Thursday, November 20, 2014

Marvels: Journey Into Mystery #104

"Giants Walk the Earth" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Chic Stone
(May 1964)

Oh, this is a good one. The Thor stories are really becoming everything I've wanted them to be.

Last issue, both the Enchantress and the Executioner failed to drive Jane Foster from the heart of Thor, much to the continued consternation of Odin. On Loki's advice, Odin decides to visit the Earth and talk with Thor, leading to my single favorite outfit Odin has worn... possibly ever.

Spectacular. He looks like Edmund Gwenn in Miracle on 34th Street. Noble Odin, I humbly request a Puppet Forge puppet for Christmas.

Now, this is where the "Tales of Asgard" series starts to pay off in the main feature. Odin has left Loki in charge of Asgard and given him a portion of his power, which Loki promptly uses to try to seize the throne by freeing two enemies of Odin's from their prisons: Skagg the Storm Giant, encircled in flame, and Surtur the Fire Demon, whom Odin long ago trapped in the center of the Earth. Loki has freed them in the hopes of finally wiping out both Thor and Odin, but Heimdall--who hears and sees all--sends Balder to Earth to warn them.

It's nice to see Balder get to be heroic, after his rather pitiful appearance in "Death Comes to Thor." (And don't you just want a blacklight poster of that image?)

The danger to our world is so immediate that Odin actually uses his powers to transport every human on Earth to another dimension, where they will remain, unknowing, until Odin brings them back. That's some serious god stuff.

It says a lot about Jack Kirby's art that the battle that follows feels very grand, even though it really only takes place between five characters in--considering that they have the entire Earth as their arena--a harbor in New York. Odin is able to defeat Skagg, but is too weakened by the effort to confront Surtur, who is going to melt the polar ice caps and drown the world. Thor, being a younger immortal than Surtur, uses Odin's sword--a weapon "older than all"--and the power within to draw Surtur into the cosmos, straight into an asteroid made of "magnetic particles" whose attraction is so strong that Surtur may as well be chained to it.

Though these elemental evils are defeated, nothing has been settled between Odin and Thor, with Thor refusing Odin's order to return to Asgard. That confrontation will have to wait for the future, though... a future that, Odin says, is fraught with danger. First, Odin has to reclaim his throne and sentence Loki to be a slave for the trolls. And Thor has to resume his life as Dr. Donald Blake.

Stray observations:

:: The cover of this issue still says "Journey into Mystery," but that title is now followed with, in HUGE letters, "with THE MIGHTY THOR." This must be one of Marvel's more popular books, with the prominent call. (And eventually the comic will just be retitled The Mighty Thor, of course.) The splash page for this story promises it will be "possibly one of the ten all-time epics you will never forget!"

"Tales of Asgard: Heimdall, the Guardian of the Rainbow Bridge!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Don Heck

The story of Heimdall, and how he became the guardian of the Rainbow Bridge in the early days of Asgard because his hearing was so good he could detect the growing of a plant with his ears, and his eyes were so sharp he could see an enemy approaching Asgard from two days away. It's not bad, but I do prefer the harder mythology/cosmology Tales.

All in all, a fun issue; I loved the main story, and I like seeing Thor battling mythological monsters and Asgardian villains. Next issue, I see, we're back to some of his earthly villains, which I'm not so xazzed about, but we'll see where the future takes us. Remember, according to Odin, it's fraught with danger.

Next Marvels: the court-martial of Sgt. Fury!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

S Is for a Second Chance

Back when we did the letter F, I talked about a Fraggle, Cantus the Minstrel. So for S, I'm going to cheat a bit so I can mention another F character: Frazzle!

I've been thinking about Frazzle a little bit lately because of my posts about Prairie Dawn and Roosevelt Franklin, where I talked about Sesame Street characters that I wish had gotten more attention. Frazzle has never been a main character, but I'm always charmed by his appearances.

Frazzle is one of the Sesame Street monsters, and he's particularly scary because he can't speak, he can only snarl and roar. But he has the same emotions as everyone else, and beneath his pointy teeth and angry eyes are a childlike demeanor and a desire to be included.

Here's a typical Frazzle appearance dealing with the character's emotional state:



I don't really remember Frazzle much from actually watching the show. He first came to my attention a few years ago, when I was listening to all of the early Sesame Street albums (the best ones are from the early 70s). One that stood out to me was the 1975 album The Sesame Street Monsters: A Musical Monster-osity, which featured the song "Frazzle." This was also done as a segment on a 1978 episode, with the Frazzletones (performed by Christopher Cerf, Richard Hunt and Jerry Nelson) singing about Frazzle's emotions.



The reason I find Frazzle so touching and necessary is that, during my years as a substitute teacher, I very often found myself working in resource. Resource is what they used to refer to as "special needs." So I was working with kids who had significant mental handicaps and/or developmental difficulties, and I encountered a number of kids who were nonverbal. One kid I especially remember, about 6 or 7 years old, used to unpredictably snap and then grab your hair and not let go. He couldn't stop doing it; it was some kind of a developmental thing I've never entirely understood. He couldn't really speak, he'd just make sounds, some of them loud and sudden, and that was the sort of thing that scared other kids. But he had the same emotions as any other kid.

So when I think of those kids that I worked with, I think of Frazzle: a nonverbal character who seemed scary and different, but really just wanted to be included and who had the same emotions as everyone else. That's a sort of character that Sesame Street doesn't touch on very often: someone with genuine cognitive and functional setbacks. But Frazzle stands in for a lot of those kids, and that's why I love him.

Here's one more video with Frazzle, appearing with Grover, Herry and Cookie Monster for "Fuzzy and Blue."



Stay true to yourself, Frazzle!

ABC Wednesday

Film Week

A review of the films I've seen this past week.

WATCH ON THE RHINE (1943)
Bette Davis returns to her Washington, DC, home with her German husband (Paul Lukas) and their children. Actually, she and her husband have been involved in an anti-fascist resistance and run afoul of a blackmailer. This is one of those stories made specifically to spur US involvement in World War II, but by the time the film (based on a Lillian Hellman play) was released, we were already there. Davis is quite good, but the film is stolen by Lucile Watson, playing her mother, the widow of a Supreme Court Justice. Dashiell Hammett wrote the screenplay, and for some time the film just lets the characters talk before peeling back the drama, and some of the scenes (particularly Watson's, or the scenes with Nazi officers at the German Embassy) are so interesting and inhabited that I didn't care if anything happened or not. Engrossing. ***1/2

DEAD OF NIGHT (1945)
Stylish horror anthology film from Ealing Studios. Most of the stories are familiar from other iterations or stories influenced by the film (or flat-out ripoffs) that I knew where most of them were going, but the style with which they were told was very engrossing. I had the right conditions for this one: cold, dark night without too much light. Excellent stuff, but I especially liked Michael Redgrave as a ventriloquist and Googie Withers as a woman whose husband becomes obsessed with a mirror. So glad I finally watched this. ****

THE POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL (1917)
Mary Pickford as a rich girl who wants to make friends with other children, then has a drug-induced dream about being enticed by Death in a fantasy world. It drags until we get to the fantasy stuff; plus, Mary Pickford is nearly 30 playing an 11 year-old, and it just looks bizarre seeing her with what appears to be men standing on things to look like they tower over her. Directed by Maurice Tourneur, written by Frances Marion. **1/2

SADIE THOMPSON (1928)
Gloria Swanson stars in and produced this adaptation of a W. Somerset Maugham story, playing a woman in Pago Pago who runs afoul of a religious type who becomes obsessed with her moral character. Steamy and intense, and Swanson is excellent. It's a brave film for the time period, criticizing not only American involvement in the Pacific (something which has never had as much attention thrown on it as it should) but also the kind of moral hypocrisy that the Hayes Office threw at this film and then used to infantilize the medium for decades. ****

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Marvels: Avengers #5

"The Invasion of the Lava Men!" by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby & Paul Reinman
(May 1964)

It's been an interesting journey for the Hulk. After six issues and a great appearance in Fantastic Four #12, his book was canceled and he seemed to be cast aside as an experiment that didn't work. Fan demand brought the character back, and seven months after his cancellation, he appeared again as the catalyst that brought together Earth's Mightiest Heroes in Avengers #1. Since then, he's alternated between tragic hero and unstoppable force. After being run out of the Avengers by their distrust, he briefly teamed up with the Sub-Mariner to get revenge on them, and then attacked the Avengers (and New York City) one more time in Fantastic Four #25 and 26, driven by his anger at Rick Jones for abandoning him to team up with Captain America.

After all of that, with the various members of the Avengers taking a breather after that epic battle, we finally end up back where it all started: in New Mexico, with Bruce Banner having made his way back to the Army base, much to the relief of Betty Ross and the annoyance of her father, General "Thunderbolt" Ross. (This is the first time we've seen either character since Incredible Hulk #6, in March of 1963, and the general is not happy that Banner's been missing for so long.)

General Ross barely has time to call Bruce a lily-livered milksop before Bruce is called into scientific action. There's a hill that's begun growing out of the earth, getting bigger every moment, and giving off some strange vibrations that have been damaging electronics. The Avengers have noticed it, too, and show up to the base to investigate.

The rock is actually the Living Rock, and it's being pushed up to the surface world by the Lava Men. Do you remember way back in Journey Into Mystery #97, when Thor fought the Lava Man? Back then, the Lava Man (whose name is revealed in this issue as Molto) was just one of a race that lived dormant in volcanoes who was released by Loki to harry Thor. Now, they're an entire underground race (one of a surprising many in the Marvel Universe) with a hierarchy who are trying to get the Living Rock up the surface world before it explodes, which will wipe out our surface civilization and allow the Lava Men to retake the planet.

Molto, having been defeated once by Thor, tries to reason with King Basallo and Jinku, the Witch Doctor, not to attack the surface, but they won't listen.

Basically, the deal with the Living Rock is that when it's struck, it causes an explosion of deadly soundwaves, the force of which once destroyed an entire Pacific island. (Krakatoa?) Now the Living Rock is growing so large that it's going to explode of its own accord, and trying to destroy it while it's inside the Earth itself could result in a force large enough to destroy the entire planet.

King Basallo explains all of this to Thor (after Thor literally walks through molten lava unharmed--even his clothes!) while the other Lava Men try to hold off the other Avengers in a pretty entertaining battle that sees Cap's shield bouncing all over and Giant-Man using a whirring helicopter pretty much the same way that kid used the whirring lawnmower in Dead Alive. And while Thor is trying to figure out what to do below the surface, Giant-Man has found one vulnerable patch on the Living Rock that, if struck, will cause the Living Rock to harmlessly implode.

I don't even have time to do anything but accept the science of that because there's so much going on with the battle. Then, before Thor can do anything, Jinku tries to blast him with his radioactive rod; when it meets the force of Thor's hammer, there's a radioactive explosion underground that somehow causes Thor to turn back into Don Blake. While the transformation scares off the Witch Doctor, Don is so weakened by the blast that he can't function.

And then Bruce Banner changes into the Hulk, and all bets are off.

The Avengers being the Avengers, they immediately try to restrain the Hulk, even though we've seen time and again how impossible that is.

However, Captain America comes up with a way to use the Hulk's strength to their advantage. With Thor missing in action, Cap has Giant-Man and the Wasp lure the Hulk to the top of the Living Rock. Giant-Man does the same trick he did in FF #26 and changes sizes rapidly to confuse the Hulk, and then Cap uses his shield to reflect light into Hulk's eyes, throwing him off-balance. Then, the next second, the Wasp flies past and, as the Hulk punches to smash her, she dodges and the Hulk hits the vulnerable patch on the Living Rock, which implodes without destroying anything!

When the dust clears, the Hulk is gone, and Thor has stopped the Lava Men invasion, and everything settles back down. This issue really managed to keep the suspense up for pages and pages before the concussive conclusion of this epic. Betty finds Bruce in the desert, dazed and weakened, while the Avengers get an emergency message from the Teen Brigade that is going to send them right back into action.

But that action won't involve the Hulk. I'm not sure when we'll see him again, but I can't wait for it. It will be nice to see the Avengers deal with something other than the Hulk for a little while, though...

Other observations:

:: Captain America puts on a gymnastic exhibition for Rick's Teen Brigade friends, and is apparently going to start teaching them about fitness, judo and karate.

:: This really does feel like a backdoor pilot, if you will, for a new series of Incredible Hulk, as it not only reestablishes Hulk's old supporting cast and location, but Stan & Jack also take a page to remind us of the Hulk's origin.

:: After a couple of years, I'm still not used to the smaller keyboard on my laptop, and every time I write Incredible Hulk I accidentally type Incredibly Hulk, which sounds like a Disney Channel sitcom that I need to see. Or some kind of Animal Planet show, at any rate.

:: I really want to see the Lava Men in battle with Atlantis. I don't know why. Two ancient races duking it out just seems like fun.

:: I love that the Wasp is the one whose action is so crucial to this issue's victory. It's so much better than just having her hide in Giant-Man's pocket for the entire battle. Steps towards making her a more active character.

:: This issue begins the letters page, called "All About the Avengers." One of the letters is from future Marvel pro Alan Weiss, who wrote and penciled Steelgrip Starkey for Marvel Epic in the mid-80s, and also co-wrote (with Steve Gerber) the classic Marvel Comics Super Special #1, featuring KISS.

This was another issue worthy of the Avengers. I'm still loving that this is a bi-monthly, where the heroes are brought together to deal with epic threats much larger than in their own books. You need a big menace to justify having so many heavy-hitters on one team, I think, which is why I like these older Avengers issues more than any others.

Can't wait for more, especially now that Captain America is here.

Next Marvels: Odin visits New York.

A New Peanuts Trailer

Fox released a new trailer for Blue Sky's upcoming Peanuts movie. This one's a little longer and definitely has more action. I'm surprised how much I'm looking forward to this. The constant online rage against computer animation and remakes and what have you is pretty played out to me. I like what Blue Sky is trying to do, where they're trying to balance the charm of the classic Bill Melendez cartoons with modern CG animated films. I especially like the animation itself, which adds textures to the characters and tries to combine the 2-D, flat animation with a more shaded 3-D approach. I find it kind of charming. I'm interested to see what the final film is like.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Muppet Monday

I love this little piece I ran across on YouTube last week while preparing my post on Roosevelt Franklin. The Muppet Wiki refers to this as "Clap, Clap, Clap" and identifies it as first appearing on the 5th season premiere, November 19, 1973.

The clip features a bunch of Anything Muppets getting down musically, including Roosevelt Franklin, Roosevelt Franklin's Mother, Farley (the green guy with orange hair), Moe (the hot pink lad with cap), Prairie Dawn, and a green guy with a mustache who is clearly voiced by Jim Henson who appears to be the same kind of Anything Muppet that Sherlock Hemlock is built from.

Enjoy!

Kristen Bell Mondays

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Song of the Week: "Strangers When We Meet"

Songs for Becca #28. This is the only album that Becca and I ever bought separately. When it came out, we had been together for a little less than a year and we weren't doing that thing where you just buy one of something for the couple. We each bought one for ourselves. We were excited to finally have a new Bowie album, Outside, the first part of a trilogy that never happened. I've always loved this fascinating sound collage, but the masterpiece of the album is this song, which serves as an epilogue, and which is also a re-record of a song he did for the Buddha of Suburbia soundtrack. (I think this is the better version for Mike Garson's piano alone.) This one sort of became "our song" for a while. It just fills me with so much emotion. This is one of those songs Bowie occasionally records, too, where he lyrics don't exactly make sense, they just fit the meter, so it's purposefully obtuse and you bring your own meaning to it. But my favorite lyrics, the ones that always reminded me of us, come in the last verse: "My poor soul, all bruised passivity/all your regrets ride rough-shod over me." My own meaning for this song is Becca. This song has never made me feel anything except how much I love her and how much my soul is tied to hers.

Sunday Hottie 511

SASHEER ZAMATA