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Friday, July 31, 2009

REALITY CHECK

Hey-

sorry, but I just don't have it in me to have anything fun to post today, perhaps not for the next day or two.

Some of my friends have been weathering varying degrees of genuine tragedy and the resulting misery of the soul, and I've been doing the listening and advising thing while all of this is going on, and it's finally caught up with me. While my own world is pretty much on an even keel, I've spent a lot of time mulling over my friends' stuff and inadvertently thinking about how I will handle things when I inevitably go through what some of them are going through, and as a result my already dodgy insomnia has intensified. Lack of sleep is completely kicking my ass and I'm totally wiped out.

I swear I've functioned on the level of a zombie for the past two work days, thankfully minus the unquenchable hunger for human flesh, and I have no drive to either cruise the Internet in the name of research or concentrate enough to write. So I'm taking the next few days off and should have something for you on Monday. That can change and I may get the urge again before that, but you know what I mean.

Anyway, please bear with me. I'll be back soon.

-Yer Bunche

Thursday, July 30, 2009

600 SHOTS OF COSTUMED GEEK AWESOMENESS FROM THE SAN DIEGO COMIC CON

So several of my friends and former colleagues from the comics biz have returned from this year's San Diego Comic Con, weary as hell and many of them voicing dismay at how the con has somehow become less about comics and more about R & D for Hollywood than ever before (and that's really saying something!). I always wanted to attend the massive San Diego hoo-haa but as of the past decade or so all of my friends who go each year keep returning with tales of woe and annoyance, so my desire to shell out the thousands of bucks for airfare, hotel stay and expenses has dwindled to near naught. Luckily the geeks keep the spirit alive in the face of Hollywood's co-opting, and if I had the disposable cash I would go just to shoot a documentary on the merry legion of cosplayers. My pal Raju sent me an exhaustive link to a gallery of 600 shots of the costumed throng, and in lieu of not actually being there this is a good way to enjoy what was missed.

Here's just 1/60th of what you'll find by following the link, and my only complaint is that none of the pics are labeled for the benefit of those of us who have no interest in video games or current anime/manga. If you read this blog regularly you know I'm a pretty hardcore geek, but I have to admit that I have no clue as to what many of the cosplayers are supposed to be. Anyway, here's a sampling of my favorites:

Two Judges, in town from Mega-City 1.

Convention perennials Catwoman and the Black Canary: this is great for a number of reasons, but the Canary wins extra points for rocking the "sonic scream" pose.

Seeing people putting in the effort to rock a credible Black Widow or Ant Man always makes this geek's heart swell with pride.

Doctor Orpheus in the house!!!

Power Girl, fast becoming the superhero costume of choice for zaftig geekettes.

I may not care for POKEMON, but this Ash is hysterical.

When "couples" costumes don't suck: Havoc and Polaris.

A costume I never thought I'd live to see: Ronan the Accuser.

Old school Luke Cage represents, despite having apparently been hit by lightning.

My absolute favorite out of the entire 600: the female Loki from the current run of THOR.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

JUST SAY "NO"

I know all too well that young stars of TV and movies usually end up with their faces plastered across posters to be hung on the walls of their tween admirers or on the cover of mags like TIGER BEAT (what the fuck does that title mean, anyway?), but there has to be a time when the image-makers in charge of these young celebs' careers have to just say "no." A good case in point would be this one:

Yep, that's a young David Faustino, best known as Bud Bundy from MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN. I guess this is supposed to be sexy to an eleven-year-old, but he looks to me like he's cruising some random picnic site for some middle-aged pedo trade.

I came across this shot while looking for info on Faustino's career and I'm amazed to discover that this just may eclipse his completely ridiculous "rapper" phase. Yes, you read that right: David Faustino actually recorded a rap record back in the days under the nom de hip-hop D L'il', the 1992 album "Ballistyx," and when I first saw the video for its single, "I Told Ya", I wasn't sure if it was intended as a gag. Around that time on MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN, Faustino's character, Bud, concocted a gangsta alter ego for himself that was meant to attract chicks in droves, but as with the great majority of Bud's would-be gash-hound schemes, "Grandmaster B" was a resounding failure and gave his family endless fodder for mockery. To give credit where credit is due, I have nothing but love and respect for Faustino's work as Bud Bundy and frankly find him fucking hilarious in the part from season 3 onward, and when his real-life interest in the whole hip-hop thing became known to the show's writers, Grandmaster B was created as a means to bust Faustino's balls. And to his credit, Faustino took the abuse ball and ran with it; the Grandmaster B arc yielded some great laughs, and the sheer absurdity of a loser Chicago white boy like Bud even thinking for two seconds that anyone would buy him as a gangsta was a stroke of inspired genius. But then the record came along and, well, let's just say that Faustino and his rap persona soon thereafter parted ways.

Which is a roundabout way of saying the junior beefcake poster (or whatever it was) was by far the more ludicrous and embarrassing of Faustino's career moves. But who cares? We'll always have MARRIED...WITH CHILDREN.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

A FORGOTTEN CLASSIC: Squeeze's HITS OF THE YEAR (1985)

Toward the tail end of my ninth grade year, my buddy Peter the Red Menace began an earnest campaign of turning me on to music that wasn't heard too often on the more hits-obsessed radio stations in and around where we grew up in Connecticut, and during that time he handed me a copy of Squeeze's Argybargy (released in February of 1980). I enjoyed much of its decidedly UK flavor and that aspect steered me toward British groups like the Specials, the Vapors and the Selecter for a period of about three years, and during my high school years the kids in Westport soon jumped on the Squeeze bandwagon. I would haul my easily portable (and rather sad in retrospect) turntable/tape deck and speakers to the basements of my friends' houses and we would get our rather feeble dance on to all sorts of stuff, but the 1982 Squeeze compilation Singles - 45's and Under was a favorite, particularly among the girls, so it got an inordinate amount of play (thus rendering me sick of many of its tracks, especially "Black Coffee in Bed"). My own favorite Squeeze pieces could at the time be narrowed down to a quartet of "Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)," "Take Me I'm Yours," "Another Nail In My Heart," and the morose and neglected "I Think I'm Go Go," all of which I still happily listen to, but it wasn't until late 1985 when I heard "Hits of the Year" that I found my favorite Squeeze tune of them all (with "Another Nail In My Heart" coming in a close second).

In late 1985 I embarked on what turned out to be a two-year tour of 24/7 stonerism, and my college basement dorm room from the Fall of '85 through the Spring of '86 doubled as a weed-smokers flophouse and music appreciation society headquarters. It was there that I enlightened my peers on the finer points of the Cramps, Oingo Boingo, the Mentors, the Dead Kennedys and many, many others, but "Hits of the Year" came as a real surprise to all of us because it just wasn't what anyone would ever have expected from Squeeze. It had a funkier-than-usual beat and an offbeat riff rendered on a xylophone, and while that was interesting enough the song's tone shifts from a pleasant reminiscence to something rather ominous, as is befitting a tune told from the point of view of an airline passenger returning home from holiday only to find himself in the midst of an armed hijacking. There's no irony to any of this and the narrative resolves nothing at its conclusion, leaving the narrator and the listener stuck in a terrifying, potentially lethal situation, and I would imagine it's quite disconcerting once you pay attention to the lyrics while dancing to it. I guess danceable tunes about skyjackings didn't quite fit in with the '80's musical aesthetic at the time, so "Hits of the Year" only made it as high as number 39 on the Billboard chart before it vanished into the mists of pop music obscura. A damned shame really, because it's a really good record. Anyway, here are the lyrics.

HITS OF THE YEAR (1985)
by Chris Difford and Glenn Tlbrook

Off to the airport to check in the bags
Proud of my suntan and good times I've had
Laying on beaches and writing out cards
Back to the humdrum and bashing out cars
Into the aircraft I look for my seat
A nervous tension builds inside me
Onto the runway I pretend I'm elsewhere
In minutes we're flying through the hot evening air
Down there toy town the twinkle of lights
The long white beaches of holiday time
Suddenly someone has pulled out a gun
His shout for attention has everyone stunned
Hands on our heads there's a new kind of fear
We're over the barrel with the hits of the year

Held up to ransom assured we'll be safe
The yellow ribbon comes out again
How many gods can there be in one sky
All so important and all so involved
Here on a trigger a disciple of fear
As we wait without knowing if we're hits of the year

Monday, July 27, 2009

"ONE...STEP...BEYOND!!!"

This one came from my pal (and fellow 2000 A.D. junkie) Namegon:

If you're not familiar with classic Judge Dredd or the late-1970's/early-1980's UK ska revival this gag will probably make no sense. It's a fusion of the first Madness album cover and characters from the seminal Judge Dredd epic "The Cursed Earth" and there's too much to explain regarding the characters used from it, so forgive me if I don't bore you with the whys and wherefores (although I must say that I love Tweak's facial expression). Just enjoy it for its "madness." Oh, and here's the album cover it's goofing on:

In fact, if you've never heard the album, it's one of the most fun entries from the ska revival movement and is certainly light years better than their later crap like "Our House."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

HARD BOILED LIKE A MOTHERFUCKER: Richard Stark's PARKER: THE HUNTER adapted by Darwyn Cooke

The late Richard Stark — the pen name of prolific writer Donald Westlake — created one of the great characters in crime fiction when he came up with career criminal Parker (no first name is ever given), the protagonist of twenty-four badassed novels. Parker has made it to the screen on several occasions in one form or another, most notably in John Boorman's excellent POINT BLANK (1967), but never under the name "Parker" for no apparent reason, and has quite a following among those who like their protagonists tough, smart, and morally ambiguous. So when I heard Darwyn Cooke would be adapting four of Stark's Parker novels into the graphic medium, I rested secure that finally Parker was in the hands of an adapter who really "got" what he was all about. Cooke's proven himself over and over to be one of the very best that the comics biz has working in it at the moment, producing such stunning works as CATWOMAN: SELINA'S BIG SCORE (2002) and the Eisner Award-winning DC: THE NEW FRONTIER (2004), and his sense of brisk storytelling is tailor-made for this current project.

In THE HUNTER the story is simplicity itself: after being betrayed by his partner, shot by his wife and left for dead, an understandably pissed-off Parker survives and goes after those who fucked him over. The very definition of relentlessness made flesh, the lesson to be learned here is "Don't fuck with Parker. And if you choose to do so, you had better be goddamned sure that the motherfucker's absolutely, positively tits-up dead." That's it, but the magic is in how Stark unfolds his tale, and Darwyn once more knocks one out of the park, bringing down the closest communications satellite from orbit. Take my word for it, you simply owe it to yourself to read this one, and I firmly believe Stark/Westlake would have been overjoyed at the results. HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

SHEER MADNESS STRIKES AGAIN: Fletcher Hanks' YOU SHALL DIE BY YOUR OWN EVIL CREATION! (2009)

The balls-out loony 2007 collection I SHALL DESTROY ALL THE CIVILIZED PLANETS! was so greatly enjoyed here in the Vault of Buncheness that I awarded it the title of "Comic Book of the Year" after wallowing naked in its clearly insane glory, and now comes a sequel book, bringing us over two-hundred more pages crafted from the gonzo imagination of Golden Age anti-wunderkind Fletcher Hanks. My piece on the previous collection gives you all the background you need, but for those of you already familiar with Hanks' singular charms, what you need to know is that this volume features an avalanche of the bizarro artwork, stilted dialogue, and just plain sheer madness that earmark the author's mind-wrenching work. Negligee-clad skull-faced jungle heroine Fantomah is back, as well as ass-kickin' lumberjack Big Red McLane, along with Tabu, Wizard of the Jungle (a ridiculous Tarzan knockoff, only with superpowers, so think "Super-Tarzan"), Space Smith (a Flash Gordon knockoff whose name is kind of like naming Aquaman "Underwater Pete"), Tiger Hart of Crossbone Castle on the Planet Saturn (kind of a Prince Valiant/Flash Gordon mashup), Whirlwind Carter of the Interplanetary Secret Service (who, along with his female sidekick, is visually indistinguishable from Space Smith and his female companion), 'Yank' Wilson Super Spy Q-4, and of course my man Stardust the Super Wizard, so this volume is bursting at the seams with some of the weirdest shit ever to grace the four-color page. A bargain at $24.99, this belongs on the coffee table of every self-respecting lover of effed-up ess, comics obscura fanatics, and little kids, so this one is obviously HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

Friday, July 24, 2009

THE DIRTY HARRY SERIES: A STUDY IN "SEQUELITIS"

If you're a fan of violent mainstream action films, it's a good bet you enjoy yourself a Dirty Harry movie or two and no doubt know the following quote by heart:

I know what you're thinking. "Did he fire six shots or only five?" Well, to tell you the truth, in all this excitement I kind of lost track myself. But being as this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world, and would blow your head clean off, you've got to ask yourself one question: Do I feel lucky? Well, do ya, punk?

Clint Eastwood's always been cool as fuck, but none of the badasses he's played in his impressive career have attained the downright iconic status held by Inspector Harry Callahan of the San Francisco Police Department (although there's a case to be made in favor of the Man with No Name in those Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns). Spanning a series of five feature films, the series kicked off in 1971 with the eponymous DIRTY HARRY and its box office success guaranteed a sequel would appear not long after. But like most film series it soon fell victim to the dread disease of "sequelitis," in other words the subsequent films just couldn't hold a candle to the root entry. That said, let's examine the five films one by one.

DIRTY HARRY (1971)

Director Don Siegel — who helmed the excellent 1956 version of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS — crafted a tense thriller with this first film, and the results are justly considered one of the classics of the genre. We meet "Dirty" Harry Callahan (so called because he gets "stuck with every dirty job that comes along") as he hunts Scorpio (the superb and completely underrated Andrew Robinson, later fomer Cardassian spy Elim Garak on STAR TREK: DEEP SPACE NINE), a serial-killing sniper who has no agenda other than to cause terror and murder innocent people.

Andy Robinson as the chilling serial killer Scorpio.

Over the course of the film we see Harry's rather cynical and nihilistic worldview through the eyes of his new partner, Chico Gonzalez (Reni Santoni), the latest in a long line of partners who never last long, and in no time we realise Harry's pretty much the old school, tough as nails western sheriff transplanted into the modern day of the Vietnam era, and as such he's the walking antithesis to the "peace and love" generation. Harry's psychologically agonizing battle with Scorpio is a nerve-wracking back-and-forth conflict of equally clever and tough opponents, with Scorpio having a slight advantage by virtue of his sociopathic insanity, and as it plays out we see that Harry's outright savagery in his handling of matters is the only thing that can possibly bring down the psycho in question. Waging an endless war against the "creeps" and "punks" that infest his city, Harry simply does not give a fuck about such piddling considerations as due process or even basic human rights when it comes to criminals, and the audience is right there with him because the judgment he passes down upon those he blasts into oblivion with his expertly-wielded Smith & Wesson revolver is never wrong. And let's face it, people understandably hate vicious criminals who prey upon society, and the figure of the righteous Harry Callahan "taking out the trash" is bound to strike a chord within the viewer, no matter how seemingly fascistic such a character may come off as. I'm not in any way down with vigilante cops in real life, but when it comes to fantasies writ large across the big screen, I'm glad to know Harry's there to do what the legal system can't — or won't — due to its own bureaucracy and respect for its own sometimes self-restricting legal statutes. An extremely odd film to have come out when it did, DIRTY HARRY pretty much invented and defined the "cop on the edge" archetype that has since been beaten to death (even within the series itself), and is one hell of an engrossing cinematic effort. If you only see one film in this series, the initial DIRTY HARRY is the absolute "must see" of the lot.

MAGNUM FORCE (1973)

Following the events of the first film Harry is no longer working homicide and is instead stuck doing stakeout duty (with new partner Felton Perry, who would later turn up in ROBOCOP), but Harry's a veritible trouble-magnet, so when assorted "untouchable" criminals and assorted other human vermin keep turning up very dead, Harry comes to realize the victims were dispatched by a motorcycle cop, someone the victims would not have anticipated as a potential murderer. At first the spotlight of suspicion falls on one of Harry's old cop pals, but it soon becomes obvious that a quartet of motorcycle cops with extraordinary marksmanship skills have taken it upon themselves to mete out vigilante justice as they see fit and, seeing Harry's way of thinking and acting as being in line with their own, the psycho cycle fuzz ask Harry to join their cause (oh, and by this point Harry's been brought back into homicide). What they definitely don't count on is Harry not being down with their murderous plan, and once he refuse their offer it's only a matter of time until he becomes number one on their hit list... There's more going on behind the scenes with the "magnum force," as Harry discovers to his horror, and this entry is hands-down the most visceral and violent of the bunch. It's also sadly pedestrian in its direction, especially when considering how intriguing the premise is and how it tests Callahan's own code of ultra-violent justice with a story by John (CONAN THE BARBARIAN and RED DAWN) Milius and screenplay by Milius and Michael (THE DEER HUNTER) Cimino. While not brilliant, the film's moral ambiguities and shattering, exploitation movie-style ultra-violence make it my favorite of the sequels.

THE ENFORCER (1976)

Here's where the sequels' precipitous nosedive in quality commenced, or rather the sequelitis began its insidious infection in earnest. THE ENFORCER feels like the pilot for a Dirty Harry mismatched "buddy cop" TV series, thanks largely to a by-the-numbers threat — a motley terrorist organization called the People's Revolutionary Strike Force — and Harry's latest partner, Inspector Kate Morse (played by Tyne Daly of THE ROOKIES and later CAGNEY & LACEY renown), a nine-year veteran of the Personnel department with no prior homicide experience who is included to provide harry with endless opportunities to display a sexist attitude that predictably mellows as he warms to his sidekick's pluckiness.

Tyne Daly as Inspector Kate Morse.

As this was the mid-1970's, Morse is very much in "I am Woman, hear me roar" mode, and in those days I'd guess the character was somewhat revolutionary for a mainstream action movie (but certainly not for the exploitation genre, which had cornered the market of tough females not long previous), but now the earnest stridency and gumption the screenwriters gave her is dated, trite, and kind of embarrassing to endure. Plus, since she's one of Harry's partners, she's the equivalent to a "red shirt" on STAR TREK, so it's much ado over an inevitable casualty; at least she her dying words weren't "I love you," because that would have made the average viewer puke and sent the action movie fans in the audience into a litany of booing and Bronx cheers. THE ENFORCER is watchable, but only just, so approach with discretion.

SUDDEN IMPACT (1983)

Prior to the days when the house where I grew up had a VCR, this was the first Dirty Harry movie I ever saw and I was curious to see what the big deal about the character was. Following what I saw here, I'm surprised I was interested enough to delve back to the series' origins. The only film in the series to be directed by Clint Eastwood, this is an ugly throwback to the rape/revenge movies that were popular in the grindhouses in the previous decade, and is considered by many to be the most violent film in the franchise. Looking like a garden variety exploitation actioner from a company like Golan-Globus, SUDDEN IMPACT finds a fifty-something Harry on the trail of a revenge killer (Sondra Locke, who was romantically involved with Clint Eastwood for some fourteen years) who's blowing the genitals off her male victims before murdering them outright in retaliation for a gang-rape that she survived while her sister was so traumatized that she was left catatonic. Once the gang of rapists and their stereotypical dyke cohort figure out that they're targets, it's only a matter of time until a final showdown, with harry on the fence as to whether he should allow the killer retribution or bust her along with the rapists. This film is routine in every way and is notable only for Harry's new gun, a hand cannon called an AutoMag, and for introducing the catch phrase "Go ahead, make my day" to the lexicon. Wildly popular and deeply unpleasant — not that one would expect a Dirty Harry movie to be pleasant, but you know what I mean — this one is best enjoyed by sadists, those who get off on sordid rape fantasies, and folks who have no better action film to watch at the moment. More like SODDEN IMPACT, if you ask me. Or as the British might say, "SODDING IMPACT."

THE DEAD POOL (1988)

The final film in the Dirty Harry cycle sees the series fizzle out utterly as our hero finds himself on "the dead pool," a list of famous people who participants in the game predict will die. This film is just more of the same, to ever-diminishing returns, and is worth seeing only to note Liam Neeson in a Dirty Harry movie, and an early appearance of a then-unknown Jim Carrey as a junkie rock star asshole who lip-synchs Guns 'N' Roses' "Welcome to the Jungle."

A young Jim Carrey (credited as "James") as junkie rock star asshole Johnny Squares, two years before his breakout work on IN LIVING COLOR.

But when all is said and done, this series really should not have continued past the initial entry because once it had invented the archetype where else was there for the series to go? MAGNUM FORCE made a valiant attempt at doing something interesting, scriptwise anyway, but from there on the patient succumbed to a virulent case of sequelitis and could not be saved. Or at least that's my take on it. What sez you?

"Keep reading The Vault of Buncheness, asshole, or I'll blow your head clean off!"

Thursday, July 23, 2009

NEW WILD CARDS IN DECEMBER!!!

The twentieth book in venerable WILD CARDS series, SUICIDE KINGS, is due in December and a galley copy of said book has found its way into my eager hands. I'm in the middle of reading something quite good at the moment that I don't want to interrupt my enjoyment of, so I'll get to SUICIDE KINGS next, meaning a review will probably be had within about two weeks or less, which will make this the earliest pre-release Vault review yet. I'm quite psyched to read it as soon as possible, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

MOST INEVITABLE COLLECTOR'S FIGURE EVER?

My buddy Mark is on top of all developments in the collector's toy market and he alerted me to this, what may be perhaps the most inevitable collector's figure of all time.

Yes, it's the Michael Jackson THRILLER M-Icon figure from Hot Toys, and while the timing of its release may seem like a ghoulish cash-in, the level of detail and quality evident leads me to think this has been in the works for quite a while.

The figure comes with a regular head and a zombie version, plus several sets of interchangeable hands and the iconic red outfit that would not have looked out of place on the equally late Klaus Nomi.

Usually items like this are issued in limited runs, but considering the demand for all things Michael I'll be curious to see if this gets produced indefinitely. I'm also curious to see how well it seels with a retail price of $258.90...

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

FUTURE COMIC BOOK WRITER?

This adorable little five-year-old pixie is my niece, Cleonir-Rosa, or Cleo (pronounced "Clay-Oh") for short, and I got to spend the better part of this past Saturday with her and other members of my family at a pre-wedding cookout in Baldwin, Long Island. The time I spend with her re-energizes me beyond my ability to properly convey and her sense of wonder at so much that is still new to her is downright infectious. By now it should be fairly obvious that I love this child like she were my own, so what the hell kind of family member/positive elder role model would I be if I did not gently nudge her in the direction of superheroes? Superheroes are good for kids for many reasons, chiefly because they stimulate the imagination and impart the values of being a "good guy" and doing the right thing, and I'm overjoyed to say that Cleo has taken to the capes 'n' spandex crowd the way I take to beer. Since she's been old enough to comprehend stories. I've showered Cleo with storybooks on mythology and such, so superheroes were not much of a stretch from that. And now, having absorbed the lore of the Justice League, Wonder Woman (the excellent and ultra-violent cartoon version from a few months back), and the G-Force — the seminal Japanese bird-heroes, aka the "science ninja team Gatchaman" — , Cleo has begun to spin her own stories of super-powered adventure. Case in point, this dream she related to me the other day:

A couple of nights ago I dreamed about Wonder Woman, and there were lots of bad guys and they got away. But then the other superheroes came and made them all dead.

(SHORT PAUSE)

And then it rained sprinkles.


I don't know what you think, but that nano-story had more action and plot interest than many of the books being written these days by professionals, and I particularly like the Grant Morrison-esque ending where it rained sprinkles for no apparent reason. So remember you read it here first: I'm predicting a future comic book writer, at the very least. Or maybe she'll grow up to be the first astrophysicist to grow hydroponic weed on the moon. Who knows? Who cares? All I know is that I'll love her no matter what she does, and what she ends up doing will no doubt be glorious.

Uncle Bunche, as nieces Hannah and Cleo test the tensile strength of his mighty Afro.

Monday, July 20, 2009

THE BLACK WIDOW IS MAKING THE LEAP TO THE BIG SCREEN, SO HERE'S A WEE PRIMER FOR THE LAYMAN

Okay, I gotta admit that I wouldn't have known Scarlett Johansson if she were standing right next to me, despite having seen her in EIGHT LEGGED FREAKS a while back. I mean, I'm mostly familiar with her as a voice actor for animated projects like ROBOT CHICKEN or as the charmingly dorky-looking mermaid Princess Mindy in THE SPONGEBOB SQUAREPANTS MOVIE.


Princess Mindy, voiced by Scarlett Johansson.

When people told me Scarlett Johansson was a righteous cutie who had to be seen to be believed, I paid them no mind because I'm not too keen on a lot of today's seemingly factory-issued hot actresses/celebs, but then I found out that the lady looks like this:

Yowzamagowcha! That image is straight out of a mid-1970's-era PLAYBOY spread, the kind of thing that very much fit my aesthetic choice back in the days, so when I heard she'd been cast to play Natasha Romanoff, aka the Black Widow, in the upcoming IRON MAN 2, I almost had a heart attack.

Get those two dudes outta the way, goddammit!!!

I have no idea how well Johansson will pull off bringing Marvel Comics' number two super-spy — number one being Nick Fury — to life, but however it pans out I'll be there with bells on because I've been in love with the Black Widow since the very beginning of my geek's journey.


The Black Widow with Marvel's numero uno super-spy, Nick Fury.

Let's set the Wayback Machine to 1971 as a six-year-old Bunche journeyed with his parents to Reno, Nevada. Car trips generally suck out loud at any age but when you're a restless kid they really try one's patience, and I was going mad after hours in the family's leviathan of a green station wagon. When we pulled over at a gas station for a much-needed bathroom and refreshments break, I wandered into the station's general store and looked at all the fascinating items on the magazine rack. There in front of me stood a colorful display of comics featuring characters I knew from the old and horrendously-animated THE MARVEL SUPERHEROES cartoon show (don't get me started on that one; it's fodder for a whole post of its own!), and while I was excited to see the likes of Thor, Captain America and of course the Sub-Mariner, my attention was drawn to a cover featuring a guy in a garish red getup whom I'd never seen before. Curious, I picked up the comic book and flipped through it. In no time I'd decided to give it a try and asked my folks if they'd shell out a quarter to keep me quiet and happy for the remainder of our trip. The twenty-five cents parted company with my dad's wallet and in no time I was introduced to the joys of my very first comic book.

DAREDEVIL #81 (Nov. 1971): My very first comic book and my introduction to two of my all-time favorite characters.

Looking back on it now, DAREDEVIL #81 was a rather tepid affair but it introduced me to Daredevil and, much more importantly for a number of reasons, the Black Widow. The Widow appealed to me because my parents were fans of THE AVENGERS on TV, and the Black Widow in her jet black catsuit reminded me more than a little of the equally-badassed Emma Peel.

The Black Widow swims to Daredevil's rescue and unwittingly begins one of the great partnerships of superherodom.

What I didn't know at the time was that the Widow was originally conceived as a villain during the early days of Iron Man in TALES OF SUSPENSE and in her original incarnation she was pretty much just another in the line of Cold War-era commie bad guys Tony Stark did battle with during what I call his "Red-Baiting" period.

The Black Widow, as seen during her first appearance (TALES OF SUSPENSE #52, April 1964).

Very much an enemy agent from the "moose and squirrel"-accented school of femme fatale villainy, Natasha Romanoff slinked into the life of billionaire playboy Tony Stark and wreaked considerable havoc.

An early cover appearance by the Black Widow. The art's obviously by Jack Kirby, but don't ask me what's up with those magnetic emanations...

The Russkies may have been a pack of un-American, Elvis-hating commie bastards, but they certainly were not stupid. Pitting Natasha against notorious pussy-hound Tony Stark was a brilliant move and our priapic tech-genius took the bait so fast you'd swear you heard a sonic boom in his armored boxer shorts.


Tony Stark, about to discover the meaning of "From Russia With Love."

But Stark soon twigged to what was up with the Russkie redhead and in no time kicked her to the curb (there's a surprise...not!), but she was soon back with a vengeance and seducing a fresh-out-of-the-gate Hawkeye to do her dirty work.

While Hawkeye thinks with his pork-arrow, Natasha rocks it brunette-style. Sorry, baby, but you should never "fix" red hair. It just ain't right! All hail the "ginge minge!!!"

As the Cold War gave way to the Vietnam conflict in the public's consciousness, Marvel re-tooled the Black Widow into a good guy (or gal, if you prefer), giving her a truly ludicrous costume that was later dumped in favor of John Romita Sr.'s famous black catsuit with funky accessories (a cool belt and those big-assed bracelets).


The Widow's original, horribly generic costume...

...thankfully kicked to the curb by John Romita's now classic Emma Peel-inspired look.

Her spy status was upgraded in the wake of the 1960's spy craze, so the Widow found herself a trusted and respected agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., working closely with Nick Fury and Captain America and eventually earning a place among Marvel's preeminent super-team, the Avengers. During all of this she also teamed up with Daredevil, the two of them sharing billing in DD's book, and their romantic relationship served as a defining period for both characters. Looking back at it now, their daily workouts were more or less as close as Marvel could get to depicting foreplay and highly-charged sex of a uniquely athletic variety and I suspect that's one of the draws that kept the readers coming back month after month.

Natasha was certainly Marvel's sexiest female hero at the time and remained so for years — this was before Dave Cockrum breathed life into Storm — thanks in no small part to her being drawn by the likes of Gene Colan during her AMAZING ADVENTURES and DAREDEVIL days, and later Paul Gulacy in a memorable issue of BIZARRE ADVENTURES.

An early Gene Colan take on the Widow.

Colan is best remembered for his hyper-kinetic and moody work on books like DAREDEVIL and TOMB OF DRACULA, but let us not forget that the guy was a master at drawing hot redheads, the other being Beverly Switzler in HOWARD THE DUCK.

Two Gene Colan Beverly Switzler panels (with one in the middle from Frank Brunner), including the classic ship deck bikini figure.

Paul Gulacy, on the other hand, made a name for himself as the dynamic artist of Marvel's Bruce Lee-inspired SHANG CHI: MASTER OF KUNG FU, and since his style already owed a heavy debt to Jim Steranko's legendary 1960's NICK FURY: AGENT OF S.H.I.E.L.D. run, he was a natural for handling the Widow in 1981's excellent BIZARRE ADVENTURES #25.

BIZARRE ADVENTURES #25, featuring what may be the best-drawn Black Widow story ever. And not only that, but you also get Michael Golden on Lady Daemon (sadly a one-shot) and Marshall Rogers and Joe Rubenstein on Daughters of the Dragon, so track this sucker down on eBay right now!

Confusing Ralph Macchio script aside, the black & white artwork on the Black Widow story in that issue is incredible and ranks among the best stuff ever to come out of Marvel, and is easily Gulacy's magnum opus. He clearly gets the James Bondian aspect of the character and renders her as a lithe, lethal and totally efficient master of hand-to-hand combat and weapons skills. Seriously, check out some of this stuff:

A hungover Natasha receives a note at the beginning of the story.

Oooh, that's gotta hurt!

There are times when martial arts are appropriate, but some situations just call for a good ol' service rifle. Namely when you absolutely, positively gotta kill every muthafukka in the room!

A terrific portrait of Natasha that reminds me more than a little of British actress Jenny Agutter. (I think it's the eyes.)

Now that you non-geeks have some small clue who the Black Widow is and why she's so cool, I've gotta say that though I'm psyched to she's in IRON MAN 2 and looking hot as a motherfucker, I doubt Johansson will make the character work. She just doesn't fill me with the sense of capable super-spy-as-superhero that Natasha exudes and she's way too non-Russkie-looking, but I'll see the film nonetheless. Let's just hope a rushed script and a questionable "moose and squirrel" accent don't make the bigscreen version of Natasha a laughingstock. (Not that the average horndog is gonna complain either way, mind you.)

Scarlett Johansson works the catsuit.