snag any given film before its US opening.

I went to my favorite martial arts movie kiosk — there are several such establishments littering the place — and was told that CURSE OF THE GOLDEN FLOWER was being released simultaneously in China and over here, so the DVD was not available, but they did have something that might interest me. That something was the subtitled edition of the 2006 FIST OF THE NORTH STAR movie, "Shin Kyûseishu Densetsu Hokuto no Ken: Raôh den - Jun'ai no Shô," the latest film featuring my favorite ultra-violent, post-apocalyptic Japanese martial arts superhero, Kenshiro Kasumi, or Ken for short.



My eyes nearly exploded from my skull (just like like a mortally wounded character from the series) when the salesman handed me the disc, and my issues from the previous twenty-four hours melted away; even if it sucked, I now had a new Ken flick to check out, so I hurried home to watch it. I'm about to sit down with it, and I'll write a review later this evening.

IT'S A NORTH STAR CHRISTMAS MIRACLE!!!

SEASON OF DREAD: ALL CRIED OUT

It's nearly 1PM and I came through my night of drunken/stoned depression without a hangover.

Every now and then I reach an emotional low that I handle with a blast of cathartic intoxication, the result of which is a feeling of psychic cleansing, and I'm definitely feeling that now. It's also a day off, and I can get some final holiday shopping done; I'm still debating heading into Manhattan since the relentless holiday stuff will drive me nuts, and the beggars will be out in full force, but I do need to get out of my apartment for a few hours.

It'd be nice to have a ladyfriend within close range. I'd love to take her out for a long, leisurely lunch, but tough titty for me.

SEASON OF DREAD: BOMBED AND WRITIN'

It's 3AM, I'm very sad, very drunk, and very stoned.

The friend who accompanied me down tonight's road has gotten home safely, and as I type these words, the theme tune from THE PERSUADERS plays its melancholy heart out from my admittedly CLOCKWORK ORANGE-looking portable picnic player.

The music has just shifted to the theme from ROCK FOLLIES, and while that was the mother of all miniseries/rock melodramas, the song remains as a metaphor concerning the happenstance of all of us who have seen our lives sometimes turn into melodramas that hook both the protagonist and those who watch the show unfurl in all of its inevitable human frailty and stupidity.

But ya gotta keep on living, and keep on getting hurt, and while ya may learn to laugh at the kick in the nards that life gives youse, the eternal shitstorm remains.

And you WILL learn to survive. Either you do that, or you die, and I refuse to die until my body just plain gives out.

As the old saying goes, regarding karate in general — and therefore applicable to the human experience — if you're going to fight, FIGHT. Don't dance.

"Blue Xmas; that's the way it's feein' when your feeling bluuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuue..."
-Bob Dorough

Saturday, December 16, 2006

MERMAIDS ON THE MIND: LORI LEMARIS

I've always been a sucker for a good love story and really good ones in the comics are pretty rare. Everybody knows about Superman's situation with the often obnoxious Lois Lane but the Superman romance that resonates most for me is that of his self-admitted first love, namely Lori Lemaris, a beautiful vision from the lost city of Atlantis, as first chronicled in "The Girl from Superman's Past" (SUPERMAN #129, 1959), drawn by Wayne Boring (one of the key Superman artists) and written by Bill Finger, the co-creator of Batman. Who knew the guy was such a romantic?

Back in his college days, young Clark Kent was kicked upside the head by love when he met a mysterious, wheelchair-bound coed with a trace of a foreign accent. One look in her eyes and it was all over.

The two shared a deeply-felt romance, filled with quirky moments such as Lori's apparent ability to communicate with sea creatures and to spontaneously come up with cover explanations whenever Superman showed up and Clark was nowhere to be found. In no time Clark decided Lori was the woman he wanted to be with for the rest of his life, but he feared his career as Superman might put her in danger. How much was Clark into Lori? So much that he decided to chuck the whole superhero thing and settle down, that's how much! But when he proposed to her, Lori revealed to Clark that she already knew his secret and firmly stated they could never marry because they were from different worlds. As circumstantial evidence pointing to Lori being a spy piled up, Superman soon unraveled her fantastic mystery. You guessed it: Lori was a mind-reading mermaid sent from Atlantis to report on the progress of us surface-dwellers.

Her mission more or less over and her cover blown, the lovesick Lori had to return to her people and that was that, leaving behind a broken-hearted Man of Steel, but it's hard to keep a good character down and Lori returned on several occasions, eventually marrying a surgeon from among her people and settling in as one of Superman's closest associates (much to Lois's chagrin).

When DC Comics decided to modernize/reboot the whole Superman mythos in 1986, writer-illustrator John Byrne had the good sense to make sure Lori Lemaris was a part of the mix. Her story was retold with a couple of modern tropes (while underwater Lori is tastefully topless, and when dry her fish tail becomes legs, obviously influenced by SPLASH!) and the tragedy amped up considerably; as Superman recalls their time together, we find out that after they parted he and Lori would sometimes get together, and during one such time a crazed fisherman killed her with a harpoon. But if you regularly read comics you know that death is often just a pause in a character's arc, so Lori turned out not to be dead after all, which lead to some very interesting complications in the Clark/Lois dynamic, plus to say nothing of allowing the artists to have fun drawing a hot mermaid. (During my time in the DC bullpen I even got to draw Lori by way of an art correction, but I couldn't find that image online).

And thanks to the craptacular crossover "event" INFINITE CRISIS, Lori's apparently dead again, but I eagerly await her return.

Friday, December 15, 2006

SEASON OF DREAD: NOT MUCH OF A GAMEPLAN

As Christmas approaches, I realise that I have no real gameplan for the holidays.

I have to be at home in Connecticunt for the Big Day itself, after which I return to work the next day (my kitchenmate's on vacation, so...), and then it's a waiting game until New Year's Eve, which I also have to work. Most of my friends, once a close-knit tribe living within a stone's throw of one another, have dispersed with the inevitablity of marriages, kids, and the simple fact that living in Brooklyn is expensive as a motherfucker, so I can't easily attend any Chrismakwanzukkah shindigs, even if I arrived late, and I have heard nothing thus far about a New Year's thing, although I will probably turn up the next day at the home of a pal who lives near Ground Zero. If not, I'll wring in the New Year all by my lonesome, or with my friend Jessica.

I doubt the mermaid who swims in my dreams will be free, but it would be nice to see her. And I'll understand if she has stuff to do in her semi-distant homeland, but I will think of her and raise a toast to her fine, absent ass. God DAMN, she's purty. I just wanna kiss her right now...

And I swear that for the first time in years I will not depress myself by playing U2's "New Year's Day," because I can smell major, positive change coming for me in 2007, in all aspects of my life. So wish me luck, dear readers.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

FURTHER REASON TO LOVE THE COMICS BIZ: THOSE CRAZY SPANIARDS

Here's an incredible story from my operative in Eastbourne, the UK; when I get the source of the news item I will post it:

Spanish Comics Convention Scandalized by Live Sex Performance

The Granada Comics Festival, a relatively unassuming comics
convention taking place in the southern Spanish city of Granada in
mid- March, became an unlikely lightning rod for scandal and
frontpage news across Spain, when convention promoters staged an
expensive awards ceremony to purportedly honor the convention and its
guests; a purpose that seemed questionable by the time the stage gave
way to a performance of live sex and re-enactments of the WTC
attacks, amongst other controversial activity.

The show took place in an auditorium in El Sacromonte, the city's
historic section known for a Moorish influence that predates the
Spanish crusades. Attendees took their seats and faced a breathtaking
view of La Alhambra (one of Europe's largest tourist attractions)
through the glass walls behind the stage, the ancient Moor fortress
glowing orange in the night sky and setting the stage for what most
expected to be a relatively tasteful presentation of various comics-
related awards.

Though rumors had circulated among some of the convention exhibitors
and guests that the show would prove controversial, few had any idea
of the extent this would prove to be true. "We heard rumors of some
kind of sex show at the awards," said Scottish cartoonist Lorna
Miller, creator of the alternative comic Witch. "But if I had known
exactly what was in store I wouldn't have gone."

The ceremony began in standard enough fashion, with an emcee prepping
the crowd with jokes about the Spanish comic-book industry before
handing out awards. Soon, however, the emcee was joined on stage by
Alejandro Casasola, the founder and director of the convention, and
the two presented awards to several local politicians and civil
servants who were responsible for providing the funding and other
assistance necessary to stage the convention.

One crucial difference between many European comics conventions and
American conventions is government funding. In Europe, many arts
festivals -- like the 7th annual Granada Comics Festival -- are
subsidized by the government and open free to the public. The
relatively small Granada event, taking place outside under two tents
in the heart of the small city, included only a few dozen exhibitors
and a small handful of prominent guests (including Hate creator Peter
Bagge and Spanish cartoonist Miguelanxo Prado).

Nonetheless, the centralized location and free admission resulted in
over 50,000 visitors during the event's four days, a number
comparable to attendance at the San Diego Comic-Con International,
regarded as one of the U.S.'s largest conventions of any type (Unlike
Granada, however, entrance fees to Comic-Con start at $45.)

Rumors circulated throughout the convention that the festival's
organizers had been growing increasingly frustrated by their
relationship with local authorities. The perception was that
government interest in the convention was waning despite steady
growth for the show over its seven years of existence. One source
told the Journal that funding for this year's convention had come at
the 11th hour, forcing organizers to go out of pocket to cover
expenses that came due prior to the convention opening. Amongst the
organizations that helped fund the Granada Festival were the city
council and the Youth Institute of Andalucía, and representatives for
both were on hand at the awards ceremony to graciously accept the
formal "thank yous" from Casasola, commending the convention's
cultural value to the city and youth culture in general.

This vocal support from local officials, however tenuous to begin
with, quickly turned into fear and then disgust and outrage. As the
show's emcee was about to begin giving out the comic awards, a dozen
or so men (and one woman in a burka) suddenly stormed the auditorium
dressed as Afghan terrorists, firing what appeared to be real weapons
and shouting angrily in Spanish. Although it was quite clear from the
outset that the men were actors posing as terrorists and shooting
blanks, the deafening sound of automatic weapons, coupled with the
heightened sensitivity worldwide to terrorist activity, clearly
frightened more than a few of the audience members. "Have you ever
heard what [real gunfire] is like? It's loud," stated Miller,
sarcastically adding that, "I really love it when I go out for a
night's entertainment and sit shaking like a quivering fool trying
not to have a full-blown panic attack."

The terrorists took the stage, led by an actor looking uncannily like
Osama bin Laden. Bagge's fear became most pronounced when the
terrorists -- who had already taken the emcee backstage, stripped him
to his undergarments, and strapped what looked like a bomb to his
chest before bringing him back out -- began demanding the names of
the award-winners, so they could be brought onstage and shot. Bagge
figured that, as a featured guest of the convention, he was going to
be one of the award recipients. He was right.

"I was dragged by the collar to the podium by one of the
'terrorists,' who then pointed a Russian grenade launcher at my head
and barked insults at me in Spanish," said Bagge. "I then was tied by
the wrists to the other award recipients, and was told that were all
going to be killed once the show was over."

Each award-winner at the show was thrust in front of the podium and
given the opportunity to say something. A few demurred; Bagge earned
the biggest laugh. Clearly confused by what was going on and with and
a grenade launcher to his head, he shrugged his shoulders and
blurted, "Gracias?"

Another award-winner, the publisher of the Spanish-language edition
of Art Spiegelman's Maus, clearly got into the spirit of the event.
Accepting the award for "Best Foreign Graphic Novel," the publisher
was dragged to podium by the terrorists and, with weapons pointed at
him, stated in Spanish, "The Jews deserved it!"

By this point, most everyone in attendance understood that everything
taking place was an act, but that didn't seem to fully mitigate the
uneasiness and anxiety that permeated the crowd. Bagge, who was
warned in advance that he was in for a night of controversy, still
was not prepared for what took place. "I have to tip my hat to them
for not only freaking me out, but for scaring the living shit out of
me at times," he said. While on stage, he reported that "I watched
members of the audience either flee or cringe in horror, though a few
jumped up and down while snapping photos and shouting with glee."

Before the awards were handed out, the terrorists illustrated their
disgust for Western culture by burning photographs of the Virgin
Mary, Federico Garcia Lorca, and McDonald's, amongst others. A
particularly chilling moment took place after the terrorists knocked
the top off the stage's podium. The podium had resembled one of the
sections of Stonehenge, with one shorter, horizontal column resting
atop two taller, vertical columns. With the top removed, the
resemblance of the two standing columns to the World Trade Towers was
lost on no one. When the Osama lookalike casually tossed a paper
airplane at the columns and -- despite the flimsy prop barely
brushing against one column -- both dramatically burst into flames, a
conflation of uncomfortable gasps and moans from the audience could
be heard among the cheering, trigger-happy actors jumping up and down
on stage in mock-triumph.

Amazingly, the most controversial part of the show had yet to begin.
While all the award recipients were being tied up together on stage,
the Osama bin Laden character had been sitting cross-legged on the
floor, casually reading random comic books scattered on the floor.
His initial look of disgust and disapproval slowly metamorphosed into
one of mild amusement and ultimately wild elation. The actor suddenly
stood up, revealing what was essentially the "moral" of the
production: Comic books had made him see the light about Western
civilization.

"'Osama,' who'd been reading some of these comics that he was going
to burn, suddenly declares, 'These comics are great! I've been wrong
all along! Hooray for Western civilization!,'" said Bagge.

Music began filling the auditorium, and the woman wearing the Burka
onstage drew attention to herself for the first time by pulling it
over her head and revealing herself to be completely naked. One of
the terrorists also stripped, and within moments the woman, kneeling
in front of him, began performing oral sex on him.

Over the course of ten or 15 minutes, the couple progressed to full
intercourse, scandalizing much of the audience. By this point, all of
the local politicians and civil servants in attendance had left in
disgust along with other random audience members.

With the fornicating couple still on full-display, the show kicked
into its last act. "Suddenly we comic-book people were all right in
'Osama's' book, so the terrorists untied us all," said Bagge. "Then
a
chorus line of go-go dancers come out and the terrorists all start
singing the theme song to the Spanish version of 'The Making of the
Band,' while the fornicators, who still occupy center stage, go at it
doggy style."

Whether in spite of or because of the controversy, Bagge was
impressed. "The juxtaposition of all of these elements was sheer
brilliance. It was the most mind-blowing extravaganza I've ever seen
in my life; I hope [Eisner Awards Emcee] Scott Shaw! is taking
notes!," he quipped.

Others were not so entertained. "Yes, it was shocking," said Miller.
"But only in the way all bad taste is shocking. It's easy to shock.
And you know who gets shocked the easiest by sex and violence? Anyone
who has experienced both at the same time without wanting to."

Miller's distaste was shared by the local authorities, who denounced
the show as "vulgar, disgusting, and insulting," and were meeting to
discuss withdrawing funding from the comics festival as a result of
the show. "We wish to separate ourselves completely from this," one
official told a local newspaper.

Casasola defended the show to local media on artistic terms, stating
that "Comics are about provoking, transgressing, and breaking rules,"
but some questioned Casasola's motivation. One source who wished to
remain anonymous told the Journal that Casasola's motives were more
about politics than artistic expression. "[Casasola] had all but
given up on the future of the fair, and this was his way of going out
with a bang and getting back at the politicians he was struggling
with," the source said.

Some speculated after the show that Casasola had gone as far to
divert this year's funding to pay for the awards ceremony, adding
insult to injury for the local politicians, though, Casasola and
others denied it. The production, which was directed by a well-known
independent filmmaker in Spain, Bajo Ulloa, also featured nationally-
recognized actors in the roles of Osama bin Laden and the ceremony's
emcee, while the fornicating couple were successful adult films stars
in Spain. The high-profile of many of the cast and crew led to
speculation that the show was a very expensive production, one that
Casasola, who earns no money from the convention and makes a living
as a private eye, could not have afforded without utilizing the
festival's funding.

Remarkably, city officials had yet to reprimand Casasola at presstime
in any substantive way, although local religious figures had asked
citizens to pray for those in attendance. No criminal charges were
filed, and contrary to overwhelming speculation following the
ceremony that funding for next year's festival would be swiftly
pulled or that Casasola would be immediately removed from his
position, no decisions have been made after several hearings and
there remains a chance that not only will the show go on next year,
but Casasola may even be running it.

"I have to say that Alejandro [Casasola] is the ballsiest guy I've
ever met," said Bagge. "We were tied together onstage while all of
this lunacy was going on, and for a guy who was probably going to be
crucified for this, he was amazingly indifferent. He doesn't have a
clue how to book a flight or stage an art exhibit [a billed
exhibition of Bagge's art at the festival failed to materialize due
to organizational mistakes], but he puts on one helluva show."

IT'S ART! IT'S PORN! EVERYBODY'S HAPPY! — THE BEAVER SHOT AS ART

There's a new show running at Manhattan's Gagosian Gallery through December 22 featuring the work of painter John Currin, and it's garnering a bit attention thanks to some of its subject matter. Nudity in the arts is certainly nothing new, nor is sexually explicit imagery, but it's bound to cause a stir in these hypocritically puritanical times when someone walks into a gallery and finds what can be construed as beaver shots hung on the wall in all their gynecological glory. Currin's "Rotterdam" (2006) is such a work, and when first encountered it exudes the ambience common to the photography in such periodicals as HUSTLER, PINK PARADE, and OPEN WIDE, but upon closer observation the piece is far less off-putting for the casual viewer than the you-can-see-her-lunch nudie mag aesthetic.


"Rotterdam" (2006)

The composition is common to erotic art; two lovers entwined, engaged in intimate contact on a large, comfy bed, both appearing to be enjoying each other. What is uncommon about the piece is the — excuse the term — in your face focus given to the figures' genitalia, and while good, old-fashioned osh-osh has been depicted in art a gazillion times since the day a horny caveman first fashioned one of those goddesses with the huge tits and Cro-Magnon badunkadunk, it's unusual to witness such frank presentation for general consumption.

The "window dressing" present is straight out of the ABC's of porno: sexy stockings and garter belt, lace gloves, ankle jewelry, "fuck me" pumps, a necklace with a dangling bauble that accentuates the female's naked flesh, sleepy/ecstatic facial expression that passes for what was once known as "swooning." It's all there, but the imagery does not strike me as pornographic for a number of reasons. The painterly medium lends the graphic tableau a level of "class" and legitimacy that few allegedly-pornographic works can muster, and the setting brings to mind (for me, at least) some old world boudoir that I could picture Marie Antoinette getting Rodgered in, and I have to admit that I find that appealing. Also, considering the obvious X-rated influence, it's interesting to note that the figures are those of ordinary people, and not the beefed-up-by-silicone and fire-hose-bedicked replicants that populate the majority of adult entertainment, and their simple commonness makes them quite charming.

So let's move on to the real issue at hand, namely the Johnson and the 'Giney. Human genitalia depicted in the act that it was intended for is seldom seen from this angle in highbrow paintings, and while the anatomical details leave nothing to the imagination there is no display of the effluvium that accompanies the deployment of one's naughty bits (although the guy's nuts do look a bit greasy), or the cooking oil that porn ingénues liberally apply to their havens in order to simulate the visible signs of female arousal. And while the guy's squashing of his stuff (an action that inflates his unit via a technique familiar to anyone who's seen a Ron Jeremy vehicle in the past ten years) draws your attention to its turgid veininess, that's merely a component to the connection about to be made; if you are a guy who has ever been fortunate enough to have a woman share her body with you, especially with absolute certainty that there is no chance of either unwanted pregnancy or STD's, nothing feels better than your manroot happily ensconced in the lady's Good Place, and with that knowledge in mind you can relate to the dude in the painting. The guy is straining to get inside his obviously willing companion and feel her moist, enveloping heat, and she's applying just enough pull to herself to open up and accommodate that friendly member, a subtle gesture made plain by our gaze being directed with the visual aid of her lace-covered digits. The glimpse that we are afforded of her pink taste treat only gives us enough to register it as the welcome and familiar source of all things wondrous, not the sometimes painfully splayed luncheon meat vista found in most one-handed amusement mags/videos, a sight that turns the divine vulgar.

And speaking of divine, the contours of the woman's body have just the right gravity and roundness, without the cartoonish exaggeration of the rank-and-file stroke-mag diva. Of particular interest is her pubic mound, delineated in such a way as to simultaneously register the solid structure of her pelvic bone and the softness of the tantalizing flesh surrounding it.

When people are fucking — and I mean FUCKING; that animal communication between two physical beings that completely erodes rational thought — there's an immediate urgency that cancels out everything else around you, and that feeling is conveyed here with a subtlety that belies its flash of pink 'n' pecker; these two are caught up in the primal heat of the moment, and, frankly, I like seeing that in a contemporary painting rather than some hoary old example from a coffee table compendium of erotic art. Currin's "Rotterdam" very much places me in the "now" of its visual tale and moves me with its sensuousness. It certainly beats the hell out of much of the art that I saw during my school days... If only I could have walked into a gallery and seen the excellence of Gustave Courbet's "Origine du Monde" ("The Origin of the World", 1866):



NOTE: this is the whole painting, not just a detail. Not only can I totally get with the subject, but I also love the technique; painting realistic- looking hair is a bitch and a half, and I'll be dipped in dogshit if that bush doesn't look just like the real thing. Hooray for art!!!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

HEY, JOE: R.I.P. PETER BOYLE, 1935-2006

And so yet another of my favorite actors goes tits up, this time Peter Boyle.



Immortalized for his marvelously ludicrous portrayal of the zipper-necked monster in Mel Brooks' classic YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN (1974),



and better known to today's audiences for his hilarious turn as the irrascible Ray Barone on "Everybody Loves Raymond" (1996-2005),



Boyle brought a palpable humanity to his characters, even the most seemingly unloveable of anti-social bastards. That is, except for the motherfucking headcase title character in JOE (1970), which is hands down my favorite of Boyle's performances.


Boyle played Joe Curran, an outrageous, psychotic racist who was the antithesis of the counter-culture ideal brought ot terrifying life, and if you have not seen JOE, I cannot recommend it highly enough. In fact, rather than go off on one of my own patented rants on the subject, here's an excerpt from TIME magazine's review of the film from way back in 1970, and it sums up the story quite succinctly:

JONAH IN A HARDHAT
By Mark Goodman
Jul. 27, 1970
"The niggers," sneers Joe Curran. His beer belly enfolds the bar, and his close-set black eyes burn bright with contempt. "The niggers are getting all the money. So why work? Welfare! They even give them free rubbers . . . You think they use them? Hell, no. They sell them and use the money for booze. All them social workers are nigger lovers. And the white kids, they're acting like niggers. They got no respect for the President of the United States. A few heads get bashed and the liberals behave like Eleanor Roosevelt got raped. The liberals. Forty-two per cent of the liberals are queer—and that's a fact. Some Wallace people took a poll."

Joe Curran is the ultimate hardhat: outraged, terrified, violent and more than a little envious, lashing out blindly at threatening forces that he only dimly comprehends. His furrowed brow puckers when he hears his son has bought a motorcycle; his jowls tremble with rage when his wife breaks the news that a "colored" family has moved into his lily-white Queens neighborhood. His basement is formidably stocked with World War II weaponry. His hatred is so raw, his ideas so primitive and naive, that he often radiates a genuinely amusing innocence. For all its funny moments, however, Joe is anything but comedy. It is a film of Freudian anguish, biblical savagery and immense social and cinematic importance.

Fear and Frustration. Bill Compton (Dennis Patrick) is a $60,000-a-year Manhattan advertising executive whose young daughter (Susan Sarandon) has run off to live with an East Village junkie. She is not there when her father goes to her apartment, but he gets into an argument with her boy friend and inadvertently beats him to death. He staggers into a local bar where Joe (Peter Boyle), a $160-a-week welder, is holding forth. When Joe finally screams, "I'd like to kill one of them!", Compton looks up and whispers, "I just did." Joe later realizes that Compton was serious. He looks him up—not to blackmail him but to idolize him. "There's plenty of people," says Joe, "who would make you a hero."

Joe becomes Compton's Jonah. They form a curious but substantial relationship, a fraternity based on fear and frustration. Joe takes Compton to a bowling alley, and Compton shows Joe the fashionable Ginger Man, passing Joe off as a top-drawer adman. Slowly, Compton's harmless, homogenized ideas and civilized manners give way before the barbaric force of Joe's fury. "Sometimes when I'm with Joe," Compton tells his wife, "I feel almost as if I'd performed a humanitarian act."

Together they comb the East Village for Compton's daughter and end up wallowing in a smoky pad with a group of hippies. Joe looks at the welter of nude flesh in wonder. "This is an orgy, ain't it?" he asks (pronouncing "orgy" with a hard g). But the kids taunt them mercilessly, steal their wallets and take off for a commune. Joe and Bill track down the youngsters in a closing scene of such horror that Joe must surely rank in impact with BONNIE AND CLYDE.

And now, back to the Vault: Joe Curran is in many ways the true ancestor to Archie Bunker, only completely devoid of Archie's good qualities, and that's why Joe Curran fascinates me. He's Archie Bunker if Archie stepped over the line into outright madness, and he's a powerful "Fuck You!!!" to the hippie era, a statement that at the time was ballsy as hell. And the ending of that film will hit you like a brick right in the teeth, so see it already.

Goodbye, Peter. I'm gonna mis ya. Or as Frank Barone would say, "HOLY CRAP!!!"

R.I.P. MARTIN NODELL, CREATOR OF THE GREEN LANTERN



Yet another of the "Golden Age" cartoonists whose creations helped build the comic book industry as we know it, the creator of the original Green Lantern, has died. I met Martin Nodell when he visited DC Comics back in 1999, and he was one hell of a guy, even being kind enough to sign his section in my copy of "The Great Comic Book Heroes," a book that I have cherished since I was seven years old, a tome that is more responsible than any other influence for my interest in the history of comics.



Yeah, I know, I'm a geek.

So here's Nodell's obit from the Associated Press, and for the layman, the original Green Lantern is not the one you're familiar with; the later, better-known GL is a space hero, while the original was more of a traditional "mystery man" with a magic ring. And don't get me started on the original's major weakness, namely wood. Yes, you read that right.

MIAMI, Florida (AP) -- Martin Nodell, the creator of Green Lantern, the comic book superhero who uses his magical ring to help him fight crime, has died. He was 91.

Nodell died at a nursing home in Muskego, Wisconsin, on Saturday of natural causes, his son Spencer Nodell told The Associated Press on Tuesday. He previously lived in West Palm Beach.

Nodell was looking for a new idea for a comic book in 1940 when he was waiting for a New York subway and saw a train operator waving a lantern displaying a green light, said Maggie Thompson, senior editor of Comics Buyer's Guide.

Nodell imagined a young engineer, Alan Scott, a train crash survivor who discovers in the debris an ancient lantern forged from a green meteor. Scott constructs a ring from the lamp that gives him super powers, and becomes a crime fighter.



Alan Scott, the original Green Lantern. From his first appearance, ALL AMERICAN COMICS #16 (1940)

He brought his drawings and story lines to All-American Publications, which later became a part of National Periodical Publications, the company that was to become DC Comics, Thompson said. (DC Comics is a unit of Time Warner, as is CNN.)

The first Green Lantern appearance came in July 1940, an eight-page story in a comic book also featuring other characters. The character then got his own series, and Nodell drew it until 1947 under the name Mart Dellon.

After its cancellation in 1949, the series was reborn in 1959 with a revised story line, and it has been revived several times.

Meanwhile, Nodell left the comics field for an advertising career. In the 1960s, he was on a design team that helped develop the Pillsbury Doughboy.

In later years, Nodell traveled the comic book convention circuit with his wife, Caroline, who died in 2004.

"There were myriad of fans who would come up to my dad and would say 'Green Lantern got me to read' or 'Green Lantern got me to do something in my life,' " Spencer Nodell said.

Nodell was born in Philadelphia and studied at art schools in Chicago and New York. Besides Spencer Nodell, survivors include another son, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.



The Golden Age Green Lantern by Alex Ross

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

GIANT SIZE MANDINGO: FRO-HEAD BECOMES SHELL-HEAD

I have a friend who is the mistress of finding online personality quizzes that go all over the map, and the latest one she discovered tells you which famous superhero you'd be depending on your answers. Intrigued, I went to http://www.thesuperheroquiz.com/ and after I took the test, I came up as Iron Man.



Fucking Iron Man?!? Sure the guy's been a cornerstone of the Marvel Universe since his first appearance back in March of 1963 (see above), even being a founding member of the Avengers (that's "Earth's Mightiest Heroes," not the oddball British secret agents), but he's also a major asshole. Tony Stark is a capitalist scumbag/billionaire industrialist whose primary thrust is munitions (sure, he comes up with a hover-Porsche or the occasional Quinjet, but he still makes most of his cash by engineering high-tech weaponry), a heart-breaking playboy (my fellow comics-geek Jared points out that while Bruce Wayne pretends to be a womanizer, Tony Stark has gotten more pussy than a litter box, thereby making Stark the real deal), and a bit of a domineering control freak, yet he manages to bend over and get willingly pooched by the government at the drop of a hat.



And while I have to give Stark props for his dozens of armors that can handle just about any imaginable contingency (my favorite being the "classic" version seen above), what kind of genius gets liquored-up, straps on what amounts to a tactical assault aircraft and goes flying about firing off repulsor rays and attempting super-feats? Unadulterated hubris, sez I. I've done my share of stupid shit while bombed, but I was never once tempted to pick up a McCullogh chainsaw and attempt to replicate my favorite HUSTLER centerspread as an ice sculpture after downing a tumbler of Maker's Mark. Stark's batttle with the bottle was indeed a compelling story arc, one of only two times in all my years of comics reading that I followed Iron Man's adventures religiously.



And while Stark may have conquered his alcoholism, he has had no such success at conquering his assholism; his actions in Marvel's current "event" series, CIVIL WAR, are nothing short of appalling as he reveals himself to be a thoughtless fascist who pisses all over civil rights, violates the Constitution, and sells his colleagues in the super-human community up the river to a maximum security prison in another dimension if they don't sign up with the government's superhero registration act. The oily, Svengali-like bastard even convinced perpetual innocent Peter Parker to out himself on live national televison as Spider-Man, for fuck's sake! Technically, that act of staggering stupidity falls squarely on Peter's shoulders for going along with it, but you know what I mean.

So the bottom line is: I have always considered Iron Man to be a douchebag, and I'm going to have to figure out where I went wrong to end up with him as my super-heroic avatar. I won't lose any sleep over it, but... Oh, and take the test for yourself and write in with your results. Hey, I'm a nosy motherfucker!

Monday, December 11, 2006

SEASON OF DREAD: A BRIGHT SPOT

So I get home after a miserable, boring work day that dragged along at a sub-glacial pace and find a package outside my door. This was puzzling because it was not only unexpected, but it arrived on a Sunday...

I took it inside, read the shipping label and found no clue as to who sent it, so I carefully opened it and found the new hardcover collection "I Yam What I Yam," a handsome edition of the THIMBLE THEATER story arc that gave the world Popeye, the first of six volumes collecting this marvelously insane material.



Fucking POPEYE, the first American superhero, and one of my all-time favorite characters in any medium. I love him without reservation, and relate to his personal philosophy on a deep level. I mean, what could be a more ahead-of-its-time existential statement than Popeye's oft-stated, "I yam what I yam and tha's all I yam?" No attempt at over-analyzed explanation, Popeye just IS, and that's all there is to it, and if you don't like it, then that's too fuckin' bad. If all you know of the sailor is his animated oeuvre, you have to read creator E.C. Segar's hilarious and frequently sick comics about Popeye to truly understand him; despite his gruff demeanor, Popeye is a simple, decent soul who is in many ways the perfect warrior as put forth in the code of Bushido, yet informal and earthy to perhaps an absurd degree. And while the comic strips flesh out this English-mangling nautical oddity, some of the lesser known lyrics to his timeless cartoon theme song spell him out in no uncertain terms, so for the benefit of those not in the know, here's the whole thing:

I'm Popeye, the Sailor Man
I'm Popeye, the Sailor Man
I'm strong ta the finish
'Cuz I eats me spinach
I'm Popeye, the Sailor Man

I'm one tough gazookus what hates all palookas
What ain't on the up and square
I biffs 'em an' boffs 'em, an' always out-roughs 'em
An' none of 'em gets nowhere
If anyone dasses ta risk me fisk, it's "Boff!," an' it's "Wham!," unnerstan'?
So keep good behavor, tha's yer one lifesaver
With Popeye, the Sailor Man

In short, he's a good egg who kicks the motherfucking shit out sonsabitches what deserves it, and he urges kids to be good. Now, THAT'S a hero I can get with!

So, to the glorious mermaid who totally flummoxed me with such a treasure, I extend my heartiest of "thank yous," and when next I see you, expect a very warm welcome indeed. And Popeye's dad, the esteemed Poopdeck Pappy, also dug mermaids — to the point of abandoning his son so he could live on a deserted island with six (!!!) of them — so we're on the same page.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

SEASON OF DREAD: IT BEGINS IN EARNEST

This day at the barbecue joint is moving slower than a tortoise on sedatives, and just when I thought things couldn't get worse, my most hated of annual irritations reared its ugly head.

It's no secret that the Christmas season and its relentless commercialism and fascistic enforcement of phony happiness drives me absolutely fucking batshit, and it's also no secret that one of the things I hate with a fervency usually reserved for white supremacists, fag bashers, child molesters, and Tim Burton is motherfucking Christmas music. During the season it is simply every-goddamned-where, even more insidiously pervasive than the worst of disco during its heyday — yes, even worse then "Born To Be Alive" — and each year when I can finally take no more of it I shell out a couple of bucks for those soft foam earplugs by way of self defense.

Keeping that in mind, be aware that I loathe the majority of the music foisted upon listeners at my job, much of it falling into a category that I have pejoratively dubbed "go-to-sleep" music; there's a lot of that "emo" pussiness, bland, nameless reggae, the Dave Matthews band (who, in a sane society, would have been put to death for the crime of being boring years ago), occasional show tunes (??? It's a barbecue joint, for fuck's sake!!!), some of the worst fake, modern white boy blues that it has ever been my displeasure to endure, and so many overplayings of Led Zepplin's "Houses of the Holy" that I have pretty much been turned against that album for the rest of my life. But the chief offender, which has thankfully fallen off a bit, is the horrendous modern country music performed by a procession of trust fund douchebags whose only claim to the suffering inherent in the best of country music (mostly stuff recorded prior to 1975) is a possibly too-steep price tag on a brand new Stetson cowboy fedora, something none of them have earned the right to wear, what with never having been anywhere near a horse, cattle, or any job more rugged than serving up Slurpees at the local 7/11.

So imagine my chagrin when the stereo shook me out of my focus on my present tasks by vomiting forth an album that gene-splices saccharine yuletide standards with whiny, over-slick modern country music. I swear to the gods that I contemplated committing seppuku with a plastic picnic knife when I heard the hideous countrified version of the accursed "Frosty the Snowman," perhaps my all-time least favorite Christmas tune.

The worst of it will be over in sixteen days, so I must summon up the power of my chi and my totems, the bear and the tiger, and somehow survive the aural onslaught. Repeated helpings of my own homemade "Merry Fucking Christmas" CD will help somewhat by injecting much needed Satanic metal, punk rock, and general sacreligious offensiveness into the ether, negating in a small way some of the treacle that sticks to Scrooges like me in the way that a harshly-hacked bolus of phlegm or a nasty wad of cum fired from close range unwantedly clings to one's hair.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A TIME FOR MODESTY

The 1960s. A time of great social change that affected all aspects of the international human experience and a decade in which the British wielded considerable impact upon the globe’s pop culture; music, film, television, fashion and literature all felt the influence of the British sensibility and an America that simmered with ready-to-boil civil/political/sexual/hallucinogenic madness fell victim to the spell of “Cool Britannia.” The post-Camelot Yoo Ess Uv Ay welcomed the Beatles, 007, ultra-foppish outfits that made the wearer seem either insane of quaintly fey, THE AVENGERS and a host of other notable lime-flavored diversions, but oddly one of the major groundbreakers of UK entertainment never really made its presence known over here. That MIA bit of fun was the daily comic strip MODESTY BLAISE, and considering its relatively adult content it’s really no surprise that it would never have flown in stateside papers at the time. And that, if you ask me, is a goddamned shame.

When it comes to tough and glamorous female characters of UK origin the one that immediately springs to mind for most Americans of a certain age is Emma Peel, the second and unarguably most popular partner of dapper, bowler-chapeuxed secret agent John Steed for two years on the cult classic TV series THE AVENGERS. Peel was smart, classy, dead sexy in a catsuit, resourceful and tougher than any man in the room and capable of handing the most daunting opponent with her highly stylized martial arts moves. Sounds cool, no? Well lemme tell ya, brother, next to Modesty Blaise Emma Peel has all the resonance and interest of a slowly screeching “squeaker” fart that fizzles out with a pitiful whistle from betwixt the vast butt cheeks of popular culture. I don’t mean to disrespect Emma but Modesty is the real deal (and besides, I like Cathy Gale better as Steed’s partner anyway). But I digress…

The MODESTY BLAISE comic strip, written and created by Peter O’Donnell and lavishly illustrated by Jim Holdaway, debuted in the pages of Britain’s The Evening Standard on May 13th, 1963 and introduced readers to the globe-hopping exploits of the stunning Modesty Blaise and her ultra-badass of a right hand man Willie Garvin, a pair of retired criminals with hearts of gold who once ran a crime syndicate called the Network. Having accrued considerable fortunes and desiring lives that didn’t entail potentially getting their asses shot off on a daily basis, the two take up well-heeled lives of leisure but it seems that no matter where they go the fates conspire to involve them in all manner of hard-hitting adventure and intrigue. Keen-minded highly trained strategists, fiercely loyal friends to those in need and just plain downright deadly, Modesty and Willie are a match for anyone misguided enough to rouse their ire.

Modesty’s origin is fraught with the sort of horrifying crap that either forges tungsten-like fortitude or destroys a person utterly, but even as an amnesiac child our heroine was a born survivor, enduring nomadic homelessness ranging from her escape from a prison camp in Greece during the waning days of WWII through years of wandering in the Middle East (aspects of which “influenced” Chris Claremont’s origin for Storm of the X-Men). The girl, whose name was a casualty of severe trauma, fell in with an old man named Lob, a professor from Bucharest, after she rescued him from an assailant in a refugee camp when but a waif of perhaps twelve years of age. Under his guidance the girl absorbed knowledge like a sponge, learned several languages, honed her survival skills and gained the nickname “Modesty” upon entering puberty, and to that she added the surname “Blaise,” garnered from the tutor of Merlin the sorcerer. During her late adolescence, Lob died and Modesty ended up in Tangiers where she began her criminal endeavors — which strictly abhorred drugs and vice — eventually happening upon rough-and-tumble diamond in the rough Willie Garvin who was earning a questionable living handing out Muay Thai ass-whuppings in the kickboxing ring in Saigon. Recognizing a potential asset to her organization, Modesty bought Willie out of jail with no strings attached and from that transaction was born one of the most unique relationships in adventure fiction. Modesty and Willie are soul mates and a perfect match in every way, as intimate as two kindred spirits can be and utterly willing to die for each other without a moment's hesitation, but, intriguingly, they are not lovers.

Their lack of a sexual relationship serves to magnify the intensity of their friendship, an unbreakable and deep connection that thrives and grows despite the presence of several significant romantic involvements for both characters, and their bond is fascinating to read about.

With all of this information, you are now ready to dive headfirst into Modesty’s harrowing world and I promise that you will not be bored. You have the choice of availing yourself to the comics or the even better series of novels penned by series creator O’Donnell, and you can’t go wrong with either incarnation.

Titan Books is currently collecting the strip in chronological order in an ongoing series of handsome trade paperbacks and despite some reproduction glitches inherent to the inevitable ageing of the source film, these books are exactly what your collection needs to give it a touch of class. The stories are entertaining as hell and are real nail-biters in many cases, especially the perverse “Uncle Happy” in the second collection and volume three’s “Top Traitor,” a tale in which Modesty’s high-ranking secret service pal Sir Gerald Tarrant goes missing and is assumed to be a mole for enemy interests. And as if first class entertainment weren’t good enough, the reprint volumes also provide fascinating articles on the development and history of the series, plus riveting interviews and reminiscences from the strip’s creator.

There are thirty-eight years and ninety-five serials to wade through, all written by O’Donnell and drawn by several artists (the John Burns run is stunning and inexplicably underrated), so Titan will be blessing us with volumes of this classic series for quite some time provided the current books do well, and I promise you that I’ll be on board for the long haul. Search all you want, but it is simply impossible to find a more cracking good adventure strip from the past fifty years than MODESTY BLAISE. If you haven’t experienced this phenomenon, then now is the time for Modesty. And you can trust your Bunche on that one, muthafukkas!

A couple of additional short notes:

1. In 1994 DC Comics issued a graphic novel adaptation of the first Modesty Blaise novel (entitled “Modesty Blaise”) drawn by comics legend Dick Giordano; it’s a perfect introduction to the character for those who don’t necessarily cotton to the daily newspaper strip format of the classic run and can be obtained with a little comic shop or internet sleuthing.

2. There have been two theatrical features based on Modesty Blaise and one 1982 TV movie; the 1966 Joseph Losey campfest MODESTY BLAISE is available on DVD and majorly sucks sweaty ass, so I heartily advise you to spurn it like you would spurn a rabid dog (Peter O’Donnell has been quoted as saying of the film “It makes my nose bleed just to think of it”). I have not seen the TV version but available reports are not favorable, and the 2003 MY NAME IS MODESTY: A MODESTY BLAISE ADVENTURE deals with the character’s origin — minus Willie since he was not a part of the years chronicled in this story, and that’s a big detriment to the whole feel of the series — and is pretty decent despite its slow pace and seventy-eight minute running time.

3. Some of the particulars of Chris Claremont’s origin for Storm in UNCANNY X-MEN # 103 are clearly “influenced” by the early years of Modesty Blaise; read that Marvel oldie and then read “In the Beginning” which is found in the tail end of the first Titan reprint volume and judge for yourself.

4. Perhaps the best-known “homage” to Modesty Blaise is Renny Harlin’s unjustly maligned 1996 thriller THE LONG KISS GOODNIGHT, which featured Geena Davis as an amnesiac housewife whose true self is revealed in an action film fan’s wet dream. Read some of the O’Donnell stuff and then see this film; you will be amazed by the similarities.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

BACK IN BLACK: THE RETURN OF GIANT-SIZE MANDINGO

A while back, I used to write a column for the comics website the Pulse entitled GIANT-SIZE MANDINGO, a play on the unbelieveable but true Marvel comic book title from the seventies, GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING (I swear to God!),



and the most offensive mainstream Hollywood film ever released, MANDINGO(1975), one of my all-time favorites.


In that column I billed myself as "the High-Yella Heirophant of All Things Heroic," and pontificated upon all manner of four color entertainment, and whatever Hollywood monstrosities caught my attention. It was fun, and now I'm resurrecting the column on this here blog with some new material, and a rerun or two from the original run, so get ready for some fun!